Strategy& Ex Employee - Q&A

I believe this has been done here before, but I'm a recently resigned Strategy& employee creating this Q&A. I recently posted the below review on Glassdoor which sums up my thoughts, but happy to take questions. Great potential, tragically horrible execution ###Pro’s 1. If you are a favorite of the right Partners/Directors - or if you're lucky - you will work on McKinsey-caliber projects solving incredibly interesting, complex problems at the Board/C-suite level 2. Industry-leading compensation package - potential to earn $230K+ within a short timeframe of finishing business school 3. Travel perks (e.g., partially subsidized Corporate AMEX Platinum card, almost certainty of top-tier elite hotel/airline status) 4. Wickedly smart, humble, friendly, and diverse colleagues (at least below the Manager level) 5. Ability to be promoted rapidly, again provided you have the political support of the right Partners and Directors ###Con’s 1. Most politically toxic environment in which I've ever worked. Everything - and I mean everything from staffing decisions to promotion decisions and even minor deck edits - has a tendency to devolve into a zero-sum-game political turf war conducted with a take-no-prisoners mentality 2. The toxic "beat your staff to death to develop them" culture which sunk Booz & Co as an independent firm is alive and well. For example, you will be cursed and berated like a naughty 5-year-old in front of your peers for the most minor misses in deck edits (e.g., using the "wrong color" on a slide.) Partners are often outright hostile to each other; I observed multiple occasions where Partners cursed out other Partners in front of junior staff. This nasty, unprofessional mentality obviously trickles down through the ranks. And the senior leaders are just as guilty - sometimes more so - of this than the rank and file Partners. The fish rots from the head down 3. Toxic culture of work for the sake of work. 80+ hour weeks are common. Weekend work is common. Having to cancel dates, vacations, weekend plans, etc. at the last minute is common. What is particularly frustrating is that, 90% of the time, the work is pointless busy work - endless deck edits for inconsequential details, pumping out more slides for the sake of having a thicker deck to "wow" the client, etc. It was routine to stay up at the hotel past midnight to crank out a 35-slide deck for a 30-minute status meeting the next day, where of course only the first 2 out of 35 slides would ever be discussed. Efficiency (i.e., actually getting work done in a more effective fashion to enable a sane 45 or 50-hour work week) is highly frowned upon as it doesn't align with the old school Booz cultural values of overwork 4. Woefully inadequate training for new hires. There is a Culture Task Force making minor improvements here, but you will be expected from day one to conduct complex Excel analysis and build incredibly intricate slides with minimal training on PowerPoint, Excel, or the Firm's tools - and no mentorship. Make any mistakes at all on those things, and you'll want to refer to point #2 above 5. Extreme difficulty in getting staffed as a new hire. Because of point #4, new hires are treated like lepers by more experienced Seniors and (especially) Managers. Mentorship and development take time, which is obviously limited when you're constantly cranking out 500-slide decks at 3 AM on a Saturday. Therefore - particularly at the Manager level and above - new hires are viewed as far too costly to onboard to new projects, setting up a vicious cycle whereby new hires languish on the bench and never acquire the skills necessary to be successful strategy consultants. In my first year, I had business school peers who were summarily terminated within their first 6 months solely because they couldn't be consistently staffed - through no fault of their own, obviously 6. Constant turnover and layoffs. Part of this is to be expected given the "up or out" nature of the Firm's development model, but even given that design the turnover I experienced at Strategy& was the highest I ever saw in my career by far - and I've worked at multiple consulting firms. As a Senior it was not uncommon to start a 3-month project and, at the end, have witnessed the resignation or termination of the Director, Manager, and Associate on the team - and lest you think I jest, this happened on 3 of my projects within 2 years 7. At the Manager level and above, emotional intelligence and the ability to develop people seem to cease to matter in terms of performance evaluations - which is odd, because this is when it really starts to become a critical skillset. Never in my life have I worked with a group of less emotionally intelligent Managers, folks who were adept at quickly cranking out massive decks, but completely incapable of managing human beings at even a basic level. Only the ability to criticize and throw people under the bus, zero ability to coach or to mentor. Often you would see Managers in particular "kiss up and kick down", currying favor with Directors/Partners while treating their teams like garbage. Having now exited to industry, I avoid the ex-Booz/Strategy& managers in my own company like the plague - and they, not surprisingly, do indeed have a