BCG’s Rich Lesser can build the world’s greatest consulting firm, but only with a different strategy
Headlining Lesser’s Tenure
After the servant-leadership model of Hans-Paul Burkner, many expected Rich Lesser to bring a more assertive style of leadership to BCG. At the very least, he was expected to bring a different leadership style after the genuinely selfless mode of Burkner. That has not happened and it is probably a good thing in some respects. Under Lesser the leadership style remains comfortably similar while the priorities seem to be adjusting just a little.
The press have routinely lauded BCG’s remarkable growth in the last few years. BCG has been on a tear and Hans-Paul Burkner made BCG hum on all traditional measures of business success. Therefore, most journalistic questions have focused on whether or not BCG can sustain that trajectory of more offices, more consultants and more billings. Besides BCG-endorsed stories about lavishly spending client money on fancy offices being slightly off-putting, we believe growth questions are the wrong questions to ask of the firm.
Our editorials are read widely, including within the leadership of the major consulting firms. We know this because some firms write to us. These critiques may be hard to read but they have the sincere purpose of helping the firms improve. The history of management consulting is one of many great firms that either failed and/or were unable to survive as independent concerns, or were tainted by scandal. As you read this the firms are constantly making decisions, some of which may lead to the same fate.
Rather than getting upset about these pieces, it may be more useful to think about the real problems we discuss and how you can play a role in fixing them. It is not healthy for you to assume the firms are perfect nor are we attacking the firms by pointing out their areas for improvement. Other case interview preparation services choose to avoid these topics because it hurts their business. Our clients go on to join all these firms. We hope they take a hard look at what they find and try to make the firms even greater than they currently are.
Consulting firms should not focus on growth. They should focus on advising clients to the very best of their abilities. Growth, like profits, is an outcome of excelling at the latter.
Therefore, we would rather ask just one question which sits at the heart of BCG’s identity and long-term success.
Is BCG navigating a truly unique path as a consulting firm or is it merely tracking McKinsey’s large wake?
To understand how BCG ended up where it is today, it is worth briefly examining how the firm developed a reserved culture. This reserved culture of intellectual humility allowed it to avoid Bain’s implosion in the 1990’s and the anesthetically fatal path of firms like Monitor and Booz that blissfully drifted into ethical landmines or irrelevance. Watching those traumatic events unfold naturally reinforced BCG’s already media-shy approach.
BCG opted for a low-risk and low-return model where it would respond to opportunities by taking the path of minimal risk and least resistance. It turned being a quiet follower into an art form.
Yet, unlike Apple, another perennial late entrant to markets, BCG does not learn from the encumbent’s mistakes and, therefore, does not capture the maximum value from the market. And unlike McKinsey that likes to tell everyone who will listen that they have nothing to say, and thereafter spend hours entertaining a journalist and photojournalist on why they have nothing to say, BCG was low key in the purest sense of the word.
Have you ever heard of Alan Zakon, John Clarkeson or Carl Stern?
Go ahead and Google them.
They were pioneering CEO’s of BCG and yet none of them even have a Wikipedia entry. In an age where people, even retired partners, are alleged to only have credibility should they possess a monumental online presence, these stalwarts have none. This was the traditional BCG way. It was a part of their DNA: maintaining a subtle personal presence where the work speaks for itself. This is intellectual humility.
We admire this approach to serving clients.
Zakon kept to BCG’s spirit of innovation when he succeeded Henderson, something that had always been a defining character of the firm. Way back before anyone was thinking about it, Zakon pushed BCG to focus on implementation, or as he called it, “make it happen.” Sadly, he was not so good at making it happen himself since he was soon distracted by growing BCG in Germany and Japan, leaving implementation to languish and die at the firm.
Right now, BCG is playing distant catch-up on implementation.
Stern crafted BCG’s “Go North” initiative that focused the firm on building extremely close relationships with clients by moving from one major issue to another major issue. Essentially, BCG decided that its relationship with a client should be proportional to the revenues of the client. BCG would never say this, but that is what they did. And such a strategy made complete sense. Once BCG had done its first study for a client, it was more efficient to help this same client versus expending a disproportionate effort to find newer clients. A study in the hand is indeed worth two in the bush.
Clarkeson forced BCG to specialize by introducing practice areas, and formalizing the firm’s mentoring and training programs. Until he came along, training at BCG was more of a gentlemanly sport where you had to hope of being paired up with a good partner who could teach you what you needed to do. Clarkeson’s philosophy of allowing practice areas to bloom is now considered standard fare at most consulting firms.
