McKinsey, Opioids, & Ethics

A couple of weeks ago, McKinsey settled a major lawsuit regarding the firm’s work with the manufacturer of OxyContin — one of the key drugs in the opioid crisis that has claimed many lives. The settlement was for close to $600 million, as reported by the New York Times.

Here are my thoughts…

First, I’m beyond disappointed in McKinsey’s role in furthering the opioid epidemic. The settlement allows McKinsey to avoid admitting legal wrongdoing. They claim their actions were legal.

I’m sure these remarks were at the insistence of the firm’s lawyers, as admitting to breaking the law opens up even more lawsuits.

That said, just because something is legal doesn’t mean it is moral, ethical, or advised.

If you see someone dying on the side of the street, it is certainly legal to walk on by and not be bothered to call for an ambulance.

What I think McKinsey did was worse. Instead of doing nothing, they accelerated the death of those already addicted to OxyContin and developed strategies to get more patients using the drug and, ultimately, addicted to it.

There is no way that someone on the McKinsey team didn’t run a “what if” model for increasing OxyContin sales and how many more deaths that would create. I’m sure that slide wasn’t presented to the client.

I’m confident someone at McKinsey ran that analysis… and probably during the first week of the first engagement. McKinsey people are not stupid… though clearly misguided on this one.

Over the past few years, I think McKinsey has lost its ethical and moral compass as a firm. I do think the vast majority of those who work at McKinsey have strong ethics.

But… that which is tolerated becomes a part of the culture.

That is the problem. If 99% of McKinsey people do the right thing, but they allow 1% to do the wrong thing… the whole culture is ruined.

(It’s worth re-reading those last three sentences… especially if you have any ambitions to be a leader in your company or field.)

Most companies have a list of values printed up and hung on a nice plaque on the wall and posted on a web page.

It’s much harder to live by one’s values.

The only way to test what your values truly are is by facing a decision in which you have to sacrifice something meaningful in order to live by those values.

In McKinsey’s case, the firm was not willing to sacrifice what was likely tens of millions of dollars in consulting fees to preserve human life.

Your words don’t convey your values. Your actions do.

McKinsey’s actions speak clearly on this one.

There’s a lesson here for those who are open to it.

You can be successful in multiple ways. One way is to achieve it at someone else’s expense. The other is to achieve it in a way that only adds value to everyone around you.

In my Inner Circle mentorship program, I constantly emphasize the latter.

When you succeed in a way that benefits everyone around you, those people become allies who prosper from your success. This is a good thing. I call this creating value and sharing value. It’s a “game” where everybody wins (in varying amounts).

If you’re succeeding in a way that makes others worse off, you’re taking value (from others) more than you’re creating value. This creates a zero-sum game where there are winners and losers. If you win by forcing others to lose, they aren’t your allies… they’re your enemies.

The key is to decide for yourself what you will and will not do in order to succeed. If you don’t decide this in advance, it’s very easy to cross a line that you never set for yourself.

If succeeding on your own terms appeals to you, I invite you to learn more about my Inner Circle mentorship program.

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