I find it hard to believe that MIO can possibly act as a blind trust when it's owned by McKinsey and--in at least the instance covered in this article--shares some leadership.
In Virginia, the judge ordered a reopening of the bankruptcy case of Alpha Natural Resources after an official with the Justice Department’s Office of the United States Trustee argued that the hedge fund was not a “blind trust,” as claimed. The Justice Department pointed out that the head of McKinsey’s bankruptcy practice, Jon Garcia, sat on the fund’s board. Until he stepped down in 2017, Mr. Garcia received regular reports on the fund’s investment decisions and ratified them, the official said.
I don't believe there's anything illegal about this as long as investment decisions are not made based on non-public information McKinsey consultants are privy to due to their work, but it's not far to leap from McKinsey to MIO and the investment returns quoted as well as some of the investments mentioned certainly raise some questions.
This seems like this was included solely so they could mention Enron:
By October 2015, as Valeant’s share price was falling after reports about its undisclosed relationship with a mail-order pharmacy, one research firm described the company as the “pharmaceutical Enron.” Enron, an energy company and McKinsey client, collapsed in 2001. Its chief executive, Jeffrey K. Skilling, another former McKinsey partner, was sent to federal prison.
Agreed. Heres my 2 cents:
* Using tax haven (Guernsey): not a good look, but legal and standard practice
* Having consultant serve on MIO investment committee: bad governance, but not clear if he was on IC
* Unethical consluting advice: fair critique if you have the full deck
Otherwise, there's nothing wrong with having an in house HF. It seems like the NYT is just trying to find ways to remind us of the questionable engagements (Valeant, Enron, etc.)
"Very few documents link Barfield Nominees to McKinsey’s hedge fund, but when they do, MIO money can be traced to unusual places like a casino in Kathmandu, Nepal, called the Millionaire’s Club." - in other words, no evidence yet. (then why publish?)
Same thing with Guo Wengui.
> His name is Guo Wengui, though he also goes by Miles Kwok. He is China’s highest-profile fugitive, and for years McKinsey was, through PAG, one of his creditors, a fact hidden through Barfield Nominees. There is no evidence that McKinsey knew its investment would find its way to Mr. Guo, with whom the firm said it had no direct dealings.
The guy is a creditor of a PAG, "PAG is one of Asia’s largest alternative investment management firms", and McKinsey had a stake in several PAG funds.
Seems highly unlikely that there’s any actual secretive insider trading happening here. It would be a HUGE risk for practically no gain, distributed across many individuals, committed by primarily people who wouldn’t stand to benefit. The firm should probably switch to vanguard or whatever... but the existence of this hedge fund does not mean the firm is using its insider knowledge maliciously. Most consultants won’t even know what other people on their team is working on, and most are in and out after 2 years.
The article buried the mitigating factor in the middle of the article. Hedge fund managers don’t coordinate with consultants, and 90% of MIO’s capital is managed by outside funds, including this one the article is about.
The problem mckinsey faces is that they consult for everyone.
I am a beneficiary of this hedge fund so I may be biased, but I feel pretty confident that there is not much conflict of interest going on. As has been attested to by multiple people on this, and other, threads, there is very little proprietary information sharing between teams at McKinsey. In fact, once you work for certain clients, you are automatically barred from working for others. I was once privy to a situation where a consultant working with a different client, unknowingly, shared some proprietary information with the team I was working on. I saw the extent to which the partners freaked out and tried to correct the situation. Of course, there are examples of people violating this trust (people will be people) but there have not been any examples of structural violations (ie the firm designed processes that encouraged or tolerated unethical practices)
It does McKinsey, as a firm, very little good if their clients' business goes down in flames. They, obviously, cannot bet against their clients (it would be catastrophic to their core business if this was ever publicly disclosed) and so they can only bet with their clients, even if they (unethically and possibly illegally) used their clients proprietary information to trade.
It feels to me that there are some corporations that newspapers can just bash confident that most of their readers will nod along without applying much critical thinking. I understand the skepticism. I used to share it before I got to see the inner workings of organizations like this. There is much to criticize about organizations like McKinsey but violating clients' trust is not one of them.
One last argument against the insider trading inference, the results I have seen, while good, are not indicative of what is possible if smart people were truly trying to take advantage of their knowledge of the inner workings of the largest corporations in the world.
Here is a New York Times story about the “McKinsey Investment Office, or MIO Partners,” the in-house hedge fund of consulting firm McKinsey & Co., which invests employee money, including in companies that McKinsey advises. “That web of relationships underscores the unusual nature of McKinsey’s hedge fund, and the potential for undisclosed conflicts of interest between the fund’s investments and the advice the firm sells to clients,” says the Times, and I suppose there are some shady elements: When McKinsey advises on a bankruptcy, for instance, and its hedge fund owns one or another slice of the capital structure, then there’s a clear potential for conflicts of interest.
