Today’s expose highlights the world’s largest employee-benefits consulting firm. Willis Towers Watson (WTW) specializes in HR consulting of all kinds, and risk management consulting in particular, while also counting actuarial and investment consulting practices under its umbrella.
While this may be a fairly new firm, it boasts a storied history all the same. In fact, it can trace its roots all the way back to 1878. Created as a result of a 2010 merger between Towers Perrin and Watson Wyatt Worldwide, Towers Watson combines the financial services expertise of the old Towers Perrin with the human capital expertise of the old Watson Wyatt.
Read on to see why Fortune magazine has named Willis Towers Watson on its list of Most Admired Companies four years running, and examine where it may be headed. More importantly, see if you want a place in helping to build its future.
WILLIS TOWERS WATSON KEY STATS
- WTW Website: www.wtwco.com/
- WTW Headquarters: London, UK
- WTW Employees: 43,000 employees
- WTW Locations: 38 countries, 116+ cities
- WTW Chief Executive: Carl Hess
- WTW Revenue: $3.6B (traded on the NYSE and NASDAQ)
- WTW Engagement Cost: $250K
WILLIS TOWERS WATSON HISTORY
Ready for a quick history lesson? The world’s oldest actuarial firm was founded in 1878 by Reuben Watson, and in just 30 years, the English R. Watson & Sons became the prime advisor to the British government on social insurance programs. As R. Watson & Sons was expanding throughout Europe, American B.E Wyatt established the Wyatt Company in 1946 as an actuarial consulting firm. In the mid-1990s, R. Watson & Sons and the Wyatt Company formed a global alliance with the name Watson Wyatt Worldwide.
Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic, Towers Perrin opened for business in the midst of the Depression in 1934 and quickly became tax law experts, even writing a yearly guide which became standard issue at the IRS. In 2010, these two storied companies joined forces to become Towers Watson. Then, in early 2016, Willis Group and Towers Watson merged to form Willis Towers Watson. Finally, in January 2022, the firm rebranded as WTW.
While all that history may be impressive, you’re not reading this for a history lesson. Let’s get into the brass tacks of the firm.
WILLIS TOWERS WATSON ORGANIZATION
Most of the Willis Towers Watson brain trust is located in New York City, headed up by CEO Carl Hess, who has been with the firm for 30+ years.
The practice areas at Towers Watson reflect the operational nature of consulting projects at the firm:
- Communication and Change Management
- Corporate Risk Management and Risk Financing
- Employee Surveys
- Executive Compensation
- Global Data Services
- Health and Group Benefits
- HR Software
- Insurance Industry Consulting
- Mergers, Acquisitions, and Corporate Transactions
- Retiree Medical Exit Solution
- Risk Software Solutions
- Sales Effectiveness and Rewards
- Talent Assessment
- Talent Management
- Technology and Administration Solutions
- Technology and Software Overview
Out of the massive laundry list of HR and benefits options for any old large global firm to choose from, WTW specializes in the Health and Group Benefits, Insurance Industry Consulting and Talent Management practice areas.
Interestingly, when you’re hired into Willis Towers Watson you do not have the opportunity to work across multiple practice areas to become a generalist in wielding all magical HR powers – instead, you’ll need to pick one that will become a specialty area for you.
If you’re thinking of taking the plunge in to HR consulting, network with someone from WTW who works in the practice area you specialize in or would like to specialize in. A current consultant’s recommendation will carry some weight here, and this will ensure your name ends up with the person who has hiring authority in your department of choice.
Industries at Willis Towers Watson
Willis Towers Watson works with a variety of industries around the globe. The good news? Every industry needs expertise in employee retention and navigating the potential pitfalls of mergers and acquisitions. Even if you’re focused in just one practice area (and that can admittedly get boring and repetitive), you’ll get to touch multiple industries – often at the same time, which does offer great training and some skills-based flexibility.
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Office Locations at WTW
WTW has local offices in over 38 countries around the world. While they have a strong presence in Asia and Europe, their largest footprint by far can be found in the U.S., with over 54 offices in operation.
(Just a sidenote – does this mean the U.S. has the most messed-up HR management practices, or that they are on the cutting edge of transformation? Worth thinking about.)
Career Path at Willis Towers Watson
Typical Willis Towers Watson projects are specialized and focus on assessing risk for clients’ health and pension plan offerings, along with creating and implementing HR systems that fit both small and large clients. In fact, the firm has created OneExchange, a private health insurance exchange which counts over 1100 employers and 800,000 customers among its beneficiaries. Over its 9 years of existence, OneExchange has helped save most of its employers between 3-25% on their employee benefit spending.
Willis Towers Watson is not the natural place to go if you love big-picture strategic thinking that will chart the future of an organization, however. If you’re looking to move on to a more prestigious firm (or just general management consulting) after a little while, there are better launching pads to be found. Moving from HR or actuarial consulting to a more broad-based focus may be a bit tricky, as you have superior experience in one particular facet, but minimal experience in others. This will make it difficult to sell yourself for projects that require a different skill set.
Tip: If you are at a firm like Willis Towers Watson or Mercer and wanting to move to more general management consulting, diversify your projects and client base! You may even want to consider taking a couple of pro-bono projects on the side to gain experience.
Typically, undergrads begin their careers as analysts while MBAs come in as senior analysts or consultants dependent upon their other experience. Doing a few things will put you on track for advancing high up the leadership ladder. Taking advantage of training offerings, intentionally diversifying your skill set and clientele, as well as consistent performance and high billable hours will put you on the radar of higher-ups in your department.
The knowledge gained of the healthcare industry at Willis Towers Watson would certainly qualify you for a role at a strategy firm in a healthcare practice. With the boom of healthcare issues (ahem, solutions) currently available, there is plenty of consulting work (and in-house strategy work) to be found.
