Top Consulting Firms

by Victor Cheng

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While it sometimes seems that everyone wants to get into McKinsey, it’s worth noting that there are a number of top consulting firms that can give a career a real boost. While McKinsey, Bain, or BCG will probably provide the most powerful resume augmentation, every one of the 25 top consulting firms carries a blend of size and prestige that can take you places.

Below is a list of the 25 top consulting firms. While there’s some room for debate as to who belongs in the final spots (varying based upon geography and specialization), there’s a pretty good consensus on who belongs on top.

1) McKinsey & Company
Many regard McKinsey as the firm that started the whole strategy consulting industry. Headquartered in New York with 17,000 employees spread across almost 100 offices worldwide, they’ve got a level of prestige that makes them desired by graduates from top schools worldwide.

2) The Boston Consulting Group
BCG is headquartered in Boston, with over 70 offices and 4,500 employees. They do work similar to McKinsey and Bain and are known for having an approach that’s slightly more academic, emphasizing thought leadership more than the other two.

3) Bain & Company
Bain is the final member of the MBB (McKinsey-BCG-Bain) prestige trio and it competes for the similar work from Corporate boards. Headquartered in Boston, with 5,000 employees, their number one priority is client financial results.

4) Booz & Company
Booz & Company (often abbreviated ‘Booz and Co’) used to have three names in the firm (“Booz Allen Hamilton”) but is now independent of the US government practices that previously dominated Booz Allen Hamilton. Booz is headquartered in New York with 3,300 employees spread across 61 offices.

5) Monitor Group
The legendary creator of Porter’s Five Forces, Michael Porter, co-founded this consultancy in 1983. The Cambridge, MA-based consultancy has now grown to 1,500 employees across 29 offices. (Note: Monitor was acquired by Deloitte in November, 2012.)

6) Deloitte Consulting
Deloitte Consulting is a part of the Big Four audit firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. They consult in three key areas: human capital, strategy & operations, and technology. They have 15,000 employees in the consulting practice and are headquartered in New York with 50 offices worldwide.

7) Oliver Wyman
Oliver Wyman operates in over 50 cities with 3,000 employees. They draw on the expertise from other companies within their parent company, Marsh & McLennan. They’re known for their financial capabilities and international acumen.

8.) Roland Berger
Unlike many top firms headquartered in the United States, Roland Berger touts its European heritage. Founded in Munich in 1967, they provide strategy consulting in 46 offices via over 2,000 employees.

9) L.E.K.
L.E.K. tackles questions of strategy with 900 employees in 20 offices. They were founded in London in 1983. They emphasize five main capabilities: Strategy, Shareholder Value Management, M&A Support, Operations & Organization, and Marketing & Sales.

10)  A.T. Kearney
Headquartered in Chicago, A.T. Kearney has a rich history tracing back to the days of McKinsey. The firm split from McKinsey in 1939 and has maintained a focus on operations, supply chain, and manufacturing.

11)  ZS Associates
Founded by Northwestern professors, ZS Associates was founded in Evanston, IL and has grown to over 20 offices around the world. They mostly tackle projects related to sales and marketing. They serve a variety of clients, but pharmaceuticals are still their bread and butter.

12) Accenture
Headquartered in New York, Accenture is the world’s largest consulting firm, with revenues over $20 billion. It’s primarily known for systems integration work, but they also have a small strategy consulting unit.

13) Capgemini
Headquartered in Paris, Capgemini serves clients in a wide variety of industries through outsourcing, IT, and management consulting projects. Their life sciences division is known to be particularly strong.

14)  PricewaterhouseCoopers
Headquartered in New York, PWC’s consulting arm addresses issues related to finance, operations, forensic accounting, organizational structure, crisis management, and IT. Their engagements and focus largely emerge from their roots as an accounting firm.

15) IBM
Headquartered in Armonk, New York, IBM backs up their technological consulting with a robust suite of computing-related products and services. Engagements can range from application management to business analytics to developing and rolling out a customized solution enterprise-wide.

16) Ernst & Young
Headquartered in London, E&Y’s consulting function provides advisory and insurance services for clients across all industries. A Big Four audit firm, E&Y has particular expertise in operational risk and compliance issues.

17) Towers Watson
Headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut, Towers Watson (formed by the 2010 merger of Towers Perrin and Watson Wyatt Worldwide) provides human resources, risk management, and reinsurance consulting from its 72 offices worldwide.

18) KPMG
Headquartered in Amstelveen, the Netherlands, KPMG’s management consulting group tackles four key areas: Business Effectiveness, Financial Management, People and Change, and IT. KPMG is primarily a tax and audit firm, and another set of services between accounting and traditional management consulting. These services include Risk Consulting and Transactions & Restructuring.

19) Mercer
Headquartered in New York, Mercer is another member of the Marsh & McLennan family. They have over 19,000 employees operating in 40 cities across the world. Mercer focuses on human resources issues such as compensation, benefits, communication, and change management.

20) Aon Hewitt
Headquartered in Lincolnshire, Illinois, Hewitt is a leader in benefits consulting. Previously independenty operated, Hewitt was acquired by Aon in July 2010. Aon Hewitt consulting also works on engagements related to talent management, communications, and the people side of M&A.

