The Keystone Group has been on a tear of late and, with uncertainty looming in the economy, seems likely to find its turnaround services in high demand in the near future as well. All of which bodes well for a firm with aggressive growth plans and the talent to deliver them.
As a 40-person boutique, the firm’s sights are set on transitioning to a smaller mid-size outfit—a journey that we’ve seen many firms undertake over the years. As such, we know right off the bat the maintaining the culture—a key differentiator that current insiders love—will likely be a challenge. Not that that should dissuade anyone from pursuing an opportunity with Keystone; there is much to recommend the firm, from an employee-centric approach that focuses on more than just compensation, to excellent training and strong career progression opportunities.
With all that in mind, the next few years at Keystone are likely to be exciting and filled with stretch opportunities, both internal and client-facing. If the chance to play a role in shaping that future sounds enticing, this may be a firm to investigate further.
“As part of the firm's culture, we insist that we add value at each phase of the engagement. One of our main goals with an engagement is determining when it's time to transition out. Some client projects have an easily identifiable exit point. Others, such as turnaround and restructuring can linger, as the client comes to depend on the consultant (as a crutch). Ensuring that we are providing value at all times and making sure that we end an engagement at the appropriate time are paramount to our work ethic. Making sure that we can transition ongoing reporting to client personnel is a part of our Work Plan and we are constantly ensuring that we work towards that goal.”
“For people who work here/are thinking of joining our firm, the thing that sets us apart is the amount of growth and learning someone can have. We challenge all of our people with the variety of work that we do and give them responsibilities they likely wouldn't have at other firms. We work in small teams and everyone must be a major contributor. We frequently have new people presenting to C-level executives or owners of the company.”
“Hands-on work alongside our clients: 70% of our work is spent ‘implementing’ our recommendations. Developing good recommendations based on strong analysis and presenting them in a compelling way (good PowerPoint slides) is critical, however insufficient. The true value of any client engagement, no matter how big or small, is our ability to ensure our recommendations get implemented and that the client is able to see the impact of working with Keystone through demonstrated improvements in their business, ultimately leading to improved EBITDA performance.”
“Our culture is a significant differentiator. Embodying a family-like atmosphere, there is minimal competition amongst coworkers because of transparency in staffing and firm performance. With both formal and informal mentorship opportunities, you truly feel that your co-workers are rooting for you to grow into the best version of yourself, personally and professionally. We genuinely enjoy spending time together inside and outside of work, whether that be volunteering together, taking trips, playing volleyball on the weekends, meeting up for dinner at local restaurants, etc. Keystone is a special place because of its people.”
“The amount you will learn in your first few years at Keystone is unparalleled. Even as a first-year analyst, you are participating in all of the meetings with the client executive team (and often communicating directly with them one-on-one). As you perform well and earn the partner's trust, you will be given more opportunities to grow and more responsibility. Unlike many other firms, you will be given the support needed to be successful. Everyone at Keystone genuinely cares about making a positive impact for our clients, and the analysts/associates have the support they need to succeed when given more responsibility or taking on a certain task/workstream for the first time.”
Quality of Life
“Based on the post-pandemic situation, Keystone has adapted to the new realities of management consulting. We travel when necessary to our office or to client sites, and we work remotely when we are able to do so. This provides flexibility to our team members, while ensuring we are able to develop deep relationships with our clients, and to implement our recommendations alongside our client teams. There is also no ‘face time’ at Keystone. We work very hard to make a significant impact on our clients' businesses, but we also pride ourselves on making sure that we offer an environment where people can also enjoy their time outside of work!”
“In a client services industry, we will always need to be responsive to client needs and schedules. There are times where we have to work long hours, an occasional weekend, or make compromises. Consulting is hard. Where I think we excel is in taking the opportunities to staff projects correctly so that each individual isn't overloaded, to schedule appropriately (i.e., not over promise on timelines), and to support each other when plates get full. We aim to empower our staff to think carefully about workload and timelines (e.g., does this need to get done tonight?) and to take advantage of downtime when we can.”
“Keystone's quality of life is incredible. In the past month, the entire company has traveled to Tijuana, Mexico to build houses for impoverished families. This provides team building and allows for opportunity to get to know the partners and leadership on a personal level. Also, this month I took a week of vacation while on a hectic project. The partner stepped up and helped manage things while I was gone. I did not work a single hour on vacation. Both of the above experiences are rare in this industry and are just a part of what makes Keystone special.”
