The Best (And Worst) Companies For MBAs

Kevin Marvinac, co-founder of TransparentCareer. Courtesy photo

According to TransparentCareer data, average starting compensation for recently graduated MBAs is frothy. Out of the 30 companies analyzed, 11 have average starting pay of $200,000 or greater, once you include bonuses and other perks. Surprisingly, only one of those companies falls into the financial services industry. Six consulting firms, four tech giants, and one financial services company make up the top 11 companies for total compensation. After L.E.K. Consulting, BCG and Goldman Sachs follow, with MBAs starting at an average of $221,000 and $215,000, respectively. McKinsey and Bain tie for the next spot, both reporting averages of $214,000.

At the bottom is Dell, where MBAs average a total compensation package of $126,000. Next lowest are P&G and Pepsi at $131,000 and $140,000, respectively. MBAs at only six companies report making a total compensation package of less than $150,000 in their first roles after B-school.

MBAs are most satisfied with their jobs at A.T. Kearney, according to the TransparentCareer data. Google, Adobe, and Liberty Mutual share a three-way tie with an average satisfaction rate of 7.8—just off A.T. Kearney’s average of 7.9. MBAs at 12 companies have an average job satisfaction rate of at least seven on the one-to-ten scale. Of those 12, half are consulting firms, four are tech companies, and two are financial services outfits. At the bottom is Bank of America Merrill Lynch with a meager score of 5.6. Next lowest is another three-way tie, this time between Dell, Accenture, and Deloitte with an average of 5.8.

  • CuriousObserver

    Thanks for the perspective…few questions for you since you work there.

    Are people lying about the hours on all of these websites? How do you square 80 hours vs. 65 being reported, etc? I can’t wrap my head around this – I keep seeing and hearing 60-65 from ex-LEKers with some terrible cases hitting 80+ (when things completely blow up).

    How do I square the first part of your last sentence with the last part of that same sentence?

    Are you a post-MBA consultant? If so, ball park, what is your ACTUAL comp – the LEK numbers look pretty damn good even without the returning intern bonus.

  • Dwide Schrude

    As an employee at LEK years ago, I have to wholly refute this ranking based on my past experience. With the caveat that things may have changed more recently (which I doubt based on the comments). Many of the other former employees here have really encompassed all the major issues with the company past and future. The obvious reality is LEK has to undersell cases to survive but also fairly compensate senior management to keep them and their clients around. The only way to run the firm and create profit then is to understaff cases, overwork and undercompensate junior staff, and force them into roles far above their ability while using managers and partners to do QC on the output. The post MBA new hires were caught in the crossfire between experienced junior staff and managers and get totally screwed 24/7. You really get thrown into the fire and are expected to just figure it out. This was the status quo during my tenure. It’s a pretty awful system because everyone ends up miscommunicating and running around with their heads cut off.

    The beach time comment is so accurate it hurts. It was disadvantageous to be great at your job at LEK because the promotion scale was slow and relatively bogus. With the allocation system design, the best and most desirable employees were identified and repeatedly requested by the hardest working/highest stress managers and partners. As a result, if you were good at your job you have to come to terms with the fact you were going to get annihilated over and over while other people coasted between cases on CD work. The evaluation system was garbage because managers were directed to deflate scores to slow down promotions. The high turnover rate was exceptionally damaging to the firm because usually the best team members were leaving. Senior managers knew they were burning out junior staff but they didn’t care because the deceptive above average compensation keeps the jobs filled. The turnover and burnout rate also prevented the development of real bonds and relationships with upper level management and partners. Very few people have any genuine interest in truly mentoring younger staff because it’s likely they will be gone. They also don’t have the connections or desire to help you land else where either (they probably just don’t have the time to care), they will offer them but in actuality I never heard of anyone using an LEK connection. The intern MBAs also get promoted to manager faster than fresh hire MBAs. This created a lot of tension between the same MBA hire classes because experience wise they are starting off on the same foot. The MBA interns do nothing and learn nothing during their internship, they were totally useless. While I was there all the MBAs were just waiting to make manager so they could defect with that title and try to leverage it into a higher paying happier job LIKE MEEEEEE!!!!!!!

    One of the good things I can remember though is that they did actually have a strong network into the MBA programs in Chicago. While unhelpful for post MBAs, the junior staff who worked for a few years were pretty much guaranteed acceptance into Booth or Kellogg if not one of the top 5 programs.

