13 ways in which the McKinseys and BCGs differ from the Accentures and Sapients

According to one report, there are between 250,000 to 500,000 management consultancies in the world. Yet, as soon as we mention Management Consulting, immediately the ‘Big Four’ comes to mind. But what about the other consulting firms in the world? What kind of work do they do? What type of careers do they offer? What are their growth prospects? What do they look for in new hires? Guest Writer Saibal Sen dissects.

Before we get into any comparisons, lets define some categories. The big four are not necessarily big nor are there just four of them. For the sake of this discussion, lets say they are so called because of their reputation and type of high pr ofile work they do. Examples McKinsey, BCG, Bain & Co, Mercer, Monitor Group etc.

So who are the others? They can be boutique consultancies ranging from a sole practitioner to around a dozen consultants. Then there are small consultancies that have between 10 to 50 consultants. Next are the medium consultancies employing between 50 and 500, and finally, the large consultancies that have 500+ consultants.

The table below gives you some comparative answers if you are thinking of a consulting career.

Comparison Between Consultancy Firm Types

Big Four

Large & Medium

Boutique & Small

Type of projects?

High profile strategy projects:

  1. Mergers & Acquisitions

  2. Transformation

  3. Cost Reduction

  4. Interim Management

  5. Restructuring

  6. Performance Improvements

  7. Product development

  8. Market entry strategies

  9. Brand building

  10. Audits

Domain specific projects:

Information Technology

  1. Needs assessment

  2. Systems Integration

  3. Information System Architecture

  4. Product or system selection

  5. Outsourcing

  6. Remote Operations

  7. Customizations

  8. Custom Software Development

Industries such as Manufacturing, Telecom, Energy etc. and horizontals such as HR, Legal, Accountancy etc.:

  1. Functional Outsourcing

  2. Needs Assessment

  3. Infrastructure building

  4. Process Improvements

  5. Quality Improvements

  6. Certifications

  7. Contract R&D;

  8. KPO

  9. Contract Operations (BPO)

  10. Operational assistance

  11. New product development

  12. Staff augmentation

Niche specialties:

  1. Advisory in very specific areas such as bid management

  2. Project Management

  3. Training

  4. Interim management

  5. Conflict Management

  6. Market Studies

  7. Staff augmentation

  8. KPO

Industry Specialization?

No but they focus more on growth sectors


Yes and No

Source of business?

Direct contact with clients.

All relationship based.

Almost never any advertising

Starts with formal request for proposals or tenders. Follow on work from existing clients.


Relationship based. Participation in conferences, blogs, and media.

Mode of delivery?

Mostly onsite with back office research work being done in offshore locations (with limited success).

The current trend is 10 to 30% onsite and remaining offsite/offshore. Highly successful off shoring model.

Almost all onsite. Emerging in online work.


Rising salaries and costs. Finding good employees. They look for highly intelligent and hard working talent with open minds. Its a rare combination!

Ability to respond to changing client needs. Culture needs to adapt to changing technology and ways of working.

Making the jump to the next level (growth).


Strong brand image. Business comes to them.

Scalability (but not necessarily efficiency).


Work Environment?

High pressure, stimulating, near 100% travel,

Between 30 to 60% travel. Stimulating, more flexible compared to other jobs.

Highly unstructured, flexible, everyone is expected to sell.

Qualifications and attributes employers look for?

Top tier MBA. Outstanding capability for creativity and hard work. Very strong interpersonal skills for handling clients.

Masters level expected but can be substituted by industry experience. Creative, presentable and logical minded.

Graduate in any discipline. Self-starter, high degree of perseverance and an all rounder.

Intake Category?

80% fresher.

80% laterals. Either home grown or externals.

Either fresher or very senior.

Career growth prospects?

Partner at the firm. Entrepreneur, Venture Capitalist, or ends up as top management at a former client.

Senior managers, business unit or country heads, entrepreneurs or educators. Some can transition over to Big Four business development roles.

Possible to move to Big Four class at an early stage in your career. Start your own consultancy or become a senior manager at a former client.




Low or High

Profit Sharing?

Not usually

Stock Options

Ownership stake

Industry outlook?

Moderate growth after the economy improves. Medium firms are fast encroaching their space.

Fastest growth anticipated as client turn to vendors for end-to-end solutions. Around 30 to 50% growth anticipated.

Intense competition amongst small players. Ones with a unique model likely to do well.

Example firms?

McKinsey, BCG, AT Kearney, Bain & Co. Monitor Group, Booz Allen, Mercer, Arthur D. Little and several more. I suspect there are at least 50 reputed strategy firms.

IT IBM, Accenture, CSC, Infosys, Wipro, HCL, Sapient and hundreds more.

Non IT Bechtel, Mott McDonald, Babcock International, PA Consulting, L&T;, Tata Engineers and hundreds more.

Cannot name them for privacy reasons but you can find them in several business directories. There are thousands of these.

So in conclusion, just the big four should not be your be all and end all in terms of career choice. Depending on your background, your aspirations and your competencies, you may well want to consider working for the other 250,000+ consultancies around the globe.

While Big Four offers high salaries and glamour, their hiring criterion is very stringent. But dont dishearten yourself as a variety of interesting consulting projects are done by other thousands of consulting firms around the globe. In addition to that, more jobs will be created in small to medium consulting segment post recession.

If you feel that you have the potential to be creative and not afraid of high-pressure work, consider a consulting career. The salaries are high and your growth potential will be even higher.

Saibal Sen is the founder of ZENESYS, a professional services training organization. ZENESYS has trained hundreds of engineers in consulting skills at leading consulting organizations in India and abroad. ZENESYS also runs distance workshops for consulting certification. Saibal was formerly a management consultant at Arthur D. Little and founder of KUBER consulting in Boston MA. He can be reached at [email protected]