MBB is a shorthand way to refer to the “Big 3” strategy consulting firms, McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain & Company. These firms are the most prestigious consulting firms because they hire top graduates of highly competitive undergraduate and M.B.A. programs, solve the toughest business problems (industry disruption, mergers & acquisitions, new product development & launches), and serve industry-leading clients.
The MBB consulting firms are the toughest in the industry to land jobs with, hiring less than 1% of the people who apply each year. Is it worth the investment of time to apply?
In this article, we’ll discuss:
- What sets MBB consulting firms apart from the rest of the consulting world?
- How the Big Three consulting firms differ from each other: McKinsey, Bain, and BCG
- Top reasons for working at each MBB consulting firm
Let’s get started!
What Sets MBB Consulting Firms Apart from Competitors
- History: The MBB consulting firms have a rich history of thought leadership and client impact. They have been in the business for a long time, with the oldest being McKinsey, founded in 1926. With their continuous contribution towards learning and impact, they have created an unbeatable and reputable relationship with their clients, usually top executives at Fortune 500 companies. For example, McKinsey Quarterly, started in 1964, has been helping senior management to understand business problems and assist with strategies to face them.
- Diversity of Projects & Clients: The MBB firms serve a diverse set of clients on challenging projects. They’ve helped companies step up their game and manage global disruptions, like the dot com or AI disruption. Their impact is everywhere, but not always seen. If you’ve ever used the Starbucks app to quench your caffeine thirst, you’ve already witnessed the impact created by an MBB firm. BCG has helped Starbucks create its app to improve customer experience, retention, and overall revenue.
- High-Quality Work: Each of the Big 3 have different organizational models, but they all seek to consistently deliver high-quality work. McKinsey feels that it delivers quality by working on-site with their client and solving problems together. BCG’s approach is to deliver unique, bottom-up solutions tailored to every client rather than leveraging solutions that have worked for other clients. Whatever the method, they seek to make a big impact on the client’s business.
- Focus on Individual Development: Strong focus on the personal and professional development of each and every individual is in the DNA of the MBB consulting firms. One can definitely expect to grow immensely while at the MBBs.
- Camaraderie: The MBB consulting firms all interview for strong teamwork skills. As they say at Bain, “a Bainie never lets another Bainie fail,” which shows the culture and the level of support you can expect.
- Competitive Salary: With great work and responsibilities, come higher paychecks. MBB consulting firms pay more than other consulting firms across levels, as they are in a talent war with Wall Street’s investment banks, venture capitalists, tech firms, and others.
- Brand Value: High-quality work, long-standing client relationships, great work culture, and competitive salary, all come together to create a strong brand value for the MBB firms.
- Excellent Exit Opportunities: MBB consultants, with their diverse experiences, have a plethora of exit opportunities in operations, strategy, finance, sales, and leadership roles. Additionally, the alumni network is extremely strong, which can open doors to top firms across industries.
Nail the case & fit interview with strategies from former MBB Interviewers that have helped 89.6% of our clients pass the case interview.
Overview of Different Types of Consulting Firms
The global management consulting industry is huge, with annual global revenue almost reaching $1 trillion in 2022. It’s expected to continue to grow at ~10% annually. There are many more firms than the MBB in the industry. The “Big 4” and various boutique consulting firms play a vital role in driving strategic business decisions and creating a global impact.
Deloitte, EY, PwC, and KPMG, are collectively called the Big 4 of Accounting, and with their consulting arms, they play a major role in driving global consulting projects, especially around implementation and transformation.
Boutique firms are newer, specialized, or localized consulting firms dealing within a particular sector, function, or region. Usually, boutique consulting firms are smaller with a focus on specialized and customized offerings. With smaller team sizes, they usually work closely with their clients throughout the life cycle of the project.
MBB Firms vs. the Big 4 & Boutique Consulting Firms
Let’s dig into how the MBB firms compare with the Big 4 and other boutique firms. This will help you make a more informed decision when choosing between firms.
- Clientele: Consultants in the MBBs deal with upper management of Fortune 500 companies, while in Big 4, clients are usually from the middle-management and IT leadership. With boutique firms, this can vary.
- Projects: MBBs work more often on strategic projects with a lot of room for getting creative and crafting a unique solution. The Big 4 firms more frequently focus on operations and transformation. Among boutique firms, the type of projects might vary and can be strategic vs. operational, based on the firm and the client.
- Recruitment: As mentioned above, the bar for getting an offer from an MBB firm is quite high, and less than 1% of applicants get offers. Contrary to this, recruitment in the Big 4 or boutique firms is easier, though still not easy.
- Compensation: The MBB firms offer high salaries compared to the Big 4 and other boutique consulting firms. Though, it is worth noting that some boutique firms pay more than MBB. Read our Management Consulting Salary Report for more information.
- Prestige: Having an MBB consulting firm on your resume shows prospective recruiters that you have passed a rigorous selection process and a stamp of approval as top talent. It elevates your professional brand at first glance.
