Best strategy consulting firms | Management Consulting 101

Best Management Consulting BooksThe best management consulting firms in the world (and in India) have more or less remained the same for several years.

In this post, Management consultant Amit (aka MBA Dropout) lists down the top 10 strategy consulting firms.

After you finish reading the list, don’t forget to get your copy of ‘Business Doctors: Management Consulting Gone Wild‘, a novel about management consultants trying to turnaround an underworld organization.

It’s a fun story around a bizarre concept. Though it won’t get you into your dream consulting firm, it could give you an interesting and entertaining insight into the world of consulting.

You’ll also learn a little more about some businesses that your employer would (hopefully) never take on as a client.

Alright, elevator pitch for the book over. Let’s move on to the main topic.


Best Management Consulting Firms (Strategy)

There are many agencies / publications (Vault being the best known) that rank consulting firms every year. All of them consider different criteria, and have their own ranking methodologies. Since a multitude of factors are considered, from one year to the next, a firm’s ranking might change quite considerably. Though firms keep shuffling around (in terms of rankings), the list of top firms in the business has remained quite the same for a while now.

In this post, 10 consulting firms that are perceived to be the best in the strategy consulting business have been considered. For each firm, a short summary is followed by other details that could prove to be useful to readers that might be looking to get into this line of work. Apart from the websites of these firms, also check out some of the best consulting books available in the market to get insights about how to get into these firms.

The fine print: In this post, firms are listed in alphabetical order – this is not a ranking. All of this information is gleaned from a number of sources – websites, periodicals, feedback received from consultants themselves, and from my own experiences. A lot of this information changes all the time (for example, consulting firm X hiring from bschool Y this year does not guarantee them doing the same next year) – please keep this thought in mind when reading this post.

The list is as follows:

A.T. Kearney

  • Summary: Founded in 1926, A.T. Kearney is one of the oldest names in the business. A privately owned firm headquartered in Chicago, A.T. Kearney has made a name for itself as being the advisor of choice for CXOs and top management. Apart from Management / Strategy Consulting, it also has some presence in Technology and Operations Consulting.
  • Industry / Focus: Management Consulting
  • Size: ~3,000 employees, $1 billion in revenue (2011, estimated)
  • Offices: ~60 offices in 39 countries, 2 offices in India
  • Hiring: Most of their hiring is done from top bschools in the US. In India, they recruit from the IIMs and ISB.

Arthur D. Little

  • Summary: Founded in 1886, Arthiur D. Little has survived the ravages of time. A number of missteps by its top management caused it to file for bankruptcy in 2002, from which it emerged successful and strong. As one of the top consulting firms in the world, it is unique in the sense that it has a strong focus towards technology.
  • Industry / Focus: Management Consulting
  • Size: ~1,000 employees, revenue unknown
  • Offices: 35 offices in 20 countries, 1 office in India
  • Hiring: Arthur D. Little hires a small number of MBAs from top US bschools. In India, they hire a handful of MBAs from the IIMs and ISB.

Bain & Company

  • Summary: As one of the kids on the block (relatively speaking; Bain was established in 1973), Bain has built a great name for itself. In addition to being one of the top consulting firms, it is the top choice where MBAs want to work after graduation. The company lays a lot of stress on solid data analysis, and therefore prefers quant-savvy people. They have a unique training program where senior employees (managers, partners, etc.) impart trainings to new hires, thereby ensuring that learning is experiential and “practical”.
  • Industry / Focus: Management Consulting
  • Size: ~5,500 employees, $3.5 billion in revenue (2010, estimated)
  • Offices: 48 offices in 31 countries, 2 offices in India
  • Hiring: Bain hires a good number of undergrads, as well as advanced degree holders (MBAs and other masters degree holders, and PhDs) from top US schools. Interviews are of the usual type (case interviews) with strong focus on analytical skills. In India, Bain hires from the IIMs (A, B and C).

