Bain & Company is one of the world’s top-3 management consulting firms, together with McKinsey and BCG. It is also one of the most selective employers in the world.
With only 15,000 employees, Bain is smaller than both McKinsey and BCG. However, all three firms are of a similar pedigree and are considered to be in a league apart from other consulting firms.
In this article we take an in-depth look at Bain, including its history, what the firm is known for and what it’s like to work there. We also consider how to answer the question “why Bain?” in a fit interview.
A brief history of Bain
Bain & Company was founded by Bill Bain – a former BCG Partner – in Boston in 1973. With a number of former BCG consultants and clients making the move to Bain, the new firm grew quickly in the late 1970s and 1980s.
In 1984, Bain Capital – a private investment firm specializing in private equity – was founded by three Bain Partners. This group included future presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who was appointed as Bain Capital’s CEO. Today, Bain Capital is completely independent from Bain & Company.
In 1991, Romney returned to Bain as interim CEO following a number of setbacks to the firm in the late 1980s. During his tenure in this position, Romney made a number of significant changes and has since been credited with saving Bain from bankruptcy. Most notably, he persuaded the firm’s founding Partners to give up $100m in equity. Today, Bain continues to be leaner than both McKinsey and BCG.
Before leaving Bain in 1992 to pursue his political career, Romney organized the election of new leadership at the firm, in the wake of Bill Bain’s departure. This resulted in the appointment of Orit Gadiesh as Chairman, a role she continues to hold today. Over the years, Gadiesh has been at the helm of a number of developments that have fuelled Bain’s growth, including relaxing the firm’s policy against working with multiple companies in the same industry.
At the turn of the century, Bain began to expand its technological capabilities. It also increased its reach in the private equity space and is now often seen as the industry’s leading advisor.
As a consequence of being smaller than its competitors, Bain is the fastest growing of the top-3 management consulting firms.
What is Bain & Company known for?
Like other top management consulting firms, Bain is known for working with the world’s largest organizations on some of their most important challenges and opportunities.
While the firm is particularly well known for its strengths in serving private equity clients, Bain also has a great deal of credibility within the field of consumer goods. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) metric was created by Bain’s Frederick Reichel in collaboration with the firm. Introduced by Reichel in a 2003 Harvard Business Review article, NPS measures the popularity and success of a brand by the degree to which a customer would recommend it to others. Today, NPS is used widely by consumer goods companies around the world.
Bain has several notable alumni, including Nike CEO John Donahoe, Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay and Hewlett Packard, and Kevin Rollins, former CEO of Dell Inc.
What is the Bain culture?
When it comes to working at the firm, a number of factors make life as a ‘Bainie’ both unique and appealing:
‘A Bainie never lets another Bainie fail’
This motto is integral to Bain’s philosophy. Team members and other colleagues are all willing and ready to invest their time and effort in coaching and supporting one another. This collaborative culture is an important part of consultants’ professional development at Bain, and is considered to be unique to the firm.
Rapid career progression is possible
At McKinsey and BCG, consultants are expected to climb one new notch in their firm’s hierarchy at a time. Bain, on the other hand, allows high performers to climb several notches at once if they are deemed to be ready. Faster career progression is therefore available at Bain than it is at McKinsey and BCG, where some offices also require consultants to remain at each level for a specific period of time, regardless of their performance.
In addition, consultants at Bain gain managerial responsibility more quickly than they would at other firms. Those at Consultant level have a degree of oversight over Senior Associate Consultants, who, in turn, have a degree of oversight over Associate Consultants. This is significantly different from McKinsey and BCG, where team members all report to the same project leader.
While many find this prospect appealing, it presents an additional challenge for Bain’s experienced professional hires, who join the firm above entry level. These newcomers need to be prepared to start managing junior team members – who may have more consulting experience than them – shortly after joining.
Feedback is a focus
At Bain, feedback isn’t only given ‘downwards’ (from managers to team members); it’s also given ‘upwards’ (from team members to managers and sometimes even more senior colleagues) and ‘sideways’ (among peers).
The purpose of Bain’s focus on feedback is to ensure that consultants are able to constantly develop and grow their consulting skill set. Although the feedback culture can feel intense at times, it means that consultants are always aware of what they need to focus on in order to improve their performance. It also helps them to learn and develop quickly.
Results are the priority
Actions and results are the priority when it comes to delivering projects at Bain. This means that in every strategy case – no matter how ambiguous or ‘fluffy’ – consultants are expected to focus on supporting clients, taking actions and creating results.
Bain’s mission is underpinned by the concept of ‘True North’, which it describes as its “unwavering commitment to always do the right thing by our clients, people and communities”. This includes a strong focus on delivering tangible results for clients.
Fun and flexibility are important
The Bain culture is known for having a high degree of energy, and a mandate to enjoy the ride while working hard. Team events, social occasions, office parties and getaways are all an integral part of the Bain experience, allowing colleagues to connect, build relationships, and have fun. A highlight in the firm’s social calendar is the Bain World Cup, an annual sports competition that brings together thousands of employees from around the world.
Career flexibility is also baked into Bain’s culture. The firm’s approach to consulting project work allows consultants to take extended leaves of absence – for a long vacation, for example, or to explore a personal interest – without it jeopardizing their career. Consultants are matched to projects based on their availability. If they’re on vacation for a while, another consultant is simply placed on the project instead.
How to answer the “why Bain?” question in an interview?
The question “why Bain?” – which interviewers use to understand a candidate’s motivation for applying to the firm – is a formal element of Bain’s fit interview. If you’re in the process of applying to join Bain, it’s vital to spend some time considering how you will answer this question as part of your interview preparation.
Aim to be as specific as possible in your answer and avoid making generic statements. Having an example of how your strengths, goals or values align with the firm can be especially effective. This might be in relation to the work that Bain does, the types of clients it supports, or its culture.
It can also be helpful to highlight the research you have done into life at the firm, and to articulate why you have built such a positive impression.
If a career in management consulting sounds like it might be right for you, you can learn more in our complete guide to the management consulting industry. And if you’re preparing to apply to Bain, the resume and cover letter templates and specialized advice in our Free Resume Course will help you get your application in great shape.