We all know the big name consultancies, but which of those manage to make it into the top ten best management consulting firms, and why are they at the top?
The global consulting market is currently approaching an estimated worth around $155 billion and the ten largest consulting firms retain a firm hold on the majority of market activity. So, whilst household names such as McKinsey and the BCG are what everyone dreams of having on their CV any of these ten would be amazing to work at.
Of course, the differences between these top consulting firms will be in terms of multiple factors at once, so that setting out any top ten will be a matter of balancing factors like prestige and salary level against things like employee work/life balance.
This could make ranking difficult. However, in practice, the best consulting firms fall into a pretty clear order – especially towards the top of the list. Consultancies are not created equal and some firms simply outstrip their rivals in all areas. As we will see below, this pans out with the MBB firms in the top spots, followed largely by members of the Big Four (the members of these blocks competing particularly fiercely with one another), followed by a pack where ranking becomes more difficult.
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Revenue: $10+ billion (2018)
Number of offices: 127
Number of employees: 27,000
McKinsey is the undisputed leader of the consulting world. Historically, this is the firm that really kickstarted the industry since its foundation in 1926. Headquartered in New York, McKinsey employ over 27,000 staff, spread across close to 130 offices worldwide, giving the firm an unmatched global reach and a deeply international atmosphere fitting to the consulting industry as a whole.
McKinsey has a reputation for being very discreet about their client’s affairs with a culture which cultivates strong client-firm relations. Whilst some aspects of this culture has led to bad press in recent times, McKinsey remains the dream destination of everyone who aspires to join the industry.
Working life at McKinsey is fast-paced and highly competitive, with an "up-or-out" policy in place to punish complacency. That said, McKinsey's global staffing model and the fact that they work with as much as 90% of the world's top companies means that your potential for personal development will not be matched at any other firm.
McKinsey is the most prominent of the MBB group of firms. You can read more about McKinsey and how it compares to Bain and BCG in our article on the MBBs. If you are hoping to work at McKinsey, a particularly important read is our article on the three things you should know before the final round interview.
Revenue: $5.6 Billion (2017)
Number of offices: 90
Number of employees: 14,000
BCG is commonly ranked second after McKinsey. They do similar work to McKinsey but are known for their more stringent approach to analysis. Founded in Boston in 1963, in 2018 BCG decided to consolidate two of their offices in that city into one large headquarters. With 90 offices in 50 countries, they have a very international outlook and are a great place for any aspiring consultant to work.
Revenue: $4.5 Billion (2017)
Number of offices: 56
Number of employees: 8,000
Bain rounds up the three MBB consultancies, which are always at the top of everyone’s list. Bain is the youngest of the MBBs, being founded in 1973. Like BCG, Bain is headquartered in Boston, but have over 50 locations around the world. The firm is a hugely desirable employer and is notable in not requiring new consultants to specialise in a single practice area - increasing its appeal for many applicants.
Revenue: $14.4 Billion (37% of the overall global revenue)
Number of offices: Global network in 150 countries
Number of employees; 15,000
Deloitte Consulting is a component of the wider Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu group - branded simply as Deloitte. This is a multinational professional services network and part of the Big Four. See our dedicated article for more on how the Big 4 measures up against the MBB. Deloitte was founded in 1845 in London and is still headquartered there, though it now has over 250,000 employees worldwide, helping it yield in excess of $38 billion in revenue.
Deloitte Consulting accounts for 37% of Deloitte's worldwide revenue share. They are headquartered in New York, with their many locations all over the world making for a very international approach. Deloitte Consulting's main focus areas are in human capital, strategy & operations, and technology.
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Revenue: part of Deloitte’s global revenue
Number of offices: 29
Number of employees: 1,500
Monitor group was acquired by Deloitte in 2012. The group was founded by six entrepreneurs - including the creator of Porter's Five Forces, Michael Porter. Contributing to the cluster of consulting firms in the area, Monitor Group is headquartered in Cambridge, MA. It has its own distinct approach in providing strategy consulting services to the senior management of major organizations and governments.
