Strategy& Ex Employee - AMA

I believe this has been done here before, but I'm a recently resigned Strategy& employee creating this AMA. 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.