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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.

***

Today I would like to share with you my thoughts on the Roland Berger guide from Firmsconsulting. I found the guide to Roland Berger (RB) extremely helpful. To be honest, I didn’t know too much about RB beforehand, and thought of them on the same level as firms like Accenture and E&Y (third tier). After reading the guide, I now have tremendous respect for the company and would put them in the same group as Booz, Monitor, and Oliver Wyman (second tier). I’ll start by talking about how the positive things mentioned in the guide affected my views on the firm as a potential candidate, and then do the same with the negative points.

There are many factors which I take into account when deciding whether I should apply to a particular firm. The three most important ones, to me at least, are:

1) The type of people they hire (this has to do with the culture values etc.)

2) The prestige

3) The compensation

For those of you who don’t have extensive intern or work experience, it is actually quite surprising how much of a difference the culture of a company makes. On my first internship, the only thing I cared about was making some money, so I can diversify my diet from hot dogs and chunky soup, and getting good work experience. By the sixth, I was really looking to work with a company that does things the right way, and provides its staff with the suitable support structure. If you join a workplace just for the name or compensation, you will not be very happy in the long run. The thing from the guide that resonated with me the most was how strong the values of the firm seem to be.

For those of you who don’t have extensive intern or work experience, it is actually quite surprising how much of a difference the culture of a company makes.

By turning down the Deloitte offer, it is quite clear that the RB partners want to make a name for themselves. If the promise of boatloads of money can’t deter the partners from their vision, then there are probably not very many things that can.

All of this excites me as a candidate because the firm is in the stages of growing (which I take to mean that there will be lots of opportunities to move up), and the core values seem to be in place. My guess is that the compensation at RB doesn’t compare to BBM as of now, but the growth opportunities could well make up for that. Now onto the negatives of the firm.

The biggest worry I have with joining a firm such as RB is that it is not as established as BBM. RB seems to have lots of potential, but translating that potential into a brand name that will propel my career can be a difficult task. It seems that in North America, where I live, there is not a lot of name recognition for Roland Berger – and one must think through whether he or she would like to make a bet on the future success of RB.

If I do dive into this firm in my early twenties, will I have to spend my thirties and forties explaining to people who Roland Berger is?

One of the most exciting aspects of joining a top consulting firm is the exit opportunities. At this point, it is unclear to me what type of opportunities would be available to me coming out of this firm. I think that this is always a danger when joining a smaller, growing firm who is not as established as the big boys. If I do dive into this firm in my early twenties, will I have to spend my thirties and forties explaining to people who Roland Berger is?

In summary, the RB guide has made me realize that this is a firm with potential. It would be very exciting to be involved in turning that potential into brand recognition and market share, but there are risks associated with doing so. Having said that, I think I will apply to an RB office in North America, and see what they’re all about!

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