Booz & Company

  • Summary: Spun off from its parent company, Booz Allen Hamilton, in 2008, it retains its place as one of the elite consulting firms in the world. It remains one of the top choices where MBAs want to work after graduation. Among its many practices, Booz is widely known for its expertise in Organizational Consulting. In the past, the firm used to do a lot of work for the US government. Though the trend continues, the volume is now reduced. The company is also well known for its research work, and regularly publishes papers and reports.
  • Industry / Focus: Management Consulting
  • Size: ~3,000 employees, ~$1.3 billion in revenue (2011, estimated)
  • Offices: 60 offices in 33 countries, 2 offices in India
  • Hiring: Most of their hiring is done from top bschools in the US. In India, they recruit a small number from the IIMs and ISB.

Gallup Consulting

  • Summary: Gallup is a specialized Management Consulting firm that, in a broad sense, conducts rigorous research on human nature, behavior, preferences and needs, to help organizations improve and grow organically. This is mostly achieved through various types of surveys and polls followed by rigorous analyses. Additionally, it also conducts training programs and publishes a lot of its research in the form of papers, books, etc.
  • Industry / Focus: Management Consulting
  • Size: ~2,000 employees, ~$300 million in revenue (estimated, 2008)
  • Offices: 40 offices in 27 countries, 3 offices in India
  • Hiring: In the US, Gallup hires from tier 1 and 2 schools. As a part of their recruitment process, apart from the usual interviews and cases, prospective candidates are required to fill an assessment (“Clifton Strength Finder”) that indicates his/her fitment (and success) for the role that he/she is interviewing for. In India, Gallup hires a small number of MBAs from the IIMs.

Think you are consultant material? Try these Case Interview sample questions.

Gartner

  • Summary: Gartner is a boutique strategy firm that primarily focuses on high tech research (primary and secondary). Gartner researches on almost every imaginable topic / issue in the high tech industry. Industry bigwigs and experts routinely pour through such reports / findings to take stock of any impending issues that might potentially affect companies, or the industry as a whole, and take necessary steps / precautions.
  • Industry / Focus: Management Consulting (High Tech Research)
  • Size: ~5,000 employees, $1.47 billion in revenue (2011)
  • Offices: ~100 offices in ~60 countries, 3 offices in India
  • Hiring: Gartner does not recruit actively from bschool campuses in the US – online application/resume submissions are encouraged. In India, the firm recruits a handful from the IIMs.

McKinsey & Company

  • Summary: McKinsey is considered to be the most prestigious and the top Management Consulting firm in the world. It serves a large number of Fortune 1000 firms, governments, public and private institutions, and non-profits. Such is its reputation and clout that it is quite common for large clients (multi-national organizations) to employ it alongside boutique consulting firms specializing in the area(s) that such a client might be facing issues with, to oversee and validate the work of the latter. Senior McKinsey consultants often work directly with senior management (CXO-level officials), assisting them in solving problems that they might be facing in their businesses.
  • Industry / Focus: Management Consulting
  • Size: 17,000 employees, $7 billion in revenue (estimated, 2010)
  • Offices: 100 offices in 50 countries, 4 offices in India
  • Hiring: McKinsey hires large numbers of MBAs from most of the top business schools in US and Europe. In India, they hire MBAs from the IIMs (A, B and C), ISB, and recently a small number from the IITs as well. A large number of McKinsey alums finally go on to hold very senior positions in Fortune 500 companies; apart from the name, clout, etc. that the McKinsey brand brings, this is yet another reason why it is the employer of choice at most business schools.

Monitor Group

  • Summary: The firm was established in 1983 by 7 HBS-connected individuals, one of them being Michael Porter, a professor at HBS and one of the greatest management thinkers of our time. It has grown and achieved prominence in a very short period of time. Today it is considered to be in the league of heavyweights such as Bain, BCG and Mercer. In addition its primary service offering (Management Consulting), it has also made a name for itself in Human Resource Consulting.
  • Industry / Focus: Management Consulting
  • Size: ~1,500 employees, revenue unknown
  • Offices: 27 offices in 20 countries, 3 offices in India
  • Hiring: Like the other heavyweights in its league, Monitor hires from top US bschools, though its interview process is quite different from the rest. The process starts with a written case followed by an interview, a group discussion, a role-play and then a final interview. Even experienced hires are made to go through these steps. In India, in the recent past, the firm has hired from IIM Ahmedabad.

