While MBB means men’s basketball to many avid sports fans, those in the consulting world know the acronym also stands for the holy grail of consulting firms: McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain. The MBB consulting firms are ranked at the top of the industry for brand prestige and attract hundreds of thousands of applicants each year.
But, what makes them so special? Several factors help MBB stand out from the rest of the consulting pack. Though there are several key differences amongst the MBB consulting firms, there are some overlapping similarities as well.
What Makes MBB Special?
The MBB firms have earned their level or respect and prestige in the consulting industry for a variety of reasons. These include:
- Top Clients – MBB have built relationships with the largest and most meaningful companies in the world to build the strongest client bases in the industry.
- Rich Histories and Strong Track Records – Each MBB firm has been in business for decades, and branded itself as a strategic partner for its clients. This allowed each to build a seemingly untouchable brand over time.
- Higher Project Fees – MBB charge clients the highest fees in the market (for a strategy project, this is ~$500K/month for a team of 6, plus 20% on top of that for travel).
- Compensation – MBB firms pay the highest compensation in the industry as they compete with Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and other consulting firms for top talent.
- Attention to Pedigree – MBB firms are the most selective in the hiring process (~3% of candidates are accepted); brand name experience on your resume helps you stand out.
All these factors combine to make the MBB firms the most influential consulting companies in the world. Read on to learn about the unique aspects of each firm.
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McKinsey & Company
McKinsey is the most prestigious consulting firm in the world. Since its founding in 1926, the company has grown to over 30,000 employees across 150 global offices. The company generates an estimated $10.5B in annual revenue.
McKinsey is structured a bit like an academic organization. Senior partners are the tenured faculty, and new hires are the bright, eager students. The firm has around 100 performance cells that are all autonomous, categorized by geographic office, industry practice, or functional practice. Beyond that, there’s no hierarchical structure at the firm – consultants at all levels work together on projects. Like many top management consulting firms, McKinsey operates on an “up or out” basis – consultants must receive (and accept) a promotion within a pre-defined timeframe (usually two years) or exit the firm.
McKinsey Exit Opportunities
What are your prospects when you leave McKinsey? Infinite! With a McKinsey background, you’ll be highly desirable to PE firms, Fortune 500 companies looking for P&L leaders, and to VCs looking to back the next entrepreneur. You’ll leave the firm with an amazing analytical toolset, an unparalleled perspective on business, and access to a vast global network.
Kevin Gao, our founder, chose to go the entrepreneurship route!
McKinsey Notable Alumni
We thought it would be fun to include a list of famous McKinsey alum – to give you an idea of what could be in store for you. Some of the most prominent include:
- Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook
- Jane Fraser, CEO of Citi
- Jonathan Schwartz, former CEO of Sun Microsystems
- Kevin Sharer, CEO of Amgen
- Tom Leppert, President and COO of Kaplan
- Harvey Golub, former CEO of American Express and former Chairman of American International Group
- Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., former Chairman and CEO of IBM and chairman of The Carlyle Group
- James P. Gorman, President and CEO of Morgan Stanley
- Stephen Green, Chairman of HSBC
- Bobby Jindal, former Governor of Louisiana
- James McNerney, Chairman and CEO of Boeing
There’s no doubt you’ll be surrounded by intelligent, interesting people at McKinsey. Read any blog, and you’ll see people rave about their “incredibly smart colleagues”. As a young professional you’ll enjoy unparalleled exposure to complex and diverse business problems, high-impact client projects, and diverse industries.
You’ll have the opportunity to travel a LOT if you want to, and your social calendar will fill up quickly with happy hours, retreats, and the like. Take advantage of some of the best training and development opportunities in the consulting industry. And don’t forget the perks that will make your friends drool.
You’ll find that McKinsey consultants are very smart and business-like, but aren’t the most collegial out of the MBB firms. The firm is known for engaging in long legacy client relationships (including some in-house strategy offices) and it’s “work hard, work hard” culture with a little play thrown in. The focus at McKinsey is on being the best and continuing to set the standard for the consulting industry.
The McKinsey Way
One thing you can count on when interacting with a McKinsey consultant – they’re trained to attack a problem in a certain way. The firm is diligent about preserving its hypothesis-driven mindset (founded on The Pyramid Principle) across its growing team. It’s like an underlying software program every McKinsey consultant has downloaded into their brains, and is what defines the culture at McKinsey. It’s also what consultants like former McKinsey & Co. Partner-turned-Kellogg Dean of Students Betsy Ziegler say they miss the most when they leave.
McKinsey staffs globally, which means that you’ll work on project engagements with 5-6 member teams pulled from locations around the world. As such, sign up for your favorite frequent flyer programs and expect to travel close 100% of the time. Even if a client doesn’t demand your presence on-site, you’ll need to fly to connect with your team.