  • Thanks for the insight here, consistent with what I’ve heard from friends at LEK. I find these ‘insider views’ to be worth a dozen speculative articles.

  • LEKCurrent

    Currently at LEK, and this article is becoming an inside joke. The information is inaccurate even off current figures and all the positive press (not just here but also Glassdoor) has to be be a recent push through HR. Sure things have improved, but they’re still quite bad.

    Is LEK an awful place to work? No. LEK has great people – intelligent, smart, and kind. But it sits at a position in the market (sub-scale, much smaller than MBB and other players) that create a lot of negative externalities and makes 90% of people unhappy (a previous comment mentioned only 10% of people at LEK being happy, and I think that’s accurate.) Not to mention these folks are usually those who came from smaller audit firms or boutiques and are usually happy to be in a Tier 2 firm.

    A few points below, but my general advice to someone is that if you are choosing between another consulting firm and LEK, my suggestion is to go with the other firm.

    – MDs themselves will sell our clients on the fact that we can ramp up faster (i.e. longer hours) on types of cases. Consulting hours are bad, but I have friends at each of the MBBs and ours are consistently worse.

    – The allocation model means there is almost no beach time between cases. Co-workers of mine have worked 80+ hours for 6-10 weeks at a time with little to no break. Promotion schedule and pay raises lag behind industry. Lack of 401k match makes comp seem much better than it actually is.

    – Rather than an objective method to promotions, I’ve heard privately of 4-5 colleagues getting the “scores” necessary to be promoted early but not being eligible due to some completely bogus reason. Timeline to jr. partner is much longer than other firms and I agree that most consultants are tossed into the deep end without much training.

    – LEK sells you that it is a “strategy” shop but it is really ~80% M&A advisory (P.E. diligence, revenue forecasts for Life Sciences, acquisition screens, sell-side vendor due diligence).

    – Exit opps are poorer than advertised. Outside of life sciences, the LEK brand name is weak. Partners will not help place you and recruiters are less likely to call.

    The firm is doing very well, but a lot of good partners have left, and formerly strong practices like healthcare services and aviation are now essentially dead.

  • TruthToFlounder

    This comment is laughable and the second portion of it is demonstrably false. I’ve followed them on LinkedIn, and the most senior jobs they post for are associates. Even then, they only post ads for those for the really small offices where being down a resource puts the office in a crunch.

    Not sure what terrible experience you had at L.E.K. to proceed to just make stuff up (and do so across multiple aliases based on the similar tone of some of the above posts), but I hope things worked out in your post-L.E.K. opportunity.

  • LEKguy

    I spent a few years at L.E.K. and I can tell you as a fact that they have made great strides in recent years on a number of HR issues. At the end of the day, it is still consulting so the hours are tough, but they have worked hard to make it sustainable. Hats off to them and the other highly rated firms.

  • The main reason for the MBA for a corporate professional is, or should at least do, employability. A corporate professional makes an MBA to float within the 3 main points that guide her career: location, industry and function.
    Identify which companies are better or worse for a graduate student in MBA bordering on neglect. The high employability of the former MBA student makes him not have to yield to the whims of any company.
    In addition, companies are extremely volatile and have to adapt to the market at all times not to die, they are also volatile internally, with constant changes of leadership and philosophy. Therefore, companies that hire, especially former MBA students, know that they must match what the student expects from them and not just the opposite. The former MBA student only stays in an industry that does not meet his expectations if he wants to. It was already the time when the company sent and debarred the employee, especially an employee with an MBA.
    There is a dumb need on the market to measure expectations before embarking on some MBA. The MBA is the great foundation for you to choose about whether or not to stay in a company that does not have the philosophy you expect.
    Try to try the same without an MBA. In this case, the main text serves as a glove.

  • Zuck’s PR guy

    Amazon is a different beast, it seems. Having friends that work there, I would say that going to Amazon expecting work life balance is pretty risky.

    I have some friends that are living the life collecting 120k+ base being out by 5 or 6 every day, while others are having their souls slowly yet methodically sublimed from their bodies with no real hope of collecting on their backloaded stock options.

    Your mileage will vary, and that’s reflected in the TransparentMBA data, Glassdoor, NY Times articles, etc. Also found that to be the case during recruiting. Some of the PMs and nearly all of the Finance people seemed a bit miserable, while the Pathways folks gave off better vibes and some PMs seemed to love their lives.

