If you have been looking into consulting as a career possibility, you’ve probably heard of “MBB” – McKinsey, Bain, and BCG. These three firms are the holy trinity of consulting firms and are the companies that thousands of candidates vie for. But what exactly makes them the best? In this article, we’ll be going over why the MBB firms – McKinsey, BCG, and Bain – are a cut above the rest.
Are MBB Firms Really Better Than Other Consulting Firms?
Being the “best” at anything is a subjective matter. Regardless of the industry, whether it’s fashion, sports, or business, people will always have their own opinions. Besides MBB, there are plenty of other notable consulting firms that have a lot going for them, such as Deloitte Consulting, which actually boasts higher annual consulting revenue than Bain.
However, the “greats” of any industry always becomes the “greats” for their excellence amongst their peers. When it comes to consulting, there are several reasons why MBB exists in its own tier.
What Makes MBB Firms Better?
Let’s dive straight into the unique aspects of MBB that make them stand out from the rest of the pack.
Focus on Strategy
By and large, McKinsey, BCG, and Bain are known for their expertise in helping clients develop organizational strategy. Strategy work is considered to be the most challenging of all types of consulting because you are dealing with the unknown. This is in comparison to implementation, financial, and tech consulting projects, which are borne from the strategy that has already been decided upon.
Because they have been working on these strategy projects for so long, MBB have established innovative ways to help their clients. They are the pioneers in business strategy and have created frameworks (i.e. the BCG Matrix) and ways of thought (i.e. McKinsey’s Pyramid Principle) that are implemented throughout the business world. MBB are also able to draw upon their rich experience with strategy projects to recognize patterns and use precedents to best help their clients.
Speed to Solution
MBB are known for the limited scope of their projects. This enables speed to solution, as anything that falls outside of the scope of the project is ignored. MBB also bill by the project (not by the hour), so consultants are incentivized to find the best solution in the shortest amount of time.
Long-Standing Client Relationships
McKinsey consulting, BCG consulting, and Bain consulting have decades and decades of experience helping businesses solve their hardest problems. When the largest Fortune 500 companies have to make a decision on which consulting firm to hire for their next project, it’s easier for them to choose one of the firms they’ve worked with before.
McKinsey consulting, BCG consulting, and Bain consulting are not only the best consulting firms, they also work with clients who are titans of their own industries. This ultimately translates to more interesting consulting projects, as the lion’s share of the best companies in the world hire MBB for their business needs. As an MBB consultant, you’ll be exposed to the smartest management teams and most interesting and complex problems on a global scale.
The cycle continues as consultants from McKinsey, Bain, and BCG leave to become business leaders in their own right. Guess who they will hire when their companies or divisions need consulting help?
Prestige and Rich History
MBB consistently rank amongst not only the best consulting firms to work for but also the best companies to work for, period. With their long and rich history, MBB are the most prestigious of all consulting firms with brand names recognized throughout the world.
Other consulting firms may try to emulate MBB, but they can never copy the rich history that each firm has. Firms that stand the test of time continue to exist because they are able to outmaneuver their competitors and maintain a consistent level of excellence. By joining MBB, you are joining historic firms with outstanding reputations.
Attractive Exit Opportunities
Having McKinsey consulting, BCG consulting, or Bain consulting on your resume will instantly provide you with credibility as you pursue opportunities throughout your career. Even though MBB provide amazing opportunities for personal and professional development, consulting is not everyone’s life goal. These firms recognize that and encourage consultants to pursue their interests and passions. For instance, Bain encourages its consultants to step away from consulting and spend several months working in externships across various industries.
Most firms also love hiring ex-MBB consultants because they know how rigorous both the recruiting process and projects are at MBB. As a result, once you leave MBB, you are provided with exit opportunities that are harder to come by compared to having a background at other consulting firms. MBB consultants exit to the best business schools and most coveted corporate positions across all industries.
McKinsey, BCG, and Bain have a great reputation for maintaining excellent relationships with their alumni. It’s actually quite a smart long-term strategy because many ex-MBB consultants eventually end up being executives at some of the largest companies in the world. These relationships are important when the best consulting firms are pitching for a project. Here are some of the notable alumni from MBB:
McKinsey Consulting Notable Alumni:
- Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google
- Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook
- James Gorman, CEO, Morgan Stanley
- Oliver Bate, CEO, Allianz
- Tidjane Thiam, CEO, Credit Suisse
Bain Consulting Notable Alumni:
- Mitt Romney, former US presidential candidate
- Meg Whitman, CEO, HP
- John Donahoe, former CEO, eBay
- Susan Wojicki, CEO, Youtube
- Mark Pincus, founder, Zynga
BCG Consulting Notable Alumni:
- Indra Nooyi, Chairwoman and CEO of PepsiCo
- John Legend, Musician
- Bill Bain, founder of Bain
- Jeff Immelt, former CEO, General Electric
- Roland Berger, Founder, Roland Berger Strategy Consultants
McKinsey, BCG, and Bain are known to have notoriously challenging recruiting processes. These firms have extremely high bars for their candidates, both in intellect and work ethic. As a result, if you successfully join one of these firms, you are surrounded by some of the smartest and ambitious professionals in the world.
