Director & Former Managing Partner, McKinsey & Company, Inc.
Former Treasurer, Harvard University
A member of McKinsey for almost half a century, Ron Daniel led the management consultancy from 1976 to 1988. While maintaining the firm's traditional values, he guided its growth as a global organization. Long interested in helping the nonprofit sector, he served as Harvard's treasurer from 1989 until last June, advising three presidents and watching over the University's resources. "It was one of the great privileges of my life," he says.
In a commencement address last spring at Brandeis International Business School, Ron Daniel told graduating students how to tell if they were in the right job. "You have to want to run to work at least four days out of five," he advised. As a consultant at McKinsey for almost fifty years, twelve of them as managing partner, and as treasurer of Harvard University from 1989 until last June, he has been a prime example of the positive results of that litmus test.
Daniel first heard of McKinsey & Company at a career panel he attended during his senior year at Wesleyan University, where he majored in mathematics. But he didn't give consulting any thought until he had already graduated from HBS and was finishing a three-and-a-half-year stint as an officer in the U.S. Navy Supply Corps, in charge of a select group that used early models of giant IBM computers to manage inventory for the Navy's airplanes.
About to be discharged in 1957, Daniel saw consulting as an opportunity to put his quantitative and analytical skills to good use. Headed by the legendary Marvin Bower (MBA '30), an early leader of both the firm and the management consulting profession itself, who had recently begun the practice of stocking McKinsey with bright young associates from the top business schools, the firm seemed like the right fit.
Joining the New York office, Daniel became one of 110 consultants in an exclusively U.S. organization. "It was a different world in those days," he explains. "Perhaps to help make us late twentysomethings look as mature— and credible— as possible as we went off to meet with older client executives, Marvin insisted that we all wear hats during our travels to and from the firm. The only non-American among us was a Brit."
Daniel made his mark as part of the team that advised Mobil Oil. That long-term assignment not only took him to the giant multinational's facilities around the world but enabled him to be mentored by some of McKinsey's most influential partners, including Bower. Named a principal (or junior partner) in 1963 and a director (senior partner) five years later, Daniel became head of the New York office in 1970 at the age of 40. In 1976, his partners elected him to the first of four three-year terms as their managing partner.
Global expansion became a cornerstone of Daniel's leadership in the seventies and eighties, as he laid the foundation for the firm's international presence today, which includes nearly 6,000 consultants—less than one-third of them American—who among them speak 89 languages in 83 offices in 45 countries.
As client companies became more sophisticated and demanding, another change during Daniel's watch was a move away from the role of consultant as generalist. "Consider a life-sciences company," he says. "If you can't speak biology with its management, you can't be effective. It became incumbent on us to build deep industry knowledge in areas such as pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, banking, autos, steel, and insurance. Almost all our consultants now have advanced degrees, including many MDs and PhDs."
As McKinsey adapted to the new needs of the times, Daniel also focused on making sure it remained true to its founding principles, such as always seeking to have a significant impact on the client's performance; promoting uniform standards of quality across the firm; attracting, training, and retaining "great talent"; and emphasizing the importance of integrity, values, and collegiality. "Nothing here is accomplished by fiat," he explains. "No matter what leadership role you hold, you are expected to serve the other professionals you lead."
In addition, Daniel has always remained true to another important facet of the McKinsey culture--giving back to society. "I've always spent 15 to 20 percent of my time helping nonprofit organizations whose mission and leadership I've felt passionate about, among them Wesleyan, the New York City Ballet, Rockefeller University, and the Brookings Institution," he says.
Harvard University was also the beneficiary of Daniel's wisdom and experience for fifteen years. In 1989, shortly after completing his final term as managing partner, he was named Harvard's treasurer by President Derek Bok, a position that not only put him in charge of the University's finances but gave him a place on Harvard's two governing boards.
Dividing his time between McKinsey and Massachusetts Hall, Daniel saw the University's endowment climb from some $4 billion to $22 billion as chairman of the Harvard Management Company, and he played a key role in the search for President Bok's successors, Neil Rudenstine and Lawrence Summers. "Harvard has had only 27 presidents, and I worked closely with three of them, as well as provosts and deans, on a wide range of educational, managerial, and strategic issues. It was one of the great privileges of my life," he says.
As a senior member of McKinsey, Daniel remains active both inside and outside the firm, serving as a resource to other partners and associates and adding new names to the list of nonprofits he wants to help. He also intends to spend time writing his reminiscences. "After all," he concludes, "I am the bridge between McKinsey's founding generation and the present."