McKinsey is perhaps the world’s best-known management consulting firm, and a high-powered farm team for America’s corporate elite. It’s also home to a $9.5 billion private hedge fund known as the McKinsey Investment Office. MIO invests in many companies linked to McKinsey, and has an enviable record: It has made money in 24 of the past 25 years, including a 14% return in 2014 alone. That’s much higher than the stock market or the average hedge fund.
McKinsey is willing to admit that MIO exists (it even has a very, very thin website), but they’re not willing to say much more than that. And beyond MIO, in the interstices of decades-old McKinsey friendships, we have no idea at all how many investments McKinsey-connected individuals make in each other’s companies.
Now, thanks to the Panama Papers, we have a tiny sliver of a window into one such scheme. It’s domiciled in a Caribbean tax haven, all but untraceable, and comes complete with a Panamanian lineage and a meaningless name: Brightao.
The Panama Papers, which were obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists with Fusion and other media partners, have exposed the offshore holdings of heads of state and criminals, highlighting the potential for corruption, tax evasion, and other illicit activities within this parallel financial universe. The papers also provide a rare window into the wealth, privilege, and opportunity afforded the lucky members of the McKinsey elite, and their friends.
Brightao, founded in 2007, is a shell company in the British Virgin Islands. The founder was Peter Walker, a 43-year veteran of McKinsey and a globally recognized expert in both China and the insurance industry. The company’s founding shareholders include Sandy Weill, the financial services empire-builder who created Citigroup; legendary M&A banker Gary Parr; and various McKinsey ex-colleagues.
Brightao was created in the service of one of Walker’s protégés at McKinsey—a high-flying Chinese technocrat named Heidi Hu. It allowed big-name financiers, including current and former McKinsey employees, to invest in Hu’s nascent yet promising insurance company, even if that may have violated the spirit of McKinsey’s own rules against investing in the same companies it advises.