reputation for nastiness and not working well with their peers and subordinates 8. Forced to choose an industry specialization early in your career and stick with it. A minority of people do like this model, but in general folks go into strategy consulting in order to be exposed to a wide variety of industries and business problems - PwC's industry vertical-centric model is fundamentally at odds with that aspiration 9. Extreme over-reliance on a few key clients. Due to channel conflicts (e.g., situations where PwC was the auditor of a former Booz client), PwC's preference for selling massive multi-year transformation projects, and some other factors, the portfolio is heavily focused on a few big initiatives at a few key clients. I found myself constantly being rotated being busy work projects at the same few clients, limiting my ability to gain broad strategic exposure. And... 10. ...because of PwC's focus on big transformations, much of the current Strategy& work has little to do with true strategy consulting. If you're expecting to work side-by-side with CEOs, CFOs, and the Board to craft corporate-level strategy (e.g., which markets to enter or which products to sell), you will likely be sorely disappointed. It is rare for Strategy& to win against MBB for those types of projects and, when they do, those projects are virtually always staffed by the folks who have been the most consistently obsequious to the right set of Partners (see point #1 under Pros). If you're a new hire, don't expect to see that type of work for a long time 11. Promotion decisions are not based at all on performance evaluations. PwC has a tool (Snapshot) which captures your performance data on each project along dimensions such as technical competence, business knowledge, etc. On each of those dimensions you are rated on a scale from "not performing at level" to "performing at next level." Even if your full year of Snapshot reviews consistently shows "performing at next level" across the board, promotions are routinely denied - if you don't have "visibility" with the right set of Partners (notice a pattern here?) On the other hand, people with "performing at level" reviews are granted promotions with no objections if the right Partners pound the table for them. This becomes particularly problematic because of utilization expectations. If you simply chase work (including work outside of your assigned group) to stay busy and hit your utilization targets, you may end the year with great performance reviews but not with the right Partners in your group - tough luck! On the other hand, anybody on the bench for an extended period waiting for the "right" work within their group is at risk of being shown the door at any moment for low utilization 12. The integration with PwC has been an unmitigated five alarm dumpster fire. So much has already been written on the topic that I'll stop at that ###Advice to leadership Fundamentally, the Strategy& leadership needs to finally recognize a hard truth: that if Booz & Company were such a great firm with exemplary values and a productive culture, it would still be around today as an independent firm - period. Booz failed as an independent firm because of its toxic culture and its inability to scale in the pure strategy space to effectively compete against firms like McKinsey and BCG which, for all their own faults, have always had much more effective, value-creating cultures than Booz. Once that hard recognition is made, the Strategy& leaders need to leverage what little political capital they have within PwC to stop the bleeding and define an effective, realistic operating model within that behemoth of a firm. Regardless of their sales performance and C-suite relationships, the destructive ex-Booz Partners who perpetuate the toxic culture of cruelty and overwork need to be shown the door. Ex-Booz Partners who constantly belittle their fellow non-Strategy& PwC Partners - because they didn't go to the Ivy League or don't do "elite" strategy work - also need to be shown the door. If Booz were so darn great, let all of those toxic characters use their own capital to reincarnate it as an independent firm and blow it up again. PwC will be far better without them. Below the Partner level, Directors and Managers must see a strong incentive shift to focusing far more on mentoring and developing people as opposed to serving as highly compensated slideware monkeys. An entirely new ecosystem of support - everything from a full month of strategy consulting training to zero cost staffing of new hires for project teams - must be put in place to ensure new hires receive the support needed to be successful. As I wrote in my review headline, Strategy& does have great potential. The firm is able to hire incredibly talented staff and has a potentially paradigm-shifting platform with PwC. And there are many talented Partners who are able to bring in true strategy work. That potential is far from being realized today because of toxic cultural practices from the past which must be jettisoned. Eliminate the worst aspects of that culture, start treating your people right, and focus on getting the operating model right with PwC - do those things, and you will truly have a strategy-through-execution powerhouse unrivaled in the market.

