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Bill Meehan and Kim Starkey Jonker: Partnering up to promote philanthropy
November 10, 2017
Director Emeritus Bill Meehan (SFO, NYO, CHI, STA, MEL, SVO 78-08) and Kim Starkey Jonker (LAN, SFO 96-98, 01-03), a former Associate and Business Analyst, first worked together on a McKinsey study in 2003.

Nearly 15 years later, they’re still working together. 

Bill, a longtime supporter of nonprofits and philanthropic work, serves on the board of King Philanthropies, where Kim is President and CEO. The two have collaborated for years on advising nonprofits, foundations, and philanthropists. They are both lecturers at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and several years ago joined forces to co-author a popular series for Stanford Social Innovation Review – "Fundamentals, Not Fads."

This year, Bill and Kim collaborated on yet another project; their new book “Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector,” is on sale this month. 

We sat down to talk to them about their long work relationship, their respective careers at the Firm, and why they think their book will be of interest not just to nonprofit executives, but to anyone involved in any type of philanthropic work.

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How did you become involved with working with nonprofits outside the Firm?

Bill Meehan: I was working with nonprofits before nonprofits were cool. I came from the old tradition of Ron Daniel (NYO 57-00), Carter Bales (NYO 65-98), Ted Hall (SFO, FIR 73-00), and many others, where if you were a Senior Partner at McKinsey, you viewed it as part of your remit to give back to the community.

Also, Bill Drayton (NYO 70-77, 82-89), who was instrumental in getting me to join the Firm, was a part of the Firm's original Public Sector group, started by Carter Bales. I worked with Bill for a year and a half out of the first three years I was at the Firm. About ten years after Bill and I met, he founded Ashoka and launched the movement that we now call social entrepreneurship.

Bill has been my lighthouse beacon in the field in many ways, not only in the scale of his impact. He is the forebear of literally the millions of social entrepreneurs we have around the world today, and he has led a life of really pure inspiration and motivation.

Kim, you had a shorter career at the Firm. How did your four years at McKinsey help prepare you for your subsequent career, which has focused on nonprofits and philanthropy?

Kim Jonker: The most important thing that I took from McKinsey was learning how to apply rigorous fact-based analysis to decision-making. In my current role as CEO of King Philanthropies, we're very much working to apply fact-based analysis to our grant-making decisions.

When I first came on board, we started with a blank page and sought to answer the question of how could we have the greatest impact on extreme poverty. My team, which includes Bill, undertook a McKinsey-style approach, steeped in analysis and fact-based problem-solving. It very much looked like a McKinsey team room and the end product looked very McKinsey-like.

Who was your most influential mentor at McKinsey, and what was the best piece of advice that you got from them?

Kim Jonker: My most influential mentor was this wonderfully wise guy named Bill Meehan. I've been getting advice from Bill for 15 years now – it’s hard to distill it into one thing.

Bill Meehan: I had so many mentors. Bill Drayton, Ron Daniel, Carter Bales, Ted Hall, Dolf DiBiasio (NYO, STA 69-01), Bob Felton (LAN, NYO, SEO, PNW 74-05), Pete Walker (NYO 71-17). And then, looking at it the other way – I worked with Dominic Barton in his first year. James Manyika, Gary Pinkus, Bob Sternfels, Harry Robinson – there's a whole host of Firm leaders I worked with in the early parts of their careers, and I have great pride that they're now amongst the Senior Partners leading the Firm.

What was your best only-at-McKinsey experience?

Kim Jonker: I have very distinct memories of the team room with endless cups of coffee and papers and laptops. And what I remember so vividly is the sense of camaraderie on those teams; amazingly wonderful people who are colleagues, working together towards the same goal, with every person contributing and playing such an important role on the team.

I also recall being in my twenties and leading client teams comprised of people who were twice or even three times my age. I probably couldn't have done that elsewhere. It taught me very important skills in leading people – not least humility and earning the right to be heard – and earning the right to lead through strong problem solving and tenacity.

Bill Meehan: As my former colleagues will remember easily, I was at least as demanding of the Firm as the Firm was demanding of me. For me, the value that most enlivens the Firm is upholding the obligation to dissent. That, I think, is what allows McKinsey to stay vibrant.

