Bain & Company is widely considered to be among the most elite management consulting firms in the world, one of the “big three” referred to as the MBB (McKinsey, Bain and BCG) firms.
Bain was established in 1973 by a group of seven former partners of Boston Consulting Group, headed by Bill Bain. Under Bain’s direction, the firm implemented a number of practices that set it apart from other consulting firms.
One was its policy of working with only one client per industry in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest. Though this eventually evolved into an approach that today allows the firm to work with a broader range of clients, it was a key differentiator at the start.
Bain also pioneered a practice of having skin in the game, which is to say it accepted equity from clients in lieu of fixed fees. As a result, when a client implemented recommendations from Bain and did well, Bain likewise did well—and vice versa. According to Vault, close to half of the firm’s global revenue today comes from clients with whom there is some “at-risk” work in place.
As the youngest of the three MBB firms, Bain doesn’t have the same depth of experience that McKinsey and BCG can claim. Instead, the company has long relied on other measures to prove its expertise, including a famous 4:1 chart demonstrating how its clients outperform the market by four times. In addition to prominent placement on the company website, the chart is also frequently presented as part of recruiting presentations, internal meetings and key client pitches.
Headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, Bain employs about 6,000 people across 53 offices in 34 countries around the world.
Bain’s clients include leading Fortune 500 companies, as well as nonprofit and government organizations. The company also maintains a partnership with the Bridgespan Group, an affiliate nonprofit consulting firm incubated under Bain in 2000 to serve nonprofit organizations, foundations and philanthropists.
The smallest and youngest of the MBB consulting firms, Bain’s strengths include its focus on learning and mentoring, the intimacy of its alumni network and its track record of delivering measurable results to clients. The firm is also generally perceived to be more of a risk taker than the other industry giants, more often making market-differentiating moves.
Like McKinsey and BCG, Bain also provides its employees with a powerful alumni network.
Bain frequently lands toward the very top of “Best Places to Work” lists from Glassdoor and Vault thanks to a work environment reported to be supportive, collaborative and inclusive, with a real focus on learning and mentoring.
“Camaraderie, connectivity and conviction” characterize the culture at Bain, according to former Bainee Jenny Rae Le Roux, managing director of Management Consulted, an online resource on the consulting industry. Known as the “frattiest” of the top three firms, Bainees know how to enjoy a beer in the office on Fridays, although firm culture has grown somewhat more formal over the past decade to help the company maintain its “mystique and prestige,” she writes.
The company also has its own band—the Bain Band—which draws together musicians and singers from local offices to practice and put on performances at annual summer meetings and other events, even composing their own lyrics. And every year since 1987, a Bain office in a different city around the globe has hosted the annual Bain World Cup, drawing together competing teams from different offices to compete on the soccer field.
Bain also touts its “home-staffing model,” so called because it is intended to create a “home” environment in consultants’ local offices. “Our consultants work with many of their office colleagues on multiple cases throughout their careers; they’re not just one-time collaborations,” reads the company’s website. This regional staffing model also allows each office to develop a core client base in its local or regional area, which means that much of their work can be done from the office, significantly reducing travel. This is in sharp contrast to other consulting companies and can mean that Bain employees end up working fewer hours than their peers at BCG or McKinsey. That said, those seeking extensive international and cross-country travel should note that Bain’s home-staffing model makes this less common.
Bain seeks several key attributes when evaluating candidates. For starters, it wants to see an MBA from a top business school (meaning top 20, with rare exceptions, according to Le Roux). Strong communication and analytical skills, the ability to meet deadlines and multitask, and experience working as part of a team (while still being an independent thinker) are also key. In addition, candidates should demonstrate “endless curiosity and a penchant for thinking the impossible,” according to the company website.
Bain also looks for individuals who know their strengths and weaknesses and are willing to coach and be coached.
In addition to the above traits, the MBB firms all look for evidence of strong intellectual ability as well as a strong GMAT score.
The Diversity Pre-MBA Program seeks to recruit African-American, Latino/Hispanic, and Native American MBA students interested in learning more about pursuing a career at Bain. An annual two-day event in New York, the program offers seminars, networking events, tips and more.
The Summer Associate (SA) Internship Program is a 10-week intensive internship that gives MBA students the opportunity to tackle complex business challenges, work closely with full-time consultants and serve clients from Fortune 500 companies, midsize firms, nonprofits and startups. This is the best path for those interested in full-time positions at the firm, especially those with limited prior consulting experience.
Interns spend their first week at Ocean Edge, a 400-acre resort and golf course on Cape Cod, learning core Bain consulting skills with international colleagues. They then head off to one of Bain’s global offices—often of their own choosing—where they spend the remainder of the summer working closely with full-time consultants who provide coaching and mentoring. According to the company website, after multiple years of 15 percent growth, Bain is currently hiring for its largest SA intake ever.
Newly-minted MBA graduates are customarily hired as consultants, which Bain calls “the linchpins of what we do.” Heavily involved in client-facing work from the beginning, consultants can work with some of the best businesses in the world in almost every industry imaginable, including automotive, consumer products, energy, healthcare, media, nonprofit, retail, technology and transportation.
Potential practice areas are also numerous, ranging from strategy to sustainability, advanced analytics to mergers and acquisitions. One area where Bain has really carved out a niche is private equity. Of all the buyout transactions in the past decade valued at more than $500 million globally, Bain reports that it has advised on half. Its work with buyout funds represents 75 percent of global equity capital, according to the company website, and its PE practice is more than three times the size of the next-largest consulting firm serving PE funds.
Bain & Co., the consulting firm, should not be confused with Bain Capital, a separate private equity firm with no shared governance or ownership. But there are ways in which the two are connected. Bain Capital was founded in 1984 by three Bain & Co. partners. One, Mitt Romney, famously returned to Bain & Co. as interim CEO in the 1990s when the consulting firm needed financial reorganization. In the three decades since its founding, Bain Capital has benefitted from consulting services from Bain & Co., which in turn has benefited from Bain Capital’s expertise in PE. The predominance of the PE practice at Bain & Co. is not coincidental.
Consultants who excel at Bain are promoted to case team leader (CTL), a role in which they come to know clients and their issues intimately and have ownership over more of their own cases. CTLs continually hone their leadership skills, growing more expert both at motivating their own teams and at guiding clients to action. Successful CTLs can expect to be promoted to manager, followed by principal and ultimately partner if their performance merits it, according to Bain’s website.
Of course, others choose to use the Bain brand as a springboard to any number of other careers—from starting their own companies to running major corporations to running for president.