    Google and Facebook seem to be the MBA oases if you’re looking for work-life balance without having to give up too much in the way of comp (at least vs. consulting). IB is still the way to go if you want to get paid without having to be creative / entrepreneurial.

  • Ex Amazon

    “2) high tech firms require far less average work hours than consulting and IB”

    As an ex-Amazonian, it all depends on the company. I worked on par, if not beyond, the hours of some of most of my consulting friends. I cant speak for IB.

    High tech still suffers from the “burn them out” culture of the engineering arms. If you end up with the right company/team it can be different

  • Kevin

    Hey all, interesting that so much of the discussion has focused on LEK. It brings up a good point about our data that we didn’t specify in the article: many of the satisfaction “reviews” are from interns as well. Not having worked at LEK I can’t comment on it personally, but I’m imagining there’s probably a totally different experience for summer interns vs. full-time consultants.

    It probably makes sense in the future for us to look into “internship ratings” vs. “full-time ratings” separately to make sure we’re exposing the correct data.

  • FXTrader33

    People have started to realize that working at a sole crushing Investment Bank = Horrible Life.

  • Recent LEK alumni

    Nathan, fair response. I was using the question more as a figure of speech; I’m sorry this came off as a slight to P&Q or you, it was not meant as such. The use of the figure of speech is truly more of a slight to LEK, as I truly wouldn’t be surprised if they did try to push positive coverage given their known attrition / discontent problems; they already push employees to give favorable responses to surveys like vault. More generally it shows my surprise with LEKs performance here – as others have also expressed.

    The primary flaw with the salary number is that it builds in $25k performance bonus that <5% of post MBAs will attain and $25k signing bonus for returning interns.

    However, I think the primary driver of reaction to this from LEK alums revolves around hours and happiness — both of which are extremely difficult to effectively pin down using secondary research as a journalist. As someone who was at LEK, I can assure you that while these comments are so negative that they sound like trolls, they echo the same sentiments I heard in the office(s) I worked in everyday. In future rankings it may be helpful to survey recent alums directly to get an unbiased sense of reality on the ground – obviously this is difficult when covering many companies though.

    In summary, MBAs please do your diligence on your own with unbiased parties — LEK is definitely not the second best company for MBAs, that I am certain of.

  • MBA alum

    It is too bad that the comments have focused on LEK Consulting. While I am not in a position to comment on LEK vs. its consulting competition, I am close to a wide range of recent M7 MBA graduates in top consulting, IB and high tech companies. This article and the related TransparentCareer data will get further refined and more accurate with time. If you look at the most prestigious consulting, IB and high tech companies overall, this article holds generally true from several perspectives: 1) high tech firms clearly are becoming more favorable for the top MBA programs relative to 5-10 years ago; 2) high tech firms require far less average work hours than consulting and IB; and 3) high tech pay is relatively close to consulting and IB and actually higher if reflecting average pay per hour worked. This author and TransparentCareer may want to factor in other “lifestyle” benefits of high tech jobs for MBAs, such as ability to work remote at home or anywhere in the US on a regular basis. For example, many high tech MBAs work most Fridays at home or remote in a location they are visiting over the weekend. This is compared to consulting and IB were it is a grind all week and the weekend are used mostly for recovery. Another factor to consider is the average time spent traveling per annum.
    Consulting and IB firm still probably offer the most prestigious jobs (not counting PE which is out of reach for most MBAs) and probably offer the best skill training opportunities so they will continue to attract many of the best MBA graduates. However, the wide range of key lifestyle advantages of high tech and the ever increasing emphasis on the business world on high tech is attracting some of the best talent from all the top MBA programs. To overly focus on LEK or any other single firm is missing the point. I think this article and its TransparentCareer research are very relevant for P&Q and other journalists to help explore various tradeoffs for career options across number of key industry sectors recruiting MBAs. I hope we see more of this type of journalism rather than less.

  • I’m very happy to learn more about L.E.K.’s horrible culture and any sort of MBA exodus. My email is listed on the site. Reach out anytime, would love to look deeper into it if it’s actually as bad as you all claim.

  • If only L.E.K. paid us. Look at that total compensation package! Seriously, though, that’s a quote from TransparentCareer. We’re just reporting what they say about their data. All of this discussion and L.E.K. backlash (be it by trolls or not) is exactly why journalism exists. We’re all about the public discussion and conversation. All these comments might help someone considering L.E.K. dig a little deeper in their job search. But to claim L.E.K. (or any person or organization) pays us for favorable coverage is laughable at best.