Boston Consulting Group (BCG)
The second largest out of the MBB firms, Boston Consulting Group is known as an innovative thought leader in the consulting industry. The firm has roughly 21,000 employees across ~100 global offices. The company generates roughly $8.5B in annual revenue.
Boston Consulting Group Organization
Like any business that grows from a 1-man show to a global behemoth, BCG has seen its share of organizational changes. However, the modern BCG is structured very much like McKinsey – Partners and Principals lead the firm’s internal operations and consulting-focused practice areas. Project Leaders lead individual engagements, while Associates and Consultants do the bulk of the analytical work.
BCG Exit Opportunities
If the training and development at BCG aren’t enough to make you feel confident about your exit opportunities (and they should be!), the BCG alum badge should fill the void. Let’s face it – having BCG on your resume will open almost any door you want to pursue – whether it’s business leadership, private equity, venture capital, entrepreneurship, or something else.
BCG Notable Alumni
Check out this list of notable BCG alum—
- Jean-Christophe Babin – CEO of TA Heuer
- Sally Blount – Dean of Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University
- Bill Bain – Founder of Bain & Co.
- Benjamin Netanyahu – Former Prime Minister of Israel
- Roland Berger – Founder of Roland Berger Strategy Consultants
- Indra Nooyi – Former CEO of Pepsi
- Alexander Rossolimo – Founding Chairman of Center for Security and Social Progress, Inc.
- Mauricio Gonzalez Sfeir – Former Secretary of Energy of Bolivia
- Steve Hafner – Co-founder and CEO of Kayak.com, co-founder and former CEO of Orbitz
- John Ho – Former Asia chief of The Children’s Investment Fund
- Jeff Immelt – Former CEO of General Electric
Boston Consulting Group Culture
So what’s it like to be a “BCGer”? BCG says they look for “curiosity, talent, and the ability to lead” in their new hires. You’ll find all this and more in consultants at BCG. If you like to work around smart people, have access to opportunities for work and travel in foreign countries, and enjoy frequent company-sponsored outings and excursions, you’ve come to the right place.
Talk to any BCGer and you’ll notice 3 things:
A BCGer has the ability to look creatively at any problem.
- BCG cases are the most curveball, the most surprising, the most push-the-envelope. The firm isn’t looking for people who have memorized frameworks – they expect candidates who can create their own problem solving approach on the fly.
A BCGer does not accept the status quo – ever.
- If you look at the above list, notice that multiple alums of the firm went on to found their own consulting firms. Not satisfied with just advising their corporate clients, they disrupted the consulting establishment with a move to directly compete against the firm they came from.
A BCGer is a true academic who looks at the big picture.
- BCG consultants are constantly looking at public policy, tax, competitive, creative, and disruptive influences across markets. In your BCG interview, you might find yourself talking about business or science or politics – and you’ll be expected to authentically understand and believe what you share. Because the culture prides itself on being cutting edge, consultants are prone to intensity and debate – always pushing the envelope to understand and challenge each other.
We mentioned office culture earlier and compared it to Bain. While the similarity is there, we’d classify BCG as more conservative in terms of the office vibe. Additionally, while teamwork is an essential part of any BCG office, there’s also a lot of focus on individual effort on projects.
BCG also places a ton of emphasis on “rolling up its sleeves” and “tailored solutions for clients.” BCG sells against McKinsey more often than Bain, and their customized, collaborative client approach is a direct slam on its larger competitor.
The typical travel schedule at BCG is 4-days-a-week, with everyone back in the office on Fridays. Often, consultants will use Fridays to connect with their project leaders, set their plan for the next week, determine what work they’ll need to accomplish over the weekend, then hit happy hour with other BCGers to rehash the ups and downs of the job.
Since it is MBB, you can expect a rigorous travel schedule, but at the same time expect to earn elite status quickly across airline and hotel loyalty programs.
The smallest of the MBB bunch, but definitely a force to be reckoned with, Bain currently employs around 11,000 people across over 50 offices worldwide. The company generates an estimated $4.5B in annual revenue.
The company is headed not by a sole CEO, but by 2 individuals – the Worldwide Managing Director and the Chairman of the Board. Below that, there are 3 Regional Managing Directors for the firm’s business regions – The Americas, Asia Pacific, and EMEA.
After that, Bain’s organization is typical of the top consulting firms – they hire undergrads as Associate Consultants (ACs) who work for 2-3 years before exiting or pursuing an MBA. If you’re hired as an MBA, you enter as a Consultant and rise from there to Case Team Leader, Principal, then finally Partner (assuming all goes well.) It’s a typical up-or-out system, with more focus on the up.
