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What is the difference between McK, BCG and Bain – so called “MBB” firms?

Anonymous A

Hello guys, I just started my preparation for my McKinsey and Bain interviews and was curious to know what are the main points of difference between these firms. From different online sources, I am getting different ideas. In short, I understand that there’s no one “Best” firm, but that it depends on which office you’re in and what your personal preferences are.

Do you agree with this assessment? Can anyone help pinpoint the exact differences between the firms? How do I decide which one is the best fit for me? I would love it if the experts who have worked at the MBB firms could share their experiences.

Anonymous B replied on May 25, 2016

I prepared for consulting interviews and had offers from all 3 in the India office. After a lot of research and brainstorming, I chose to join Bain. The following are the main conclusions of my research:

1. In terms of type of work, type of people, exit opportunities, working hours, pay, etc. – most important parameters, i.e., they are the same or largely similar.

2. The only important thing that the firms use as a differentiating feature is culture – and while the culture at all consulting firms is largely similar when compared to another industry (say, FMCG or tech), there are some subtle differences between the firms:

  • McKinsey has a clear “I’m-the-best” air about themselves. Most hires have great grades and extra-curricular achievements. I got the impression that McKinsey considers itself obviously the best among consulting firms. The people I was in touch with at McKinsey were really surprised when I chose Bain over McK, while my BCG and Bain contacts were much more respectful of the other firms.
  • BCG is growing really fast in India but I heard from many (including those at BCG) that they have a much higher attrition rate than the other two firms. I really liked the people at BCG but the general perception of BCG consultants being highly overworked (even by consulting standards) caused them to lose some points.
  • My interaction with Bain was super positive and they refrained from talking negatively about other firms. I liked the people, and in addition heard a lot of good things about Bain culture from my friends - that everyone felt like they worked with friends, and it was supportive and “up-or-out” was very muted, almost non-existent at Bain (unlike other firms).

Reiterating, the differences between firms are marginal and each has something going for it – McK has arguably the most recognizable brand globally, BCG is growing fast and has great people, and Bain has a supportive and collaborative culture. These things of course vary from office to office – this is just my perception (after weeks of research) of the India offices of these firms. In summary, you should treat the firms as more or less equal and choose the one whose people you like the best. This would depend on the office and (if applicable) team you would be working for.

All the best in making the choice!

Dolf replied on May 24, 2016

For perspective, I worked 5.5 years at BCG in Germany and Japan, and did projects all over the globe. I have multiple friends at both McK and Bain. The following are my personal views, and your statement "from different online sources, I am getting different ideas" also holds in "real life" :)

Important:

(1) The differences between all three firms (and even other top managment consultancies) are negligible compared to non-consulting firms/jobs.

(2) All three firms have grown so much, they compete on all levels and no longer specialize in certain topics or industries. Basically, if one of the firms pitch for a certain project, the others could do it equally well.

On to the differences:

- In Europe, there is still a difference between McK/BCG and Bain, which is a bit smaller. So, while any competitive pitch where McK is invited also has BCG pitching (and vice versa), Bain is not always present.

- McK tends to have a more top-down, slightly harsher approach (maybe rooted from operations/cost cutting experience). BCG has a bit more cooperative approach, building support bottom-up together with the client's organization/middle management. Bain is somewhere in the middle.

- I found the smartest/most intelligent people to be at McK, intellectually a tiny notch above the other firms. BCG I found to be a bit more creative/out of the box.

Again, all of this is highly subjective. If you receive an offer from any of the firms, congratulations, that's amazing! :) If you end up getting more than one offer, I would choose the one which feels the best to you personally. I loved BCG, but one of my friends did not like the atmosphere and they somehow didn't connect -- he is now super successful and happy at Bain. During the interview process, you get to know 5-10 consultants over 2 rounds in a professional context. And keep in mind -- they don't just interview, but also try to make a good impression on you! The interview process is actually quite revealing about how working there would be, so going with your gut feel is probably the best way to go.

Good luck and all the best!

Anonymous C replied on May 31, 2017

I've summered at one and joined another of the MBB, had final rounds with the last one. From my experience, there are actually a few differences between the firms.

The firms all work on top priority issues for great clients, but I think the types of cases they tackle is different. McKinsey works for many of the F500. Huge conglomerates where organizational reform is often important, this is one of their strongholds. BCG tends to do loads of work on Post Merger Integration (PMI), Project Management Office (PMO) and Transformations. This is usually about designing ways business units within a company should look like and after that tracking if the changes are actually commited to. Bain has many of the world's leading private equity firms as clients rather than the large, slower industrial enterprises. Those seem to be more dynamic and fast-paced as they're more nimble. Also, people in private equity, are all extremely bright and results oriented. This makes for perhaps a steeper learning curve than normally, but also for a greater learning potential it seems.

In terms of exits, a large proportion of McKinsey and BCG consultants opt for Head of Strategy roles, whereas the Bain consultants seem disproportionately to go for entrepreneurship or private equity. All open the doors to every role though, so this might be more in the nature of the people working at the respective companies than a result of exit opportunities.

In terms of culture, McKinsey is the most buttoned-up and formal, but also has as great trait that you have an Obligation to Dissent. This basically means you need to speak your mind if you don't agree with others. BCG consultants seem to have the least influence on their lifestyle and working hours. They're all very nice and humble people though, but not the centre of a party usually. Bain seems to control the work-life balance of their employees generally well, but their private equity practice works without a doubt the most hours of any consulting group. They are usually characterized as the most social of the three.

In terms of how their business is doing, there isn't much difference and this will largely be location dependent. McKinsey seems to have an overall strong presence, with an extra strong presence in Germany, China and India. BCG is strong in Germany but struggles in Asia, and their US business has slowed at the moment. Bain is strong in the UK, France the US and Asia, but is behind in the Middle East and behind but catching up in size in Germany and Switzerland.

(edited)