The McKinsey Report

The McKinsey Report

As many of you know, I care deeply about getting the history/data/story right. One of the stories that has confounded me for over a decade is that of the missing, infamous “McKinsey Report.”

As the urban legend goes, during the mid-eighties, AT&T commissioned McKinsey to advise them on the future of the wireless industry. McKinsey came back and said that the total mobile market is likely to be no more than 900K by the end of the century. AT&T got out of the mobile business. Rest is history.

For the newbies, AT&T bought McCaw Cellular, the Seattle-based pioneer who really scaled the mobile business for $12.6 billion in 1994. AT&T has stayed in the top 3 ever since.

In 1999, The Economist published a piece highlighting this blunder. Vinod Khosla made it go viral. Since then, the story has been told numerous times in different shapes and forms, with different numbers to make the point of historic mistakes in business.

Obviously, I was intrigued by this “report” and started asking my friends in the industry about this tome that has shaped the early beginnings of the wireless industry. I pinged everyone I thought who might have seen it and came up empty. I searched and searched for almost a decade and almost gave up. The report became the Keyser Söze of the wireless industry, people had heard about it, but no one had seen it.

The myth and the legend persisted.

Until. The. Pandemic. Hit.

Pandemic gave the time back to many and during one of those golden hours, a dear friend of mine who worked at AT&T during the time period found the report laying in pristine condition in one of the boxes that hadn’t been touched for decades. I had talked to him about my quest for the report so he immediately texted me and we met as soon as we could.

There it was. In all its glory. The McKinsey Report. In my hands.

I couldn’t believe it.

It was the biggest archaeological find in the history of our industry (after the IoT history I had excavated earlier – Industry old timers will recognize the significance of this find.

My thanks to my friend who resolved the mystery for me.

I unveiled the report at our annual Mobile Future Forward event – “Quantum Leaps” in 2021.

The story of what’s in the report will have to wait for another time but suffice it to say that both The Economist and The New York Times got it wrong factually though directionally they were right. It is also a story about how inaccurate stories get propagated over time and become urban legend.

It is also a story about how incorrect assumptions at the start of the industry creation can derail giants.

A Myth No More. Ladies and Gentlemen, The McKinsey Report.