MBB stands for McKinsey, BCG, and Bain. These three firms are also known as the big three consulting firms because they are the largest and most prestigious strategy consulting firms.
MBB typically hires the smartest people, pays the highest compensation, and has the best exit opportunities. In addition, MBB consulting firms typically have the biggest name clients, the most challenging and impactful projects, and the highest billing rates.
Most candidates recruiting for management consulting target MBB as their top choice and hope to get just one offer out of the big three consulting firms. However, some candidates get cross-offers from two of the firms or even offers from all three!
So, out of McKinsey, BCG, and Bain, which is the best firm to work for?
In this article, we’ll go through similarities that all three firms share and then discuss the major differences between them.
Similarities among MBB Consulting Firms
MBB or the big three consulting firms share many similarities:
Prestige and brand name: McKinsey, BCG, and Bain all have the highest level of prestige in the management consulting industry. They each have a long history of being at the top and that is likely not going to change any time soon. There is no question that these three firms are the three top consulting firms.
Focus on strategy work: McKinsey, BCG, and Bain all focus on strategy work, which is generally perceived to be the most prestigious and challenging type of consulting work. All MBB firms also do operations and some implementation work, but there is heavy emphasis on strategy.
Strong client relationships: The big three consulting firms all have long-standing relationships with their clients. MBB has a history of working with some clients for decades, which builds tremendous client trust on the quality and impact of MBB work.
Investment in personal development: All three firms heavily invest in the professional development of their consultants. Expect to learn and develop many skills, both hard skills and soft skills, in a short period of time. Mentorship is taken very seriously and you will have frequent feedback sessions with your manager.
Attractive exit opportunities: MBB consultants have a wide range of exit opportunities, including strategy, operations, business development, corporate development, product, and marketing. Companies love hiring ex-MBB consultants because they know they are hiring high-caliber people.
Talented, smart people: MBB hires the smartest, most talented people. Whichever firm you decide to work for, you’ll be working with people with impressive backgrounds and accomplishments.
Differences among MBB consulting firms
Now that you understand the similarities among MBB or the big three consulting firms, what makes each firm different? The most apparent difference is size and age.
Out of MBB, McKinsey is the largest and oldest firm. McKinsey has the highest annual revenues and the most number of employees.
Bain, on the other hand, is the smallest and newest firm among MBB.
BCG falls in between McKinsey and Bain.
There are many more differences among McKinsey, BCG, and Bain. We’ll look at each consulting firm on 12 different dimensions:
- Industry expertise
- Organizational structure
- Alumni network
- Staffing model
- Support resources
- Other work opportunities
Industry expertise: McKinsey has knowledge and expertise in all industries, but they are the clear leader in healthcare, government, education, and work in the public sector. They are especially strong in these areas in developing countries.
Specialization: McKinsey hires people into a generalist role or a specialist role. Even if you are hired into the generalist role, you will typically begin to specialize after a few years. You’ll specialize more quickly at McKinsey than at Bain, where you can stay as a generalist for a longer period of time.
Organizational structure: McKinsey’s organizational structure looks like a diamond. They are very heavy at the mid-levels, hiring many more people at the post-MBA level than at the post-undergraduate level.
Hiring: McKinsey hires the vast majority of its consultants from top undergraduate and MBA schools. However, they also hire many people with advanced degrees and non-traditional backgrounds, more than the number that Bain and BCG hire.
Culture: McKinsey has a much more formal and professional work culture than the other firms. They take work very seriously and tend to have longer working hours than the other firms. McKinsey does not give its employees any gifts with its logo because they believe it would look unprofessional to their clients.
Compensation: At the lower levels, McKinsey’s compensation tends to be slightly higher than Bain’s and similar to BCG’s. At the partner level, McKinsey’s compensation tends to be slightly lower than Bain’s and similar to BCG’s.
Alumni network: McKinsey is the largest MBB firm and has the largest alumni network. No matter what you are looking to do after consulting, there is likely a McKinsey alumni that you can reach out to in order to get help.
Staffing model: McKinsey uses a global staffing model, which means that you’ll be working on teams with people from anywhere in the world. McKinsey consultants tend to travel more than other firms. However, there are more opportunities for international work and travel at McKinsey.
Promotions: Promotion times at McKinsey are similar to BCG and slightly faster than Bain.
Support resources: McKinsey has the greatest number of support resources among MBB. Consultants will typically send research or slide making requests to teams in India at night and receive the completed work in the morning. You will make much fewer slides at McKinsey by hand than at Bain.
Other work opportunities: After working for two years, McKinsey consultants have the option to work at another company for up to one year or transfer to another office, given that they meet the language requirements. This gives consultants an opportunity to get different types of work experience.
Innovation: McKinsey is a leader in innovation, having launched the McKinsey Global Institute, which studies global economic trends, Digital Labs, which helps create digital products for clients, and the McKinsey Implementation group, which focuses on doing implementation work.
Industry expertise: BCG has knowledge and expertise in all industries. They are not as strong in private equity work as Bain and not as strong in government work as McKinsey, but are competitive in all other industries.
Specialization: BCG hires people into a generalist role or a specialist role. Even if you are hired into the generalist role, you will typically begin to specialize after a few years. You’ll specialize more quickly at BCG than at Bain, where you can stay as a generalist for a longer period of time.
Organizational structure: BCG’s organizational structure looks like a diamond. They are very heavy at the mid-levels, hiring many more people at the post-MBA level than at the post-undergraduate level.
