What a Consultant’s ‘Big 3’ Background Can Tell You About Fit


Talent on-demand allows organizations to engage professionals who have the right background to tackle a narrow, specialized project – the kind of effort whose demands are so unique they’d rarely be the basis for a full-time hire. The challenge, obviously, is to identify the right person for the job, the consultant whose skills and experience align with the problem you’re trying to solve.

Many independent consultants have spent years working at one of the Big Three management consulting firms: McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain & Company. Since each of these has its own areas of specialization as well as distinct approaches to examining, defining and solving business problems, studying a candidate’s career with the Big Three can tell you a lot about how their approach might line up with your needs.

For example, companies confronting issues of management, operations and IT may favor McKinsey alumni. Challenges around corporate development and innovation may benefit from the expertise of a BCG veteran. Meanwhile, someone from Bain may be best-suited to advising on issues related to private equity, M&A or retail.

Studying a candidate’s career with the Big Three can tell you a lot about how their approach might line up with your needs.

But that’s just a top-line view. Here’s a thumbnail of each firm and its approach.

McKinsey & Company

McKinsey works at all levels of an organization, both providing strategic advice to the CEO and working with front-line personnel on ways to improve their performance and business results. Its consultants undertake rapid prototyping and enterprise-wide software implementations, develop data analytics solutions and work with flailing companies in need of turnaround help. Active in industries ranging from electronics to private equity and telecommunications, McKinsey sees itself as a leader in combining industry and functional expertise with the knowledge of technology and other tools necessary to implement “lasting change.”

Boston Consulting Group

BCG calls itself the world’s leading advisor on business strategy. It stresses its expertise in consumer insight and corporate development in a business environment that is increasingly global, digital and data-driven. The firm emphasizes process, offering services not only in areas like analytics and strategy, but in manufacturing, operations, pricing, procurement and post-merger integration. It operates in an interesting mix of industries including metals and mining, finance, retail, and healthcare payers and providers. Overall, its philosophy is as much about nuts-and-bolts as grand strategy,

Bain & Company

Of all the Big Three, Bain puts the most emphasis on strategic advisory. Its practice emphasizes areas such as strategy, performance improvement, M&A, results delivery and “corporate renewal,” which is Bain-speak for corporate restructuring. While the firm builds its approach around the chief executive’s perspective, it touts its ability to deliver results that are “pragmatic and action-oriented, enduring and repeatable.”

So, what does all this mean to the executive who needs help from an independent consultant? Understanding the way each of the Big Three approach their work provides insight into how their alumni are likely to tackle an assignment and where their expertise lies in terms of organizing and implementing strategies and solutions.

Someone from BCG is likely to think more about the front-line impact of their work and the details involved in getting something done, while a McKinsey or Bain veteran may be more suited to projects that require a high-level approach.

Of course, there’s a lot more than pedigree to consider when you’re hiring an independent executive.

Of course, every situation is different, and there’s a lot more than pedigree to consider when you’re hiring an independent executive. But understanding the strengths of the world’s leading management consultants can help you determine whether a candidate who’s worked among them can effectively address your needs.


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