Consultancy firms: Strategic moves

“OPERATIONS consultants sit at the front of the classroom,” says a partner at a strategy consultancy. “Strategy consultants stay in the back, not paying attention, throwing paper airplanes. But they still get the girls and get rich.” Like so many caricatures, this one is cruel but contains a grain of truth. Operations consultants—the fine-detail guys who tinker with businesses’ internal processes to make them run better—generally do not enjoy the same glamour or financial rewards as strategy specialists, whose job is to advise firms on make-or-break deals, adopting new business models and other big stuff.Although in practice their work overlaps, the two have until now remained distinct businesses. Strategy firms like McKinsey, Bain and the Boston Consulting Group hire from the top universities, are packed with highly paid partners and whisper their counsel in CEOs’ ears. In contrast, operations specialists such as IBM, Accenture and the Big Four accounting firms (Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC) employ armies of lower-paid grunts; and tend to answer to the client firm’s finance or tech chiefs.This year, however, that line has begun to blur. In January Deloitte became the largest of the Big Four by scooping up the assets of Monitor, a strategy firm that had gone bust. And on October 30th its closest rival, PwC, said it would buy another strategy firm, Booz & Company, for a…

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