"Our firm adopted a hybrid work model during the pandemic, and we have been successful in maintaining this model still today. Over the past 18 months, I have been able to work from home when I want to, or work remotely from another location. At the same time, I am free to come into the office as I like and sometimes travel for a few days to see our clients. I am fortunate to have a very flexible schedule.
“Work life balance is what you make it. It can be very flexible and allow for time away from the job, if you make it and communicate. The culture is a lot of fun, so sometimes the extra hours are worth it. There are projects that require more hours, but for the most part it is balanced.”
“As an owner in the firm, part of my compensation comes in the form of quarterly equity payouts that can easily be in excess of 50% of my base compensation. There are also other bonuses, profit sharing, 401k match and commission on sales. They also cover mobile phone and periodical subscriptions as well.”
“I think the best thing about the salary progression is the longer you stay at the firm, and if you dedicate yourself to your work, the compensation will follow. The firm gives good opportunity to buy equity as early as 5-6 years into the job when you are at the Principal level. You also receive a retention bonus for every year you stay at the firm. In terms of pay equality, everyone starts out the same and is given a raise at the end of the year and that same bonus percentage as well (unless you are promoted).
The ‘worst’ thing about compensation is dependent on what you value. I can say the total compensation may not be as high as other firms, but we also don't work 60+ hours on a weekly basis.”
“Overall, compensation is probably the area of Keystone that has the most room for improvement. Starting salaries for entry-level employees are well behind the leading competitors and have not been significantly adjusted over the past 5 years. Even amongst mid-level employees, base salary and bonus structure is well behind the leading firms.”
“Pros - We offer profit sharing and have historically provided 5% in all 401(k)s regardless of individual contribution. Our maternity and paternity leave policies are above market, and we are flexible in working with individuals upon return. The biggest benefit is our ability to buy equity once on the leadership team.
Cons - With all of the recent comp changes in the industry, we are currently under market in total. I expect this to be corrected at year-end. I'd also like to see us get a little more creative with benefits.”
“We don't necessarily want people to join Keystone ‘for the money’ but we also know that we are competing with a lot of good consulting firms for top tier talent, so our compensation packages are competitive. Base salaries are market-based, and annual bonuses as well as tenure bonuses allow our people to meet their financial goals and then some! We also have a strong 401K/Profit Sharing plan, as well as health benefits. We win as a team, and that includes ensuring that our compensation packages allow us to attract and retain the top talent we are looking for to help build Keystone and serve our clients.”
“Career development can happen rapidly as a result of the high level of direct exposure to client executives, the high level of involvement of partners in the firm on day-to-day project work, and the high level of expectations placed on you whether you are coming in right out of school or entering the firm as an experience hire. The expectation is that you will take full ownership and initiative of whatever project you are a part of from day 1. While this high level of expectation would be stressful at most firms, the degree of support you receive from an outstanding firm culture, and the apprenticeship-like model of getting direct guidance from experience partners makes the level of challenge very motivating to learn quickly.”
“It is a small firm, so everyone knows everyone. The entire leadership team takes note and provides support in the development of the younger analysts and associates. This bolsters the informal learning and development because there is a personal touch from the entire firm.
On the flip side, because promotions are a big administrative burden, we are only evaluated for promotion once per year. If you narrowly miss promotion, you will not be reevaluated until the year is over, even if you are performing higher level tasks (this also comes with the good and bad because you get the experiences at a young age, just not the title).”
“Keystone has an open and honest promotion policy, with clear expectations and guidelines and a thorough review process. Every member of a project team is required to complete a Project Review Self-Reflection at the end of each project, and the Partner or other manager on the project team completes a Project Review Evaluation for that individual to rate them as Below, At, or Above Expectations across a number of different known criteria. The team member and Partner then discuss the Project Review together and highlight key strengths or areas for improvement. At the end of each calendar year, every individual also writes a Year-End Review, which is similar (and in some ways a summation) of all of their Project Reviews from the year, with a focus on progression throughout the year.”
“Our firm has done an excellent job of creating, documenting, and updating a vast library of training materials. I have found these training materials to be much more detailed and applicable than other firms I've worked for.”
“You can advance and get promoted at Keystone as quickly as you show results. There are people that get promoted three years in a row, four years in a row, or it might take two or three years to get promoted. But then you can also catch up and get promoted quickly if you are a high performer. All based on merit and the level of experience is significant which allows for quick promotions for the highly skilled. There has been formal training developed over the years for all of our key topics that we encounter on projects as well as an extensive amount of informal mentoring and coaching through our programs as well as on the job relationships that drive developmental opportunities.”
