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Why consultants want to work for the Big Four over Bain and BCG

McKinsey is now seen as the best professional services firm to work for. No surprise, right? It’s the biggest name in consulting (and, arguably, the only household name). It’s like Google or Goldman. But actually, McKinsey’s placing in our annual survey of consulting firms comes as something of surprise. And what is more, this shows how professional services is changing.

Last year McKinsey placed third, right in the middle of the big four. This year, the big four (PWC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY) still took four of the five top places.

However, the real surprise in the results is further down. This is where Bain and Boston Consulting place. MBB (McKinsey, Bain Boston) are generally seen as a kind of tripartite global gold standard in consulting. Yet Boston places sixth and Bain comes in a lowly eighth, ignomiously sandwiched between johnny-come-latelies such as Bloomberg and Thompson Reuters. Moreover, on the really big swinging criteria such as being seen as industry leaders, salary, bonus and offering challenging work, MBB still do very well. So what is going on here?

Dig a little deeper and one of the biggest clues may be working hours. MBB are legendary for expecting their people to give everything they’ve got. It has, in the past been something of a badge of honour to be at your desk at midmight. However, the big four are generally seen as much better when it comes offering manageable hours. They typically score above 40% for being strong in this area whereas MBB get closer to 20%. MBB also score poorly in terms of flexible working although not to quite the same degree. So, work for PWC or EY and you can have a job and a life; your kids will know your name. That McKinsey still comes out as number one despite this is a testament to its overall quality outweighing these factors.

This also tells you something interesting about consultancy. Yes, people are motivated by the money and status. But these are not the only things. Financial services pays more and it’s arguable that other industries such as law and even tech have greater cachet nowadays. So perhaps consultants need to think beyond their brilliance and reputations being enough to attract the best staff.

There are a couple more surprises. One is how well Bloomberg does. Although only number seven – and not much of a “name” - it could be one too watch. It placed second in terms of being an industry leader and did well across the board, scoring highest in catagories such as “innovation”. Perhaps next year it could be edging into the leader board. Conversely, Boston Consulting’s performance was generally rather lacklustre. If it doesn’t up its game, it could be relegated.

What then, to make of Accenture? It’s a bit of a laggard with average and below average scores everywhere. Number eight last year, nine this year. Why? Could it still be (unfairly) tainted by its association with Andersen, which was bought down by Enron? Has its slighly quixtoic name never seemed quite serious enough? (after all PWC dumped its ill-starred Monday rebrand pretty quickly). Or is it seen as too focussed on tech and niche? Perhaps it’s a combination of all these things but whatever the case, it feels like a long-term also ran. The Burger King of consulting.

Moving on and it is highly notable that the greatest disconnect between what people see as important and what companies excel in lies in areas such as corporate citizenship, diversity and CSR. No company scored over ten percent for these as a strength. Yet for the most part over 50 percent of survey (and as high as 80 percent) of respondents said these were important. This is not so much a gap as a yawning chasm.

This may reflect a divide between what management think and what those lower down in companies think. Many in their 50s and 60s likely still regard such initiatives as window dressing or not core to the business. Yet most people below this age expect diversity and CSR to be taken very seriously. In fact millennials will often list it a top criteria when choosing employers.

So, what does all this tell us? It’s a mixed bag, but the overall picture is that consultancy is not immune to the concerns of society as a whole. While it remains an elite industry of hard-working, high achievers, companies need to do more than just cater to this. All the soft stuff – ranging from values to diversity to working hours to family friendly policies - is becoming much more important.

What’s more, this trend has a way of being self-reinforcing. Once your senior management starts to become more female and more diverse, these things tend to snowball. Suddenly questions that would once have seemed unaskable (such as “Can I work part-time?”) become the norm. And what is more they mean the companies that do institute these policies are more attractive and get the best staff. Things may change if, for example, the Big Four are compelled to spin off their consulting arms in the UK, but for the moment is the very definition of a virtuous circle. Senior management should take note.

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View the complete 2018 Ideal Employer Rankings


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AUTHORRhymer Rigby Insider Comment
  • Wa
    15 October 2019

    Nicely put, ultimately work life balance is something senior level consultants do opt for. So, this ranking was never a surprise for me.

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