Want to become a CEO? Then join a top strategy consulting firm

23 November 2023 Consultancy-me.com 5 min. read

According to new analysis, aspiring CEOs would be advised to first join a top-tier global strategy firm, with more than six percent of alumni from five leading strategic consultancies going on to lead other companies.

Alongside the world’s biggest investment banks, the MBB – made up of US strategy and management giants McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain & Company – are famous for picking off all of the top graduate talent.

So where then do other companies go to source their most senior leaders? The MBB of course, which together with fellow consultancies Oliver Wyman and Kearney stand out as the most consistent producers of CEOs among large companies. That’s according to analysis of LinkedIn conducted by OnDeck.

Want to become a CEO? Then join a top strategy consulting firm

The analysis found that 7 percent of McKinsey’s former employees now preside over other organisations, followed closely by Boston Consulting Group and Bain & Company at a rate of 6 percent apiece. Indeed, the top five companies with the highest proportion of alumni currently serving as chief executives were all management consulting firms, with Kearney and Oliver Wyman also proving to be prolific breeding grounds.

Among the higher-profile examples are Google and YouTube chief executives Sundar Pichai and Susan Wojcicki, who respectively spent time at McKinsey & Company and Bain & Company before going onto lead the biggest names in the tech business.

McDonalds CEO Chris Kempczinski meanwhile started his career at Boston Consulting Group, with former Kearney adviser Uwe Krueger previously heading global engineering and design consultancy WS Atkins.

Notably, the five consulting firms topping the list are also responsible for commonly priming the chief executives of the other companies which excel at producing CEOs. For instance, Morgan Stanley, which features among the top 20, is currently led by former McKinsey consultant James Gorman, with fellow alumnus Eugene Hall and Jane Fraser respectively heading Gartner and Citigroup – also among the most efficient CEO factories within their sectors.

Yet, with OnDeck observing that the management consultant and chief executive roles aren’t exactly similar on the surface – one provides advice, often to those in those in the top positions of power, while the other is responsible for making and executing decisions and must lead a diverse team of professionals – the question then is why are these leading consulting firms so prominent on the resumes of CEOs around the world?

There are likely many valid reasons, including having basically the aforementioned pick of the best young and aspiring talent in the first place. Those graduates also receive practical training from some of the best business minds and develop their problem solving skills across a range of industries while building up their address books. Yet, it’s another earlier analysis of OnDeck’s which may provide the best answer; a common entrepreneurial spirit.

While OnDeck notes a previous study from 2015 which concluded that over one fifth of all CEOs appointed at S&P 1500 companies in the eight years to 2010 shared a background at just 36 prominent companies, the latest study flips the approach. For its assessment, OnDeck drew up a list of the biggest companies operating in the US and then used a LinkedIn search tool to calculate the percentage of former employees who went on to serve as CEOs.

Founders and politicians

The findings as such include company founders, and there’s no shortage of examples of entrepreneurs who have emerged from the leading consultancies. In fact, OnDeck’s previous analysis of almost 230,000 LinkedIn profiles to determine the most common work origins of those who went on to establish their own businesses featured the very same consultancies among the top seven most likely employers to nurture future entrepreneurs, joined then by Strategy&.

A staggering 8 percent of the advisers assessed at Bain & Company and Oliver Wyman ultimately launched their own start-ups, with Delivery Hero co-founder and CEO Niklas Östberg and Jim Manzi of $600 million Mastercard acquisition ATP among the success stories to have originally honed their business acumen at the latter.

Meanwhile, the Middle East’s very first unicorn, Careem, was started by former McKinsey associates Magnus Olsson and Mudassir Sheikha.

The common thread of these consultancies acting as foundries of entrepreneurial spirit perhaps shouldn’t be all that much of a surprise considering their own origins. Of the top five, Bain founder Bill Bain served as a vice president at BCG (which also once employed Roland Berger), with Kearney emerging out of McKinsey. BCG itself its descended from Arthur D. Little, while Alex Oliver and Bill Wyman were former partners at Booz Allen Hamilton.

And it’s not just CEOs and founders being produced by these firms, but an increasing trend toward their former members filtering into the top echelons of politics, including current Greek and Belgian prime ministers Kyriakos Mitsotakis (ex-McKinsey) and Alexander De Croo (ex-BCG). Meanwhile, 2012 US presidential nominee Mitt Romney was an executive at Bain, having earlier made friends with Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu while they were both at BCG.