Mostly, though, it’s hard to get too worked up about this. For one thing, most of the fund’s money seems to be run by outside advisers, and even the stuff run by McKinsey employees seems to be mostly walled off from the consulting business. For another thing, the incentives are mostly good: McKinsey’s consultants are trying to make the company better, and its hedge fund is invested in the company and wants the company to get better, so there is no problem here. “The firm’s partners stood to profit from their own advice,” says the Times about McKinsey’s indirect investments in Valeant Pharmaceuticals, but why would that be bad? If they do stuff to make the stock go up, then they make money, but that is also what the company wants. (In the event, Valeant’s stock went down, which was bad for both Valeant and McKinsey.) Really companies ought to demand that their consultants buy some of their stock, so they have some skin in the game with their advice.
Of course, what would really be scandalous is if McKinsey’s hedge fund shorted companies that the firm advised, and then the consultants tried to give those companies ruinous advice. You couldn’t advertise that strategy, but much of the Times story is about how secretive MIO is, and if you can be secretive enough then maybe you could pull off this trade.
As giving and receiving advice is fundamentally based on trust, it strikes me as odd why anyone wants to do business with the likes of McKinsey or Goldman Sachs who have repeatedly shown a pattern of screwing over their clients.
This is not a generic "all I-banks or management consultants are evil" - there are still plenty of specialized firms out there without these anti-patterns.
This is interesting because McKinsey alumni and consultants at Nielsen seemed to be shopping an insider trading scheme around the time that they got involved with Equifax. The partnership was leaked way before it went public and the stock subsequently popped. This was pre data breach.
Maybe someone familiar with securities law can chime in here.
Isn't this something similar to insider trading?
They provide a service that is supposed to improve some aspect of a business, then they can internally do predictions on how successful they think their services will benefit/harm the firm and then make a bet either for or against that firm.
Former investment banker here with lots of experience consulting for professional investors.
The substance of the article strikes me as, "potentially really bad, but no obvious smoking gun".
MIO is a special situations hedge fund, meaning that it looks for companies that desperately need capital for one reason or another, and who have been poorly served by the market for capital because some aspect of their story is messy and/or tough to understand, and provides them capital on terms that give MIO a lot of upside if the company gets back into good shape.
An important thing to understand about special situations investing is that it's usually very active relative to other types. That is to say, I can run a successful long-short equity fund and literally never once interact with any of the leadership of any of the companies in which I take positions; I can, for example, go long Verizon and short T-Mobile and never have to deal with either of those companies' management teams. For special situations on the other hand, the entire value proposition of the fund manager is what they can deliver through their active involvement with the portfolio company that takes the fund's money. So, you'll see special situations funds get super involved in issues like renegotiating long-term leases, or investing in sales teams, or reconfiguring operations to run on a single ERP system, etc -- activities which are right in the wheelhouse of former Big 3 consultants, whose work consists of bouncing from tough problem to tough problem at high-paying clients.
So it's not hard to understand why McK made the decision to found MIO. It kills multiple birds with one stone:
- Makes partners more money through an asset class that tends to post good returns
- Helps their recruiting pipeline because it makes it easier to capture aspiring buy side bigwigs out of college (perennially McK's Achilles heel vs. i-banking)
- Provides outgoing partners with something to do in semi-retirement; MIO employs a shit-ton of semi-retired McK partners to do deep dives on various topics. This importantly has the positive effect on McK's culture of helping clear out the top of the pyramid so young partners don't feel like their career is going nowhere
Anyway, much of what's in the article sounds concerning. For example, the still-serving head of McK's bankruptcy practice was on the board of MIO when it was considering an investment in a coal company that was going bankrupt. On the one hand, this raises hackles; on the other, it's really only a PROBLEM problem if McK was advising that coal company, or had advised them recently prior to the MIO investment. And that might have been the case, but the article does not say whether it was.
The description of the McK's interactions with Guo Wengui is....I'm not sure what point they're trying to make? And similarly, with Valeant, the NYT's gripe is that another fund in which MIO invested went long Valeant at the same time that McKinsey was advising Valeant to increase the price of certain medications.
If I had to guess I'd say that McK has advised 90% of the F500 at one point or another and is actively advising about 30 or 40% of the F500 on something at any point in time. So, I really don't think that McK giving Valeant pricing advice through a consulting project at the same time that a fund MIO invested in was buying Valeant -- with both parties expressly prohibited from communicating with each other and no evidence they did -- as incriminating, though a multiple-hundred percent increase on pricing for any drug is obviously icky.
Anyway, there could be other shoes to drop here, and they could be really bad (e.g. if there were secret backchannel communications regarding the coal company). But I don't see anything in this article that's incriminating on its face.
And the attempt to make Guernsey look like some shady nefarious offshore destination that confers fishiness on anyone whose business dealings go through that jurisdiction? GIVE. ME. A. BREAK. Probably almost half of the hedge funds in Europe are domiciled there, it's like the Caymans or Delaware, talk about a red herring.
The New York Times has been running a whole series now on McKinsey with a new article about once a month or so highlighting example after example of alleged serious ethical lapses at the firm. Have things really gone downhill or do some journalists just have an ax to grind with McKinsey?
Isn't that normal? How strange would it be for me to tell my friends "this stock is going to skyrocket, buy some!" without owning any myself? Anything otherwise would come across as extremely disingenuous.