“Go North” and specialization may have sounded new and fancy at the time, but they were really BCG’s interpretation of things McKinsey was already doing. Yes, these two CEO were pioneers in their time, but only within BCG.
So we have a media-shy firm with flashes of brilliance in its distant past followed by long recent stretches of just following McKinsey and playing it safe.
While BCG continues to serve the executive suite through this very this safe leadership approach, you would think it was reserving its energy for blinding creativity in its intellectual thinking. This is after all the firm which pioneered competition strategy, time-based competition, developed the product portfolio matrix, the experience curve and gave us insights into Japan. Heck, it gave us George Stalk, one of the most brilliant strategists of this era and, in the most well intentioned use of this phrase, a true gentleman.
Things have been slow of late.
BCG has published some interesting ideas and Michael Silverstein wrote a delicious and ambitious chapter explaining the economics of Carrie Bradshaw’s shoe fetish for $450 Manolo Blahnik stilettos, but has BCG owned a theme or developed a new approach to an old problem in the last two decades?
Go ahead and name one significant initiative that BCG has launched in the last 20 years that is truly original and not a rehash of existing concepts or a rival’s idea?
You will not find one.
Going further than the ideas themselves, has BCG even owned the thinking around the way it delivers its ideas?
Think of the BCG Perspectives online. What exactly was the plan with that initiative? Did the BCG leadership get up one morning and decide they needed their own version of the McKinsey Quarterly because that is basically what they built. There is not a single innovative change to the way that publication is presented. It was an expensive opportunity for BCG to show the world how they could spread leadership ideas in their own unique way. They did not seize the opportunity.
It is possible that somewhere deep down Lesser has a plan to move BCG outside McKinsey’s shadow, but you would never know it from BCG’s anemic media presence and vampire-like aversion to the bright glare of useful publicity.
In fact, when BCG tried to change in the last decade, it could not accomplish this from within. As a testament to just how much BCG lacks an understanding of its own purpose and personality, the firm had to go as far as hiring a senior McKinsey partner, Bill Matassoni, who led McKinsey’s worldwide media and marketing efforts to come across and lead BCG’s positioning efforts.
Let this sink in slowly. Take the time to understand its implications.
BCG essentially hired / retained a McKinsey partner to help it fix its own problems in a crucial area. Apparently BCG is such a unique firm that only a McKinsey partner could help it find its mojo and reposition it in the market.
BCG’s profile in the market is certainly one of a kind. It is a slightly lower budgeted re-run of McKinsey’s strategy from early the early 2000’s
Matassoni is undeniably a singularly brilliant professional who understands the issues of consulting firms, and crucially, knows how to take concrete actions to reposition the narrative around a firm. He came in when there was a big gap between BCG and McKinsey, and helped close that gap by bringing BCG to a state of partial-parity. BCG will call this success, but only if one does not consider partial-parity a swear word, which it is in business.
The fundamental truth is that Matassoni made BCG more like McKinsey when BCG should have be aiming for a competitive difference. Closing a gap is not a competitive difference. In fact, having a gap to close implies BCG does not consider itself distinctive since there must be another firm within its market definition for it to have a gap to close. Only distinctive firms thrive in the long term.
Being reserved and media shy is one thing, but BCG lacks ambition and a strategy of differentiation. That is the soul of its problem. Ambition is not about growing wildly all over the world. It is about taking the bold steps to be different.
BCG has not figured out how to move past this point of partial-parity after Matassoni left. It seems content to just be sitting there, confused about how to define itself, a little dazed and unsure of the steps to take. It is just waiting for McKinsey to define an industry and then BCG will step in and benefit from McKinsey’s hard work.
Maybe it plans to hire McKinsey this time for a strategy rather than simply hiring their senior partners?
If the problem with BCG is not yet clear, lets make it explicit.
BCG has actually been a follower, and oftentimes a slow follower, to McKinsey. That has been BCG’s playbook for the last 20 to 30 years: track McKinsey like a heat-seeking missile. And that really speaks to the core challenge of Lesser’s leadership. His approach works because the market is growing very fast. It is not because of anything BCG is doing. You do not get credit for growing in a red hot market when everyone else is doing just as well.
At its core, the firm deep down believes McKinsey is superior and they would never ever dare challenge McKinsey’s interpretation of anything. They will simply copy it.
BCG partners will be up in arms about this statement but try to name one major initiative, market or platform where BCG entered before McKinsey?
