Life at BCG, with a grain of salt

by Vault Consulting Editors | April 14, 2010

I hesitate to even call attention to something like this, but then I come to my senses and think, "It's not every day that you read a scathing public review of a top consulting firm. Might as well comment on it!"

Office Space

So here it is, a testimonial from a recently laid-off BCG consultant, ranting about routine life at BCG and how he squandered his morals for a paycheck. An MIT grad, Keith Yost (who calls himself The Sensible Technocrat) was hired to work at BCG in Dubai. He entered the firm bright-eyed and eager to learn, and instead of encountering the wonderful training opportunities and steep learning curve he had envisioned, Yost found himself in a "pleasant week of pseudo-partying" with fellow BCG rookies. "We donned name tags, shook hands, and drank often … Classes were fluffy, and mostly consisted of discussion of high-level, almost philosophical topics."

Once he was put on the job, Yost was taken aback when he was made to look like an expert in the clients' field, even though he had no prior work experience. His idealistic views of a free-market society—in which "a man receives from the free market what he gives to it, [and] his material worth is a running tally of the net benefit that he has provided to his fellow man—were really put to the test when he felt that BCG was offering clients canned solutions. Yost feels that the biggest offense (a "crime," even) is that BCG refused to challenge clients' predetermined conclusions, even if consultants deemed those conclusions to be wrong ("Change the numbers, but don't change the conclusion"). To succeed at BCG, a manager gave Yost the following advice:

"To survive, I needed to remember The Ratio. 50 percent of the job is nodding your head at whatever is being said. 20 percent is honest work and intelligent thinking. The remaining 30 percent is having the courage to speak up, but the wisdom to shut up when you are saying something that your manager does not want to hear."

Advice like this was crushing to Yost's altruistic sensibilities and took away his motivation to succeed in that environment. Was it so surprising, then, when he was laid off? The most damning piece of evidence against BCG, Yost believes, is that when he left the firm, they asked him to sign a nondisclosure agreement stating that he would not make disparaging comments about BCG or his work experience, nor could he reveal that he had signed such an agreement—in exchange for a sum of money, in this case roughly $16,000. Yost calls this "hush money," but in reality, these sorts of agreements are quite commonplace in the event of a layoff, and companies are legally permitted to withhold severance packages or other discretionary payments if an employee elects not to sign on the dotted line. Viewed in a different light, Yost essentially bought himself the right to publicly bash his former employer.

Now, I'm not saying Yost's account is false, or that BCG is completely in the right, but it is important to look at both sides of the coin. BCG is known in the industry to have strong training opportunities (it placed No. 7 in Vault's training ranking last year), and is known in the industry as being very academic, big-thinking and innovative, which calls into question some of Yost's "canned solutions" critiques. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, I'm just saying, take with a grain of salt. Nobody ever said free market idealism and the corporate world were a perfect match.

Filed Under: Consulting


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