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.
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 their 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.
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.
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’.