Unsung Icon of Management Consulting…Booz & Co.
In the world of management consulting a few firms gain the majority of attention. They suck the oxygen out of the media placement leaving little room for some other giants to get their fair play. Beyond BBM, a few firms stand out which deserve far greater attention than they now receive, far greater eminence than their brands have, and far greater recognition for their dominance in selected fields. AT Kearney is a star in the operations consulting space. Roland Berger is the fast-rising general consulting firm. And then there is Booz & Company.
Booz is one of the most respected management consulting firms in the world. They “own” the public sector space, especially in the USA and have one of the largest foot-prints in the world. Yet, 7 out of 10 aspiring consultants either do not have them on their target list since they believe Booz lacks eminence. Given the obvious eminence of the firm, we wonder why?
Edwin G Booz, a North Western University, graduate founded the company back in the 1914, thereby pre-dating McKinsey and AT Kearney by a good few years. In 1939, on a cool autumn day, the firm received its first major contract to help the US Military with “procurement and planning” for the war effort. With the Roosevelt administration increasingly angling to enter the war, the US government wanted guarantees that the economy and military could be ready for the conflict. The work done by Booz became a blue-print study which was repeated in 1945 when the government wanted to understand the effects of demobilization. The pre-cursor to the term military-industrial-complex was first alluded to in a 1945 briefing document submitted to the US government, and was made famous when President Eisenhower’s aides dusted off this study and prepared a presidential update using an adapted version of the Booz terminology.
The firm has expanded this relationship to become, arguably, the most important consulting partner to the US government, the governments of the UAE and other ministries around the world. Landmark engagements include:
- Breaking up Ma Bell.
- Organizing the NFL.
- Designing the Aircraft Carrier Strategy of the Armed Forces.
- Working on the Ballistic Missile Defence Strategy.
- Designing the earlier warning systems.
- Developing a mobilisation strategy after the Korean War.
In 1959, Booz was called the most “prestigious” consulting firm in the world by Time Magazine. It did not make the cover that year due to the escalating tensions with the USSR, but due to these tensions the one firm which was doing more than anyone else to protect the free world, got the recognition it deserved – but did not seek.
Given Booz’s remarkable heritage, legacy and awards, it is painfully humble. You would never know its history if you visited their major offices in Chicago or New York. You would never know the firm was so steeped in culture. Booz consultants like to keep a low profile. I suppose that makes sense when you are guarding the secrets of many nations. Anyone ever heard of Shumeet Banerji? The firm’s managing partner is an HP board member, Kellogg doctorate and Booth faculty member. He is one of the most respected advisors in business, and truly understands the role of an advisor: he stays out of the media and simply advises from behind the scenes. This is a marked difference from the likes of Bain or even McKinsey whose leaders are all over the media.
Typical terms used by Booz consultants to describe their culture include:
“Competes with the best”
“Living by our results”
“Leadership wants feedback”
“Taking our own medicine”
“We compete with the best with a global brand”
“We preserve our legacy”
Sitting in a recent flight from Dubai to New York, the writers experienced this first hand. The Booz partners were genuinely warm and friendly; so were the other 12 Booz consultants we counted milling around the plane. Everyone was in high spirits and you sensed some energy present. Moreover, they were just nice people who we only realized where consultants halfway into the flight!
Meeting so many Booz consultants on a flight from the Middle East makes perfect sense. It is a major region for the firm and they have a strong presence. Yet, despite roaring government defence contracts, Booz has not opened the taps on its hiring. It remains the 4th or 5th largest recruiter in most major schools typically following BCG, McKinsey, Bain or sometimes Deloitte. Attached to this, the compensation is not always uniform. In some regions, it is on par, while in others it is definitely trailing. Nonetheless, it is still one of the top-paying management consulting firms offering nice perks as well. And of course, the brand remains very strong. This is helped by a clever marketing strategy. Have you ever read Strategy + Business? Well before anyone, except McKinsey, was putting our strategy journals, Booz launched their own publication. The distribution of this journal is what sets it apart. It is available in all major media outlets which carry business publications. Moreover, the journal is a good blend of pieces written by Booz consultants and external experts.
From the plane flight we managed to learn some interesting things about Booz. While Booz may not be the largest recruiter at Harvard, Stanford etc, it spreads its recruitment wings so wide that in aggregate it is only behind Deloitte in the hiring of MBA’s. The percentage of revenue from US government contracts has consistently been declining (although amount is increasing) and the firm obtains the majority of its revenue from private sector clients. The largest government client, after the US, is apparently not in the Middle East but Europe! A staggering 95% of all government work is repeat work, while a “very high” number of repeat clients are in the private sector. The firm is doing increasingly more high-end technology strategy work, effectively playing in a space Deloitte has been angling for. The part that really surprised me was the similarities between the partner and consultants:
- All the partners were either locals to their country, or locals trained in the west. I found this surprising.
- They were all very similar, and professional.
- The dressing, terminology used and examples were all similar – there was consistency.
- McKinsey, Bain or even BCG was not mentioned during that long flight.
- No jokes were made about rivals!
The part that impressed me the most was the passion the consultants had for “building a nation.” They truly seemed, at least to me, to think they were doing work which would materially improve the wellbeing of a country’s citizens. At a time when so many consultants are worrying about the economy, it was nice to have a discussion with these guys so evidently focused on the work they were doing.
So, if you are applying to consulting firms, make sure you send a résumé and cover letter to Booz.
Thanks to Emirates for making this possible!
- Which Consulting Firms are Hiring & Where (May 2011 Edition) (firmsconsulting.com)
- McKinsey is no longer the top-ranked management consulting firm! (firmsconsulting.com)
- Are McKinsey consultants in smaller offices getting worse training? (firmsconsulting.com)
- The True Gate Keepers to BCG, Bain & McKinsey (firmsconsulting.com)
- McKinsey Engagement: Exclusive Behind-the-Scenes Story (firmsconsulting.com)