Bain used to utilize a 50-50 staffing model, where consultants were assigned to 2 projects at the same time. The idea was that staff would always be at least 50% utilized. In seasons of intense growth, however, the staffing model was unsustainable. Consulting utilizes a business model that promises clients 110% effort on any project, so when an Associate Consultant or Consultant became a shared resource between 2 Managers both expecting 100%, internal warring became inevitable. When the firm decided to move towards a 100% model – 1 project per AC or Consultant – everyone was happy.
Bain Exit Opportunities
A Bain alum doesn’t have quite the same street cred as a McKinsey alum, but the opportunities after exiting are similar. One thing that’s a little different with Bain – a lot of Bainees are hired by private equity firms when they decide to leave the firm. Those with PE experience are especially sought after.
You also have access to opportunities that are available within the rest of the company, especially if you’re in a mega location. You can explore the firm’s non-profit branch, The Bridgespan Group, for example, or non-client-facing roles within the firm, like marketing, HR, or recruiting.
Bain Notable Alumni
Here’s a list of notable Bain alum:
- Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express
- Gary Crittenden, CFO of Citigroup, Monsanto and Sears
- John Donahoe, CEO of eBay
- Meg Whitman, former CEO of Hewlett Packard
- Mark Pincus (Bain Intern), Founder and CEO of Zynga
- Jonathan Kraft, President of the New England Patriots
- Mitt Romney, Current U.S. Senator from Utah, Former Governor of Massachusetts, Co-Founder of Bain Capital, 2012 Republican nominee for President of the United States
- Vivek Paul, Partner at Texas Pacific Group, former CEO of Wipro
- Javed Ahmed, Chief Executive of Tate & Lyle
- Jeffrey Zients, Chief Performance Officer, Executive Office of the President of the U.S.
- Jenny Rae Le Roux – CEO of Management Consulted
So what’s it like to be a “Bainee”? Well, the fact that the firm has a band (The Bain Band) that makes up its own lyrics to perform songs like Sweet Child of Mine and Brown Eyed Girl at corporate events should tell you something. Without a doubt, Bain is known as the “frattiest” of the top 3 firms. They know how to enjoy a beer in the office on Fridays. While this is essential to recruiting success, the firm has had to become more formal in the past 10 years to avoid losing its mystique and prestige.
Local office culture is a huge draw at Bain. Connectivity, camaraderie, and conviction are common themes that draw new recruits to the firm – many cross-offers select Bain because they just end up loving the people they meet. The local office is so core, in fact, that Bainees are less connected across the globe.
Bainees are creative, entrepreneurial, and quirky. They naturally think outside the box and they’re willing to risk everything—a core trait demonstrated by Bain’s near-failure followed by its rapid rise to the top and continued global expansion. In fact, Bain hired a guy wearing pink seersucker in his interview, just going to prove that Bainee clothes are even more colorful than a typical McKinsey-ite or BCG-er (obviously, he was instructed to put the outfit away before his first client interaction!).
Travel with Bain runs on a 4-days-a-week schedule with Fridays in the home office. Because Bain has a local staffing model – each office develops a core client base in its local/regional area. Even more importantly, you’re always staffed on teams from your local office. You travel less than you would with, let’s say, Deloitte. You won’t need to travel half-way around the world to meet up with your team or work for the client. At Bain, much of your work can be done from the office.
If you want to travel every week, you may or may not get that opportunity at Bain. If you’re getting into consulting because you want to see the world, Bain might not be your #1 option. Although, you’ll still have plenty of opportunities to see glorious places from Pascagoula, MS to Milan on the company dime.
Top Reasons to Work at Each MBB Firm
Here are some of the key reasons you might want to work at each of the MBB firms. Note that these components can be pros or cons based on your own perspective.
Top Reasons to Work at McKinsey
- Most prestigious of the MBB firms with largest global footprint
- Structured, professional, and hierarchical environment
- Most international travel
- Best exit opportunities
Top Reasons to Work at Boston Consulting Group
- Thought leader in the consulting industry with a strong focus on strategy
- In between McKinsey and Bain in terms of camaraderie within firm
- Intellectual culture that prioritizes creativity
- Unique programs offered to top performers
Top Reasons to Work at Bain
- Fratty culture that places big emphasis on camaraderie
- Least amount of travel
- Expertise in private equity through Bain Capital and project work
- Smallest of the MBB firms, resulting in more entrepreneurial culture
If you receive an offer from any of the MBB consulting firms, congratulations! You can’t make a wrong choice. Each firm has an amazing history and unbeatable track record that makes them the gold standard of the consulting industry. Barring unforeseen disruption, the MBB firms will likely rule the roost for decades to come.