The vast majority of your experience at work is determined by the people you work with. Regardless if what you’re working on is big or small, working with talented individuals will most quickly help you grow both personally and professionally. At MBB, you’ll be challenged to be the best version of yourself day in and day out by your colleagues, and you’ll learn at an incredible pace.
Are There any Disadvantages to working at MBB?
With the good, there is the bad. An experience at MBB isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. While most MBB consultants value and don’t regret the experience, there still are tradeoffs that come with working at the best consulting firms in the world.
Work-Life Balance At MBB Firms
Your work-life balance will differ widely from project to project. However, you are on the road – a lot. And in your first year, you don’t have any control of your schedule. You won’t be working consistent 80-100 hour weeks like investment bankers, but there will be days when you have to burn the midnight oil. This is especially true when you have a big upcoming deliverable.
Up or Out Culture
Simply put, there aren’t enough senior positions for all aspiring consultants. As a result, there is what’s known as an “up or out” culture at MBB. This means that you either get promoted to the next level or you are phased out. These “up or out” promotion points come every 2-3 years. Many consultants choose to leave for other opportunities at that first promotion point, regardless of whether they have been offered a promotion or not.
Intense Work Culture
Regardless of whether you find the work stimulating, being a consultant at MBB is not for the faint of heart. McKinsey, BCG, and Bain have a strong culture of feedback and constructive criticism, meaning that you’ll need to develop some thick skin.
These are very human capital driven firms, and very little will slip through the cracks. In fact, you’ll have a professional review every 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, and at the end of every project. That’s a lot of feedback! Of course, you’re allowed to make mistakes. However, you’re expected to learn from them quickly to demonstrate your growth.
Distinctions and Differences At MBB Firms
Now that you know the good and the bad aspects of the world’s top consulting firms, let’s dive into each and what sets them apart from one another.
McKinsey was founded in 1926 by James McKinsey and has the longest history amongst the top consulting firms. The firm currently employs 26,000+ people across 120+ offices and generated $10B annual revenue in 2017.
- Voted #1 on Vault’s “The Best Consulting Firms: Prestige” since 2002
- McKinsey consultants are trained to attack problems in a structured, formal way and are not as focused on collegial team relationships
- Areas of expertise include technology and education
- Most extensive global alumni network due to longest and richest history
- Pioneered hiring of Advanced Degree Professionals (PhDs and other Doctorate degrees)
- Utilizes a global staffing model that results in consultants traveling large distances for projects
- Moves consultants into subject matter expert or generalist tracks
BCG consulting was founded in 1963 by Bruce Henderson, a former Arthur D. Little consultant and a Vanderbilt University and Harvard Business School alumnus. The firm currently employs 18,500+ people across 85+ offices and generated $7.5B annual revenue in 2018.
- Consistently featured in Consulting Magazine’s “Best Firms to Work For” lists since 2001
- BCG consultants tend to be creative, innovative, and in the upper ranks, thought leaders in their fields
- Areas of expertise include corporate development, business growth, and innovation
- Offers innovative programs such as BCG GAMMA, BCG Platinion, and BCG Digital Ventures
- Pitches itself to clients as being more innovative than McKinsey but more experienced than Bain
- Maintains a local staffing model but also enjoys a global reach with some projects requiring large distances of travel
- Offers unique programs like the Strategy Institute and BCG Fellows Program, allowing top performers to explore other interests
Bain was founded in 1973 by Bill Bain, an ex-BCG consultant and Bruce Henderson’s protege. The firm currently employs 11,200 people across 47 offices and generated $3.8B annual revenue in 2017.
- Ranked #1 “Best Place to Work” by Glassdoor and leads the Vault Consulting 50 ranking, as well as Vault’s “Best
- Consulting Firms to Work For” ranking
- Camaraderie, connectivity, and conviction characterize the culture at Bain, where the local office culture is strong and the focus is on teamwork
- Areas of expertise include private equity, mergers and acquisitions, and retail
- Fund Bain Capital was founded by partners from Bain & Company and led by Mitt Romney
- Reputed to have the strongest alumni network in terms of quality of relationships
- Projects tend to be staffed locally, meaning less travel for consultants
- Embeds a 6-month long sabbatical through externships into career progression
So are MBB firms actually better than other consulting firms? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing is certain, when you exit from your consulting career at MBB, you will have excellent exit opportunities. Not all consulting firms can say that. Do MBB firms deliver a better product to their clients than non-MBB firms? It’s hard to say. However, the prestige factor gives executives some safety when making a decision on which consulting firm to hire. If you’re fortunate enough to work at McKinsey, Bain, or BCG, let us know your thoughts. Is MBB better than the rest?