Coaches love to say that the difference between winning and losing is a matter of inches. Despite the hype around talent and strategy, they understand that a small lapse or an extra effort is usually the margin between rejoicing and regret after the big game.
In the consulting industry, the Vault 50 Rankings are the equivalent of the Super Bowl. Firms are evaluated on factors like prestige, compensation and employee satisfaction. Not surprisingly, you’ll find McKinsey & Company and Bain & Company duking it out year-after-year. From 2011-2013, Bain took home top honors, thanks to its familial culture and high wages. However, McKinsey knocked Bain off its perch in 2014, owing to the firm’s prestige and diversity. Bain reclaimed the crown in 2015 by a margin of .03 of a point on a 10 point scale. In the 2016 rankings, McKinsey returned the favor, inching out Bain by .036.
MCKINSEY BEATS BAIN ON PRESTIGE
So how did McKinsey pull it off? Here, it helps to consult Vault’s “Best to Work For” methodology. Each year, Vault, which provides market intelligence and ratings on employers and universities, performs a Management and Strategy Consulting Survey. This year, over 9,000 consulting professionals participated (up from 8,500 in the 2015 rankings). Using a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being the highest score), respondents assessed their employers in categories like training, leadership, and quality of life. They also evaluated the prestige of other firms with which they were familiar. The data was then downloaded into a weighted formula, where responses were given the following weights: Prestige (30%), employee satisfaction (15%), compensation (15%), corporate culture (10%), work-life balance (10%), business outlook (10%), promotion policies (5%), and the ability to challenge (5%).
When it comes to prestige – worth nearly a third of an overall score— McKinsey holds a huge edge. Here, McKinsey outpointed Bain by a 9.019-to-8.499 margin – a .52 difference that more than covers the .036 spread that separates the two overall. It’s not particularly surprising that the market perceives McKinsey as more prestigious. Tracing its roots back to 1926, McKinsey is estimated to partner with up to 90% of the world’s 100 largest firms, with an alumni network that ranges from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Some call it the “Harvard of Consulting,” while others claim that a stint at McKinsey is the equivalent to another master’s degree. And this aura has given McKinsey a built-in advantage in the Vault 50 Ranking historically, as it has outpaced Bain by .554, .464, and .521 margins respectively from 2013-2015. To add insult to injury, Bain isn’t even regarded as the second-most prestigious firm. That honor belongs to The Boston Consulting Group (which trails McKinsey by a .36 margin in this category).
- See next page for the top consulting firms for prestige.