MBB Implementation or 2nd Tier Generalist?

I just finished my MBA at an MBB target b-school. have a Generalist offer from a 2nd tier (Strategy&/ATK/OW) and an Implementation offer from McK in a region of the world where that 2nd tier competes significantly with MBB for projects. My gut is telling me to accept the generalist offer since it's more aligned with the kind of work I want to be doing in consulting (strategy). I would also hope that my exit-opps are more "strategy" related with a role like this. On the other hand, I cannot get over the prestige factor of MBB. My biggest doubt is whether the Implementation practice would still give me the right exposure should I choose to exit in 3-4 years.

My questions are as follows:

  1. Any thoughts on McK's Implementation practice? I have friends there that say implementation consultants do as much strategy work as the generalists, and others that say most of their work tends to be implementation. Also when I check the credentials of the implementation consultants at the office I would join, there is a significant difference. The implementation guys have a lot more field experience, and their MBA schooling (if any) is increasingly done at non-targets, whereas the generalists have a more cliched past (mainly MBAs from target B-schools). Fundamentally this is not really important; just another data point in evaluating (in a very biased and probably unfair way) the "perceived" quality of the consultants and the practice.

  2. What would you do in my shoes, knowing that the 2nd tier competes shoulder-to-shoulder with the MBBs for strategy work in the region I am in? Does this alone justify joining a leading 2nd tier? Or does the prestige factor at MBB trump that even though it's an implementation role where most of my work could be executing stuff that my peers had developed?

Some genuine thoughts would be much appreciated. Thanks!

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Comments (26)

Dec 29, 2018 - 7:15am

Hey wheresthecash, what a lonely thread. I'm here since nobody responded ...so maybe one of these discussions will help:

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  • AMA- MBB 2nd year analyst in EU I'm a 2nd year analyst at one of the top 3 consultancies, based in a major Western European ... interested in a career in management consulting. bain mckinsey bcg at kearney strategy consulting strategic ... management consultant ...
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You're welcome.

Jan 3, 2019 - 12:11am

Congrats on the offers!

I had to make a similar decision twice in my life thus far. Once for a strategy consulting position and once for a private equity position. I always chose the role vs. the brand name and I couldn't be happier with the decisions. Brand name does not matter much. You will spend 50-70 hours per week in your role and you want to make sure you like what you are doing. Can you envision yourself spending 50-70 hours/week for x-years in a role you don't enjoy/is not exactly what you wanted to do with your life? Also, think about the next job after this one. What activities/accomplishments will you put on your resume? You want to put strategy related activities on your resume so you can find your next cool role (Corp Dev, role at another consulting firm).

McK Implementation was created to compete against the Big4/Accenture, etc. of the world and as the name implies...you will execute/implement the strategies created by the generalist/strategy consultants. I bet McK Implementation has a different compensation structure and different rate card. As you found out from your research...the hiring model is different. A lot more focus is on people who worked in industry roles/C-level roles and who have done implementation work. Don't get me wrong...if you want to learn how to execute strategy, implement performance improvement programs, etc. then McK Implementation is a good place to be. If you want to do Strategy consulting go with your Generalist offer. You will not regret it.

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Most Helpful
Feb 8, 2019 - 8:07am

Alright guys - I wanted to update you and hopefully provide some perspective for anyone in the same boat I was. It seems like most of the McK implementation information out there on the internet is a little dated, so makes learning about it a little frustrating.

So I went with McK. My decision process revolved around three parameters:

  1. Internal information about implementation from McK recruiter and interviewers
  2. Opinions of current/former consultants from my MBA program (MBA alumni opinions)
  3. Exit opportunities given geographic uncertainty

So lets start with the first parameter:

  1. Internal information: For me, my target was to understand how implementation was viewed internally within McK. I decided that the three data points would be the title of role and much money I got (and how it compared to a classical generalist role), what the progression looked like for implementation, and finally the kind of work that the consultants did in the office I was applying to.
    My role will be "Associate - Implementation", which is equivalent to the old terminology of "Senior Implementation Coach". Apparently the job titles changed about a month ago inside McK, and the idea was to lessen the confusion both inside and outside the firm. My salary would be the same as a classical generalist consultant, with an identical performance bonus target. For progression, I basically parsed through LinkedIn profiles of McK implementation folks to understand how long it took them to get promoted to EMs and APs from an Associate/SIC role. It's exactly the same as your classical generalists. In general around 2 years from AC to EM, and about the same from EM to AP. Finally for the type of work they do, I made it a point to ask all 5 of my interviewers examples of recent work they did. Interestingly, 3 of the 5 talked to me about a strategy development piece, and the remaining 2 talked about org design and PMO work. I then called up 2 of my contacts (one a generalist and the other in implementation) who work in the same McK office, and asked their opinions on McK implementation. The generalist told me he's often staffed on strategy projects with implementation folks, and the implementation guy told me in his 1.5 years at the firm he's not yet been staffed on an implementation project.

