Each year, Vault produces a ranking of the best consulting firms to work for. The ranking is based on surveys of current employees. The main factors are prestige, firm culture, satisfaction, compensation, work-life balance and level of challenge. Vault also breaks down each metric into a separate ranking.
Highest-paying consulting firms
The best firm by compensation, according to Vault, is the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), retaining its top spot in 2021. Consultants noted that BCG’s compensation was both generous and transparent, even though BCG was beaten to first place in the overall ranking by Bain & Company.
Consultants applauded BCG’s transparency, with...
BCG was the only so-called 'Big Three' strategy house, which includes McKinsey and Bain & Company, to hold its position in the compensation ranking.
Bain went up from fourth to third, while McKinsey dropped from third to eighth. This is despite fierce competition for MBA talent that has seen salaries bounce back since the coronavirus outbreak.
ghSMART, a boutique firm based in Chicago with just 125 employees, beat both McKinsey and Bain, coming in second place behind BCG. One employee on Vault’s site praised their ‘world-class colleagues [who] directly advise the world's top CEOs and boards.’
ghSMART is owned entirely by its employees, with team members getting the opportunity to buy stock if they want to. ghSMART consultants mention the perks of ‘unlimited vacation’ and flexibility, although the firm’s small size can limit the ability to invest in some projects.
On the firm’s diversity, one employee said: ‘We have a completely transparent revenue and salary model that is commission based. It is also gender blind. We have over 50% women on the consulting/client-facing team and over 40% female partners.’
Top consulting firms: Smaller, Boutique & Healthcare consulting firms dominate
The vault compensation ranking is dominated by smaller or boutique firms, with several top-performing firms in the healthcare space. If you want to earn a substantial sum, you have a very wide range of options in the lucrative consulting industry.
ClearView Healthcare Partners, with just 300 employees, came fourth in the compensation ranking, while Artisan Healthcare Consulting came fifth.
ClearView employees praise the ‘challenging and stimulating projects’ in the biopharma strategy space and the ‘rapid salary progress’, although others note the ‘unpredictable hours’ and the ‘growing pains’ associated with working at a small firm
Employees at Artisan Healthcare Consulting summarize the pros and cons of working for a smaller consulting firm. While they credit the firm’s supportive culture and access to senior management for development, one employee notes the firm ‘could have more established wellness initiatives and formal diversity programs.’
Several other small or boutique groups are in the top 10 with hundreds of employees, rather than the thousands found in large global firms like the Big Three. These include ScottMadden Management Consultants, with 185 employees; Putnam Associates, which has 150 people on the payroll; Pace Harman, with just 95; and Cornerstone Research, which is more established, with 775 staff.
Some of the best known firms are poorly ranked on compensation, with positions far below their overall rank. EY-Parthenon which placed 16th in the compensation ranking last year does not feature in the top 25 in 2021, despite coming fifth in Vault’s overall ranking.
Kearney (formerly AT Kearney) is ranked 20th, below its 15th place finish in the main ranking.
The high compensation on offer at smaller or boutique firms reflects the fact that there are more opportunities to get stuck into client facing work and learn from senior consultants, rising quickly in an organization with a flatter structure. With fewer partners, fatter profits may be shared among equity owners.
It may also reflect the fact that smaller firms know that to compete with the likes of Bain or BCG or McKinsey for talent, they need to offer something to new hires that makes them stand out.
It may be a winning formula with MBAs, who will command high pay to reflect the high cost of the degree. The larger firms may need to dig a little deeper into their pockets to continue attracting the best and the brightest from business schools.
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