While other consulting firms had a head start in promoting implementation, BCG’s initial lack of deep expertise gave it a long-running advantage. Rather than offer ready-made programs built from work with other clients, its consultants took the time to understand the specifics of each particular situation. The goal was for client and consultant to work together in an atmosphere of mutual respect to find the best way to implement the strategy. Clients were delighted to see how BCG enabled their people to lead the process and 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.” Back at home, especially in the United States, a wave of downsizing left many organizations short-staffed to take on special projects. Corporate leaders came under intense pressure to boost revenue and profitability, and they often resorted to high-level consulting firms. By the end of the decade, BCG exceeded $1 billion in annual revenues.
As the firm deepened its industry-specific expertise with practice areas, consultants discovered a variety of new opportunities. Big companies were taking on complex projects that required extensive outsize 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 more customized, strategic approaches that attracted many clients.
Consultants at BCG 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 startups, and joint venture arrangements for established clients. While these practices covered only a small share of BCG’s work, they helped to retain talented employees who might otherwise have directly joined the booming startup economy, and they 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, the Middle East, and Australia.