  2. Opinions of current/former consultants: My intent here was to factor in a more subjective factor into my decision making process. These contacts of mine were either ex-consultants (one McK and another BCG), or current/former industry heads (extended MBA network). I also called up a professor of mine from B-school, who worked at Bain back in the day and graduated from/taught at Harvard. I'll spare you the small details of our conversations, but McK was the winner. The biggest comment was how the brand name would give me the right career lift and leverage early on in my career. The 2nd tier was solid, but the the MBB stigma is real.

  3. Exit Opps: This one is tricky, since I don't know where I want to be in 5 years. I grew up in region X of the world, spent 12 years in region Y studying and working professionally, and now back to region X. I like both regions, but I am not ready to commit to one yet. This uncertainty was key; if I wasn't sure where I want to be in 5 years, the McK name is the way to go.

So there you have it; my decision making process down to three parameters that I think do a decent job of capturing some of the subjectivity of the choice. This was a very hard decision for me to take, and my main challenge/objective was to try and detach from the "strategy is more sexy than implementation" argument. Although the argument probably has a lot of truth to it, it does a poor job reflecting on how MBB consulting is changing and what the future holds for this "premium" industry. It seems that more and more MBB work is around OPS dev/execution, org/PMO and transformation work, some of which would fall under McK's implementation practice for example. A buddy of mine at BCG (consultant) recently finished up a PMO/coaching engagement for a large client. This would technically classify as an implementation project at McK.

Thanks for all your feedback, and hopefully this thread is another useful data point for whoever needs it.

Feb 11, 2019 - 2:14pm

100%, there is a misconception that strategy is the by and far the best work in consulting among people recruiting, to the point where people think it's Strategy or bust.

Fact: MBB's now do more work in Operations than Strategy.
Also Fact: As a generalist, you aren't going to come in and specialize in Strategy. A good deal of your work will be operations, or implementation.

Honestly when you leave the firm you don't even need to say you were part of Implementation. Just say you were an Associate or EM.

Jun 27, 2019 - 6:06pm

I can confirm everything wheresthecash said. There is a lot of misinformation on this board about being a generalist or bust and how it's the path to CEO. Having talked to a recruiter at McKinsey and several consultants, the roles, salary, and paths are identical for the generalists, ops practice, and implementation group (which is now part of the ops practice). The implementation consultants are staffed on the same engagements as the generalists. The only difference is they stick around after the strategy is developed to ensure successful implementation (if the client wants support).

Everyone thinks generalist is the path to CEO, but it's also a great way to get stuck in an internal strategy role with no path to P&L responsibility. Companies need operations expertise.

Jun 28, 2019 - 8:54am

Although never having been in the roles, this seems so spot on. Anecdotally, oldest brother was a EM at McK yrs ago (when they only recruited from MBA targets). Worked there for five yrs. Loved it. Eventually left to get P&L experience running a startup concern of a F100. He left because he wanted to actually run something, not just opine and move on. The operations / implementation experience of today's consultants must be quite valuable upon exit (and quite helpful to secure the new role).

Oct 1, 2020 - 3:32pm

Hi wheresthecash, could you kindly provide an update regarding your real-life experience as a McKinsey Implementation Associate vis-a-vis your initial research, especially what you compiled under "Internal information"? 

Has the pay been equivalent to your Generalist peers as expected?  What about your access to strategy work and your estimation of how Implementation consultants are perceived vs. Generalists within McKinsey?  Thanks in advance - your thoughts on these would be very helpful. 

Feb 11, 2019 - 6:47am

thank you. very helpful. I am wondering if you can give me a mock case interview sometime?

fight for MBB
  • 1
Jul 1, 2019 - 10:39am

Real industry vets know that ideas are a dime a dozen, but execution is king. Nobody gives a rat's ass how good your idea is if you can't get people to go along with it when push comes to shove, and it's the "implementation", "ops", "execution" teams that build this skillset of change management, PMO, ops, etc. P&L is about setting firm targets and delivering them, and you can get to that from a variety of ways (innovation, process change, transformation, layoffs) but ultimately the outcome is the most important.

Good on OP for having a LT view on things and looking beyond prestige.

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Jul 1, 2019 - 5:59pm

If you look at their current job listings in implementation, all of them require essentially 3+ years of experience. I would guess it would be difficult to do straight out of undergrad, but that would be a great question for a recruiter. If your school has a McKinsey recruiting contact, you should reach out.

Jul 3, 2019 - 9:04pm

Generally experienced hire - most MBA's go generalist or Ops. Implementation at McK is usually people with strong industry experience/background but some come straight out of MBA too. I don't think there are any implementation consultants straight out of undergrad.

Jan 11, 2021 - 2:40pm

Means technically implememtation track has salary equal to generalist track but it puts you at an disadvantage of 3 to 4 years, you as an associate at 30 or 32 year of age in implementation practise would be earning equal to associate of mckinsey generalist track who is probabbly 26 to 27 years old as business analyst is staright out of undergrad whereas implementation practise starts after 3 or 4 years of industry exp

May 19, 2021 - 2:17am

Is the career trajectory for an MI consultant the same as a generalist? Do implementation folks need to develop industry specializations, either at the EM, AP, or at the Partner levels?

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May 19, 2021 - 7:05am

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