Revenue: $1.3 Billion
Number of offices: 61 Offices
Number of employees: 3,000
Strategy&, as the name suggests, focuses on strategy consulting. The firm was formerly known and well-respected as Booz and Company, but in 2014 they were acquired by PwC and are now part of that wider professional services network - and thus a part of the Big Four. Strategy& is headquartered in New York with over 3,000 employees spread across 61 offices worldwide. Strategy& thus has its own distinct global footprint, but this global reach is magnified by being part of the wider PwC network.
7. Oliver Wyman
Revenue: $1.9 Billion
Number of offices: 60
Number of employees: 4,500
Oliver Wyman is well known for their focus on banking and financial services. The firm is headquartered in New York and has an extensive network of offices in 27 countries, making them a highly desirable employer. Outside the MBB and Big 4 firms, it becomes harder to compare firms absolutely. However, Oliver Wyman is typically ranked among the ten best consultancies.
Read our full overview of Oliver Wyman here.
Revenue: $1.2 Billion
Number of offices: 50
Number of employees: 2,400
Roland Berger, is unlike all the firms we have listed so far, in that it is a European firm, headquartered in Munich, Germany. Their international reach spans 36 countries, served by over 50 offices. Roland Berger advises clients on a wide range of issues, including strategy development and performance improvement.
Revenue: $500 Million
Number of offices: 21
Number of employees: 3,000
L.E.K. is a highly competitive management consulting firm, headquartered across London and Boston. Founded in 1983 by three partners formerly of Bain, L.E.K.'s main areas of focus are corporate strategy, mergers and acquisitions, and operations. L.E.K. is a particularly desirable employer, sitting at the top of many MBA students' wish lists.
10 A.T. Kearney
Revenue: $1.1 Billion
Number of offices: 60
Number of employees: 3,500
A.T. Kearney can trace its history back to McKinsey, having split from that firm in 1939 and subsequently focused on operations, supply chain, and manufacturing. A.T. Kearney is headquartered in Chicago and, like all the other firms in our top 10, has a very wide global reach - with an impressive 60 offices spread over 40 countries.
Which is Right for You?
Now, the likely reason you have been reading this particular article on this particular site is that you are trying to decide which firms you personally want to apply to work for. Of course, you want to know which are the top management consulting firms, but this ranking can only ever be half of the story as regards your own choice. There are a whole host of factors which you should be considering and which will make the final decision on applications a personal one. Here are a few key criteria to consider now you have a starting list of the best management consulting firms.
Your Fit to Company Culture
The top management consulting firms will always be broadly similar places. In particular, MBB and Big 4 firms are much more similar within those blocks than they are different. However, there are still important disparities between the best consulting firms. Take the MBB companies: organization in McKinsey is a rather traditional, formal and hierarchal, whilst the working environment BCG flatter and more collaborative. Bain, on the other hand, is effectively a mix of both McKinsey and BCG, and the employee culture is often characterised as having a “frattier” vibe – which might be attractive to some and off-putting to others. For more information, we have an excellent article on the differences between the MBBs.
The whole working culture will then change in a more wholesale fashion if we go from MBB to Big 4. We have another article devoted to the differences between MBB and Big 4 from an employee’s point of view.
Generally, you should aim to work for a firm where the prevailing culture fits well with your own character. This won’t just help you to thrive if you end up working there, but will also make your interviewers more likely to select you in the first instance.
Now, any remarks on the differences between these top consulting firms should be taken with the proviso that individual offices within a firm can differ significantly, and might diverge quite a bit from the typical work culture associated with the parent firm. Thus, you will always need to do your research as to which particular branch in which particular region might suit you.
Beyond working culture, one of the main dimensions for variation across the offices of the best consulting firms is the work in which they tend to specialise within a region. For example, some offices of McKinsey might work largely with companies in the financial sector, whilst those in another location might deal predominantly with the oil and gas industry.
These effective specialisms of different offices will be relevant to your chances of acceptance as to how much your background aligns with the office’s work. They will also be relevant to your exit opportunities, giving you more or less chance of parachuting into specific industries you might be interested in.
Probably one of the main reasons you are looking at working for in consulting - and especially for top consulting firms - is the high salaries associated with the sector. These salaries can vary both between companies and between the individual offices of a firm. You will also want to consider both the tax regime and general cost of living where you are considering working, so as to maximise the real-terms worth of your pay. We cover all these considerations in our article on consulting salaries – which includes a comprehensive, regularly-updated listing of salary information for the pay progressions of all major consulting firms.
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