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What are the differences in work culture between the MBBs?

BCG McKinsey and Bain
New answer on Mar 30, 2020
5 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on Mar 28, 2020

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Content Creator
updated an answer on Mar 28, 2020
BCG |NASA | SDA Bocconi & Cattolica partner | GMAT expert 780/800 score | 200+ students coached


I have been working in the BCG office and I did the interviews also for Bain and Mckinsey, where I have many friends. It's really hard to summary the differences between these 3 offices but I will try to address your points:

  • Culture: The working culture is really similar in each office, the customer comes first, no matter what. Mckinsey is maybe still the office where you feel "more exclusive" but probably also the more though for work. Bain and BCG have developed a little "start-up" attitude with some small initiatives that make your life better. To give you a practical example, in Mckinsey you have to wear Suit&Tie and to be at client's place everyday while in BCG there is the "Friday in office" initiative that makes you to spend your Friday in the office with your colleagues in a casual environment (in Milan there is also the "Beer friday" with pizza and beer at the terrace starting from 5pm)
  • Type of projects: I would say no difference between McK and BCG (there are often teams of both companies for the same client). Bain is doing these kind of projects but also differentiating a bit focusing on small projects (that's why you could experience double staffing even as new hire). Another difference is the approach with the client: McK is famous for its "tp-down" approach, while Bain and BCG have a more bottom-up approach, building the solution together with the client.

All of them are excellent offices and place to work, but you should try to understand which office is closer to your personality, also looking around and knowing people working there during the interviews. One aspect that you should consider is also the MBA policies, that are quite different between them.
I know that is difficult to understand differences between them from outside, I had really hard time to decide which offer to accept.
Feel free to contact me if you want to discuss more about it, I can share with you which were the drives of my decision and some general insights.



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Anonymous A on Mar 29, 2020

what do you mean by mckinsey being famous for it's "top down" approach?

replied on Mar 30, 2020
McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 350+ candidates secure MBB offers


Here is my perspective based on 7.5 years of experience in McKinsey and BCG, workng across Europe, Africa, and Middle East.

1. Reputation & (perceived) Thought-Leadership

McKinsey is still the gold standard in terms of recognition across all industries, from tech to large established corporates. Whilst on some specific areas other firms might have developed a stronger expertise (e.g. Parthenon is the leading firm for education), everybody recognizes that hiring McKinsey is the safest bet to ensure consistent, high quality work. The level of knowledge created by McKinsey grants it top pages in leading newspapers, a coverage that is still not matched by BCG or Bain. BCG has been trying quite successfully to go in the same direction, establishing reputation as a knowledge-based company, but is not yet there. Bain, on the other hand, has been focusing less on knowledge leadership and instead cultivating a reputation focused on its capability of making things happen by adopting a cooperative approach.

2. Alumni network

Consulting is usually regarded as a springboard to a brilliant career. This is why the alumni network that you'll find when leaving should be considered among the key decision criteria. McKinsey has the largest workforce (8k consultants vs 4.5 BCG and 3k Bain), hence the largest alumni network. Moreover there is a strong cohesion and sense of belonging fostered whilst working at McKinsey that usually remains after leaving. You'll be surprised at how many people who were "counselled to leave" by McKinsey (basically advised to find another job elsewhere) turned themselves into key McKinsey clients after leaving. Alumni networks are weaker in BCG and Bain due to the lack of critical mass and a weaker sense of belonging. However, BCG has become increasingly active in engaging its alumni network, and my subjective impression (as an alum of both McK and BCG) is that they have managed closed some part of the gap to McKinsey.

3. People

All MBB firms are obsessed about hiring the best and the brightest. The smartness of colleagues in all three MBB firms is absolutely amazing. Here I'd say that the main difference in the hiring criteria between McKinsey and BCG is in consistency and ease of being "shaped" according to the standards. While BCG is mostly focused on hiring bright people, McKinsey values a lot the alignment in terms of mindset and the ease of "formatting" the candidate according to the McKinsey standard. This includes speaking using a top down approach, keeping a friendly but assertive approach, and most of all being open to feedback. McKinsey puts a lot of emphasis on the three above characteristics and regards them as a key decision factor in the selection process.

4. Client mix

This varies to a large extent by office and by country; as a general trend, Bain has higher mix of PE clients (Bain Capital, although now separated from Bain, was co-founded by several Bain partners), McKinsey is the leading consultancy for healthcare and governments, especially in developing countries.