  • Another LEK alumni

    Agree on all of the above exit points. It’s sad to see so many people take sub-optimal career paths (by their own admission) just to get out.

  • Recent LEK alumni

    “For example, we always hear that L.E.K. Consulting is a great place to work, but sometimes doesn’t get mentioned with the McKinsey, Bain, and BCG crowd as far as employer desirability. This list shows that the firm absolutely belongs up at the top from an employee experience perspective.”

    Hahahahahahahaha…how much did LEK HR pay you, P&Q??? What a joke, read the comments below from all the other ex-employees who are in disbelief at this ridiculous ranking.

  • Recent LEK alumni

    “>90% actively and expressively hated the culture of the firm”.

    This really captures it. The day-to-day “water cooler” conversations at LEK are about how much people hate the culture, their projects, the partners, etc.

    If you follow LEK on LinkedIn, you’ll see they are constantly posting off-cycle recruiting advertisements for roles across the hierarchy…that’s because people hate the company and are leaving in droves. Word to the wise, don’t volunteer to be part of a company that everyone is running away from.

  • Another LEK alumni

    ^^Not sure about HR troll, but I’d say L.E.K. Alumni also is more likely to be an Associate or Consultant that started out in consulting at L.E.K. and doesn’t know any better. Out of all MBA hires in my 3+ years (excluding the returning Associates outlined above), >90% actively and expressively hated the culture of the firm.

  • Another LEK alumni

    This may just be HR fishing, but enough people have left LEK recently that I feel comfortable saying I left in the last ~2 years. From what I’ve heard the culture has only gotten worse since I left. I’ve seen evidence of this in the last year on LinkedIn with continued attrition of my former colleagues. Also, L.E.K. is bleeding senior partners in a number of their historically premier practice areas (HCS, LS, Aviation), which is another sign of turmoil in my view.

    Regarding compensation, I don’t believe the TC data is made up, but it’s very misleading likely due to survey bias. The only people that likely responded to TC’s survey from L.E.K. were those who received tuition reimbursement (likely ~$30-40k) for returning from summer internships. Several years ago, Deloitte’s bonus of this type was twice L.E.K.’s, so let’s put Deloitte at the top of the list if we want to be fair. Take away this bonus that only applies to a small percentage of MBA hires at L.E.K. (or look at year 2+ comp) and you’re left with a not particularly attractive comp package that stays unattractive (relative to other firms) until you make partner.

    To the last point on doing more while getting paid less. As someone who left to another firm, I can tell you yes, the role at L.E.K. is what my new firm calls an “engagement manager” and yes, I’m making significantly more at my new firm than I was at L.E.K. How is this possible? L.E.K. senior partners are nearly as well paid as McKinsey partners but with significantly lower bill rates. L.E.K. just squeezes its junior employees more.

  • Recent LEK alum

    I left the firm less than a year ago after 3+ years and I can tell you that these 3rd party sources are unreliable, and rely heavily on self reporting from the firms — LEK pushes hard on employees to give positive reviews to places like Vault. Post MBA consultants at LEK struggle, work terrible hours and hate it, plain and simple.

    The point on pay less than MBB is for engagement managers. So you can choose LEK, get similar pay for 2 years while you flounder in a role you aren’t ready for, or progress on a realistic track at MBB, get paid way more after 2 years AND have better exit options / help from partners.

    Other LEK alums can chime in on the exit, LEK is far less helpful on exits than other firms – places like BCG give you two months of pay while you look for a job, and partners hook you up. At LEK you’ll be sleep deprived and taking fake sick days while you try to exit. In my long tenure, <10% of exits leveraged LEK partner or network help, because they don't want you to leave because of the attrition problems LEK has and simply don't have the same pull as partners at other firms – this gets down to the brass tax that LEK is perceived as a cheap market research and PE due diligence firm, without strong inroads in corporate strat teams at client companies, so they don't have the strings to pull on exits

  • AnNofOne

    Some of these comments lead me to believe these people probably worked at the firm 5+ years ago.

    For example, the claim that LEK pays less base than MBB, in 2017, is inaccurate. you can see this with a quick search on ManagementConsulted & TransparentCareer.

    https://managementconsulted.com/consulting-salaries/2017-management-consulting-salaries-for-undergraduate-mba-interns/

    Total comp actually earned is going to be a bit more nuanced in terms of reporting, but anecdotally the gap seems to open up between MBB and LEK at the post-consultant level.

