My View on the Current Top 10 Strategy Consulting Firms

This is my take, and I've included some basic commentary about why I've listed certain firms in certain places. I'm definitely interested in hearing what people think, but before I give the list I offer two disclaimers:

  1. This is what I think the landscape CURRENTLY looks like. 5 or 10 years ago I would've had some of these firms in very different places on the list (and excluded some of them entirely)
  2. This is based on prestige for the US market. Things are of likely different in Europe or elsewhere

Anyway here we go.

Tier 1:

  1. Mckinsey
  2. BCG
  3. Bain

This is simply indisputable

Tier 1.5:

  1. Deloitte S&O
  2. OW

These are listed as T1.5 because they are considerably more prestigious than the T2 shops listed below, and they compete most heavily with T1 firms for projects and for talent... Look at the crop of emerging talent in any of MBB and you will see plenty of OW & Deloitte S&O alum. I also believe that these two have the greatest chance of joining T1 in next 5-10 years

Tier 2:

  1. LEK
  2. ATK
  3. EY-Parthenon
  4. PWC S& (tied with EY-Parthenon)
  5. Accenture Strategy

While I think ATK is probably on the decline, it is a well established player with a storied history (connection to McKinsey and one of the early pioneers of pre-1950s strategy & ops. consulting). It therefore holds its spot toward the top of T2... Next, despite some internal issues faced by S& and some uncertainty about where it's headed in the future, it's still highly respected in the market (espec. in the deal strategy space). It holds its spot for now but needs to distance itself from PWC audit/assurance when it goes to market in the US, as many clients fear a conflict of interest (Parthenon has done a far better job of keeping its brand separate from its big 4 parent...

Finally, ACN strategy has done a lot to bolster its strategy capabilities via inorganic growth (i.e. heavy investment in new acquisitions), it has poached key people from MBB and other top organizations to run its strategy group, and its among the best in the business for digital strategy, which bodes well for the future

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Comments (74)

Feb 3, 2018 - 5:33am

What would you say differentiates LEK from Parthenon?
I see you have them 6 and 9 and I'm sure the difference between tiers is small, but was curious to hear about your thoughts on those two.

Feb 3, 2018 - 8:22am

Broadly agree.

I would say that factoring in Europe and other emerging markets, I'd make some changes:

Some US strength (Bain, Deloitte, Accenture Strategy) doesn't transfer as much to other geographies. Means Bain remains prestigious but in effective market presence is a half step below McK and BCG. Deloitte S&O is not as big of a thing abroad as it is in the US (constrained by partnership structure across geographies; can't offer those gigantic signing bonuses to MBAs). Accenture Strategy can't get the same kind of talent outside the US.

Some firms are very strong in important markets (Roland Berger in Germany, OC&C in UK); these are some of the most important consulting markets in the world by wallet. I can't overstate how deep the UK and German consulting markets are. Think McK and BCG each have at least half a dozen offices there.

OW is pretty much the lone non-MBB that is active in multiple locations (very strong all throughout Europe to Dubai; weaker in Asia and Latam), has a coherent culture around the world (global staffing model enables that; see McK), and is financially sound (parent hold co keeps it insulated). So they get a bump. Still beneath Bain because they don't have the sector-breadth.

The truth is you're the weak. And I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin', Ringo. I'm tryin' real hard to be the shepherd.
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Feb 3, 2018 - 4:15pm

Also broadly agree. However, contrary to 5-10 years ago, Bain is actually very strong now in Europe and Asia. They've caught up by investing in their current offices rather than opening new ones, and have scooped up a significant amount of (senior) partners from rival firms I believe. The article below says that the McK to BCG difference in scope (~40%) is still larger than BCG to Bain (~30%), while Bain is over twice as large as OW. I don't see MBB challenged soon by anyone. In Europe I'd consider OW on par with S& on most levels - except FS obvs and maybe energy. I think OW and S& will solidify themselves as the next best thing after MBB.

Article i referred to with quality analysis and new data: https://www. ** consultancy ** .uk/news/15028/ ** german-team-of-occ-strategy-consultants-joins-parthenon-ey

Feb 4, 2018 - 9:23am

Thanks for the article.

Half of what you said holds up in the geographies I know, and half doesn't.

Still, those markets are overall only a small slice of the global pie, so I'm sure what you say is true for the data to aggregate the way it does.

In terms of my $0.02 on the future, I think McK's asset-based consulting approach pays off quite handsomely in revenue, but ceding the 'last pure strategy house' position to BCG and not resolving their cultural issues will result in some lost caché with both clients and talent. Kind of like a hypothetical Goldman pursuing crazy growth and turning into JPM. BCG will remain 2nd in revenue (and not be any closer than it is today) but McK's lost caché is their gain; I can see their brand sweeten among clients and talent. Rumors of Bain's demise (in other words, Big 4 acquisition target) are greatly exaggerated and Bain will continue to grow, though with some hiccups due to PE dependence. I'm lukewarm on S&'s prospects - good size and people remember what Booz stood for, but talent management is an issue (even Booz lifers in the - to them - all-important Middle East market have been jumping ship, not to mention entire teams in other markets). As for Oliver Wyman, I don't think it's all quite as rosy as AllStateRap suggests (Lippincott is the best at what it does but it's culturally so different from OW that real integration may never happen, or be a Pyrrhic victory), but I'm overall bullish on them to, as you say, solidify right behind MBB. I'd be more bullish if they were bigger, built more of a brand on campus, and broadened their industry reach (some of which AllStateRap says they have decided to do). Think Deloitte S&O will compete hard in a few geographies but overall they are already quite close to their glass ceiling. I'm not a fan of mergers in businesses like these, but if there's a culturally compatible buyer for ATK (and maybe LEK) that could make the market interesting. I said $0.02 and I'm not sure I'd recommend anyone invest even that much in this view.