[Update: Monitor filed for bankruptcy on November 7, 2012, roughly 2 months after this post was published. It’s been acquired by Deloitte Consulting.]

The Boston Consulting Group

  • Summary: The Boston Consulting Group belongs in the same league of management consulting firms as McKinsey and Bain. It focuses mostly on Strategic and Operations Consulting assignments. Apart from its core consulting work, BCG invests a sizable chunk of resources towards research, building new solutions / frameworks, etc. Year after year, BCG employees have ranked it as being one of the best companies to work for. Quality of life, work hours, training and overall culture are reported to be several notches above other comparable firms.
  • Industry / Focus: Management Consulting
  • Size: 6,700 employees, $3.55 billion in revenue (2011)
  • Offices: 77 offices in 42 countries, 3 in India
  • Hiring: BCG hires from top (usually top 10) campuses in the US. The only way one can apply is by first filling in an application on its portal (even for campuses that they visit). Interviews are not unlike other top firms. In India, BCG hires from IIMs (A, B, C and L) and ISB.

The Parthenon Group

  • Summary: Parthenon is one of the most prestigious (and better known) boutique consulting firms. It is highly selective in terms of the type of work that it does (mostly Strategy Consulting), its clientele, and hiring. Parthenon is also known for its work in Financial Consulting – it advises clients on mergers and acquisitions, private equity, etc. One of its unique focus areas is Advisory Services for entrepreneurs.
  • Industry / Focus: Management Consulting
  • Size: ~200 employees, revenue unknown
  • Offices: 5 offices in 4 countries, 1 office in India
  • Hiring: Parthenon hires a small number of MBAs from the top 10 bschools in the US. In India, it hires from ISB.

Learn more about the broader Consulting industry in India and abroad.

Read these management consulting blogs:
Is consulting a good career choice for me?
Best Management Consulting Books
Management consulting interview questions
Best bschools for consultant jobs

And yeah, remember to order your copy of ‘Business Doctors: Management Consulting Gone Wild‘. Other consultants are talking about it. Don’t be left out.


Liked the article? Show us some love. Share it.

MBA Crystal Ball provides professional Admissions Consulting services. Hire us to improve your chances of getting into the top international universities. Email: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com

Sameer Kamat //
Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Connect with me on Google+ | Twitter | Facebook | Linkedin

36 Comments

  1. Kumar Saurabh says:

    Its very shocking that such a good information has not been followed by a single comment and also mere 480 likes!! It deserves 48k likes at least. Keep it up Sir. You are doing great!

  2. Sameer Kamat says:

    Saurabh bhai,

    The first comment is always the toughest to get.

    Now that you’ve set the ball rolling, hopefully we’ll see others appreciating the good work of knowledge sharing that Amit has been tirelessly doing on the blog and the forum.

    He has no commercial interest in doing this. It’s just his way of giving back to a community that he was once part of. But nevertheless, a simple pat on the back and a good word does go a long way in keeping spirits high.

    So one honest ‘Like’ in hand is worth ’48K Likes’ in the bush!

  3. B Naveen says:

    Hi Amit,

    I am a naval officer with about 17 yrs of work ex in mechanical engineering ( work areas related to marine engineering system operation, maintenance, training of personnel in engineering equipment and systems and the last 7 years has been in design of systems and overseeing construction of underwater platforms at a shipyard). While being in the Navy, I have completed my M.E.(Mechanical) and am on the verge of completing my MS in Consultancy Management through BITS Pilani. I intend shifting my career path in the coming year as I am quitting the Navy . I am looking at a consultant role in shipbuilding/ design for the defence projects, where I can leverage on my experience. Can you suggest any consultancy organisation which would be interested in offering me a role?

    Thanks and regards.

    B Naveen

  4. Sameer Kamat says:

    Naveen,

    Amit is taking questions on the Management Consulting Jobs forum. Think you can post your query there?

  5. Nitin Agrawal says:

    Hi Sameer,

    Nice peice of infomation. You are doing a very good job!

    Regards
    Nitin Agrawal
    (remember me? ex AFL – Agrani Project)

  6. Sameer Kamat says:

    Hey Nitin,

    Of course, I remember you. Thanks for your kind words about hamaar chhota-saa initiative, sirji.

