Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg rejected as “bullshit” a critical characterization of his work at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company — forcefully defending his private sector experience in a contentious exchange with the New York Times editorial board.
“The biggest thing was that I had a great academic education, but I was beginning to feel that there wasn’t as much real-world experience mixed in with it,” Buttigieg said of his decision to join the firm in 2007 after finishing his Rhodes Scholarship at the University of Oxford.
In his interview with the Times’ editorial board, which took place early last month and was published in full on Thursday, Buttigieg said he “was eager to do as many things as I could, touching as many fields as I could, and to understand business in particular, about how people and money and goods move around the world and how that works.”
Buttigieg left McKinsey in 2010 to pursue elected office, mounting a failed bid for Indiana state treasurer before becoming the mayor of South Bend in 2012. But his time with the firm has plagued his White House bid in a Democratic primary distinguished by anti-corporate sentiment, and has contributed to charges from fellow candidates that he is too closely aligned with the financial elite.
Facing sustained attacks from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, as well as pressure from the Times’ editorial board, Buttigieg’s campaign made public last month his full McKinsey client list after the firm released him from a nondisclosure agreement.
As part of his work advising various businesses and government agencies, Buttigieg completed a six-month assignment in Toronto in 2008 on behalf of Canadian supermarket chain Loblaws, analyzing “the effects of price cuts on various combinations of items across hundreds of stores.”
In 2017, Loblaws’ executives admitted to participating in a vast price-fixing scheme that began in 2001 and involved several top Canadian grocers and bread manufacturers inflating and manipulating the price of bread over the course of a decade.
Loblaws gave $25 gift cards to customers who declared they bought bread at their chains before March 2015, and the company is not currently facing criminal charges or penalties because it provided information about the plot to the Canadian government.
Buttigieg lashed out when asked about the controversy by the Times’ editorial board, after journalist Binyamin Appelbaum asserted that the candidate had “been on the front lines of corporate downsizing” and “corporate price fixing.”
“Whoa, whoa whoa, that’s, that’s, I’m sorry, that’s —” Buttigieg retorted as Appelbaum continued his line of questioning.
“So the proposition that I’ve been on front lines of corporate price fixing is bullshit. Just to get that out of the way,” Buttigieg said.
“You worked for a company that was fixing bread prices,” Appelbaum replied.
“No, I worked for a consulting company that had a client that may have been involved in fixing or was apparently in a scandal,” Buttigieg said, going on to claim that he was “not aware of the Canadian bread pricing scandal until last night.”
Buttigieg’s campaign told BuzzFeed News last month that he had nothing to do with the Canadian price-fixing scheme during his time with McKinsey advising Loblaws, and that he had not worked on bread pricing specifically. Loblaws also said Buttigieg played no role in the scheme.
“He was part of a team that ran analytics and put together a model to help this supermarket chain determine how much — and in what stores— they could make certain items more affordable in order to gain new customers,” campaign spokesperson Sean Savett said in a statement.