In 1930 Business Week alerted its interested readers to a new professional service: management consulting. As the writers at Business Week explained, the existing system of business professionals had become so complicated that, according to James McKinsey at the University of Chicago, a new type of professional was “increasing in numbers and influence . . . the adviser that tells business what other advisers to use and when.” Although Business Week would go on to chronicle the rise of management consulting over the next seventy years, consultants would continue to style themselves as an emerging profession through the end of the twentieth century.
My dissertation title, “The World's Newest Profession,” plays off both the longstanding perception that consulting is an emerging profession and the widespread apprehension that consultants' advice is little more than corporate pandering. In response to these concerns, I address both the origins of management consultants and their influence on the strategies, structures, and operations of large bureaucratic organizations. Because the institutionalization and professionalization of management consulting occurred within firms, not among solo practitioners, I focus on management consulting firms like McKinsey & Company; Booz, Allen & Hamilton; and Arthur D. Little, Inc., which have advised large corporations since the 1920s. During the 1920s and 1930s these consulting firms were integral in reorganizing many of the largest companies in the United States, including General Motors, Swift, U.S. Steel, and Sears. By the 1960s the use of American management consultants had expanded beyond their initial domestic corporate clients to include international nonprofit organizations, businesses, and governments as diverse and influential as Air France, the Bank of England, Volkswagen, the University of Liberia, and the Government of Tanzania.