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Hi there Michael,

I have recently graduated from university, and I just saw your “What are considered the best consulting firms?” post on Quora and found it really useful. I was wondering if you could help me though.

I have been invited to interview at both Marakon and Roland Berger, while Oliver Wyman (GMC) have invited me to sit their numerical test. I’m having some difficulty in deciding which of these firms I’d prefer, assuming I get more than one offer.

I have been told by some that Oliver Wyman would be my best bet, although according to the list you compiled, it’s not as good as the other two. More specifically, I was wondering if you knew much about Marakon’s current situation – i.e. after their failed merger and subsequent bankruptcy last year. Are they still as highly regarded as they once were?

I am applying to the London office of all three firms, if that makes much of a difference.

Any help would be greatly appreciated! Thanks in advance.

Best, xxx

***

Hi xxx,

Thanks for the email. I am very glad you are giving this serious consideration and thinking about your choices. As I tell my readers, having the right consulting firm on your resume is the equivalent of having HBS on your resume. It has that amount of impact and can open many doors for you.

Here is the unvarnished truth about these firms:

Oliver Wyman: OW is part of Marsh Mclennan. An giant insurance and risk conglomerate. OW partners typically move into senior management positions but in their niches of risk, transport etc. I have yet to meet an OW partner running a firm as CEO. They exist but are rare.

Furthermore, OW is totally at the mercy of its parent which could cut funding or have a scandal taint its name. This happened about 3 years when Marsh was caught engaging in fraudulent pricing activity. The subsequent fall-out led to Marsh pulling back funding and merging all the consulting units since it could not fund as many seperate businesses. So Marsh went from having about 7 consulting companies (Mercer, Nera, Lippincott Margulies, Delta etc) to just 3. Nera is a top economics advisory unit.

Now in terms management consulting, they are not at the top. Do not dilute your pedigree at a weaker firm. I can guarantee you will pine about McKinsey, BCG or Bain within 12 months of joining OW. Working for a consulting firm owned by a corporate is not fun. How do you tell Marsh’s biggest client they are doing something wrong? Will Marsh even allow that since it could jeapardise their fees? OW will tell you otherwise but I can assure you it is a problem on a daily basis.

Marakon: Marakon was a rising star in management consulting. For a firm of that size to have so much clout in the Harvard Business Review, have a Noble Laureate on their board etc. is impressive. There is nothing wrong with Marakon. It is a great firm.

But be aware of this. If you join Marakon and it never returns to its former glory, then you will for the rest of your life have to explain to people who Marakon is? If you join Marakon, you will need to stick it out and help turn it into a star again or the name will mean nothing on your resume. Furthermore, Marakon is not a major European player. If Europe is your aspiration then the Marakon name will not help you.

Roland Berger: In my opinion, RB is the only firm which has the potential (although some way to go, but getting there) to topple McKinsey. RB has a number of things going for it.

• The most competitive consulting market in the world is not NYC or London. It is the German market. Partners from McKinsey etc. from the German offices are typically the best. The competitive German market leads to enormous innovation from these consulting offices. The fact that RB dominates this market, is a very good sign.

• Furthermore, RB has been very successful at cracking the Eastern European markets. If you want to be in Europe, thats where all the exciting work will be.

• The brand is good, people are strong and they are growing.

Dr Prof. Roland Berger is still alive and will continue to influence the firm even though he stepped down.

Finally lets talk about the value system. This may not be apparent to you right now, but I can assure you that in 5 years it will be. Especially if you stay in consulting. Any consulting firm which talks about its clients, salaries and growth is not a true consulting firm. The best firms talk about their values. Last month RB walked away from a multi-billion dollar acquisition by Deloitte which would have significantly enriched the partners. That shows commitment. I cannot think of such a significantly important act in management consulting in the last 30 years. To be a great firm, you must be independent.

Max is an aspiring consultant who is looking to secure an analyst role with one of the top firms for the upcoming recruitment cycle in September 2011. His interest in management consulting was sparked by a failed McKinsey interview last year. In this series of blogs, he will be sharing his background, case preparation process, useful resources, and any breakthroughs or setbacks that he experiences.

***

I would like to take a quick break from my series of posts regarding case preparation, and share some information which I acquired during an Oliver Wyman (OW) information session a few weeks ago. An OW partner, who is an alumnus of my university, came to campus to talk about opportunities at OW, as well as resume/interview tips. This information session was actually quite eye-opening for me as it really increased the level of respect I have for the firm. In my unofficial mental ranking of the consulting firms, OW was seventh before this info session – but I now place them at fourth (keep in mind that I am only considering firms that have a presence in Canada). The partner started off by telling us a little bit about the firm, and the information included the following: 1) 1.4 Billion in revenue 2) ~90% repeat work 3) Revenue per Consultant is approximately $500,000 4) Two “streams” in the company: Financial Services, and General Management Consulting

One interesting thing to note was that “McKinsey” came up quite a few times during the presentation as a point of comparison for Oliver Wyman. I guess that’s what happens when a firm is traditionally regarded as the gold standard.

The point that concerns the proportion of repeat work actually surprised me a bit. When I looked into McKinsey’s stats a while ago, their percentage of repeat work was at roughly 80%. I’m not sure if this means that OW has a higher client satisfaction rating, or if McKinsey is able to get new clients more easily. The presentation also included a graph that shows a lot of growth in recent years. According to the partner, this rapid growth means that people are going to have lots of opportunities to make partner.One interesting thing to note was that “McKinsey” came up quite a few times during the presentation as a point of comparison for Oliver Wyman. I guess that’s what happens when a firm is traditionally regarded as the gold standard. I was extremely impressed with both the partner, and his presentation material. He was very personable, well-spoken, and seems to take a genuine interest in the success of the students. A point he mentioned, that I completely agree with, is that Canadian schools tend to lack the pride of its U.S. counterparts. According to him, U.S. candidates take great pride in the schools they attend, and many of them choose to attend certain schools because their parents (sometimes their grandparents as well) went to the same one. There are three major areas where the partner offered some great advice: application, fit interview, and case interview. Application (Resume/Cover letter) • Clearly explain previous work experience, and why the experience relates to the position • Don’t exaggerate • Use formal language • Display passion about work ethic • Be personable in the cover letter • Ensure that the cover letter is firm-specific • Connect what you learned in school with what you can offer at work (e.g. ability to learn, working hard with passion, breaking down problems) Fit Interview • Be who you are • Be calm • Have fun and engage the interviewer in a conversation He mentioned that the case interview is much more important than the fit interview. The justification he uses is that there is nothing he can do to make someone smarter, but he can teach people skills to individuals who may be lacking in that department. Of course, it is best to nail both types of interview – but it is not worth “faking” your attitude during the fit interview. If you do fake your personality during the fit interview it will show, and all the interviewer will think afterwards is “Wow, I wasted an hour of my time and learned nothing about who this candidate is.” Case Interview • Show the interviewer your thinking process • Evaluate the plausibility of your answer, and revise assumptions as necessary • There may not be hard numbers in the cases you receive, and you may have to use your market sizing skills often if the interviewer isn’t giving you the critical numbers required for analyzing the case Overall I was extremely impressed with the professionalism of the partner and the consultants he brought. Everyone from OW was sharp and friendly. Most importantly, he said that the parent company doesn’t play a role in Oliver Wyman’s operations. According to him, they are just another stakeholder who rakes in profits at the end of the year. The justification he provided is that the partners at OW are highly employable people, and they would walk out if the parent company interfered with their operations. This was my primary concern with Oliver Wyman before the information session, and it doesn’t seem to be a valid concern if what this partner says is valid.

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