    All going well for you, I hope. After seeing your comment on this strategy consulting firms blog post, I think your next comment will have McKinsey in the signature :-)

  7. Himanshu says:

    Hi Sameer,

    1. Are there any consulting firm who hires individuals from tier two b-schools ?

    2. If i want to make a career in consulting; what steps i should take assuming i already have an mba degree from a tier 2 institute with 1yr of product planning and corporate sales experience ?

    looking forward for an reply

    Regards,
    Himanshu Agarwal

  8. Sameer Kamat says:

    Himanshu,

    Short answer is yes. Though most of the top consulting firms recruit in bulk from the tier-1 bschools, the selection also trickles down to other schools. Plus there are many more firms (boutique or otherwise) that may have relationships with the regional bschools. e.g. SCM consulting, HR consulting, tech consulting, strategy consulting etc.

    Can you please post your queries on our Consulting forum? Amit should be able to give you more inputs.

  9. Bharathwaj says:

    Hi,

    Can you give me the list of management consulting firms that focus majorly on Supply Chain Management/ Operations Consulting in India?

    Thanks

  10. Saurav Ghosh says:

    Hi ,

    I am Saurav Ghosh, My wrk & education detials are

    Wrk Exp : 7 yrs exp in Information System (MIS), Data Analytics,
    Reporting, Data Integration.

    Domain Knowledge : Contact Center , Customer Survey , Lubricatants

    Education : BCA – Jamia Hamdard

    Aspritation : To work as Managment Consultant

    I am planning to pursue my MBA from IMT Ghaziabad – online.

    Please advice and direct me.

  11. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Bharathwaj: Most of the big consulting firms have a Supply Chain Management / Operations ‘practice’. I’m not aware of boutique consulting firms that focus only on SCM programs

    @Saurav: If you are heading for an MBA, try to use the resources available to develop the right skills and contacts.

  12. Arul says:

    Hi Sameer,

    I am Arul and I am a graduate from from one of the top 6 IIMs. Destiny/Chance lead me back to IT after my post graduation. I am working as an IT Consultant. However, my interest lies in Management Consulting and I believe that I would truly enjoy the work.

    I am determined to get into the top 5 management consulting firms and I am all willing to make a 3 – 5 yr plan to achieve my goal.

    My plan of action: Get into one of the Indian Boutique consulting firms, gain experience in consulting for 2-3 years, do a MBA program from global institutes that focus on consulting (likes of INSEAD & Kellogg) and get into one of the top firms. I also understand that the first major hurdle is to get into boutique consulting firms and the second is to get into one of the B-schools I aspire to get into.

    However, I have a couple of queries.
    1. Will working for boutique consulting firms (brands that are not very famous) be a value add while applying for the top B-schools? I was told that the brand value of the company one works for is very important to get into top B-schools. (The IT firm that I am working for is a well known company)
    2. How important is ‘international experience’ important to get into top B-Schools in Europe? I might be able garner international experience in IT. However, I am not sure if that would happen if I work for a boutique consulting firm. Kindly advise on which being a better value addition.

    Also, pls point out if there are any logical flaws in my thinking.

    P.S: Kindly advise/suggest/direct. It would be of tremendous help.

  13. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Arul: your plan to work for a boutique consulting firm is good. But be aware that the top schools get tons of applications from the top tier consulting firms as well. At that level, it’s a matter of pedigree too.

    International just for the sake of putting it on the CV isn’t a good idea.

    Consider two MBA applicants – one who has spent 3 out of 5 years abroad doing only software testing in a niche domain. The other applicant has spent 5 years working only in India, but his assignments involved advising the senior management of the Top companies in India on complex and strategic issues.

    Between the two, which candidate has the upper hand would be quite obvious.

  14. Mrinal says:

    Hi Sir,

    Thanks for the useful insight. Have a few queries :-

    1. Can firms like Gartner or for that matter IDC be considered as boutique consultancy? I ask this question because these two are the biggest Technology Research and Analysis firms and this is how they are known as worldwide. Correct me if I am wrong. Actually I am evaluating offers from both of them after my MBA so was keen to know your inputs on this.