21) Huron Consulting Group
With 14 offices growing out of Chicago, Huron assists a variety of clients but has some specialization within education, healthcare, and life sciences. Huron’s functional specialties include litigation, restructuring, and turnaround.

22)  Alvarez & Marsal
When companies get in a real mess, New York-based Alvarez & Marsal’s professionals from 41 offices often parachute in to provide corporate turnaround and restructuring services. Sometimes Alvarez and Marsal provide detailed forensic accounting services to enable companies to re-list on stock exchanges. Other times, A&M will provide a CFO on an interim basis to straighten things out on the ground.

23) Hay Group
Headquartered in Philadelphia, the Hay Group’s teams from 86 offices provide a wide array of solutions to human resource challenges, from retention to training to motivation.

24) Altran
Headquartered in Paris, Altran is a leader in technology and high technology innovation consulting throughout Europe. They have approximately 15,000 consultants operating within 20 countries.

25) PA consulting
Headquartered in London, PA operates in 35 countries with specialization in IT and innovation. They serve a wide variety of clients, including governmental agencies in areas such as defense and environmental sustainability.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Rory February 5, 2013 at 5:10 am

Would Everest Group not make to your list of Top 25? Or is it too focussed in its area?

Reply

Victor Cheng February 7, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Rory,

After the top 10, there’s not much consensus on the top 11-50. In addition, the majority of firms after the top 10 tend to be specialized either by type of work, by region, or by industry.

-Victor

Reply

Salman April 6, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Victor,

In terms of Deloitte Consulting. Do you believe the acquisition of Monitor Group will yield movement in its current ranking?

Best,
-Salman

Reply

Victor Cheng April 10, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Salman,

I think it’s too early to tell, but I don’t think it will change the rankings by much. Frankly, clients don’t really look at rankings.

-Victor

Reply

Muthuraama Krishnan April 24, 2013 at 5:04 am

Victor,
Considering IBM’s strong technology background, do you think they can compete in strategy industry in near future?
- Muthu

Reply

Victor Cheng April 24, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Muthu,

I didn’t even realize IBM was trying to compete in the strategy industry. I think they will have a difficult time competing in the short run. Their culture and mentality is totally different than a strategy firm.

-Victor

Reply

Prakash Raj June 9, 2013 at 11:45 am

Victor,

I wasn’t aware the other Big 4 aside from Deloitte (PwC, KPMG, E&Y) had consulting divisions. Is this something recent does this list refer to their Advisory arms of the company?

- Prakash

Reply

G S November 26, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Prakash,

The Big 4 mostly got out of consulting after the big scandals like Enron. Some new US laws made the business difficult and there were questions of the Big 4 being able to audit independently and still provide consulting services. Deloitte was the only one that stayed in, and their consulting has become a great asset. The others are all getting back in as fast as possible. KPMG’s Advisory branch is indeed their consulting side – they’ve just rebranded it.

Reply

GS November 26, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Prakash,
E&Y, PwC and KPMG all mostly got out of consulting after the big scandals in the 90′s and early 00′s. Deloitte stayed in and has built up their business nicely. Now the other 3 are diving back in to catch up (hence PwC’s recent purchase Booz & Co.) Also you are correct on KPMG. Advisory is just a rebranding of their consulting arm.

Reply

Kaeni March 19, 2014 at 12:53 am

Are you serious? PwC acquired Diamond Management & Technology Consultants, PRTM, Ant’s Eye View, BGT, and more recently Booz & Co. Right now, I would say that they have overtaken Deloitte in terms of their consulting presence.

With Deloitte’s existing consulting practice and their acquisition of the Monitor Group, both of these guys are well into consulting.

And while not particularly large, both KPMG and E&Y also have non-trivial presence in consulting.

Reply

Michael December 8, 2013 at 11:02 am

Hi Victor.

First of all, thank you for all your ressources, it’s been helping me a lot.

Secondly, I wanted to have your opinion on Arthur D little? Do you consider it a top management consulting firm?

Thanks,
Michael

Reply

Victor Cheng December 15, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Michael,

I don’t consider Arthur D Little in the top 10. It’s never mentioned in the same sentence as McKinsey, Bain, BCG. Interestingly though it is one of the oldest firms around and some credit it with founding the management consulting industry. I don’t know much about ADL and would encourage you to continue your own research.

Victor

Reply

Richard January 7, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Hi Victor,

If someone were to receive offers from the consulting divisions of PwC, Deloitte and KPMG for a London-based position, which would you advise them to take, based on current market trends and recent events surrounding respective acquistions? I note, for example, that Booz continues to operate under its own branding, at least for now.

Best wishes,
Richard

Reply

Victor Cheng January 15, 2014 at 4:32 pm

Richard,

I don’t know those three firm well enough to draw a significant distinction to recommend one over another. At the prestige level, they are in a similar bracket — with probably a slight edge to Deloitte depending on which group you’re in (aka the old Monitor). It’s like asking whether one should join McKinsey, Bain or BCG in a particular city. It depends on the people you meet, the mix of industries those office serve more so than brand name.

-Victor

Reply

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