The relationship between McKinsey and BCG, and even Bain and McKinsey, is akin to the groupies who trail the popular cheerleader in high school. The cheerleader dismisses them and never even acknowledges them by name. They all somewhat loathe her, yet all want to be her. More telling, they all want to be mentioned in the same breadth as her for their own prestige and status. Yet, none have the confidence and guts to break free and chart a new path, because it is only the popular cheerleader who can confer prestige and coolness on a new path. The others just look dorky when they try something new.
BCG seems to thrive in this kind of defective relationship, which will certainly require leadership therapy in the near future.
BCG has found it incredibly lucrative to simply allow McKinsey to test markets, ideas and even platforms. Where McKinsey opens an office, BCG will likely follow. Where McKinsey develops an idea like merging macroeconomics with business analyses, BCG will poorly follow. And where McKinsey launches an online ideas center, BCG will re-launch their perspectives series.
Has BCG become the Rocket Internet of management consulting? Is the firm so barren of unique ideas that it is content to simply replicate its chief rival?
It is somewhat sad to see that the BCG which defined competition in strategy, and which was highly creative in the 70’s and 80’s, settles for so little. Lesser needs to find a way to shake up BCG and make them believe that they can, and should, develop entirely new ways of addressing client needs.
That belief needs to come from within the firm; it needs to come from within a few senior partners who can anchor this much-needed renaissance. BCG needs to take some risks, and not the kind of risks of hiring McKinsey partners for core initiatives.
The principle of competitive advantage dictates that a consulting firm must exploit a unique position to succeed. Targeting all resources on that advantage creates a great risk should the advantage turn out to be undervalued in the market. However, with that great risk comes great reward if the firm predicts things correctly.
McKinsey has reaped the rewards of a higher risk and high return strategy, but that firm has a singularly deep problem. When your former managing partner is convicted for insider trading and founds his own consulting business while working at McKinsey, it does not matter how many clients stay or MBA’s want a job, there is a problem at McKinsey.
When thinking about how BCG can respond to its main competitor’s magnetic charm at attracting problems and Teflon-like ability to dust of scandals, remember two important points about the apathetic inertia of vested interests when it comes to ranking consulting firms.
First, merely because the recruiting market, alums and clients ignore McKinsey’s problems, does not mean McKinsey’s problems have disappeared. Just as ignoring an alcoholic’s problem does not make him/her any more sober, ignoring McKinsey’s ethics issues does not mean they are no longer present. Ignoring the problem may very well facilitate McKinsey’s problem.
Second, it is absolutely in the interests of the recruiting market and clients to hope the Rajat Gupta scandal, and others, are quickly forgotten, even more so than McKinsey hopes they will be forgotten.
Why is this?
Applicants do not want to see another high-paying route to career riches disappear. Someone needs to pay for those expensive degrees and with investment banking recruiting down, the last thing anyone wants is to see McKinsey fail.
Alums do not want their McKinsey burnished-resumes to be worthless. After all, the value of McKinsey is what the brand gives you after you leave the firm.
Executives certainly do not want their strategies associated with tarnished firms. Especially since they could be fired for using a firm with a now blighted image.
All these parties talk-up McKinsey because if McKinsey loses its luster, they all suffer. Therefore, take what they all say with extreme caution because it is all just one incestuous relationship.
Asking any of these parties whether McKinsey should remain the dominant firm is like asking an alcoholic if he should be allowed to drink and drive. Of course he will say yes, because it is the selfish answer that benefits him and only him.
The rest be damned.
The problem is that BCG itself does not see through this self-serving McKinsey-Executive-Complex and consequently is unable to recognize and act on the real opportunity that has presented itself.
Therefore the current hierarchy of management consulting exists since the costs of shifting to a new order led by BCG vastly outweigh the benefits to clients. It exists because BCG has for so long tried to copy McKinsey, it was unable to show it was different at that very moment when clients wanted something different.
That is the problem with following a copycat strategy: when client’s want something else you are in no position to epitomize that difference.
It is one of the rich ironies of BCG that the firm consistently cites its uniqueness, but can rarely explain what they are. The examples above lay waste to any vestige of prestige that BCG has. It needs to stop emulating McKinsey.
However, all is not lost since Lesser can still change BCG’s standing.
In the 1980’s Fortune Magazine published a cover piece about the management consulting industry. BCG, Bain and McKinsey were all in the ring fighting it out and the article seemed to indicate McKinsey was winning the contest. McKinsey partners reacted negatively to the piece since they believed they should not be mentioned alongside the other firms. BCG was merely proud to be on the cover page.