- Work-Life Balance: The life of a consultant at MBB firms involves long hours but with strongly unstructured work. On the flip side, work at Big 4 is more structured and balanced, which allows some breathing space and enough time to maintain a work-life balance.
- Training and Development: MBBs have specialized training sessions on problem-solving and execution which helps in driving strategy projects and translates to an intense learning experience for anyone working at MBB firms. In the Big 4 firms, the training, although extensive, is focused more on process and technology management which aligns more with the type of projects undertaken. Training at boutique firms varies, relying more on interaction with senior consultants and subject-matter experts.
- Working Culture: MBB firms have a flat hierarchy with the whole team responsible for problem-solving and delivery. Big 4 firms, on the other hand, have hierarchical structures with responsibilities divided among various team members. Boutique firms with their smaller size tend to have highly entrepreneurial and ownership-driven cultures.
- Exit Opportunities: The brand value and the diverse experience that one gets while working at MBBs provide an open field of opportunities when exiting the consulting industry. The jobs MBB consultants leave consulting for include private equity firms, venture funds, start-ups, and strategy or management positions in Fortune 500 companies. For anyone working in Big 4 or boutique consulting firms, the exit opportunities are still lucrative but may be more focused on the function or sector they worked in.
Now we understand why MBB consulting firms are considered the Big Three strategy consulting firms compared to the Big 4 and the boutique consulting firms. Let’s dive into how the MBB firms compare against each other and how to know which one is the best for you.
MBB Comparison: McKinsey vs. Bain vs. BCG
The MBB consulting firms can seem very similar to those new to the consulting industry, but the cultures and approaches to client work are different. Each firm looks for recruits who understand their firm’s uniqueness and fit their firm best.
Knowing what sets the Big Three consulting firms apart from each other will help you strengthen your chances of landing your dream job.
McKinsey & Company
McKinsey, the oldest and most prestigious of the Big 3, was founded in 1926 by James O. McKinsey, a professor at the University of Chicago.
McKinsey has evolved over time but it also has kept its culture intact. The obligation to dissent runs deep in McKinsey’s culture and was shaped under the leadership of Marvin Bower, managing partner from 1950 to 1967. He believed that each and every individual in the firm should actively analyze ideas that are different than their own and also iterate on others’ ideas, especially if they felt that their team’s problem-solving was flawed or the recommendation they were giving was not the best for the client.
McKinsey has been quick to adapt to changing times. They were early adopters of the concept of functional practices to deal with the increased complexity of the problems faced by their clients. They built with deep functional knowledge in sales & marketing, data analytics and coding, and operational excellence. More recently, McKinsey has gotten into the digital realm of technology and artificial intelligence-driven transformations.
McKinsey propagates the culture of collaboration and encourages knowledge sharing across geographies and functional practices. This helps the firm to “bring the best of McKinsey” to each client by utilizing its internal expertise to help solve customer problems in a quick and effective manner.
McKinsey’s recruitment follows the same process as that of BCG or Bain, with some nuances in the way initial screening or interviews are conducted, as discussed below.
- Interviewer-Led Cases: McKinsey case interviews are interviewer-led rather than candidate-led. This means that your interviewer will lead you through a series of problems to solve rather than letting you decide where and how to start solving the case. This format of the interview doesn’t change the difficulty level. If you follow the same 4-step process of opening -> structuring -> analyzing -> recommendation, you can ace the case.
- Fit Assessment: McKinsey assesses a candidate’s fit in all interviews. Bain and BCG conduct fit interviews separately from case interviews. McKinsey’s behavioral questions are asked either at the beginning or towards the end of the interview, with the rest of the interview focused on the case.
- Fit Traits Tests: Apart from the common traits of problem-solving and leadership, McKinsey tests the personal impact and entrepreneurial drive of the candidates.
- Use of Digital Assessments: McKinsey, for a long time, recruited on campus at core schools and hired most of its new analysts and associates from these schools. With a broadened focus on hiring the best talent irrespective of geography, McKinsey has started using online assessments, specifically the McKinsey Problem Solving Game, to effectively gauge the problem-solving skills of individuals.
Some notable McKinsey alumni are:
- Sheryl Sandberg, former COO of Facebook
- Andrew T. Kearney, Founder of A.T. Kearney
- Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of SunMicrosystems
- Jane Fraser, CEO of Citi
- Kevin Sharer, CEO of Amgen
Boston Consulting Group
BCG was founded by Bruce Henderson in 1963 with a vision of being a pioneer in bold, new approaches to running a company and helping organizations become “ready to win.” Henderson always believed in breaking the status quo, and that has become a part of the BCG DNA.
BCG is all about its people, and it does everything possible to provide a great working experience. BCG invests a considerable amount of time and money on the development of people across levels. It is common to have senior partners mentoring associates from their start at the firm.
BCG is the forerunner of thought leadership in the consulting world. BCGers (as they call themselves) strive to break the status quo and are highly academically driven. BCG, like other top consulting firms, have functional groups, but they also believe in tailoring solutions to the client’s unique requirements. This leads to heavy brainstorming and requires thinking out of the box while crafting the recommendations.
