What Does a Management Consultant Do at McKinsey, Bain and BCG?

McKinsey, Bain & Company, and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), are known as the ‘Big Three’ of the consulting industry and are the largest and most well-established strategy consulting firms globally.

Strategy consulting is a branch of consulting that focuses on providing advisory services on a specific area of business operations for clients, usually working together with the board of directors and executive team.

As such, consultants at the ‘Big Three’ tend to work across a variety of industries on projects to formulate new and sustainable strategies that will improve organizational performance for the client company.

The following article aims to provide a comparison between all three firms, explaining what differentiates each one in terms of the industries they work and specialize in, the kind of projects they have taken on in the past, and the notable alumni from these firms, to give you a better understanding of what sets them apart.

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Company Profiles

Each of these firms has its own niches and specializations in the types of services they provide to clients as well as certain industries and markets where they are leaders in providing consulting services.

1.1 McKinsey

Founded in 1926, McKinsey is the oldest of the three companies and the largest by revenue too. Over the years, McKinsey has had experience offering consulting services in private and public sectors for various organizations across the world.

As a result, McKinsey has client expertise in a broad range of business operations such as innovation and technology, operations, management, media, research and development, and customer relationship management.

Similarly, the company has a large variety of industry practices ranging from aviation and defense to healthcare systems and services to travel, tourism, and transport infrastructure. Its large size and strong reputation mean that McKinsey has deep client relationships across diverse industries with a particularly large body of work done in the public sector. The company currently serves many Fortune 500 leading companies. A full range of all the industries McKinsey currently operates in can be found on its website.

In terms of how individual employees can specialize in a particular industry, McKinsey tends to hire both undergraduates and MBA graduates who are filtered into a subject matter expert or a general track depending on their past experiences. Because they value diversity in knowledge and experience, McKinsey tends to consider applicants who come from all types of backgrounds such as engineering, medicine, etc., as well as business or economics-related degrees or work experiences.

1.2 BCG

Founded in 1963, BCG has also worked across various industries globally. It is the second-largest consulting firm in the world by revenue (second to McKinsey) and operates worldwide, with many high-profile client organizations and government bodies, similar to McKinsey.

The company is a leader in innovative strategy consulting, focusing on business growth and development, with deep knowledge of various business operations such as retail, mergers and acquisitions. BCG not only has strategy consulting services but has also diversified into other areas such as data science, technology and design, digital ventures, and business purposes.

BCG prides itself on having industry expertise in every significant industry and has built a strong reputation through the work they have done in various sectors, ranging from automotive mobility to biopharmaceuticals, transport, consumer products, and retail, to name a few. Some leading organizations BCG has worked with include Virgin Atlantic, Volkswagen, Indian National Railways, and the NHS.

Employees at BCG, similar to McKinsey are able to specialize in the industry early on in their careers depending on their education and past experiences, allowing them to gain a deep understanding of the market area they are working in. BCG also offers unique training programs to reward and retain their top talent, as well as a program that funds and supports senior consultants who wish to work on personal interest projects, thus allowing for more individual opportunities to specialize wherever an individual believes they are best suited.

1.3 Bain & Company

The youngest of the ‘Big Three’, Bain & Company was founded in 1973 by a former BCG consultant. Bain has grown rapidly since its creation and has repeatedly been ranked by organizations such as Glassdoor as the #1 best place to work. The company, like its competitors, has worldwide operations and provides consulting services to various public and private sector clients, as well as non-profit organizations.

Bain has distinguished itself from McKinsey and BCG in its expertise and leading work in certain business areas including private equity where they do a lot of commercial due diligence, acquisition strategy, and market analysis work. It also has services in digital technology, corporate strategy, operations, growth, and innovation, but remains a pioneering company in private equity services.

Bain has provided strategy consulting services to a large number of globally leading companies, including HMRC, Dell, Ford, Starbucks, and many others. Bain has a diverse spread of industries, similar to McKinsey and BCG, with specialized consultants in government services, agribusiness, energy, and particularly financial services and private equity. For a full list of Bain’s industry practices, you can visit their website.

Consultants at Bain are often exposed to a variety of industries for a lot longer compared to McKinsey and BCG as they have a rotation system built into their graduate programs in which consultants are given the opportunity to rotate within the organization or do some work experience outside Bain. Bain tends to have more junior consultants working on a project than its competitors, meaning new recruits have the opportunity to be a big part of a project early on in their careers. Furthermore, Bain will wait until consultants reach a higher level within the company before assigning them a specialization, meaning that employees have diverse industry exit opportunities at Bain compared to the others in the ‘Big Three’.

Project Examples

To give you a better understanding of the kind of problems that the ‘Big Three’ help globally leading organizations and institutions with, the following section outlines examples of past projects taken on by each company as well as looks at their recent works.