    On hours, the surveys indicate that you can expect to work about 65 hrs / week at LEK, which is not at all outside the normal. Vault, TransparentCareer, etc show that this is in ~ line with MBB. On the latter, Ms clock in at ~69 / wk, with the Bs at 63 and 65. Not a huge difference, especially considering accounting for travel / commute time is probably accounted for pretty inconsistently by MBB respondents.

    Regarding the culture, there are good indications that things there were pretty miserable (sweat-shoppy) 5-10 years ago if you dig into trends on career sites. BUT LEK will more or less acknowledge this / the growing pains themselves if you talk to them, and the recent data bear out the improvement in hours, culture, etc.

    And sure, consultants “do more” at LEK in terms of managing the project, but that’s never hidden. For some it’s a plus, for some I can see it being a negative if they are surprised. Is the role quasi-CTLish? Yeah. Are you an engagement manager being paid as a consultant? No.

    Point is, people should do their own research and take some of these comments with a grain of salt – unless you think the TC data is just made up.

  • LEK alumni

    ^^this sounds like LEK HR trying to do damage control, they are aware that across the hierarchy there is a major happiness and attrition problem

    I was at LEK for 4+ years, let’s be clear:

    – $175K is the absolute ceiling for post MBA with all bonuses, which is unlikely and then you’ll fall behind all other big firms

    -Hours on average for a post MBA consultant are definitely 70+ or you will be failing your projects

    -If you were to ask post MBA consultants if they were “very happy” in their role, I guarantee <10% would say yes

    Moral of the story, do your diligence, find people in your network that will speak honestly about their LEKexperience and you'll hear it for yourself

  • L.E.K. Alumni also

    L.E.K. alumni here as well. Compensation would only be 240k first year if you included compensation for tuition as a sponsored student.

    That being said, I have to disagree with the general tone of the other three alumni. Is the consultant role difficult? Absolutely. But the managers / partners don’t ‘hate’ you. There’s great support as needed, a super tight knit culture, and a fast learning environment. There’s going to be people who don’t like the job and it’s not the right fit but overall a really great experience.

  • Another LEK alumni

    As another LEK post-MBA alumni that spent 3+ years at the firm, I have to agree with both comments. Most MBAs will work more hours (especially in PE-heavy offices) and enjoy their jobs much less than this survey seems to indicate. Most Consultants I knew at the firm were not happy. Most Consultants that left were happy they did. Even those who left to join competing firms (BCG, KPMG, EY, Bain to name a few) were very happy with their decision. While compensation for first year post-MBAs is high, that is only because L.E.K. is one of the few firms that still has a partial tuition reimbursement bonus. This is only for returning MBA summer interns, and, after the first year comp, LEK comp QUICKLY falls behind the MBB. Additionally, L.E.K. starts post-MBAs as the equivalent of project managers at other firms. They sell this as “gaining management experience earlier”, but what it really means is 1.) less training before being thrown into the fire, 2.) less comp for the job you’re actually doing, and 3.) longer track to partner from the time you start managing projects. L.E.K. is generally known in the industry as a sweat shop for good reason. The P&Q results don’t appear to match the reality at the firm.

  • former LEK associate

    This comment is 100% true. Former pre-MBA Associate from the Chicago office checking in. Comp is NOWHERE near $240K (L.E.K. actually pays below MBB even at the base salary level, and is FAR below once you include in performance bonus, profit share, etc. Seriously P&Q, where in the world did you get this figure? This doesn’t even make remote sense, good job). In addition, many post-MBAs pretty much hate the work because hours are TERRIBLE (regularly 65/70+ hour weeks), you’re thrown into the role without any training, and managers / partners hate / blame you because of it. This survey must have incredibly, poorly done. L.E.K. also has a terrible post-MBA culture aka everyone always talks about how much they dislike their job (true across all offices).

  • LEK alumni

    As a former consultant (post-MBA role) from LEK Consulting, I can tell you that the compensation and assumed hours this is based on are objectively inaccurate. Post MBA will be lucky to make $175k with all bonuses accounted for, and will probably be working 70 hours most weeks. Many post MBA consultants are also pretty miserable because they are thrust into a project leadership role without time to learn consulting generally or the LEK system – other big 3 firms have you start as a team member before leading.