    2. Are there any companies specifically for Telecom consulting?

    3. How good are consulting firms from Big4 or firms like Accenture or Cognizant are as compared to these elite companies you have listed for strategy consulting in terms of quality of consulting work plus the exposure. I ask this because these listed companies by you do not visit tier2 B schools and they also usually do not hire candidates from Tier2 B schools by referrals. So a graduate from these MBA colleges has higher chances of getting into the Big4 and others as compared to the likes of Mck or BCG.

  15. Vasudevan says:

    Dear sameer,

    I am MBa graduate based at Chennai.I would like to find a career in consulting after 18 years of Corporate HR experience in only small firms and 9 years of academic experience as faculty member for OB/HR in renowned institutions.can you please help me finding a career in HR consulting.Thanks and regards
    C.Vasudevan

  16. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Mrinal: Congrats on the offers. Don’t get carried away with tags like ’boutique’. Your work profile within these companies and the exposure you get in the long run are far more important than labels assigned by outsiders.
    I’m sure there are tons of, er, boutique Telecom consulting firms. The bigger ones usually have industry specific ‘practices’. You could check them out too.
    I think the quality of work done by the Big 4 firms, Accenture, etc is pretty good. Folks get too enamoured by the brand power of the top-tier firms. If you get an offer from the other leading names, go for it.

    @Vasudevan: I’m sorry, but we can’t help in getting jobs. If you do have an interview lined up, we could help with our management consulting training services.

  17. Verma_Ravi says:

    Thanks for sharing information.. :)

  18. Krishnendu Chatterjee says:

    Dear Mr. Kamat,
    I read with interest, your post on ratings of consultancy firms at
    MBACrystalball.com. I must acknowledge that it made for interesting
    reading. You have mentioned about certain rating agencies websites
    like Vault etc. I have had a look at Vault.com. Can you please let me
    know who are the other agencies who undertake such ranking exercises?
    I need this information to make an assessment of own before hiring a consultant
    for my company.

    This to request you to spare a few moments please to mail me the rating / ranking
    agencys’ names.

    Regards

    Krishnendu Chatterjee

  19. Sameer Kamat says:

    Krishnendu: Vault is not a rating agency. But the discussion forums have a lot of content on how these firms work, mostly from a recruitment angle.

    Be aware though that these are mostly US based discussions. Indian consulting teams could be very different. Not all firms are good at everything. Think about what kind of consulting help you need – strategic, financial, operations, technical – and then take a call.

  20. Ash says:

    Good job done Sameer. Quick question. Any idea about McKinsey Implementation? Need quick opinion.

  21. Nithin says:

    Hi,

    I am very keen to know more about Parthenon Group. Dd they hire experienced professionals (without MBA)? I have more than 3 years of experience. I am looking to work for another 2 to 3 years and then do my MBA from a top US university. I have a B.E from BITS Pilani. I know that Parthenon hires non MBAs in India only from IIT Delhi.
    Any insights on my chances would be really useful.

  22. Vishal says:

    Dear Samir,

    I am looking for good GMAT coaching in Mumbai for quant section.

    Any help and advice will be highly appreciated.

    Thanks and Kind Regards,
    Vishal K

  23. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Ash: McKinsey isn’t really known for their implementation skills. if that’s what you prefer, there are other firms like Deloitte, Booz etc who have better resources and track record in implmentation.

    @Nithin: You’d have to be a subject matter expert in a niche domain for them to consider you as a lateral hire.

    @Vishal: Right question on the wrong post! You could contact Naveenan (4GMAT) and Arun (CrackVerbal). They have a smaller, more boutique approach to GMAT coaching.

  24. Sachin Gupta says:

    Hi Sameer,

    This Sachin from IIM Calcutta. I am a PGP 2 student at Joka and write to you regarding a quandary that I am facing.

    The final placement are here and I currently have shortlists from the top consulting firms coming to campus (Bain, BCG, ATK etc.) alongside SMC. Given that you have worked with Siemens could you give me some perspective on how SMC weighs up against the big 4?
    Any pointers on potential career growth, work-like balance, learning opportunities shall be really helpful.

    Look forward to hearing back from you.

    Thanking you in advance.
    Best regards,
    Sachin Gupta

  25. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Sachin: Congrats on getting shortlisted by the best names in the business!

