"Our success as consultants will depend upon the essential rightness of the advice we give and our capacity for convincing those in authority that it is good."
—Andrew Thomas Kearney (1892-1962)
With these words, Andrew Thomas (Tom) Kearney laid the foundation for his namesake firm. It's a charge that we continue to uphold every day in all that we do. In fact, visit any A.T. Kearney office anywhere in the world, and you'll find this quote with Tom's portrait. The principles he established and the values he instilled remain at the core of who we are today and help guide us as we in turn guide our clients to future success.
Tom Kearney began his career as an agricultural extension agent at Pennsylvania State University and worked in commercial research for Swift & Company before entering consulting in 1929. He soon became managing partner for the firm's Chicago operations, and following the 1937 death of his partner, his name was elevated into the company's title.
By all accounts, Tom had the remarkable ability to make everyone he met feel comfortable immediately. This genuine warmth, kindness, and collegiality carried into everything he did. During the firm's early decades, as he and his partners developed a national reputation as experts in manufacturing and distribution, they became known for their ability to work closely with everyone—from shop floor workers to senior executives. This remains a hallmark of our working style to this day.
From the beginning, Tom was committed to achieving excellence and providing dedicated service to clients. His goal was to deliver quality results to his clients; that was the cornerstone on which he wanted his firm's reputation to rest. He achieved the goal through a commitment to clear, focused principles:
"The one thing needful is that we all work wholeheartedly as members of the team."
"The true strength of this firm, as in any organization, lies in the fact that we are all different."
"A consultant to be worth his salt must give honest judgments not necessarily those which he thinks the clients would like to hear."
Consideration for others was also very much Tom Kearney's philosophy in business and personal life. He felt strongly that he and all associated with him should work to improve the human condition. On several occasions, he took extended leaves from the firm for government and civic service. In January 1945, Tom was asked by the U.S. government to head a mission to China. Leading a team of 28 specialists, he spent more than six months working to improve the nation's war-ravaged industrial supply chain. He took on this challenge despite opposition from some colleagues who felt his attention was better spent on firm business. The firm, however, did not suffer, and for his efforts, Tom was awarded the Medal of Freedom by the U.S. Army and the Victory Medal from the Chinese government.
Three years later, the U.S. government called again to ask for Tom's help. He went to Germany to examine its postwar industrial recovery and later to France to work on a project in conjunction with the Marshall Plan. During this assignment, he also met with Jean Monnet, the architect of the European Union. All of Tom's government service was performed on a dollar-a-year basis, except for the $50 a day fee he received while in China, which was at the insistence of the U.S. government.
Tom was also a director of the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce and served on boards for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Chicago. He also led the Chicago Community Fund, which was an amalgam of various charitable organizations and the precursor of today's United Way. He was a remarkable champion for the organization: In 1953, he helped raise more than $10 million—which translates to more than $78 million in today's dollars.
He took on all of these missions out of deep civic duty and moral obligation—from a sense of what was the right thing to do. And we proudly carry on this tradition: We know that by doing good, we will do well for our clients, ourselves, and our communities. And we continue to use his signature on our materials as a symbol of our pledge to live the values he instilled in our firm and uphold his commitment to ensuring "essential rightness" in the advice we give and the actions we take.