The major bonus, however, of working somewhere like Willis Towers Watson is that your career opportunities inside industry – industries of any kind – are plentiful. Plus, you have quickly gained exposure in key areas and had access to cross-functional training that will enable you to enter an industry position at a higher level than if you had started in-house at the ground floor.
Once again, exit opportunities to jump over to more general consulting are not plentiful from a place like WTW. You will have to go the extra mile to show that you are well balanced in your skill set and exposure to different kinds of firms and projects.
However, there is an exception to this rule. If you’ve done work for a client that a strategy firm you want to work for is interested building a relationship with, this all of a sudden could move your name up the list when the strategy firm is considering new hires. However, you really need to be at the Post-MBA level (near to or already managing the relationship) to have any real leverage here.
Let’s be honest – Willis Towers Watson, as an HR consulting firm, knows that hiring someone once is the best bang for your buck, as long as you perform.
Internships are available across practice areas, so remember – not all internships are created equal, and not all Willis Towers Watson positions will be the same. Because the firm is more practice area focused, you need to do lots of advanced research about where you want to land – you lose political capital (and potentially a job or an offer) if you decide later in the game that you want to switch practice areas.
Intern pay and training at WTW are on par with other consulting firms, and prior interns have found it a good foot in the door for landing permanent positions.
WILLIS TOWERS WATSON CULTURE
Willis Towers Watson is widely considered the best pension consulting firm in the world, with a great track record of helping clients navigate pension plan costs and implementing successful HR systems. If you have a passion for placing the right people in the right position for the right job, and then rewarding them for a job well done, you will love your work at WTW.
However, you’ll be frustrated and disappointed if you’re expecting to work with C-level execs on overall strategy for the company. Your work fits squarely inside the HR vertical, which is usually somewhere down the food chain of the Operations division of the vision. Some companies are pioneering a C-level manager at this position – Chief People Officer is the hot term right now – but most are not there yet.
While starting base salary at Willis Towers Watson comes in a few thousand less than at MBB firms, which is to be expected, base salary and benefits seem to also be on the lower end compared to starting offers at other Tier 2 boutique consulting firms. The company will match your 401k contribution up to 6%, and allows many the option to work from home one day a week.
The firm is interested in the individual growth of its employees, and thus training programs are present which any employee can take advantage of. In addition, advancement opportunities are typically available for consistent performers. There are typically multiple layers of leadership in a department, which offers more possibilities for promotion but also can be frustrating to deal with. Generally, the main focus of department leadership is billable hours. Workplace culture tends to be fairly similar across different offices.
Like most consulting firms, Willis Towers Watson looks for type-A, self-motivated individuals. Work-life balance is known to get quite out of whack during peak seasons (think major on-boarding seasons, open enrollment for benefits, etc.), and this has been a big enough imbalance that many former employees cite it as one reason for moving on from the firm. Still, employees rave about the industry experts they get to work with on a daily basis, and how the people generally care about the well-being of their clients. Many specifically mention the camaraderie present in the firm.
Overall, WTW is considered a highly positive place to work with excellent peers, competent leadership, and high-impact work.
INTERVIEWS AND RECRUITING
The typical hiring process from application to offer at Willis Towers Watson will vary largely depending upon the position that you are applying for, but you can expect the timeline to take anywhere from 4-12 weeks. Be prepared for several rounds of interviews, the first of which usually consists of connecting with a recruiter for a phone screen.
If you are applying straight out of college, you may also take part in a skills assessment which will test your organization, communication and interpersonal skills. This will be followed by an interview for more specific questioning regarding your past experience and your case interview skills. The final round of interviewing will be conducted by multiple people – usually at least 4 senior people in the department. This final round consists of more behavioral questions, specific cases that you will be asked to come up with strategies for, and fit questions. It may also consist of a group interview.
It’s not all about getting the questions “right” – Willis Towers Watson wants to see if you will be an asset and contribute to its company culture as well as what skills you possess. For example, you may be asked to describe a time when you used good judgment and logic to solve a problem, or a time you used your coping skills when faced with a stressful situation. They are looking for detailed examples in your answers, so come prepared with specific success stories from your past experience! At the end of the day it’s about doing your research and being honest about yourself – otherwise you won’t be a great fit for the highly people-focused culture anyway.
Networking your way into a position at WTW is not hard to do, if you’ve got the right education and experience. First of all, the firm hosts info sessions and career fairs at dozens of schools across the U.S. Access their events calendar to find out when they’re coming to your school and make sure you drop your consulting-ready resume at their booth.
Secondly, set up your LinkedIn profile and search for Willis Towers Watson employees in your network. LinkedIn shows over 12,000 WTW employees, so it’s possible you know someone who knows someone at the firm. For tips on planning your approach and delivering your elevator pitch, read The Consultant’s Networking Bible.
- Penn State University
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- University of Michigan
- University of Minnesota
- University of Texas
- London School of Economics and Political Science
- University of Warwick
- University of Amsterdam
- University of the Philippines
Willis Towers Watson places a huge emphasis on diversity in their workforce, and has councils at both the global and regional level to help fulfill its diversity and inclusion vision. The firm places a high value on engaging with all of its talent and finding ways to bring its workforce together in meaningful ways, and does so by offering different programs and activities throughout the year. Towers Watson also has Associate Resource Communities to better represent every segment of the workforce at the firm.
If saving companies money and increasing employee satisfaction in the process are your passions, you’ll be a great fit at Willis Towers Watson. We offer interview prep support from expert coaches to help you get ready for interviews. Through one-on-one sessions, we’ll help you stand out from 1000s of other applicants and land a job at WTW!