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McKinsey executive Kevin Sneader attends a media briefing in Johannesburg, South Africa, on July 9, 2018.SIPHIWE SIBEKO/Reuters

Partners at McKinsey & Co. voted out the consulting firm’s top executive, Kevin Sneader, this week as it continues to face blowback over its role in fuelling the opioid crisis.

The decision to deny Mr. Sneader a second three-year term as global managing partner came in a vote by more than 600 senior partners, according to a company executive. Earlier this month, McKinsey had agreed to pay 49 states a historic settlement of almost US$600-million because of sales advice the company had given to drug makers.

It is highly unusual for a sitting managing partner at McKinsey to be refused a follow-on term. The last time a firm leader was denied a second term was in 1976, according to the company’s internal history book.

Mr. Sneader, 54, did not even make it to the final round of balloting, according to the company executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The final candidates for Mr. Sneader’s replacement are Bob Sternfels, based in San Francisco, and Sven Smit, based in Amsterdam. The shakeup at the prestigious consulting firm was first reported by The Financial Times.

Mr. Sneader’s term was turbulent from the start, as he tried to deal with controversies stemming from client work that had been undertaken during the nine-year tenure of his predecessor, Dominic Barton, now Canada’s ambassador to China.

Days into his new job in July, 2018, Mr. Sneader had to defend McKinsey after a New York Times report revealed that it was working with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency – even in the midst of widespread fury over the Trump administration’s separation of migrant children from their parents.

At the same time, the fuse was lit for what became the biggest scandal of McKinsey’s 95-year history: its extensive work with Purdue Pharma to “turbocharge” sales of OxyContin in the middle of a national opioid epidemic that has contributed to the deaths of more than 450,000 people over the past two decades.

On July 4 of that year, two McKinsey senior partners on the Purdue account exchanged e-mails discussing possibly “eliminating all our documents and emails” to head off repercussions the firm might face. That exchange was a key part of the settlement states made with McKinsey this month. McKinsey did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement, but both senior partners – who would have been voting in the election of Mr. Sneader’s successor – were fired.

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