5. Projects

It has often been said that BCG focuses more on pure strategic projects, McKinsey on organizational projects. This is no longer the case. All three MBB firms have been trying to move downstream in order to provide end-to-end solutions to their clients going from devising strategies to testing and implementing them. Moreover, they are all massively investing to ride the massive wave of digitalization that is still building up.

6. a) Approach to clients

McKinsey tends to have a more top-down approach and usually takes pride in challenging and often contradicting clients. They do cooperate with clients but tend to be quite assertive in pushing forward their solution. BCG is slightly more “cooperative”, putting a special emphasis on “delighting” clients. BCG consultants often spend a bit more time in order to build consensus in the organization by engaging the middle management, instead of obsessing over analysis (McKinsey way).

6. b) Approach to problems

All MBB firms leverage a lot past work to provide answers including tested, off-the-shelf elements. However, BCG has cultivated a reputation for being looking at each problem with a fresh perspective and building innovative solutions. It is also something that consultants like to hear when interviewing candidates and asking them "Why BCG?"

7. Way of working/resources

A point that is often neglected in answers to this kind of question is understanding how everyday work will change across firms. Whilst there are many similarities (4 days a week on client site, teamwork, challenging lifestyle), there are also two key differences:

  • Staffing: McKinsey is more global in terms of staffing, meaning that you are more likely to end up staffed on the other side of the country but also that you'll have more chances to e.g. do a project in a developing country if you are interested in development or government work. Also, the project teams at McKinsey are mor internationally mixed – hence you might find team members from completely different parts of the world staffed on a project in South Africa for example. At BCG, it would be more homogeneous, e.g., the partner who covers the client will staff most of his team from either his home office or the client’s geography.
  • Support resources: McKinsey wants its consultants, including Business Analysts, to focus solely on value-added activities. To ensure this, it developed large organizations aimed at supporting consultants, such as:
    • Visual graphic centers to ensure consultants can save time by sketching powerpoint slides and have the quickly produced by visual graphic teams
    • Research centers for performing desktop research for consultants
    • Survey desks in India and Costa Rica to set up web-based surveys for clients
    • Analytics centers to help consultants in complex xls macros etc.

Whilst Bain and BCG have both developed similar support resources, they still do not have the scale of McKinsey.

Cheers, Sidi

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Content Creator
replied on Mar 30, 2020
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut


Differences are little, but they do exist somehow.

  • People: this is basically the same, in all 3 you will find brilliant, curious and super driven people. Most of them really inspiring, truly (of course, some phycopaths work-addicts are found every now and then, but no system is perfect) Furthermore, altough this is a world perceived as sharky and individualistic, my experiece was the opposite: people truly help each other and invest in their peer´s development.
  • Office culture: similar overall, but small differences also. McKinsey prides themselves of being "the top", and you somehow feel this (e.g., this picture that always made me laungh in the office, saying simply "we are fantastic"). Bain, for instance, always marketed a lot that they were more invested in their employees well-being than the rest. Are any of those 2 true? Depends on who you ask ;)
  • Types of projects: this indeed is different, but also it changes between offices from a same firm.

In a nutshell, little differences but raughly same. All fantastic, and the skillset you adquire is truly similar

Hope it helps!



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Anonymous replied on Mar 28, 2020

Hey A,

more or less most of the top firms have a pretty similar corporate culture and the differences between McK, BCG and Bain are not that big.

From my personal experience of interacting with all three of them and having friends working there I would say that:

Mackies are more top down and soaring individuality of every consultant. Everyone tries to be a star there.

BCGler are more team work players, prefer bottom up approach to secure buy-in with the middle management of the client, more collegial and value creativity most.

Bainies are very team oriented, the most strongly number driven and might have the longest working hours (especially in PE) among the three.

Anyway every firm of top 3 is equally good, because you will be surrounded by the brightest minds in the industry. So choose the one, which better fits to you and your values!

Good luck,


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Anonymous A on Mar 29, 2020

what's the difference between "top down" and "bottom up" approach?

Anonymous on Mar 29, 2020

Top down means define the approach with the top management and strictly reinforce it to the middle management - "Push from the top". Bottom up means define the approach and Align it with the middle and top management - "Co-cration". It takes longer than "top down", but ensures the buy in from the people within the organization and is more sustainable for the client's corporate culture

Content Creator
replied on Mar 29, 2020
McKinsey / ex-Interviewer at McKinsey / I will coach you to rock those interviews

I think honestly the differences are minimal and also depend on the industry and the practice. PE practice at McKinsey is very different in terms of the culture from McKinsey digital or from the Procurement practice.

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Luca gave the best answer


Content Creator
BCG |NASA | SDA Bocconi & Cattolica partner | GMAT expert 780/800 score | 200+ students coached
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