Heroes & zeros: Danby and McKinsey


It’s not easy for Jim Estill to assess whether his unusually generous support for Syrian refugees has helped or hurt his business.

Estill is chief executive of Danby Appliances, a maker of washing machines, dishwashers and microwaves based in Guelph, Ontario. He emerged two years ago as one of the biggest single participants in the Liberal government’s much-publicized drive to offer Syrian refugees a new home in Canada. As of late August, Estill alone had sponsored 61 families, with another six on the way and likely more in the future.

“There has certainly been a lot of press, so Danby name recognition is higher than it was,” Estill told Corporate Knights in an email. “Most people view what we do favourably, so I am sure that results in some business.”

On the other hand, he acknowledged, “some people view it negatively, so that offsets some of what might be gains.”

Whatever the impact on Danby, Estill’s philanthropy has made a big enough splash that he was awarded the Order of Canada this past summer. A second government-sponsored award this year specifically recognized the company’s in-house training program, on-the-job language training, and conversation circles with staff and volunteers.

“The Danby tagline is, ‘Do the right thing,’” Estill said. “Hiring immigrants and diversity are both ‘right things to do’ – to give people a chance. We have found that diversity in our workplace has made us stronger and more innovative. More views and perspectives means better solutions are found.”

Estill describes his decision to sponsor the Syrians as simply a response to a humanitarian crisis. “Government did not seem to be working fast enough. I calculated how many families a city like Guelph could absorb. And I figured out what I could afford.”

Private sponsors have supported about 44 per cent of the 56,260 Syrian refugees admitted to Canada between November 2015 and August 2018, the federal government says. The sponsors agree to support their families for at least a year, typically at a cost of $20,000 to $25,000 per family, putting Estill’s contribution at well over $1.2 million.

He says most of the families he has helped are doing well in Canada. Over 80 per cent have found jobs and learned English. Nonetheless, as he points out, “these are people, so some do better than others.”

Estill also cites frustrations such as delays in the entry process and maintaining volunteers’ interest in newly arrived families.

But the toughest task of all has been to decide which families get the nod to start a new life in Canada. “It is like playing God and it causes lost sleep,” Estill wrote in a blog post on Danby’s website.



For years, the name McKinsey has signalled integrity, discretion and smart ideas. The New York-based management consultancy’s client list includes many of the world’s top companies. It has typically hired the pick of the crop from the best universities.

That stellar reputation has taken some hard knocks as McKinsey has found itself in the thick of a high-profile corruption scandal in South Africa, and has been forced to cut ties with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE.

“The trust of our clients and the public in South Africa is now, understandably, very low,” Kevin Sneader, McKinsey’s global managing partner, acknowledged in July as he issued his second public apology for the firm’s dealings with Eskom, the government-owned power monopoly. “We came across as arrogant or unaccountable,” he added. “To be brutally honest, we were too distant to understand the growing anger in South Africa.”

Sneader’s apologies came in the wake of a settlement under which McKinsey agreed to repay almost one billion South African rand (US$74 million) in fees to Eskom. The firm acknowledged that it had overcharged the utility, and been too slow in admitting its mistakes.   

The problems stemmed from McKinsey’s involvement with Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta, three brothers accused of corrupt dealings with South Africa’s disgraced former president, Jacob Zuma. Evidence has surfaced that the Guptas often determined the award of government contracts and key appointments.

McKinsey’s partner in the Eskom contract was Trillian Capital Partners, a company with close links to the Gupta family.

As part of its drive to turn over a new leaf, McKinsey has also parted company with its senior partner and several other staff members in South Africa, and has suspended all government business in the country. An independent committee has been set up to approve any new work. “This committee will set a very high bar for impact and the quality of the contracting process,” McKinsey pledged.

As for ICE, many of the firm’s employees were taken aback by news reports that McKinsey had collected more than US$20 million from an agency that has come under fire for its harsh treatment of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants in the U.S.

Sneader, who took over as global managing partner in July, promised in an internal note obtained by The New York Times that the firm “will not, under any circumstances, engage in any work, anywhere in the world, that advances or assists policies that are at odds with our values.”

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