+1 SB anyway. Don't always have to agree for something to have value.

The truth is you're the weak. And I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin', Ringo. I'm tryin' real hard to be the shepherd.
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Feb 5, 2018 - 1:57pm

Honest question, what do consultants actually do for the company they're engaged with? Explain it to me with no buzz words.

Edit: I am secluded to the energy industry, maybe their work is more prevalent/needed/tangible in other industries.

Feb 4, 2020 - 10:42am

LEK is office-based. It is a selling point of theirs. They have really luxurious offices and people have dedicated desks with 2 monster monitors. Imagine how much faster you could buld models and update PPT's if you had a couple of screens to work with?
EY-P when it was just P was more office based. The EY influence is growing and you may see more traveling from the EY-P people.

The more DD a firm does, the less travel M-TH. The areas of Strategy& that is DD focused does not travel much.

Feb 15, 2018 - 11:48pm

Any thoughts on PwC Management Consulting? (separate from Strategy&)

Life is too short to be on WSO. But here I am.
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Feb 18, 2018 - 4:42pm

Lots of deals advisory. Much more "concrete" than the S& projects - depending on area you'll be doing a lot of efficiency reviews and change management (e.g. post-merger analysis). Lots of emphasis on utilization within the department. Can be benched for many weeks at a time inbetween mundane projects ;)

Currently: future psychiatrist (med school =P) Previously: investor relations (top consulting firm), M&A consulting (Big 4), M&A banking (MM)
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Feb 16, 2018 - 1:04pm

This significantly depends on the geography. While I agree that Bain is equally strong in the US, they have limited presence in many other geographies compared to McKinsey and BCG.

I would also argue that while their bread and butter is PE, they are TOO tied to the industry's fortunes.

No doubt that Bain is tier 1, but it's important to note the relative lack of geographic diversity and broad-based sector strength compared to their competitors.

Feb 16, 2018 - 7:18pm

For people who matter - clients and recruits - no. They do the same work, and have the same talent. Crossoffer wise - which I think is a decent proxy of relative popularity - some entire non-US countries go to Bain, some go to BCG, and everything in between. This goes for any region and you can't really generalize, hence there's probably not really a difference overall. However, McKinsey still seems to me to have a clear brand premium over Bain/BCG in most countries.

On the other hand, for the average laymen, maybe yes there is a difference, as BCG has more offices and more revenue and is hence somewhat more well-known. However, as you said, its dependent on the geography. Even more so, it fluctuates on a per country-level, and regions as 'Europe' don't make a lot of sense often.

Feb 17, 2018 - 12:33pm

This is wrong. Inside the US, all 3 major consulting firms are about the same. For clients and recruits outside the US, it does matter, as the capabilities and geographic breadth are not there.

I don't need to "generalize" - I've been at my MBB for more than 6 years now and I'm acutely aware of industry changes.

PS: You should really stop trying to hit me with monkey shit because you disagree with my opinion.

  • Analyst 1 in Other
Feb 4, 2020 - 12:31pm

This is false. While a larger proportion of Bain's work is in PE than BCG and McKinsey, McKinsey actually does more PE work in gross than Bain. Common misconception.

Feb 17, 2018 - 12:04am

Disagree with this ranking, I would place LEK and OW ahead of Deloitte S&O. No one I know from S&O breaks into PE/VC however friends over at LEK and OW get hit up by PE/VC recruiters all the time. Often times, Deloitte S&O come in to do 'strategy' assessments to help sell multi-year implementation engagements.


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Feb 17, 2018 - 10:40am

Strong disagree.

1) PE/VC are nice, but not the end all be all for exit ops. I believe S&O > LEK for most corporate exits. At LEK you pick up the DD skill set which is great for understanding markets and competitive positions within them quickly, but you don't really dig in deep into a company like you would with a longer term strategy engagement. You get that at S&O. I think this sub has a hard-on for PE/VC when there are plenty of other great exits out there.

2) Related to point 1, you pick up a skill set that is more useful in the corporate world at S&O through those longer term strat and implementation projects. Corporates find it valuable to have someone who not only can do the strategic thinking, but also knows what's actually possible from an operational standpoint. You don't get that at a DD shop.

I don't mean to shit on LEK. I don't think it's really any better or worse than S&O, it just depends on the type of experience you're looking for. But I don't think it's fair to put it heads and shoulders above S&O.