To drive the never-ending innovation, people at BCG take pride in staying up to date with the changes in public policy, financial markets, and disruptions in global business. It is common to see people having a healthy debate about current affairs and business, and pushing others to broaden their perceptual horizons.
BCG believes in contributing back to society. Throughout the year, on various days, BCG runs community service drives where people come together and contribute to charities in their community. This brings BCGers together outside work and helps in building stronger bonds.
The BCG recruitment process has many similarities with that of McKinsey and Bain, but there are certain aspects that matter more for the BCG recruitment process when compared to the other two.
- Interviewee-led cases: BCG interviews are candidate-led. The ability to drive the case forward while letting the interviewer know the reasoning behind your steps is important to passing your interview.
- Tailored case structures and solutions: BCG is the “nerdy” MBB and that shows up as BCG tends to solve every client’s problem in a tailored way. When applying to BCG, your case structure must be tailored to the business problem at hand.
- Show your cultural fit throughout your interview: BCG is all about its people and culture. When interviewing at BCG, being personable, coachable, and having a go-getter mindset needs to be showcased.
- Fit traits tested: In the behavioral interview, BCG focuses on leadership skills, resilience, influence, and impact.
People from BCG continue to create an impact even after leaving the firm. Below are a few prominent examples.
- Bill Bain, Founder of Bain & Co
- Roland Berger, Founder of Roland Berger Strategy Consultants
- Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi
- Enrique Ramirez, CFO of Pizza Hut, Inc.
- Sally Blount, Dean of Kellogg School of Management
Bain & Company
Bain, the smallest and youngest of the MBB consulting firms, was founded by Bill Bain, after he left Boston Consulting Group in 1973.
Bain is all about their customers and the “results” their projects deliver. This is one key reason why Bain is among the Big 3.
Bain has its project’s financial incentives aligned with its client’s success. Thus, the overall objective is always to make the client “win.” This mindset is evident in the success rates of their publicly-listed clients, who outperform S&P 4:1.
Bainies live by the motto of “work hard, play hard” and they believe in developing strong professional and personal relationships. Bainies can be seen having a drink after a long workday or going out together on weekends.
“A Bainie Never Lets Another Bainie Fail” – explains a lot about what to expect at Bain.
The strong bonding helps in making the long work hours manageable. One can expect a Bainie just a text or phone call away. The culture takes pride in helping people out of the weeds, picking them up during their low times, and setting them up for success.
Almost all consulting firms have the same career progression with slight differences in position names. The MBB firms all have “up-or-out” policies where individuals must earn promotions within a certain time frame or they’ll be asked to leave the organization. But Bain has the highest retention rate among the MBB firms. Bainies have an edge in how they shape their progression. They get an opportunity to customize their professional journey. At Bain, it is called “choose-your-own-adventure” and gives them a chance to move across global offices, take an externship, attend business school, or take up social impact work. The input Bainies get into their careers might be what helps them to be successful.
- Interviewee-Led Cases: Like BCG, Bain uses interviewee-led cases. Bain cases focus on understanding when the data is enough to make recommendations and not “boiling the ocean.” If you feel ready to make your recommendation on a Bain case, don’t hesitate. Walk your interviewer through why you think you are ready to make your recommendation and proceed with it. They will appreciate your confidence and ability to drive the problem-solving to its conclusion.
- Fit Traits Tested: Bain primarily focuses on the traits of entrepreneurship, the ability to lead, and teamwork.
- Bain Experience Interview: Bain’s behavioral interview is known as the Bain Experience Interview, which is similar to any fit interview with an emphasis on getting to know the interviewee in detail. The interviewer can sometimes ask follow-up questions to better understand the examples and how well you fit into the Bain culture.
Bain is the youngest of the MBB consulting firms but still has notable alumni as below.
- Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube
- Scott Cook, Founder and CEO of Intuit
- Mark Pincus, Founder and CEO of Zynga
- John Donahoe, CEO of Nike
- Kevin Rollins, CEO of Dell
Top 5 Reasons to Aspire to Work for MBB Firms
Now you know what makes MBB firms stand out from other top consulting firms and how they stand against each other. Which one is the right fit for you? We’ve listed down the Top 5 reasons to join each of these firms.
Why join McKinsey & Company?
- Most prestigious among the MBB firms
- Values functional and industry expertise
- Collaborative & supportive environment
- Great exit opportunities
- Extensive travel
Why join Boston Consulting Group?
- Forerunner on thought leadership
- Effective mentoring
- Intellectually stimulating work environment
- Contributes back to society
Why join Bain & Company?
- Strong camaraderie
- Carving out your own professional journey
- Exposure to Private Equity
- Entrepreneurial drive
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In this article, we’ve covered:
- What makes the MBB consulting firms the Big 3?
- How do the Big 3 compare against each other?
- Top 5 reasons to join each of the MBB firms
Still have questions?
If you have more questions about the culture at MBB consulting firms and which one could be the best fit for you, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s coaches will answer them.
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