Another of the core values is to develop our people in a distinctive way, and my view was that I was going to stay at McKinsey as long as that happened. It turned out to be 30 years. I probably would have been thrown out of most other places. I don't love business; I like business. What I love is the intersection of people and ideas. The Firm provided me with five or six careers’ worth of ideas that I had to learn, industry by industry or function by function, and the opportunity to create a development-oriented environment where the people that I was working on all committed to each other's development.

Kim's and my relationship mirrors much of my career at McKinsey. Kim started out working and I was her ED or her DCS. And now, after 15 years, I think she's my ED or DCS. But both at King Philanthropies and in our book, the Firm's people development values are deeply reflected in our views.

The description of your new book, “Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector,” says that the largest intergenerational transfer of wealth in American history will soon be underway, which in turn will create opportunities for nonprofits to raise more funds. Can you talk about the significance of that?

Bill Meehan: As we Baby Boomers begin to see the faint white light in the lessening distance, increasingly we are looking at what our legacy might be, and for many people that's their philanthropic legacy. Because of the scale of the Baby Boomer generation, as we pass away, we have to decide what to do with our money. Many will give away part of their money to philanthropy. We're probably all familiar with The Giving Pledge, where billionaires pledged – with Bill Gates and many others – to give away 50% of their net worth in their lifetime.

We actually encourage people to consider 90%. But whatever the pledge people make, we're going to have the largest amount of potential money available for philanthropy over the next 25 years. One of the calls to action of our book is that we should collectively agree to think about our philanthropy and the nonprofit organizations that we give to from an impact lens.

Why did the two of you decide to collaborate on this book? What was the impetus?

Kim Jonker: The specific impetus was our experience putting together a peer-learning retreat for recipients of the Henry R. Kravis Prize in Nonprofit Leadership. Bill and I brought together these prize recipients – all exceptional leaders. In a day-long forum, they shared their successes and their challenges. Bill and I were struck at the time by how much similarity there was in their experiences – that even these very high-performing nonprofit leaders, who were running very diverse organizations in different fields, all had very similar experiences and struggled with similar things.

We realized that collectively all of our experience, plus these learnings from the prize recipients, would enable us to provide recommendations that we could share to improve the experience and the performance of the overall sector.

Did your experience at McKinsey inform the thinking behind the book?

Bill Meehan: Kim and I both share common roots: We both attended Stanford Graduate School of Business, where she was my student, and we're both McKinsey people. The Firm is one of two or three core influences on the thinking behind this book.

[Business author and McKinsey alum] Jim Collins (SFO 80-80) was very enthusiastic about writing the foreword to our book.

In the preface, we describe the intellectual forebears that we have in thinking about organizational performance. I joined the San Francisco office of McKinsey in 1978, which was the early days of “In Search of Excellence,” by Bob Waterman (SFO, MEL 64-85) and Tom Peters (SFO, NYO 74-81). Then there was some terrific work on high-performing organizations done by Mike Murray (NYO, AMS, CHI 67-99) and Gil Marmol (MEX, DAL 78-96). Later on, I was in many ways the biggest fan of Dick Foster's (NYO 73-04) work on innovation and creative destruction, which did the best statistical analysis of organizational performance. 

We try to put ourselves ambitiously in what we believe to be the flow of the best organizational performance writers of our time, starting with Peter Drucker, who, like us, basically relied on his experience. Trying to apply these fundamental organizational and leadership concepts to the nonprofit sector is harder because there is no real dependent variable that you can use to evaluate nonprofits across fields.

Kim Jonker: The preface really does trace the defining and shaping role of McKinsey through the evolution of not only our careers, but our thinking and especially this book.

The book is aimed at professionals in the nonprofit sector, but do you think it has a broader appeal? Can executives in the for-profit sector also benefit from its advice? 

Kim Jonker: One of the things that the book does is to point out how nonprofits differ from businesses in important and often overlooked ways, so in that sense as well, I think it has a broad appeal.

Bill Meehan: I think the book is truly a handbook for not only strategy, but things like the importance of fundraising and board governance and impact measurement for nonprofit executives, but we think the larger audience is people like McKinsey colleagues who serve on nonprofit boards and are philanthropists. The book is written very much with them in mind.

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Read more about "Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector" 

Read Ian Davis’s 2009 farewell note about Bill Meehan (please note you will need to log in to the site to access).

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