    It seems ages since I left Siemens, so whatever I’m saying is purely perception based and might have changed. Take it with a pinch of salt, lemon and water (nimbu-pani, in short).

    SMC recruited the best talent from the top bschools and the selectivity was tight.

    A majority of the consultants were from INSEAD. The person (German) who set up and led the India team in the earlier years was from INSEAD. That probably that explains the soft spot (alumi network rules!). There were folks from ISB and IIM Bangalore as well.

    the modus operandi was pretty much like the big names in the biz (M/B/B) except that the client was always some Siemens entity. but there was enough variety as the projects were across different businesses, locations and legal entities.

    There was a lot of travel. And a lot of senior management exposure. Excellent exit opportunities to move into operational roles within one of the Siemens businesses.

    But if you have to choose between McKinsey / Bain / BCG (M/B/B) and SMC, I’d say go for M/B/B. The branding will help you a lot.

    Plus you can easily go from an M/B/B role to industry, but tougher to do it the other way.

  26. Saket says:

    Dear Sir

    I read your book Beyond the MBA Hype .. It was amazing and intresting . I wanted some inputs from you as I wanted to do an internship for 2 months in a Business Conlting Company. Which companies should I apply and How should I apply ? Moreover I wanted a company that has a office in Kolkata.
    waiting for your revert
    Thanks

    Saket

  27. vignesh says:

    Hi Sameer,

    Thanks for your great work. Learnt a lot. I have a query. I am currently doing my undergrad in engineering in chennai. Do any of the above mentioned consultancies hire undergrad’s. Though majority of the companies have an application portal in their website, do they really recruit people based on online applications ? How about internships ? Do they hire undergrads for internships ? Thanks in advance.

    Best regards,
    vicky :)

  28. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Saket: I’m not sure about M/B/B, but Deloitte & PwC have offices in Kolkata. But mainly focussing on Audit, IT etc

    @Vignesh: Online applications are the worst way to apply to the top consulting firms.

  29. Vinit says:

    Hi Sameer. I would like to know how some of the other consulting firms that recruit from campuses in India fare against these. I would especially like to know about Accenture Strategy/AMC, The S & O Practice of the Big 4s and GEP (Global-e-Procure)

  30. U Bhagyanath Menon says:

    Dear Sameer, would like you to give me some detailed input / answers to my questions.

    1. How many companies in India are actually in need of Management Consulting services? Across what verticals?
    2. What is the current industry growth rate for Management consulting companies?
    3. How is/does one to identify such clients / customers, and where do we find them? How do we approach them?
    Are there any forums or associations or organizations that we can approach to get such clients?

    Kindly give me a detailed revert. Thanks.

    Regards,

    U B Menon

  31. shrey says:

    Hi Sameer

    Could you share amit’s email id? Would like to connect with him to discuss my doubts if it’s not a challenge.

    Thanks and Regards
    Shreyoshi

  32. tanvi k says:

    A very good article. Thanks Amit !!

  33. Very nice! a brief post and complete information. Excellent work!

  34. RAJIV BUDHWAR says:

    If it is wise to get job experience before pursuing MBA ? Kindly guide
    Except IIM if pursuing MBA degree from any college have same value as from next best colleges?

  35. Surbhi says:

    Hi Sameer,
    One of my friends has got an year back in old IIM and is planning to dropout. He was one of the strongest contenders for MCK & BCG during summer placements but didn’t get selected at the last moment. He getting a shortlist is in itself a big deal and speaks loud about his CV. Even in the first year at IIM, he won lot of national level quizzes and big awards for innovative start up and strategic competitions.
    He strongly feels he joined MBA to get into top consulting firms but now with year back (due to medical issue) he is sure he wont get through these companies ever. Need your advice. :)

  36. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Rajiv: Yes, it is wise to have experience before pursuing an MBA.

    @Surbhi, rather than taking such a drastic step, he could check with the placements team if the consulting companies have any stringent selection criteria or they are willing to consider an exception where there’s a genuine reason for the drop.

    Also, while most are obsessed with the idea of getting into MckInsey, Bain, BCG, there are plenty of fantastic opportunities outside that list that’ll also similar growth potential if not better.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *