BCG built on the increasing need for expertise, while holding to strong tenants of its culture: thinking deliberately about each client’s unique situation and approaching problems together. The goal was for client and consultant to work in an atmosphere of mutual respect and find the best way forward. This approach proved strongly differentiating. Clients were delighted with how BCG enabled their people to lead the process and to sustain it after the engagement ended.
Opportunities for BCG’s clients took off in the 1990s with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the boom in the new emerging markets. At the same time, in some markets, especially in the United States, a wave of downsizing left many organizations short-staffed and unable to take on special projects. Corporate leaders were under intense pressure to boost revenue and profitability, and they often relied on high-level consulting firms. By the end of the decade, BCG exceeded $1 billion in annual revenues.
As the firm deepened its industry-specific and functional expertise with practice areas, consultants discovered a variety of new opportunities. Big companies were taking on complex projects that required extensive help, such as post-merger integration, process optimization, and the restructuring of IT systems. Other consulting firms, especially offshoots of the accounting giants, often offered standardized solutions. BCG countered with customized, strategic approaches that attracted many clients.
BCG consultants were among the first to explore how the emerging commercial internet would disrupt established business models. They helped clients find opportunities in e-commerce as well as sustain their existing businesses. Separately, the firm experimented with equity-based consulting fees for start-ups and joint venture arrangements for established clients. While these practices made up only a small share of BCG’s work, they helped retain talented employees who might otherwise have joined the booming start-up economy. The practices also formed a foundation for extensive entrepreneurial work in the future.
By the end of the 1990s, BCG had reached 2,166 employees and 47 total offices, including new offices in South America and Australia.