Established in 1963, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is the second in the holy trinity of elite management consulting firms known as the “MBB” (McKinsey, Bain and BCG) firms.
BCG was founded by Bruce D. Henderson, who attended Harvard Business School but left three months before graduation to work for the Westinghouse Corporation. After 18 years at Westinghouse followed by a shorter stint at Arthur D. Little, Henderson was recruited in 1963 by the CEO of the Boston Safe Deposit and Trust Company to establish a consulting arm that would serve clients of the bank. The next year Henderson launched Perspectives, a series of essays on strategy that would help pave the way for BCG’s eventual emergence as a major industry thought leader.
In 1968, the consulting arm spun off from the bank as its own legally separate, wholly owned subsidiary. Henderson called it the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).
Headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, BCG today employs more than 12,000 people in 85 offices across 48 countries around the world. More than half of BCG’s employees are consultants. BCG’s clients include two-thirds of all Fortune 500 companies, as well as government and nonprofit organizations.
BCG has developed several well-recognized business frameworks, including the “Growth-Share Matrix,” which examines market opportunities by market growth and size of share, and the “Experience Curve,” which notes the importance of experience in undertaking tasks more efficiently. The firm and its consultants have also published several books, including Your Strategy Needs a Strategy and Globality: Competing with Everyone from Everywhere for Everything.
BCG is widely recognized as an industry thought leader, a position that can be traced back to Bruce Henderson’s early launch of the Perspectives essay series on strategy. Continuing in this vein, many of the professionals who comprise the firm’s upper ranks today are recognized thought leaders in their fields. The depth and reach of BCG’s alumni network is also a huge advantage to its members, much as the alumni network of a very top business school is.
BCG is widely cited as a great place to work. The firm has spent six consecutive years in a top-five spot on Fortune’s “Best Companies to Work For” list and has appeared in similar rankings compiled by Working Mother, Consulting magazine, Glassdoor and others. The firm’s consultants are generally considered to be creative and innovative, and its upper management includes thought leaders across a range of industries.
BCG credits its strong showing in rankings of top employers to its commitment to career sustainability and satisfaction for its consultants. In fact, it teamed with HBS Professor Leslie Perlow to create a special program it calls PTO (predictability, teaming and open communication), designed to establish a clear roadmap for every BCG project. “These roadmaps include transparent working norms and priorities (so low-value work doesn’t consume high-value personal and professional time) and a collectively agreed-on time-off goal for each team member,” reads the company website.
BCG is more akin to Bain than to McKinsey in terms of its approach to staffing. While its clients span the globe, its philosophy is to group consultants regionally, serving clients locally whenever possible. The result is a connected, collaborative local office culture with consultants doing less globe-trotting than their peers at McKinsey.
That said, there are plenty of international opportunities for those who seek them, and one in four BCG consultants works outside his or her home country every year, the company reports. International opportunities range from short-term, cross-office projects to extended-stay assignments of a year or more as part of the company’s Associate Abroad, Ambassador and Practice Area Ambassador programs.
Due to the variety of projects it is involved in and its wide scope of work, BCG seeks both generalists and subject matter experts in its MBA hires.
In terms of intellectual chops, BCG states that “superior academic credentials are a necessary, but not sufficient, requirement.”
Equally important, if not more so, are curiosity, the ability both to lead and to work as part of a team and a “passion to challenge the status quo.”
BCG also seeks “people who can chart a path through the unknown,” whether that means making sense of ambiguous situations or reaching consensus among parties that disagree.
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 firm offers a BCG Fellows MBA Scholarship Program designed to give incoming MBA students an opportunity to get to know BCG before the fall internship recruiting season begins. Students who have been accepted to the following business schools are eligible to apply: Chicago Booth, Columbia Business School, Dartmouth / Tuck, Duke / Fuqua, Harvard Business School, Michigan / Ross, MIT Sloan, Northwestern / Kellogg, NYU Stern, Stanford GSB, UCLA Anderson, UPenn / Wharton, UVA Darden, and Yale SOM. Applications for this program are due the spring before you enroll in the MBA program. The program provides monetary scholarships to top applicants as well as individual mentorship by BCG consultants through the recruiting process.
The MBA summer internship is a two- to three-month program that takes place during the summer between the first and second years of the MBA program. This is the best path for those seeking a full-time position at the firm, especially those without prior consulting experience. The internship application process starts in October or November each year, depending on the school.
MBA graduates are hired as consultants, with most coming in as generalists. Gradually consultants develop specialties and manage larger, more complex client projects.
After consultant, the next role on the traditional track at BCG is project leader, responsible for directing diverse teams of consultants. Successful project leaders are promoted to principal, successful principals to partner.
However, MBA graduates who come in with deep functional or industry expertise can also follow what BCG calls its expert track. Consultants on the expert career track focus their individual expertise on specific client engagements. In time, these consultants advance to project leaders and principals, leading case teams. Ultimately, they are promoted to associate director and then director, roles in which they help to shape practice areas and company strategy.
Similar to the other MBB firms, BCG serves clients across 20 industries, from biopharmaceuticals to consumer products, insurance to technology. Calling them “capabilities,” the firm boasts almost as many practice areas, 19, including big data, change management, sustainability and something called “Smart Simplicity,” a practice focused on helping companies reduce complexity in order to improve performance.
BCG offers unique programs for top performers designed to reward and retain top talent at the firm. Examples include the Strategy Institute—a special international project team tasked with focusing strategically on the firm’s long-term competitive advantage—and the BCG Fellows program, which affords participating senior consultants the freedom to work on whatever they want with an associated budget and staff.
Like at counterparts McKinsey and Bain, some choose to use the BCG brand as a springboard to any number of other careers—from starting their own companies to running major corporations to running for president.