Global consultancy McKinsey & Co on Monday admitted to helping Transnet Group Chief Executive Siyabonga Gama prepare a part of his thesis to obtain an MBA, but Gama told Fin24 the help had amounted to nothing more than checking language.
"We informed the South African authorities last year that our internal investigation found evidence that a McKinsey partner coordinated research support and used company resources to help draft some of a client executive's MBA coursework," a McKinsey spokesperson told Fin24.
"This support, which was outside the scope of any client engagement, was a serious violation of the firm’s professional standards. The individual in question, who is the same partner to whom we refer in our statement of 17 October 2017, is no longer with our firm."
Vikas Sagar was a senior partner in the firm’s Johannesburg office and left the company under a cloud after details emerged of McKinsey’s dealings with Eskom and the Gupta-linked Trillian Capital Partners.
But Gama told Fin24 in a WhatsApp statement on Monday morning that he only received help with the language and flow of the report, not the content.
“No I never received any research help to complete my MBA from Vikas Sagar. What happened was that I was coordinating and editing various research inputs into an action learning capstone project which was part of a group study we were doing with 5 other colleagues in my class.
"The colleagues were based in India, The Netherlands, France and Nigeria. Each student was responsible for different chapters in a project dealing with last mile logistics.
"I was resident expert in the group on these matters. However each student had different writing styles. Mr Sagar offered that we could send our inputs to an editor he knew who could assist with the language and flow of the report. We acknowledged that support in our final report.
"It was not support of an academic nature but more the optics of writing the report. The whole team was responsible for the report overall and it was not an individual project. I was, at the time, not aware that his company policy did not allow him to provide such references and that he used his company’s resources and time for this,” he said.
McKinsey recently released the findings of an internal report which found no illegalities on the company’s behalf, but did conclude that internal processes and procedures relating to the Eskom consulting deal were inadequate to prevent irregularities. McKinsey was to repay R902m to Eskom.
The firm was also contracted to Transnet.
McKinsey’s spokesperson said: "Our investigation found no link between this support (to Gama) and any work awarded to the firm (by Transnet). Nevertheless, we believe this matter passed the threshold of reasonable suspicion that an offence may have occurred under South African law. As such, we reported it last year to relevant authorities under Section 34(1) of PRECCA."
The spokesperson added: "We referenced this matter in our statement of 17 October 2017 and Kevin Sneader referred to it in his speech on 9 July 2018. It would be inappropriate to comment further, as the matter is in the hands of investigative authorities.
"We stand by our previous statements regarding the conclusions of our internal investigation, including that the investigation found no evidence that our work with Eskom or Transnet was procured through corruption," the spokesperson said.
It appears that Sagar assigned several researchers at McKinsey’s Johannesburg office to help outline and prepare Gama’s submission to a joint thesis to which he had to contribute at least two chapters. McKinsey’s support to Gama was discovered in July last year.
According to Transnet’s website, Gama holds a “Trium Global MBA” which is jointly awarded by the New York University Stern School of Business, the London School of Economics and Political Science, and HEC Paris School of Management.
According to its website the Trium Global MBA is “one of the world's leading degree programs for global leaders”.
An article on the MBA’s website quotes Gama as saying in 2016 that the degree was a "wonderful rollercoaster journey".* Sign up to Fin24's top news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO FIN24 NEWSLETTER