 

Not my AMA but OP hit it on the head. The Deals Team isn't Ex-Booz (although some of the partners / directors are ex-booz). Honestly, the best way to describe the deals team is that the team is aligned to S& in human capital initiatives (S& comp, promotion, recruitment etc.) but G2M strategy is all-over-the-place. We generally sell our strategy work as S& since those sell organically, but much of our traditional CDD work is sold as PwC since it was pull-through work from our other deals teams. Also from an associate's very limited visibility, the branding is a mess. Some partners in our deals team exclusively G2M as PwC, others are using old or new S& templates while others use PwC template while citing PwC Strategy& throughout the deck. But overall, the group is growing like crazy, partly in due to the fact that we're poaching partners from MBB and other reputable shops.

In terms of culture, the group is definitely silo'ed. We rarely interact with S& or PwC for that matter. And because the group is still so small, the culture swings dramatically from partner to partner. You might work for one partner who expects regular 5-6 am nights for a CDD, while others may push back to the client or staff more resources. But much of our pros and cons align with OP's take of S&. You get to work with some amazingly gifted people and you're constantly learning. Another bright side of the Deals team is that we don't really have issues with staffing. Our utilization is generally lower because of the nature of deals projects, but we submit so many proposals that they're treated as pretty much project work if you're juggling multiple at once. But at the same time, it is very political in the sense that some partners have much more sway than others. Mentorship and training is also a bit unstructured, in the sense that while we do get offered some trainings, it's really up to your project work for you to learn. If you get staffed on great projects with a strong team, you'll learn a ton. If not, you'll have a very different experience.

Overall, the Deals Strategy team is just in a strange phase of its growth. 2-3 years ago, it was still an underdog, both in the market and at PwC. Now it's quadrupled in size, meaning it's really lost its luster of being a "start-up" while lacking all of the logistical tools that behemoths in the space like LEK or Bain PEG has. I don't want this to comment to deter people from joining the team, but I'll restate what OP has said. Be prepared to be proactive if you want to succeed. That means reaching out to the correct partners, working on proposals during downtime, practicing technical skills, and developing mentor relationships. It definitely isn't a team that will hold your hand through your personal development like other consulting firms (although all the cutesy PwC videos may make you feel that way)

 

I was in HIA and left as a Senior. While I did not personally see any new MBA hires being let go after 6 months in my last year at the Firm, I still did hear plenty of stories of new hires languishing on the bench for months and in fact had many Associates and less experienced Seniors desperately reach out to me for work - so I hardly assume that problem is fixed. There absolutely was a major overhiring spree in 2016 which resulted in a bloodbath midway through that year.

As a new hire, if you still have time before you join, I would immediately take a strategy consulting PowerPoint and Excel bootcamp, even if you have to pay for it out of your own money. Try to get your hands on as many deliverable decks and financial models as you can and, on your own, try to reconstruct them. Do not expect anybody to give you the time of day for mentorship or development; assume you will have to train yourself 100% of the time. Insist on conducting a thorough (not a perfunctory as is often the case) project close loop (PCL) before each engagement and, in particular, ask your management team what their quirks are about slideware - things as trivial as the wrong weight applied to a dotted line can throw those people into a rage (not kidding!) And from day one, learn who the powerful Directors and Partners are and kiss ass every day to ingratiate yourself to them. If that last point makes you uncomfortable, you're likely not going to be a long-term survivor and thriver at S& - that is what it takes.

 
Most Helpful

For a balanced perspective I'd encourage readers to also look for "AMA: Former Strategy& associate" thread. I don't have the points to post a link but that thread shows a much more positive side.

On the critique of being overly dramatic- I don't think this is valid. OP's experience is his/her experience and its valuable to learn about their views of the firm.

However, what is frustrating to me is that there seems to be an over-representation of all-is-doom AMA's for S&. The people more likely to post these threads are ones with some sort of bone to pick with with firm, and then the WSO hive mind seems to enjoy pouncing on S& without much actual knowledge.

Not to say that these AMAs are not important, but I feel its equally important for readers to understand that there are many positive experiences at S&. As a recent MBA grad I have had numerous former classmates at MBB complain about absolutely terrible WLB, pressure from managers causing physical illness, and a crazy competitive and political staffing environment (e.g Mckinsey) that has led them to be on longer implementation style projects that are not representative of the strategy engagements they were hoping to experience.

