It has been said that change is the only constant. That was certainly true of American business in recent years, and management consulting firms have been at the forefront. After a sharp drop in market share early in Covid-19, the industry has bounced back strongly – with sales of $263.5 billion according to IBISWorld – as companies increasingly turn to consultancies for advice on the ongoing pandemic and increasingly volatile geopolitical landscape.
To help executives choose from the wide range of consultancies, forbes has partnered with Statista to produce its seventh annual list of America’s Best Management Consulting Firms. For this episode, 7,500 partners and executives of management consultancies, as well as approximately 1,300 executives who have worked for such companies over the past four years, were surveyed. The list is broken down into 16 sectors – from aerospace to defense to financial institutions – and 16 functional areas – including strategy, sustainability and digital transformation. The 218 law firms that received the most recommendations are ranked by star: five stars for “highly recommended”, four stars for “frequently recommended” and three stars for “recommended”.
This year’s most recommended companies are no strangers to the list. Both Bain & Company and Deloitte Consulting perform in all 32 categories, with the latter receiving the most five-star ratings. With a track record of over a century, it is one of the longest-running companies on the list. Despite that long history, says its chairman and CEO, Dan Helfrich, the company has never seen a moment like this.
“Our clients are making the largest investments they’ve made in a generation to transform their businesses,” says Helfrich. “In almost every other era, there were some industries that saw high growth and high demand and some others that were more moderate. In the past year, every industry has seen this demand, and the opportunity to positively change the course of individual companies, governments and society has never been greater.”
Institutions like Deloitte Consulting are not the only ones taking advantage of this transformative time. About 21 companies are making the list for the first time, including Charlotte’s Summit Leadership Partners, which appears in six categories.
Founded in 2014, it is one of the youngest companies on the list. CEO Dan Hawkins says Summit’s fresh perspective gives it a competitive edge. He says the 22-person consulting firm has doubled its profits every year since its inception and is on track to meet its 2022 revenue guidance by April. According to Hawkins, Summit has reached a largely untapped audience by targeting high-growth mid-market companies.
“Most consulting firms chase Fortune 500 companies, but right below there’s a really underserved market,” he says. “There is no reason why smaller companies should not have access to expert consulting capacity.”
He says his team is also inherently diverse, made up of lifelong consultants as well as former executives, MBA grads and psychology students. As Summit hires to meet increasing demand for consulting firms, Hawkins says the challenge is to grow without sacrificing the company’s ability to remain agile.
The current moment certainly calls for agility and the list reflects that, particularly in the way the top performing categories have shifted. Core operational services such as HR consulting, supply chain management, finance and risk management, and strategy saw year-over-year increases in either new company recommendations or star ratings. Helfrich says he has seen these services come under the spotlight in practice too.
“Customers have recognized that some of these supporting functions and back-office areas have seen the least investment over the past decade,” says Helfrich. “There was more activity in these rooms than we’ve had in a long time.”
According to Vivian Riefberg, professor of practice at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, this trend reflects the demands of the current business climate. Given the lack of human capital and the dynamics of the workplace, supply chains and changing consumer behaviors, Reifberg says the consultancies’ shift in attention to essential services is illustrative of how the sector has struggled to step into the rapidly evolving environment to keep.
“Most of the biggest challenges companies face are immediate problems,” said Riefberg, who has been with McKinsey & Company for 31 years, most recently as a senior partner. “These are affecting the business right now, right now. These are not worries about two, three, four years.”
Click here for the full list of America’s top management consulting firms here.
To determine the list, Statista surveyed more than 7,500 partners and executives of management consultancies, in addition to around 1,300 executives who have worked for management consultancies in the last four years. Respondents were asked to recommend companies in 16 pre-determined sectors and functional areas. Self-nominations were not considered. Statista then identified the companies with the most recommendations and ranked them in star ratings: five stars for “very often recommended”, four stars for “frequently recommended” and three stars for “recommended”. A total of 218 management consultancies made it into the final ranking.