mckinsey bto mckinsey strategy

Today lets shatter some of the damaging myths about McKinsey BTO.

Firmsconsulting has a particularly high percentage of clients who tend to be Indian, between 30-40 years old, who tend to have executive MBAs or MBAs, work in the tech sector and are looking to move into management consulting.

This is one of our most common client profiles. And they tend to ask the same question all the time so we decided to address it in this article, and related podcast.

The question is along these lines, “How do I avoid being tagged as a tech person and being placed into McKinsey BTO instead of being hired as generalist. I don’t want to go into McKinsey BTO because I don’t want to be branded as a tech person. I am fed up with that.

I am going to give you the advice I give all these clients. And we obviously will elaborate a little bit more here and if I miss something, post a comment and we will be more than happy to address it.

Insight #1: The market values a McKinsey BTO background as much as McKinsey Strategy

The first thing I want you to do is, when you meet someone from McKinsey or when you go to LinkedIn and search for someone from McKinsey, ask yourself how many of those people are from McKinsey BTO vs. just McKinsey?

The answer to this question is usually zero. Not because they are not from BTO, but because it is really hard to tell without doing a careful search.

McKinsey bto _ quote 2

Think about that. When people who work at McKinsey interact with the market, they generally don’t distinguish which part of McKinsey they work in.

When a McKinsey person leaves McKinsey the market does not distinguish whether this person was at McKinsey BTO or McKinsey Corporate Finance or any other part of McKinsey.

They don’t tell the market and the market does not ask, because the market does not see a difference. The market does not really care. This principle applies to other firms like BCG as well.

I was a Corporate Finance/Corporate Strategy partner. And when I worked with my colleagues who were in Operations, its not as if clients treated me any better than my colleagues from Operations because I was in Corporate Strategy and they specialized in Operations.

The market does not distinguish because the market usually cannot see the difference. The market is not even looking for it because the market does not realize there is anything to look for.

And this is a very important insight for you to remember. If the market does not distinguish whether you were in McKinsey BTO or McKinsey Strategy, it means that the mere fact that you have McKinsey on your resume is going to equate the same amount of value irrespective of which part of McKinsey you belonged to.

Of course, this does not mean that if you were a weak consultant in that discipline the market will necessarily equate the same value to you as to an outstanding consultant. Although, in many cases the market does.

Think about how many people you have met that were managed out of BCG or McKinsey. I am sure you have met a lot of them. Alums who were told to leave because they were not intelligent enough, or because their conduct or work ethic were unacceptable to the firm.

But you don’t know why they left and you treat them with the same reverence as someone who was an outstanding consultant who left by choice.

You could very well be having coffee with the worst consultant in the history of McKinsey but you would never know it.

So the first thing I want you to know is the market does not know if you were at McKinsey BTO or if you were a McKinsey generalist. And even if someone knew that you were at McKinsey BTO, you are making a wild assumption that they assume that McKinsey BTO is different from, say, being a McKinsey generalist.

I personally don’t think that McKinsey BTO is any less important than being a McKinsey generalist.

So remember it is not about what you think. It is what market thinks that is going determine the salary you will earn when you leave, or your perceived value. And the market cannot see the difference.

In a way, the market that hires is a little bit like the market that gives money to companies like Theranos that apparently have these fabricated results for blood tests. The market struggles to see the difference.

My point is, the first thing I want you to understand is that the market cannot distinguish. Know that. The market for recruiting is not that efficient.

If you are going to McKinsey BTO and you worry when you leave you will be branded as a tech person, your worry has no basis because the market cannot distinguish. I keep repeating this point because I want it to sink in and stay there.

Maybe I should also point out that it is impossible to join McKinsey Strategy as an associate or business analyst. You can only join as a generalist who will be rotated across different types of studies. That means you are picking up operations, organizational design and even due diligence skills as a generalist.

Yet, it is practically impossible to only be on strategy studies. And I have never seen anyone only assigned to corporate strategy studies: the holy grail of management consulting. I was once assigned to corporate strategy studies for a 22 months stretch. That is a quirk that is unlikely to happen at the junior levels often.