Hiring: BCG hires the vast majority of its consultants from top undergraduate and MBA schools. However, they also hire many people with advanced degrees. They do not hire as many people with untraditional backgrounds compared to McKinsey, but they hire more than Bain does.
Culture: BCG is known to have a very academic, intellectual, and even nerdy work culture. Its culture is not as formal and serious as McKinsey and is not as fun as Bain. BCG’s culture lies somewhere in between McKinsey and Bain.
Compensation: At the lower levels, BCG’s compensation tends to be slightly higher than Bain’s and similar to McKinsey’s. At the partner level, BCG’s compensation tends to be slightly lower than Bain’s and similar to McKinsey’s.
Alumni network: BCG is the second largest MBB firm and has the second largest alumni network.
Staffing model: BCG uses a regional staffing model, which means that you’ll be working on teams with people in your office and nearby offices. BCG consultants tend to travel more than Bain consultants but less than McKinsey consultants. Due to the regional staffing model, there are fewer opportunities for international work and travel compared to McKinsey.
Promotions: Promotion times at BCG are similar to McKinsey and slightly faster than Bain.
Support resources: BCG has a lot of support resources to help consulting teams with research, analysis, and slide making. BCG does not have as many support resources as McKinsey, but they have more support resources than Bain.
Other work opportunities: After working for two years, BCG consultants have the option to work at another company for up to one year. This is known as a secondment. BCG employees also have the option to transfer to another office, given that they meet the language requirements.
Innovation: BCG is a leader in innovation, having launched BCG Digital Ventures, which helps large clients incubate startup ideas. BCG has also recently pursued a strategy of moving deeper into operational work and doing more implementation.
Industry expertise: Bain has knowledge and expertise in all industries, but they are the clear leader in private equity work. Their private equity practice is three times larger than the next largest firm.
Specialization: Everyone entering Bain enters as a generalist, with no specialization in any particular industry or function. You will not need to specialize until you approach the Principal or Partner level. Therefore, if you enjoy being a generalist, you’ll be able to be a generalist for longer at Bain.
Organizational structure: Bain’s organizational structure looks like a pyramid. They are very heavy at the lower levels, hiring many more people at the post-undergraduate level than at the post-MBA level.
Hiring: Bain hires the vast majority of its consultants from top undergraduate and MBA schools. While they do hire people with advanced degrees, they hire much fewer than McKinsey. Compared to the other firms, Bain makes the least number of lateral hires, which are hires from other consulting firms.
Culture: Bain stands out for its fun work culture. Employees are generally social, collegial, and they enjoy a strong sense of camaraderie. There is perception that Bain has a “fratty” culture. Regardless, Bain likes to have fun. Bain has an annual global soccer tournament, called the Bain World Cup, hosted in a different city each year. They have their own band, called the Bain Band, that performs during company offsites.
Compensation: At the lower levels, Bain’s compensation is slightly lower than McKinsey or BCG. However, at the partner level, Bain’s compensation is slightly higher.
Alumni network: Since Bain is the smallest firm out of MBB, they have the smallest alumni network. However, the quality of the network is very strong because Bain alumni love to help each other out.
Staffing model: Bain uses a local staffing model, which means that you’ll be working on teams with other people in your office. Bain consultants tend to travel less than the other firms and travel is usually to nearby cities or states. There is also much fewer opportunities to do international work and travel at Bain due to the local staffing model.
Promotions: Bain promotions are a bit slower than McKinsey and BCG. The “Senior Associate Consultant” and “Case Team Leader” level are two tenure levels that the other firms do not have. These levels slow the promotion timeline by 6 months to 1 year each.
Support resources: While Bain does have consultant support resources that help do research, analytics, and slide making, Bain does not have as many resources as the other firms. Expect to outsource fewer of these tasks than McKinsey or BCG.
Other work opportunities: After working for two years, Bain consultants have the option to do a 6-month externship to get work experience at another company. They also have the option to transfer to another Bain office in the world for 6 months, given that they meet the language requirements.
Innovation: Bain typically innovates a bit slower than McKinsey and BCG. They take a more conservative approach and wait to see what the other firms are doing and whether or not they are successful before following.
What is the best MBB Firm to Work For?
The MBB or big three consulting firm that you should work for depends on what factors you are optimizing for.
Highest prestige: McKinsey
Although all MBB firms have the highest level of prestige, McKinsey edges out BCG and Bain because it is the oldest, largest, and most well-known.
Fastest career progression: McKinsey or BCG
McKinsey and BCG edge out Bain on this because Bain has two additional levels, the “Senior Associate Consultant” and “Case Team Leader” level, that the other firms do not have. This slows promotion timelines by 6 months to 1 year each.
Best pay: Bain at partner levels, McKinsey and BCG at all other levels
McKinsey and BCG consultants make slightly more than Bain at more junior levels while Bain consultants make slightly more at the partner level. However, compensation changes frequently and direct comparisons are not easy to make.
Best exit opportunities: McKinsey
Given that McKinsey has the largest alumni network and slightly higher prestige than BCG and Bain, McKinsey wins in this category.
Best work life balance: Bain
You’ll work hard at all MBB firms, but Bain edges out McKinsey and BCG given its fun and social work culture.
Best friends and mentors: Bain
Bain enjoys a collegial work culture with a strong sense of camaraderie, edging out McKinsey and BCG.
Most intellectually stimulating: BCG
BCG is known to have a very academic, intellectual, and even nerdy work culture. You’ll likely find slightly more intellectual stimulation working with BCG consultants striving to be thought leaders.
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