The difference though, with MBB and many other firms, is more of a reluctance to publicly criticize their experience (at least on message boards). From MBB and other firms, I believe this is a reflection of "making it to the promised land" and the importance of keeping a pristine perception of the firm, even if it might not be consistent with the reality of their experience. (for example- look at LEK's ratings on glassdoor vs. S&. LEK has been tanking while S& is steadily improving. Yet what you read about on WSO are the over-representation of bad experiences for S&)

I'd encourage potential consulting recruits (@gibbs and others) to try to form their own opinion of S& when they arrive on campus. Try to separate out systemic negatives about the consulting industry against the valid firm specific critiques. Like others have alluded to, I was very skeptical about the firm when I arrived on campus but have honestly been appreciative of my experience so far. For many of the reasons that OP listed, I do not think this is a long term career for me, but that is more of a function of knowing what I want to get out of the experience and knowing what job I want to transition to. For the time that I am with S&, I have felt supported so far.

 
Panychoo:
For a balanced perspective I'd encourage readers to also look for "AMA: Former Strategy& associate" thread. I don't have the points to post a link but that thread shows a much more positive side.

On the critique of being overly dramatic- I don't think this is valid. OP's experience is his/her experience and its valuable to learn about their views of the firm.

However, what is frustrating to me is that there seems to be an over-representation of all-is-doom AMA's for S&. The people more likely to post these threads are ones with some sort of bone to pick with with firm, and then the WSO hive mind seems to enjoy pouncing on S& without much actual knowledge.

Not to say that these AMAs are not important, but I feel its equally important for readers to understand that there are many positive experiences at S&. As a recent MBA grad I have had numerous former classmates at MBB complain about absolutely terrible WLB, pressure from managers causing physical illness, and a crazy competitive and political staffing environment (e.g Mckinsey) that has led them to be on longer implementation style projects that are not representative of the strategy engagements they were hoping to experience.

The difference though, with MBB and many other firms, is more of a reluctance to publicly criticize their experience (at least on message boards). From MBB and other firms, I believe this is a reflection of "making it to the promised land" and the importance of keeping a pristine perception of the firm, even if it might not be consistent with the reality of their experience. (for example- look at LEK's ratings on glassdoor vs. S&. LEK has been tanking while S& is steadily improving. Yet what you read about on WSO are the over-representation of bad experiences for S&)

I'd encourage potential consulting recruits (@gibbs and others) to try to form their own opinion of S& when they arrive on campus. Try to separate out systemic negatives about the consulting industry against the valid firm specific critiques. Like others have alluded to, I was very skeptical about the firm when I arrived on campus but have honestly been appreciative of my experience so far. For many of the reasons that OP listed, I do not think this is a long term career for me, but that is more of a function of knowing what I want to get out of the experience and knowing what job I want to transition to. For the time that I am with S&, I have felt supported so far.

The OP never made any blanket statements about anyone's experience. In fact, he goes out of his way to mention that it is possible to have a great career at S&.

You are "talking your book." Career wise and for exit opps, it is important for you to defend S&'s reputation. I notice that you have brand new account as well. As far as I'm concerned, you have no credibility.

I've read two earnest threads on the firm a few years apart. No reason to believe that these posters have any ulterior motive - they are only trying to help people from ruining careers.

Tell me one thing, read the thread below, and let us know if stories of fresh B School grads being let go is false.

https://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/ama-i-work-at-strategy-consulting

Like the OP in that thread says, these are people with student loans, families and sometimes kids to take care of. If those stories are true, decent B Schools should ban S& from recruiting on campus. As for me, I have the facts I need to make decisions this fall on campus.

 
Gibbs:
Panychoo:
For a balanced perspective I'd encourage readers to also look for "AMA: Former Strategy& associate" thread. I don't have the points to post a link but that thread shows a much more positive side.

On the critique of being overly dramatic- I don't think this is valid. OP's experience is his/her experience and its valuable to learn about their views of the firm.

However, what is frustrating to me is that there seems to be an over-representation of all-is-doom AMA's for S&. The people more likely to post these threads are ones with some sort of bone to pick with with firm, and then the WSO hive mind seems to enjoy pouncing on S& without much actual knowledge.