Insight #2: You can learn general problem solving skills at McKinsey BTO

The second insight is that skills you will learn at McKinsey BTO will be very similar to the skills you will learn in Operations, Strategy and Corporate Finance.

If you work at McKinsey BTO you will learn the same generalist problem solving skills as you would have learned in Strategy or Operations. You, of course, will apply it primarily to different types of client situations but the skillset will be the same.

So, the key insight number 2, if you want to learn all those fancy consulting skills that I apply all the time (the way I communicate, the way I articulate the situation, the way I break it down into structures, the way I apply decision trees and so on), you will learn it at McKinsey BTO.

So remember insight number 1, the market does not know you are at McKinsey BTO. They give you the same value as to someone who works at McKinsey Strategy. Insight number 2, most of the skills consultants learn at McKinsey Strategy are also learned at McKinsey BTO.

Insight #3: Go where business world is going, not where it is now

Now lets discuss insight number 3. This is an important one. But first let me give you some context.

I am Canadian, for those of you who don’t know. Firmsconsulting is based in downtown Toronto, in the heart of the financial district.

You know you are at the heart of the financial district when there are so many tall banking buildings that, when you walk out, you struggle to get a suntan.

puck_BTO McKinsey 2Anyway, we have an icon here. It is not just Justin Bieber. A different kind of icon. We call him Wayne GretzkyWayne Gretzky is regarded by Canadians as the greatest hockey player of all time.

And he has a rule. When people ask him, “Wayne, how come you are so successful? Why did you score so many goals for the Edmonton Oilers?”, he would say something along the lines of, “Well, the rule is simple. I did not skate to where the puck is, I skated to where the puck will be. So I went to where the puck is going to be and when the puck arrived there I was there to collect it and score the goal. I did not do anything! I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.

Now Wayne can teach us a lot.

If you look at what is happening with the world today, McKinsey BTO is going to become more and more important in the future. In fact, I don’t even like the description “McKinsey BTO” because I think this misrepresents the work that McKinsey BTO does in business. BTO is cutting across all business lines and becoming a generalist role.

Technology is becoming increasingly important in business. If you want to be a Chief Marketing Officer today, for a leading company, you have got to know digital. If you want to be a Chief Marketing Officer in 10 years you probably will need a doctorate in statistics. A similar logic extends to the requirements for a Chief Operating Officer, Chief Executive Officer and so on.

Right now, when Firmsconsulting does studies, if you can’t program databases with real time data you just can’t lead our corporate finance stream in our studies. You could have graduated first in your class for your MBA, have been first in your class in finance, but if you cannot program big data databases to do our corporate finance analyses, you can’t lead the corporate finance stream.

Yes, understanding data and technology is that important to business today.

So what I want you to remember is that while you may not want to be associated with McKinsey BTO or technology in general now, over the next 10 years technology related skill sets will be in increasingly higher demand. And you might as well strengthen those skills now.

Think about it. You are going to McKinsey BTO today. You will spend 5 to 6 years there and, when you come out, another app will be founded for teenage girls to take selfies and they will take Snapchat out of business. There will be another Facebook. It will not be called Facebook, it will be called Backbook or something like that. Technology is going to be big. We are already seeing the impact of technology and it will just get bigger.

So if you don’t want to be associated with technology, that is like being given a skill that will make you successful in life and throwing it away just because it may not seem prestigious to you.

Why would you do that?

Final remarks

So the first insight is: the market cannot distinguish very well. The second insight is: you learn all the problem solving skills. And third: you have a skill that is going to be enormously in demand in the future. Why in the world would you walk away from it?

So if you have a tech oriented background and you are thinking, “If I go to McKinsey BTO my career will not progress as well as if I go into McKinsey Strategy”, I have news for you. You can learn general problem solving skills at McKinsey BTO, the market is going to reward you for McKinsey BTO experience greatly today. And in 5 to 10 years you are going to have skills that every organization will want.

You may very well not be great at presenting your technology skills, but that does not diminish the importance of these skills.

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: Have you ever fallen for the trap of brushing off / downplaying your existing technology skill because you thought it was “not prestigious” or not relevant? What happened? Please share in the comments.

