I used to work in the CRA oil & gas consulting practice (known as chemicals & petroleum within the company). Here are some insights and thoughts:
The oil & gas practice was bought off Arthur D. Little back in 2002 and operates quite independently from the rest of CRA, which you are right in saying is an economics consulting firm. But the oil & gas practice is mainly strategy consulting.
Plenty of interesting projects: the US (Boston and Houston) and London offices have more industry focus on chemical and petroleum projects. However, in the Bahrain office, the project sectors are more diverse including oil & gas, economic development strategy, utilities and even education strategy.
Good company to get broader (but shallow) exposure in the oil & gas industry.
PEOPLE & CULTURE:
Not up or out. Some top notch partners who moved over from ADL who provide a great source of learning. It’s a really collegiate culture. Most of the mid to senior staff are former industry professionals as opposed to ivy-league MBA graduates (more common in MBBB of course).
However, staff turnover is extremely high for a company of its size. Very few people (except partners) stay for more than 2 years. Although a sizeable number of partners have also left the firm recently.
The quality of consultants is rather inconsistent – the trend is that the most capable people I have worked with have all left the company – either into competitor consulting companies or into industry.
BUSINESS OUTLOOK AND THE MIDDLE EAST:
Being a public company, CRA has little time to spend on internal company and staff development at the expense of revenue generation to meet market expectations. As a result, training opportunities and clear career progression tracks are lacking. After some good financial performances in the past two years, business is looking quiet and the company is really struggling.
What you say about the Middle East office is very accurate. Stiff competition from bigger brand firms in the regions is proving quite a challenge for CRA to turn that office into a revenue generation center. Staffing in the Middle East is almost exclusively expatriate – consisting of US and UK based staff sent out on 1-2 year postings. However, there has been a drive to hire local staff at junior levels.
CRA carried over a lot of legacy clients from ADL, especially NOC clients, which served the company well in the past and has been using this as selling point when competing against the bigger players. However, activity with these clients has been very quiet for the past two years, contributed in part due to the departure of some key partners.
A good company offering some interesting experiences (I certainly enjoyed my time there), but I would recommend on trying some of the bigger brand firms first.