Skip to Main Content

Home Explore Careers

Human Resources Consultants

History

The roots of modern management consulting (of which some consider human resources consulting to be a subsector) began in the mid- to late 1800s and early 1900s as a result of the Industrial Revolution. As companies ramped up their production, they needed advice on staffing, management, and other issues.

Many consider Arthur D. Little to be the first management consulting firm. It was founded by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of the same name in 1886 (and incorporated in 1909).

The executive recruiting consulting industry (a subsector of human resources consulting) developed as an outgrowth of management consulting. Companies hired management consulting firms such as McKinsey & Company and Booz, Allen & Hamilton to help them solve management problems, which sometimes involved recruiting and hiring new executives. In 1926, Thorndike Deland founded the first retained executive recruiting firm. Many early retained executive search firms were founded by alumni of Booz, Allen & Hamilton and McKinsey & Company, and these firms also had their own executive recruiting consulting departments.

The field of human resources consulting grew during the 1930s as companies sought to stay competitive during difficult economic times. In 1937, the employee benefits department of Marsh & McLennan, Inc. was founded. Known as Mercer LLC today, it is the largest human resources consulting firm in the United States. The HR consulting industry continued to grow during World War II as the federal government sought experts to help recruit and manage civilian workers for the war effort, as well as to help restructure government agencies. 

In 1948, the Society for Human Resource Management was founded to represent the professional interests of human resources workers, including consultants. It is the world’s largest association devoted to human resource management and represents more than 285,000 members in more than 165 countries.