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14 responses to McKinsey BTO vs. McKinsey Strategy

  1. Hello Raman,

    Thanks for the very kind note. I would avoid looking for technology specific cases. The principles to solve all cases are essentially the same, so focus on those principles. Someone in insurance, healthcare, wealth management, finance, railways, ports etc., could all make the case that their sector/function is unique and they should use specialized cases. The reality is they are all the same unless you are applying for some specialized role like corporate finance.

    In fact, big bang vs phase etc., is not a technology case but a project management principle. Same for outsource vs. in-house. My advise is to stick to the 1st principles of what is the benefit of each, how does it solve the original problem etc. Otherwise, you will struggle to learn how to adapt the 1st principles to all problems.

    So you have two choices when learning:
    1 – Learn how to adapt 1st principles to all problems which means you have a skill for any situation and less to learn
    2 – Find the general solutions to each type of case but that means you will need to learn and memorize hundreds of approaches, because life continues after the interview and problems later are more complicated than case interview setups.

    That said, if you are Insider and want to see the detailed approach to project management and advanced approaches to digital and IT then go here:


  2. Dear Michael,

    Let me start-off by saying that I am big fan of the way you teach! I am currently interviewing for the role of Generalist Consultant in the Digital practice of MBB.

    My first round case was a profitability case with 5 exhibits (calculation intensive) (Not technology specific).

    My second round case was technology specific (conceptual) – Whether a Big Bang vs. Phased implementation approach, Outsource vs. In-house implementation.

    I am preparing for the subsequent rounds, however apart from the IT Strategy related videos for Felix, I am unable to find technology specific cases.

    I will be grateful if you could kindly point me in the right direction – be it within the Firmsconsulting website or external content.

    Best Regards,


  3. Hi Roshan,

    We stopped posting release dates since the popularity of videos drives the release dates. That is why you sometimes see us pulling material from the site and replacing it with something else – basically demand drives the release.

    We will however, be releasing material to FC Insiders earlier and we will outline the release dates for that premiere very soon.


  4. Hi Michael.
    I was wondering if there was a timeline that you are working towards for the release of the Firmsconsulting program on Big Data that you refer to?

  5. You are welcome Tushar.

  6. This is a wonderful aricle as I have exactlt the same doubt that the market will not value me as much in BTO as in Strategy. Also, being a fresher, Insight 3 will be most helpful as I would like to learn skills which will be valued in the near future.

  7. Hi Renzo,

    The general professional population does not see much difference. Yet, I think most professionals whom you will interact with will know the difference.


  8. Michael,
    Following up on insight #1 (the market values a Mckinsey BTO background as much as Mckinsey Strategy background) – do you think that applies to the the Mckinsey Experts that are deployed alongside consultants.

    And to an extent – do you think the same applies to the McKinsey Solutions organization?

    As always, I hope all is well

  9. Hi Konstantin,

    It will take time to change, but is changing fast. In 10 years it will be the norm, but it is a costly capability to create. Many consulting firms will be left behind.


  10. Hi Michael, thanks a lot coursera has a lot of interesting lectures in this area! I am really looking forward to your program, I myself try to apply real options and system dynamics to model and improve decision making ( in my free time ), I find it surprising that most consultants still work with methods / tools developed 20 years ago.
    Kind regards Konstantin

  11. Hi Konstantin,

    The tool to manage all the data (so-called big data) is loosely called Machine Learning. That is a wide field and many programs like Coursera and Udacity offer basic introductory training on this. I do not believe it is taught anywhere else.

    We will also rollout a program on Big Data which focuses on building up from the basics all the way to using the results to solve complex strategy problems.


  12. Hi Michael

    can you recomend any trainings to learn the required big data skill set? I also remember an articel about new big data tools which change the way an analysis is run, can you recomend additional sources of information about that ?

    Thanks a lot & kind regards

  13. You are most welcome John.


  14. I have been trying to get more info about McKinsey BTO and this article gave answers to exactly same questions I have been pondering. Very insightful! Thanks for posting!

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