That says a lot about the mindset of the firms.
This is what Lesser need’s to change. BCG is a great firm, but it needs to change the conversation. It needs to stop trying to be a better version of McKinsey and position itself to be a completely different firm. To do that, it needs to understand competition in management consulting and, in particular, the strategy of its current chief rival.
Many would consider being mentioned in the same breadth as Bain and McKinsey as a badge of honor. It means BCG is among just the three elite firms of possibly hundreds of others who toil away without so much as a passing mention in boardrooms. Is that not a great privilege? Is that not the pinnacle of consulting?
No, because there is a problem with this dubious distinction. To be mentioned in the same breadth as McKinsey and Bain, implies that what these three firms offer is an interchangeable commodity that any of them could provide.
Is that what BCG wants to be seen as? Offering strategy advice that any of its peers could offer? Since when did strategy advice become a commodity.
The way to stand out in this profession is to be known for something. To be known for something is to have a monopoly on a concept or idea that no one else is known for, provided the concept is deeply appealing.
For example, way back in the 1990’s when everyone was just happy to be mentioned alongside McKinsey as a great strategy firm, McKinsey tried to distance itself. It realized that BCG would fight back hard, and BCG did by aggressively moving into the Harvard Business Review and owning the conversation on key business issues. McKinsey was being squeezed on all fronts around business themes.
McKinsey did not like what was said about the Firm, so McKinsey changed the conversation. It positioned itself as a leadership factory. It did not just come up with this catchy phrase; it did three concrete things to become a leadership factory:
It invested substantial resources to ensure consultants received multiple excellent offers when they left the firm. In effect, McKinsey created successful alums who could one day hire the firm.
It shifted the recruiting message to one of producing leaders versus hiring future McKinsey partners. In other words, McKinsey made it explicitly clear that leaving the firm was not a failure since it was expected.
It moved its work beyond traditional business consulting to areas all leaders worry about.
So what did McKinsey achieve by becoming a leadership factory?
Before the shift, it was one of several firms fighting it out in the business advisory space, and even though it was seen as the leader, it was still a mere player in the over-trafficked space of strategy consulting. From being a mere player in this market, it became the only player in the business of producing leaders. While every other firm just wanted to be a great strategy firm, McKinsey wanted to be the only leadership factory.
And it is. Merely because no one has figured out this is McKinsey’s strategy. Every other strategy firm today compares themselves to McKinsey, when McKinsey has moved past that tired description and compares itself to no one.
Being the best strategy firm was McKinsey’s old strategy from the 1980’s.
This strategy obsession among weaker firms has a lot to do with a misunderstanding of what drives prestige in management consulting. Firms routinely talk of tier-1 work, high-end work, strategy work, strategic work etc.
None of that drives prestige. What matters in management consulting is not what you do, but whom your client is and how you do it. If you are doing strategy work for the strategy manager at a Fortune 500 conglomerate, that is not prestigious and certainly not influential. You need to be working for the most senior decision-maker. Moreover, the method of solving the case problem matters incredibly.
A clever firm will realize this and not get boxed into strategy work. It will do strategy, operations, organizational design, implementation, support services etc., work, but serve the most senior decision maker and apply the right problem solving principles to all of them.
All the work will be prestigious. The market is much larger with this approach.
This obsession with strategy is a stone age understanding of management consulting. BCG needs to understand this. They may not since they still hedge their bets and call themselves a “global management consulting firm and the world’s leading advisor on business strategy” in the very same sentence. So which is it BCG?
Strategic work is also not worth crowing about. There was a point in time when the great City of London had raw sewage flowing through its streets. The Lord Mayor had the strategic idea of installing a modern sewage system to clean up London to make it a better city for the long term. I think we can all agree that while this was strategic it was not strategy. At best, it was engineering with some fancy plumbing.
Therefore firms pursuing strategic work are on a totem pole below strategy, and strategy is on a totem pole below leadership.
Do not be a strategy firm and do not be a strategic firm.
This shift in focus was creatively selfish on McKinsey’s part. The firm knows professionals join them to eventually enter a corporate career, so they offer this path and make it explicit, resulting in a future executive who is unusually grateful to McKinsey for giving them this opportunity.
So BCG, like McKinsey, needs to become a monopoly on a central idea, which should not be about strategy consulting. BCG needs to own a central idea where it is the only firm of note.
In a traditional business, being a monopoly will have negative connotations. Call yourself a monopoly in the press and you will soon get glances from the Justice Department. Yes, you will be attractive to them but this discussion is not going to start with an offer to buy a glass of red wine and will certainly not end up in a hotel room somewhere. Though it could end up with handcuffs, some mild roughing up and a possible break-up.