During their many years of operations, all three companies have taken on some noteworthy and high-profile client projects:

2.1 McKinsey

Some examples of client cases McKinsey has taken on include:

  • Brexit – designed the new UK border operating model alongside other Big Three (International/Government)

  • NHS – reviewing digital technology within the NHS (Healthcare)

  • UBS/Credit Suisse – examining a potential merger (Financial services)

  • Clarks – reviewing and renewing business strategy to increase relevance to consumers (Retail)

  • Cathay Pacific Airlines – assistance in creating new business plans to rival competing regional airlines (Aviation)

2.2 BCG

Some examples of client cases BCG has taken on include:

  • Brexit – designed the new UK border operating model alongside other Big Three (International/Government)

  • USA – assisting for a smooth presidential transition (Government)

  • India – redesigned the quality of teaching alongside the Department of Education in Haryana, India (Education)

  • NHS – design, and development of the NHS test and trace app during Covid-19 alongside McKinsey (Healthcare/Government)

2.3 Bain & Company

Some examples of client cases Bain has taken on include:

  • Brexit – designed the new UK border operating model alongside other Big Three (International/Government)

  • Abu Dhabi – advising on integration of largest investors (Financial Services/Government)

  • Estée Lauder – renewing pricing strategies (Financial Services)

  • HMRC – assistance in the transition away from existing IT outsourcing frameworks (Technology/Public Sector)


Many clients and projects remain confidential until and after their completion, however, these are some specific examples of cases taken up by the ‘Big Three’ which have been in the media.

2.4 Covid-19 Response

The Covid-19 pandemic undoubtedly resulted in a global economic standstill in which many organizations and governments reached out to consultancy firms for professional advice across various industries. McKinsey, BCG, and Bain, in particular, have been involved in countless large-scale Covid-response projects all over the world. For example, both McKinsey and BCG have been involved in the creation and implementation of the Test and Trace project for the NHS in the UK.

All three companies have been employed by countless governments and other institutions largely hit by the pandemic such as the aviation, travel, and tourism industries to assist and advise in the creation of new business models and recovery strategies. Another large industry where all three firms have been working has been with pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca in vaccine development and distribution strategies.

There is no doubt that consultants have been in high demand as a result of businesses struggling in the wake of Covid-19, and so it is no surprise that consultants at the 'Big Three' have had their ongoing and new projects overshadowed by immediate damage control and Covid-19 response-related services.

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Notable Alumni

In a career as a consultant, you can gain deep industry knowledge and expertise in business operations and various markets. Therefore, it is no surprise that many former consultants go on to assume leadership positions in top businesses, organizations, and even governments across the globe. Below are some of the most famous ex-consultants who worked at the ‘Big Three’ consulting firms, as well as where they are now.


3.1 McKinsey

  • Sundar Pichai, CEO at Google

  • Stephen Green, Chairman at HSBC

  • Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook

  • Helmut Panke, former CEO of BMW

  • James Gorman, CEO at Morgan Stanley

  • Delphine Arnault, Executive Vice President at Louis Vuitton

  • Kyriakos Mitsotakis, current Prime Minister of Greece

3.2 BCG

  • Bill Bain, Founder of Bain & Company

  • Roland Berger, Founder of Roland Berger Strategy Consulting

  • Indra Nooyi, CEO at PepsiCo

  • Jeff Immelt, former CEO of General Electric

  • Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel

  • Hans Wijers, former Minister of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands

  • John Legend, Grammy award-winning musician

3.3 Bain & Company

  • Susan Wojicki, CEO at YouTube

  • Mark Pincus, founder of Zynga Inc.

  • John Donahoe, former CEO of eBay

  • Mitt Romney, 2012 US presidential candidate

  • Meg Whitman, former CEO of HP

  • Greg Brenneman, Former CEO of PwC and Burger King

  • Alessandro Bogliolo, Former CEO of Tiffany & Co

4. Become Part of the Big Three

Now you have a good overview of the big three in the consulting industry, you know the main characteristics that distinguish them from each other and you know what projects they usually work on or what they have been involved in recently. Do you want to become a part of the strategic consulting industry? We have a variety of resources for you here at PrepLounge to help you get started in consulting. Here is a small selection for you: 

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How about starting with a little brain jogging? In consulting interviews, the interviewer may use brain teasers like ours to get clues about your logical and creative thinking skills which you will need in a career as a management consultant.

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Use our interactive and user-friendly mental math tool to train your case interview math with respect to all basic operations (e.g. addition, multiplication, percentage). By comparing your performance to the overall PrepLounge community, you can improve your case math skills and make sure that you will be prepared for any calculations in your consulting interview.

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On PrepLounge, you will find everything you need to be fully prepared for your case interview. The vast PrepLounge community makes it easy to find case partners to practice cases with who have the same ambition to become an experienced case-solver like you! 

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Any questions? Don't wait and ask them in our Consulting Q&A. Everyone can ask questions and give answers. Our coaches are also happy to help you!

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