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McKinsey v the Rest

#1 McKinsey v the Rest
13/11/2006 11:31


After enjoying and participating in a number of discussions on this forum, I've noticed a general trend (with a few noatable exceptions) that working at McK, Bain, BCG, etc. is the be-all-and-end-all.

The opinion seems to be that if you don't (a) work for one of these or (b) have ambitions to work for one of them, you really don't have a prayer or a clue and that your life is basically not worth living.

As a reasonably experienced consultant (c. 10 years), I've worked with some quality people in diverse industries (MC, IB, PE, telecomms, software dev, broadcast media, sports management). Some of these folks are at board level in substantial companies (100K staff, NP 3Bn Euro are sizeable companies IMO!)

These are hugely successful people, running serious organisations. Yet - and here's the rub - I've never, to my knowledge, met anyone among them who worked for McK, Bain, BCG, etc.

I have, on one occasion come across an ex-McK consultant (left to set up his own firm). He was rather ordinary.

So, why is it that McK and the like are put on a pedestal?

Let the games begin ...

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#2 RE: McKinsey v the Rest
13/11/2006 13:46

Anon to Boxershorts (#1)

I disagree that there is a trend towards MBB being the "be-all-and-end-all". If anything, whenever someone suggests it on this forum there is someone willing to disagree. Even those who aspire to working for MBB rarely believe that there aren't other people who are driven by different things and have different aspirations.

If there is any trend, it is simply that the majority of forum users are looking at entry level positions, and those looking at MBB positions tend to need a lot of help.

I don't work for MBB but I work with ex-MBB consultants and alongside plenty of them on our bigger consulting engagements. There are plenty of smart people among them, but also a fair share of analysts who don't understand what "strategy" means, consultants who haven't heard of SOX and partners who can't use a computer, and they cause exactly the same irritations as you'd find at Bloggs & Co. niche consultancies.

I posit that MBB have good market brands, strong cultures, and extensive alumni networks, which contribute to compelling employer brands. However, there are other firms and careers that have better employee value propositions.

We work in a complex market even for the services sector where value creation is based on intangibles and difficult to quantify. Two characteristics of a good management consultant are that they are comfortable with ambiguity and change, but that they are also able to create an insightful, lucid narrative out of apparent chaos.

When people come to us, asking "what do management consultants do?", we find it relatively easier to paint a powerful, simplified picture. We depict linear value chains and linear market structures - with strategy at one end and implentation at the other.

At the same time, we have taken a military concept - of strategy - and plugged into it all the complicated, difficult and often uncomfortable "ideas" so that is no longer meaningful in its aggregate form.

There is hardly any wonder that both clients and newcomers to our industry seize on the thing that is most familiar and accessible - the idea of hierarchies. Even as experienced consultants who know that consulting does not share common attributes with other businesses (such as economies of scale) we find it comforting to feel like we can "normalise" our work and our careers. Therefore, we perpetuate convenient myths.

There are, of course, advantages to going through all this. Not only are there pschological benefits, but we can also sell our work and ourselves to clients better.

The danger of going too far down this road is that we don't learn from history. In some ways, we are trailing the legal industry by a few decades in the way the industry is maturing. Law also deals with ambiguity and needs to translate shades of "right" and "wrong" into simple indications so that their clients can understand where they stand. Legal firms created the "magic circle", and we can now see where that has brought them.

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#3 RE: McKinsey v the Rest
13/11/2006 14:12

Boxershorts to Anon (#2)

Hi Anon,

Agree that I may have exaggerated slightly. I was trying to be deliberately provocative - devil's advocate and all that good stuff - to get some sort of debate going.

Yet I do see a strong tendency of folks wanting to get into the McK's of this world, etc. and eschewing any other firms and opportunities as being not good enough. Curiosity strikes. Why?

Thanks for your reasoned comments. Interested to hear what others think.

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#4 RE: McKinsey v the Rest
13/11/2006 15:12

One example to Boxershorts (#1)

I think I read somewhere that the Strategy Director at the Virgin Group is ex-McK (10 years there). That must be an interesting firm to work for...

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#5 RE: McKinsey v the Rest
13/11/2006 15:17

One example to One example (#4)

Here's the man: Gordon McCallum

5 years at McK... and I meant in the post above that Virgin would be the interesting company rather than McK ;)

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#6 RE: McKinsey v the Rest
13/11/2006 17:21

dl to Boxershorts (#3)

Well. They (MBB) have the brand name, the alumni network, the outplacement services and can (generally) pick the "best" people from schools and universities.

Particularly if one is keen on using consultancy as a launching pad for a career somewhere else, it's understandable that MBB are appealing.

Be-all and end-all? Don't think so. There's plenty of consultancies that produce work of quality that is perfectly comparable or higher, but haven't got the widespread reputation. It's a bit like saying that Audi, BMW and Mercedes are the only companies able to make a decent car...

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