Why do monopolies have negative connotations in business markets? Simply because being a monopoly implies you impede access to a market of consumers and in economics it is believed that the more choice consumers have, the more prices will fall. Moreover, no one really likes a choice of one. People do not like to be told what to do or use. Citizens will die for the right to make their own bad choices.
So how is a monopoly different in management consulting, a professional market?
The answer is simple. McKinsey has not monopolized a market or impeded choice. It has monopolized a concept and made it concrete through its actions above.
Other firms like BCG are still fighting yesterday’s consulting battle to be the best strategy advisor. It is like those old Disney cartoons from the 1980’s. When everyone starts fighting and kicks up a cloud of dust, the antagonist crawls out from under the fight and watches everyone else fight, since the others have not even realized the cause of their antagonism is no longer in the fight. They are just fighting among themselves about who is the best.
Therefore, to be the best consulting firm, BCG needs to position itself as more than a strategy firm, because they are no longer merely advising on strategy, and strategy is only prestigious to people who do not understand management consultants. BCG needs to remove itself from yesterday’s battle.
At the moment, BCG’s great draw card to applicants is that they will join as a consultant and leave as a great consultant. Sure, the firm produces notable alumni, but this draw card is not uniquely driving home a point of difference. What is so appealing about BCG’s current point of distinction? Is that not what Bain, Roland Berger or any other firm does?
BCG will tell you they are in a category of one, but since they claim to be “the world’s leading advisor on business strategy,” we can safely say they are operating in a market definition used by plenty of other firms. Ergo, they are not in a category of one.
You may think that this issue of how BCG defines itself is irrelevant, but it has an incredibly far-reaching economic upside.
Imagine McKinsey in the 1980’s. Also slap on the strategy moniker that everyone likes to apply to the firm. With that definition, the potential client work they could do was maybe $5B to $15B and they already had a fair chunk of this. To arrive at this number, think of the total number of possible business executives who could hire McKinsey. This was driven by the total number of leading companies per country multiplied by the number of countries multiplied by the average fee per study multiplied by the average number of studies per firm per year.
At a certain point, once you are the dominant firm, it is tougher to keep growing. Moreover, every wannabe strategy firm was hacking away at McKinsey. Therefore, when McKinsey was the dominant firm it became irritating to deal with barbs from rivals.
Where did McKinsey go?
In the 1990’s McKinsey changed their focus to “serving leaders of government, business and academia.” So you can see how they expanded their focus right at the time when the McKinsey Global Institute was founded to serve governments. McKinsey started doing major studies for Thailand, Germany etc. and giving away the studies via exclusive one-on-one meetings with the Presidents and Prime Ministers of those countries.
Pretty soon, McKinsey found a new type of client to serve without the annoying clutter of wannabe strategy firms nipping at its heels. Think about the potential client work here. Governments around the world spend billions on pricy studies and unlike the corporate market where competition is tough, here the potential is larger with less competition.
McKinsey is taking that definition of leadership even further today.
This explains why they can advise the New York Penitentiary System on fixing Rikers Prison. It is easy to imagine an army of specialist prison consulting firms all up in arms demanding to know why McKinsey, a bunch of MBA’s, was given the work. The complaints are thick and plentiful because outside parties still see the McKinsey that is not the real McKinsey. They think McKinsey is a strategy firm when it stopped being one many decades ago.
While others want to be the best strategy firm, McKinsey pursues a far wider focus of tackling any leadership issue. They keep leveraging that definition to go where there is little competition.
While the specialist prison consulting firms and one-man outfits aka former prison wardens, all positioned themselves as subject matter experts, McKinsey positioned this as a leadership issue. An area where no other firm was positioning itself, and when it convinced the New York Penitentiary System that this was indeed a leadership problem, there was only one place the client could go.
McKinsey already has a monopoly on leadership so this publication hopes that BCG does not think we are recommending they chase McKinsey for leadership of leadership.
BCG should not be pursuing McKinsey at all. BCG needs to search deep down and find a new purpose.
What should be BCG’s raison d’être?
It cannot be women equity issues since that ignores half the world.
It cannot be emerging markets because it also eliminates large chunks of the world.
It cannot be technology since that is not a unifying issue impacting all executives.
BCG needs to find and have a monopoly on a massive emerging theme no one else is pursuing. Really, BCG has no choice. Should it not do it, it might as well admit that it likes saving on sunscreen by living in McKinsey’s rather large shadow.