Feb 17, 2018 - 10:52am

I understand what you're saying, but PE/VC exits > Corporate Exits, that's a fact. Veritas Capital (with a team of around 15-20 people) just bought PWCs entire public sector practice. Probably 1-2 Partners and 1-2 associates worked on this deal from Veritas, a deal affecting the lives of hundreds of PWC partners and thousands of consultants. Fact is, PE > Consulting/F500 Strategy career paths.


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Feb 17, 2018 - 12:08am

I also believe LEK/OW have much better b-school placement than S&O. OW's revenue per employee is fairly close to Bain (~1.8 Billion in revenue with ~4000 employees for OW, and ~3.8 Billion in revenue for Bain with ~8000 employees). The billing rates are much higher than S&O


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May 8, 2021 - 2:16pm

It's 100% a function of size. 50,000 people in USA consulting (including offshore, so feel free to divide by 2 or even 3), which makes it several times bigger than the other schools. They're acceptance rate is atrocious

I can't remember if I was talking to someone at Kearney or LEK (can't remember), but they sent like 15 people to MBAs a year.... very small class... <5% of what Deloitte sends, so no surprise you didn't see many from there.

Feb 17, 2018 - 12:09am

I think Bain gets bought out by Accenture and OW joins 'MBOW'


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Feb 18, 2018 - 11:37am

While I understand some people are genuinely interested in Corp Strategy roles/F500/FAANG career paths, the point I was trying to make is it's still far easier to get those types of roles than it is to make it into PE and VC.
Sure, someone can genuinely be interested in playing for the Canadian Football League, but playing for the NFL is much harder.


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May 22, 2019 - 11:34am

Stern does very well in consulting. The school is doing their best to branch out from their brand of being a "finance" school and has sent a significant number of people to MBB.

Oct 17, 2018 - 5:58am

According to my experience, the best strategy consulting firm is Mc Kinsey which satisfies its customer and according to the vault also, who has surveyed more than 17,000 practicing consultants determine that Mc Kinsey is the most prestigious industry in terms of reputation for excellent work, growth and employee satisfaction. But if you consider in terms of revenue then one of the top strategy consulting firms is** ACCENTURE** followed by Capgemini consulting, Tata consultancy services, Cognizant technology solutions, Deloitte Consulting, Ernst & young advisory, Infosys consulting, KPMG advisory, Mc Kinsey & Company.

Jun 6, 2019 - 5:20pm

Strongly disagree with this. Deloitte S&O is the same tier as Accenture Strategy - way below LEK, OW, ATK, Parthenon, S&.

I base this on average compensation. Higher comp indicates higher bill rates. All that matters in a ranking like this should be how much the customer is willing to pay for the services of the firm. S&O comp is far below the others because clients do not value their services at a premium.

Jun 7, 2019 - 10:55am

Strongly disagree with this. Deloitte S&O is the same tier as Accenture Strategy - way below LEK, OW, ATK, Parthenon, S&.

I base this on average compensation. Higher comp indicates higher bill rates. All that matters in a ranking like this should be how much the customer is willing to pay for the services of the firm. S&O comp is far below the others because clients do not value their services at a premium.

Where are you getting your average Deloitte S&O comp numbers from outside of starting salaries/packages?

Jun 7, 2019 - 3:21pm

Yes - in the last 365 days KMPG has acquired Bain skyrocketing them into the top 3. PWC has spun off its S& Deals vertical which went bankrupt within 2 months, dropping PWC considerably. A cohort of top Millennial talent from MBB departed for Slalom given an interest for a "more chill" work/life balance, catapulting Slalom into the Top 10. A recent spending bill doubled the value of defense industry spending on consulting contracts, pushing OW up to the top spot given their strength in the space.

So much has changed in just one year! I can assure you that the landscape of consulting firms looks dramatically different than just one year ago.

Jun 16, 2019 - 12:19am


From an on-campus perspective:

EY-Parthenon is declining due to its integration under the EY umbrella. It's all but official.

Deloitte S&O restructuring their offering portfolio has led to decline as well.

Does this mean that they're doing worse work or placing worse in exits? Not necessarily.

But these two changes are negatively affecting perception and brand equity.

Dec 12, 2019 - 1:28pm

Deloitte S&O no longer has a meaningful pay gap with the rest of Deloitte Consulting -- that's certainly led to declines in their talent pools.

At least EY-P and S& pay you better than your Big4 counterparts.


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Dec 12, 2019 - 11:31pm

At least at the MBA level, Deloitte is going to be the fourth choice behind MBB. They are the best firm that offers second year sponsorship and I don't see anyone passing on them because of the re-org. I also haven't seen any meaningful change to EY-P's perception on campus doubt people are going to suddenly start choosing KPMG Strategy or Accenture over them.

Dec 10, 2019 - 12:40pm

Can someone tell me the actual value of a strategy consultant. Are they just overpais babysitters for corporate management?

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Dec 11, 2019 - 5:33pm

I can't tell if this is a joke. Yes, no ding to McK...because its universally recognized as the most prestigious name in the world of consulting. Every firm makes mistakes...the only reason McK gets coverage is because it's objectively the biggest and best among top tier consultancies.

Feb 4, 2020 - 10:50am

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