Not to say that these AMAs are not important, but I feel its equally important for readers to understand that there are many positive experiences at S&. As a recent MBA grad I have had numerous former classmates at MBB complain about absolutely terrible WLB, pressure from managers causing physical illness, and a crazy competitive and political staffing environment (e.g Mckinsey) that has led them to be on longer implementation style projects that are not representative of the strategy engagements they were hoping to experience.

The difference though, with MBB and many other firms, is more of a reluctance to publicly criticize their experience (at least on message boards). From MBB and other firms, I believe this is a reflection of "making it to the promised land" and the importance of keeping a pristine perception of the firm, even if it might not be consistent with the reality of their experience. (for example- look at LEK's ratings on glassdoor vs. S&. LEK has been tanking while S& is steadily improving. Yet what you read about on WSO are the over-representation of bad experiences for S&)

I'd encourage potential consulting recruits (@gibbs and others) to try to form their own opinion of S& when they arrive on campus. Try to separate out systemic negatives about the consulting industry against the valid firm specific critiques. Like others have alluded to, I was very skeptical about the firm when I arrived on campus but have honestly been appreciative of my experience so far. For many of the reasons that OP listed, I do not think this is a long term career for me, but that is more of a function of knowing what I want to get out of the experience and knowing what job I want to transition to. For the time that I am with S&, I have felt supported so far.

The OP never made any blanket statements about anyone's experience. In fact, he goes out of his way to mention that it is possible to have a great career at S&.

You are "talking your book." Career wise and for exit opps, it is important for you to defend S&'s reputation. I notice that you have brand new account as well. As far as I'm concerned, you have no credibility.

I've read two earnest threads on the firm a few years apart. No reason to believe that these posters have any ulterior motive - they are only trying to help people from ruining careers.

Tell me one thing, read the thread below, and let us know if stories of fresh B School grads being let go is false.

https://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/ama-i-work-at-strategy-consulting

Like the OP in that thread says, these are people with student loans, families and sometimes kids to take care of. If those stories are true, decent B Schools should ban S& from recruiting on campus. As for me, I have the facts I need to make decisions this fall on campus.

I concede the first point- OP did point out ways in which people can succeed at S&. I also can appreciate that the probability of succeeding might be lower than at an MBB. However, I do not agree with the order of magnitude difference in probability of success, at least from what my experience has been. OP of course has his/her own experience. That's why I'm trying to bring publicity to the 2nd AMA from the other associate that was done on WSO a year or so ago.

Of course I am "talking my book". It's in my upmost benefit that the firm is thought of well. I believe criticism is deserve, but I feel that the WSO consensus is way to far on the spectrum of burning ship. Learning that I shouldn't pick arguments on an internet forum, but I felt the need to jump in here.

The stories of fresh B school grads being let go in 2016 is true. This was my number one concern with the firm and frankly still scares me. I have a strong contingency plan though and encourage others to think the same way. You never now why things might go south even at another firm. That said- this is 100% a terrible black eye for the firm.

On your last point- the facts you've gathered have seemed to have very strongly anchored your opinion. Which is fine but the point I'd like to make is that consulting recruiting is hard. At my M7 MBB is far from a guarantee, and not an insignificant amount of people struck out of consulting for any firm. Try to keep your options open and be willing to change your opinion based on facts outside of the internet. Either way- good luck and enjoy your journey.

 

I'll throw in my 2 cents here...

OP's post is very consistent with what I've heard about S& from other current and former employees. In fact, I haven't heard a single person from S& describe their experience positively except during an on-campus recruiting event. Granted, I don't exactly have a gigantic sample, but it's enough (probably 10-12 people lifetime) where it's meaningful.

As for comparison to other MBB, life at those firms certainly isn't all rosy either, and there is some truth to your point about the incentive to pump up MBB for self-validation purposes. With that said, when you talk to enough people, it becomes pretty easy to tell what's genuine and what's being said through rose-colored glasses, and while your mileage may vary, what goes on at S& seems to be consistently far worse than what people at MBB experience. Some people at MBB do get the short end of the staffing straw and have pretty bad experiences, but cases where people get screwed as much as people seem to at S& are pretty rare.

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