More McKinsey Issues: More Than a Conflict

The bankruptcy of SunEdison took an interesting turn with a court filing by an attorney for one of SunEdison’s creditors. The filing, based on an investigation that the SunEdison board launched after receiving reports from employees, alleges that McKinsey and SunEdison executives worked together to be sure that McKinsey was paid. The scheme alleged was one of McKinsey no longer directly billing SunEdison but calling back its unpaid bills and then rebelling them to several solar projects for SunEdison customers.

Problem with the scheme? McKinsey had not done any work on those projects. In fact, e-mails setting up the plan have a McKinsey partner writing, “Acknowledge that this is not ideal,” and that “we should anticipate some spirited opposition from PMs (project managers).” Spirited opposition? If you were a PM and suddenly got bills for your project for which there was no work, you bet your boots you would push back. Hence, the SunEdison employees reports to the company about cash flow issues. Hence, the investigation.

In bankruptcy, scheming to get paid ahead of other creditors before bankruptcy is declared is prohibited, and the court is permitted to call back any such payments. When there is deception involved in getting the payments, well, the court has broad discretion. The creativity of McKinsey is stunning. And creativity may be a charitable term. The pleading asks for McKinsey to return $37 million in fees paid through the arrangement. Ah, the doctrine of voidable preferences. Ah, the tangled webs we weave that are foiled through our own e-mails.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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