The Big Three: meet the world's top consulting firms

A guide to the world's top consulting firms

The "Big Three" refers to the world's biggest consulting firms by revenue, who are also considered to be the most prestigious employers in the industry.

They're grouped together because this trio have noticeably higher average revenues than their nearest competitors.

In addition, they all focus on strategy consulting at board level, primarily for Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 companies.

Who makes up the Big Three?

The Big Three is made up of Bain & Company, the Boston Consulting Group, and McKinsey & Company,

Why work for them?

The Big Three invest heavily in their greatest asset - that is, their people. As a new joiner, you'll receive fantastic training in basic business concepts, technical skills such as Excel or Powerpoint, and soft skills such as presentation techniques or building relationships with clients.

A second reason for joining the Big Three is the fact that you'll work on high-profile cases and get exposed to the upper echelons of some of the world's most famous organisations.

Note, however, that the three firms have incredibly select recruitment practices, hiring mostly top-scoring graduates and MBAs from top universities. In recent years, their intake has diversified a little, with the likes of former lawyers, NASA astronauts and opera singers joining the ranks.

Bain & Company

UK headquarters 40 Strand, London

Global revenue 2012 $2.1 billion

Number of employees 6,000

Number of alumni 10,000

Notable alumni Meg Whitman (CEO of Hewlett-Packard), Mitt Romney (former presidential candidate), Mark Pincus (founder and CEO of Zynga)

The young upstart of the Big Three firms, Bain & Company was established by ten Boston Consulting Group employees in 1973 who wanted to test out a more pragmatic approach to business than that practiced at BCG.

The experiment was successful and the company became most notable for winning new clients on the basis of quantitative performance, with founder Bill Bain often showing them the increase in price of current clients' shares relative to the Dow Jones Industrial Average that, he claimed, Bain had generated.

Today Bain is known for its continued focus on results and close relationship with Bain Capital, an investment firm specialising in private equity - many employees exiting Bain & Company join its ranks.

The "Bainies" are reported to be a bit more fun than other Big Three employees, with the firm cultivating a "work hard, play hard" culture.

The Boston Consulting Group

UK headquarters 20 Manchester Square, London

Global revenue 2012 $3.1 billion

Number of employees 9,700

Number of alumni 15,000

Notable alumni Clayton Christensen (Harvard Business School professor), Jeff Immelt (CEO of General Electric), Indra Nooyi (CEO of PepsiCo)

The Boston Consulting Group is known as the academic powerhouse of the Big Three. It was credited by Harvard Business Review in 2012 with coming up with two of five concepts (the Growth Share Matrix and the Experience Curve) that changed the business world.

The firm has since continued to regularly introduce new concepts and highlight trends drawn from its in-depth research.

BCG has also been consistently ranked by Fortune magazine as one of the "Best Companies to Work For" - it offers more generous benefits than the other two Big Three members and places a greater emphasis on work-life balance, promoted by initiatives such as "predicted time off".

BCG people are often characterised in the industry as especially brainy, known for spouting academic theory but also for using complex analytical methods well to find good solutions.

McKinsey & Company

UK headquarters 1 Jermyn Street, London

Global revenue 2012 $7.8 billion

Number of employees 17,000

Number of alumni 27,000

Notable alumni William Hague (UK Foreign Secretary), Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook), Chelsea Clinton

McKinsey & Company is the biggest, oldest and most prestigious of the three firms, with one of the most powerful alumni networks in the world - in 2011, more than 150 McKinseyites were running companies recording over $1 billion (around �600 million) in sales.

McKinsey seems to have been barely touched by the recent insider training scandal involving former managing director Rajat Gupta and the more distant collapse of Enron, once a major client led by alumnus Jeff Skilling.

Moreover, the company remains at the forefront of innovation - for example, as competitors attempted to eat into its profits, it created McKinsey Solutions, technology-based analytical tools that can be embedded into a client's own systems, providing ongoing analysis without the need to utilise staff or employ external advisers.

McKinseyites have been stereotyped as fond of lecturing clients and vain about their top dog position. But with a reputation and results like theirs, they've got good reason to boast about what they're doing.

And finally...

Although the Big Three are the world's biggest consulting firms with experience of working with most types of business, those with a specific industry interest might have a more satisfying working life at a boutique consulting firm.

For example, if you're aiming to specialise in financial services you're likely to encounter a more diverse range of cases at Oliver Wyman, while if your interest lies in e-commerce Javelin may be the right place for you.

It's also worth noting that smaller consulting firms, such as Value Partners or Parthenon, could provide you with more interaction with clients, as case teams are smaller, and quicker promotion to management positions.