McKinsey v BCG – The Decider

Will B

The age old question.  Which is really better?

Until the last couple of years it looked as though McKinsey was streaking ahead.  However, after a scandal in Saudi Arabia and a bit of existential star-gazing, they have been hauled back down to the ground.  The joke that BCG were trying to hire McKinsey to learn how to become the leading strategy consulting firm, seems like ancient history.

This article primarily answers people’s interest about which firm is really better and what the differences are. There will be some of you who have offers to work at both firms.  We try to answer the questions that both sets of people might have.  We have no preference and this shouldn’t impact your decision to apply.  McKinsey and BCG are two of the most important and most interesting companies on the planet.

StrategyU break down some of the key stats here:

McKinsey

First and foremost, the two clearly have more in common than in contrast.  They are both awesome places to work, full of incredibly brainy people.  They are great places to develop and despite the intensity, Glassdoor ranks them both very highly for workplace satisfaction.  Perhaps best of all for young consultants, they both have great internal and external exit opportunities.

The People

Although both firms attract great employees, they come in different shapes and sizes.  At McKinsey, recruiters go for the traditional All-Star.  They currently have 30 Rhodes Scholars on their staff. Apparently.   Not only incredibly brainy and from a great school, the McKinsey stereotype has also achieved great things elsewhere in sport, music or otherwise.  In the UK for example, many Business Analysts worked at the Oxford Union which is the UK’s most prestigious undergraduate student organisation.

BCG is a bit different.  Of course, many people at BCG are also high achiever sin extra-curricular activities.  The difference is that they are slightly less corporate.  BCG has a highly intellectual reputation and often hires slightly nerdier, maverick types.  They are less comfortable glad-handing clients but are immensely cerebral.  They are also much more likely to have worked somewhere more bizarre between becoming a consultant.  It is not unusual to meet analysts who were musicians etc.  Just look at John Legend who worked at BCG before becoming a world famous singer.

The Culture

The cultures are different in a big way.  McKinsey has become notorious for emphasising its uniform culture between offices.   On the inside in particular there is a worship of the “firm” and the way it does things.  Ethan Rasiel’s book is a great example of this. Ever since the time of Martin Bauer, its founder, McKinsey consultants have done things in the same way.

Bauer remains a touchstone for everything the firm does.  This way of doing things is also the same all around the world.  In order to become a Senior Partner or the Managing Director, you need to work at multiple offices to get to know and attract the votes of other Senior Partners.  When you join the firm, you are told that you can call anyone who works at the firm and ask for advice.  Apparently people really do spin round and help you out when you pick up the phone.

BCG is a bit different.  BCG put a much bigger emphasis on people’s own way of doing things.  Therefore, you may be in a team full of people who each operate differently.  This is usually a bonus for creativity and a negative for efficiency.  It is also the case that BCG is different in different parts of the world and each office will be run slightly differently.  Again, this may match the local culture and interact with businesses more effectively, or it might project a less professional image.   There are ‘subcultures’ at BCG where their value add changes in nature.

Finally, the general vibe is a bit different because of BCG’s different service arms.  The company simply employs more people through Omnia, Platinion, Gamma etc.  They are just that much more technically minded than the average strategy consultant.  McKinsey whereas has QuantumBlack, which is much more of a separate, engineering firm.  It was acquired rather than built from scratch and usually operates independently whereas BCG’s “bolt-ons” are usually added to project team.

Approach

Last but not least, the two companies have different approaches to winning and conducting business. McKinsey operates what the firm calls its ‘top management’ approach.  It tries to solve the biggest problems at the biggest companies.  This has become less true in recent times as companies have grown and even their small problems are huge ones. However, the key point is that McKinsey loves to work for CEOs.  They see it as the natural role and part of their consultants’ development to interact directly with C-suite executives.

On the other hand, BCG orient their services around ‘partnership’.  They prefer to conduct changes throughout the organisation.  This is likely to be more ‘top-down’ and more ‘end-to-end’.  Their digital and data teams are a direct product of this way of working.  In order to conduct change through an entire firm from top to bottom, BCG needs to be able to integrate their strategy.  They do this using data scientists.

Hopefully this answers your questions!  As always, if you have anything more you want to know, get in touch.

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