If BCG does not shift focus, the day will come when it may very well be the largest strategy firm, but still living in McKinsey’s shadow since the sum of the markets McKinsey covers will dwarf the strategy market.
This is where the confidence part comes in. BCG leadership in many ways lacks the conviction, courage and confidence to enter a completely new area, think through how to apply their unique BCG-way within it and say, “this is a central theme that will define us.” They somehow only want to do something if McKinsey went their first, and gave the area a stamp of approval.
McKinsey has relinquished one area that BCG should claim, provided they have the confidence to make a go for it.
Values are where BCG should focus. Values trump leadership. Always.
Values are different from leadership, yet they are a central theme across any institute, organization or even government. Values are also malleable enough such that BCG can work at defining it. If BCG can make values the central prestigious core of it’s positioning, others will see the value in values.
Now, you may say that McKinsey is a values based firm, but we outline a strong argument that what McKinsey says is far from what McKinsey does. Moreover, McKinsey cannot have it both ways. When everything seemed to work out fine with Rajat Gupta they professed their unified partnership and values, yet when things when south, they claimed what happened to Gupta was an isolated incident and the rest of the leadership was untarnished. So which is it? Either the partners are unified or not?
There is a more subtle but important reason why BCG can and should position themselves as the values-based firm.
From the late 1970’s to 1990’s, McKinsey saw a rich selection of partners who came of age with a uniquely distinctive background. Many of the great partners at the firm had tough, hardscrabble lives and had to work their way up from a background of poverty or something very close to it. They earned their way in the world. Those partners, mentored largely by Marvin Bower, left the firm a long time ago. If Bower’s group was the first generation, and the partners from the 1970’s to 1990’s were the 2nd generation, then we are now in the 3rd generation of partners who, at least for the majority, never worked their way up through much strife.
These are partners who have inherited McKinsey’s largesse and like the Chinese rightfully say, it is the 3rd generation that squanders the wealth. Former partners of McKinsey are aware of this generational shift and its consequences. They talk about it often. And recent actions show this to be a real concern.
You may think values are a nebulous concept and tough to define. Yet, the core of every great firm sits within its value system. And values are certainly no more vague a concept than leadership. We blindly accept leadership as a crucible of business because it has been defined for us and because McKinsey gave the concept legs by taking three actions to concretize it.
Just as ISP dialups could never be the lasting technology in Internet connectivity, despite so much promise at the time of its creation, leadership will not be the defining concept in management. Leadership is just the current buzzword that is popular. Something must replace it and it comes down to a BCG bold enough to stop following McKinsey by striking out on a needed path of redefining itself.
BCG has always been scared to do this. The firm seems more comfortable focusing on microeconomics and growing with the market. They can continue down this path but will eventually become irrelevant.
This publication has called into question previous problems with BCG, like its strained hiring policies. We have also discussed BCG’s culture of credit where far too many decisions are driven by budget decisions.
Yet we believe BCG must redefine itself and find a new raison d’être. That is the most critical step Lesser must take right now while the firm is doing well enough to fund this change in strategy.
BCG must take concrete steps to institutionalize values.
BCG must change the conversation so they are never mentioned in the same breadth as McKinsey.
BCG must be genuinely insulted when mentioned alongside McKinsey.
BCG must stop comparing itself to McKinsey.
BCG should strive to be incomparable.
As much as we like Rick Lesser we do not believe he will push BCG in this direction. When BCG hired Bill Matassoni, they would have received an expert’s testimony on this thinking and have so far chosen to do little about it. We see no evidence this time will be any different. The firm is too focused on trumpeting its revenue growth, hiring numbers and new office openings via laudatory press releases.
This is quite tragic because, as the CEO Rankings will soon show, Lesser is among a handful of CEOs who have the solid backing of their fellow partners. As it stands, that is a wasted consensus because he is using it for a me-too strategy. The best time to execute a turnaround is before a turnaround is required because by the time you realize you need one, it is far too late.
Just look at AD Little, Booz and Monitor to see what happens when reality sets in too late.
BCG celebrates being a strong contender in the heavily contested business strategy space. That supposed achievement is the quintessential reason why BCG failed, is failing and will fail. It will fail to escape McKinsey’s shadow.
Editor’s Note: This editorial is based on extensive exclusive interviews with former senior partners of both McKinsey and BCG. Audio recordings of those interviews will be released as part of our ongoing rankings coverage of the consulting firms and their CEOs.