Executive Rewind: Protecting Your Company’s Name & Reputation

Over two consecutive evenings, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson spent significant time on the global consulting firm, McKinsey & Company on his prime-time TV show. Carlson claims: “China rose and America declined” to a great extent through the work of McKinsey. He listed the following facts and allegations:

  • China makes many of our drugs, medical equipment and some of the things used by US military
  • China gets rich from selling us these things while we sell our debt to China
  • The American leadership class has allowed this dependency on the Communist Chinese
  • One business very much involved in this transfer of economic power is McKinsey & Company:
    • Promoted outsourcing offshore by US business for cheaper labor and bigger corporate profits.
    • Offered discounted services to China’s communist party, but not to US clients
    • Their managing director was on the advisory board of China’s Development Bank
    • Advised Purdue Pharma to use mail orders for pain killer Oxycontin to bypass pharmacists restricting distribution of the narcotic.

Peter Walker, former senior partner at McKinsey, was a central figure in Carlson’s remarks. Walker, he said, traveled to China 80 times and worked very closely with companies and the government. He positioned Walker as a defender and apologist for the Chinese

On the first night’s show, Carlson referred to an interview Walker had with the Chinese News Service:

To further establish his case, Carlson then played a soundbite of Walker from a March, 2020 Bloomberg interview:

The next day, Peter Walker requested to come on Carlson’s show that evening.

After six-minutes of a another highly critical monologue about McKinsey by Carlson, which Walker was able to hear, a nearly 14 minute interview followed.

It should be noted that Walker did not refute anything Carlson had said in his opening remarks.

What follows are soundbites from that interview that include Carlson’s questions. They are in the same chronological order as they appeared on the show. Listen closely to the questions and Walker’s answers. And consider these questions as you watch and listen:

  • Who is Walker talking to (his intended audience or audiences)?
  • Perhaps more importantly, does he have a preconceived audience in mind?
  • What is his primary message and how do you think it resonates with the audience?
  • How do you feel about Walker and McKinsey as a result?

Here’s how the interview began:

“The harsh action…was exactly what they had to do,” Walker said, attributing it to their way of handling a huge population and controlling the spread of the virus. His only criticism was China’s lack of disclosure and transparency.

Walker’s non-eye contact is problematic because of the overriding messages that body language can send silently. He probably was looking at a TV monitor instead of the camera, which he quickly corrected.

Carlson, meantime, pressed on:

Again, Walker rationalized China’s behavior and tried to equate it to the daily briefings by Governor Cuomo and President Trump. Is he suggesting we were doing the same things to our people in this country? Hopefully not, but it’s unclear where he was going with his response. It sounded like a non-sequitur.

Next, Carlson created his own equivalency:

Initially, Walker evaded and talked about lack of speed of response to the virus here and in China. Carlson’s follow up was intended to bring Walker back to the original question, and Walker had to admit the Chinese went too far.

Carlson then took the interview to another very controversial topic: the Chinese treatment of their Muslim population, the Uighurs:

Curiously, Walker seems to be arguing with himself here. He’s critical of Chinese behavior, yet oddly endorses it at the same time. He did, however, approach what I believe should have been one of his most important messages for this interview.

More on that after the next soundbite.

Carlson moved onto the subject very much top of mind in today’s virus reality. So many of our drugs come from China, and McKinsey, he charged, holds a lot of the responsibility:

So what could Peter Walker have done more effectively, after volunteering to do this interview, which was not a wise decision without careful preparation?

First, he had to inherently understand the vast majority of his audience judges what China has done based on our Western Culture and shares common values, mores and biases. With that as a given, he needed to explain the Chinese culture of collectivism vs. ours of individualism without in any way excusing (or in some of his answers, endorsing) their behaviors. And he needed to make very clear he disapproved of them. His see-saw responses made his messaging contradictory and confusing.

Then there is the message about McKinsey’s deep involvement with China that he stated in the last soundbite: “…free trade was so much the mantra of the time that anything that could be done to foster that and make anything anywhere was pretty much unquestioned, here in the US, as well…and with this virus we’re going to revisit that…” This gives historic perspective to McKinsey’s original work with China while also acknowledging this needs rethinking.

It’s clear to me that Peter Walker either failed to prepare for this interview, or prepared improperly. Carlson spent substantial time over two nights attacking McKinsey’s name and reputation. Walker’s job was bigger than simply explaining his personal role; he had the responsibility for protecting the reputation of the company where he spent his career.

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