“From what I have observed, all individuals working at the firm have equal opportunities, period. Given the size of the firm (~40 people), there is a lack of formalized D&I efforts. However, inclusiveness is really an inherent part of the culture. There is a lack of racial diversity that the firm is actively working to address (for example, by recruiting directly at HBCUs).”
“I believe that everyone currently employed at the firm has equal opportunities when it comes to promotions and work. There are several efforts in place to increase the level of diverse employees at our firm through on campus and experienced hire recruiting.”
“Keystone has recognized the need for and placed an emphasis on D&I efforts. In recent years, we have expanded our typical recruiting channels to help reach more traditionally under-represented talent pools. While it will take time to see results, it feels like Keystone is putting in the effort to improve in this area.”
“The firm has been focused on improving the levels of diversity for years and have probably made the most progress in the gender and race/ethnicity areas. It requires a constant focus, so those still need to be prioritized. However, we have probably made comparatively less direct effort in the other areas listed above (e.g., LGBTQ+, individuals with disabilities and military veterans). I certainly feel that all members of the team have equal access and opportunities afforded to them.”
“We hire the best talent we can find. As a boutique management consulting firm, we have some limitations and constraints around our ability to allocate and spread our recruiting resources, but we have, for example, added new undergraduate schools to our recruiting efforts in order to broaden our reach. Some of our recent successes are encouraging!”
“Financial performance and backlog are the best they have ever been. Managing partner is extremely strong and focused on growing/transforming the firm. The goal is to transition from a small boutique firm to more a midsized firm over the next ~5 years. There will be more opportunities and challenges as a result of this transition.”
“Keystone has been in one of the longest sustained periods of strong business in our history. We are setting records for helping clients, and outlook is strong. We are not a firm based in innovation, and many of our clients are not sophisticated. This means many tools are getting outdated. Leadership recently undertook an initiative to update our resources and approaches, so we will see if that pays dividends in future years.”
“Our business outlook has never been stronger. We hit our budget (which was aggressive) within 6 months this year. Hiring has been strong, pipeline has been strong for 16+ months, and the firm is focused on making this workload sustainable for employees.
The business model of doing turnaround as well as mergers and acquisitions helps protect the firm in economic downturns as well as booms. Each of our service lines have a strong pipeline, and more and more of our projects are coming from referrals and inbound calls.”
“Overall, Keystone is well-positioned to continue growth. 2022 has been a historic year for Keystone, with stellar performance throughout the year far exceeding our budget (top and bottom line). We have stated, actionable goals for growth over the next few years, and lots of work is being done to support that growth and help us grow in a way that maintains the culture and best aspects of the firm, but also overcome some of the ‘big-small’ company challenges we have been faced with in years past.”
“We are on track to more than double our revenues by 2026. Now that the founders have retired, we are running the company and have much more aggressive growth plans. We have already substantially exceeded our budget for 2022. Our balance between turnaround, M&A, operations and growth strategy plays well in any economy and we are not really subject to business slowdowns. Each year through the pandemic has been a record year for us.”
“Candidly, we're looking for candidates who ‘give a shit and get shit done.’ The best Keystone individuals truly care about the success of their clients, as well as the wellbeing of their colleagues. Also, being a smaller firm, we have a ‘roll-up your sleeves’ mentality. Everyone pitches in on everything, and we like to truly put ourselves in our client's shoes.”
“Keystone has three rounds of interviews, and they seek candidates that seem genuinely interested in our company. Because we are unique in being a boutique consulting firm, it is important to the firm that new hires buy in to the company culture and will thrive.”
“Our interview process is extensive and includes more rounds than some other firms. We are in constant communication with our candidates. We run our candidates through such an extensive process because we are selective, but also want them to get to know as many people at the firm as possible so they feel like they are making the right decision as well.”
“The ideal candidate for the firm is one that is humble, and that fits our culture. The firm prides itself on their culture: Teamwork, collaboration, having fun while being successful. It's assumed that all of the candidates who make it to the interview process have the requisite background/skill sets (or the ability to quickly learn them). The key is culture. That culture is expressed to the candidates during the interview process and extends through the offer and acceptance phase. The outpouring of well wishes as I came on board was surprising (never encountered such at other firms) and genuine. It continued well after I was hired, and I see it shown to each of our candidates and new hires)”
“Undergrad involves three rounds of interviews: first is a behavioral with an analytical exercise, second is a behavioral with a case interview, and third is a series of fit interviews; Experienced hiring typically consists of three rounds, similarly to that. We are seeking independently motivated, intellectually curious problem solvers who are fun to work with. “
“As opposed to theoretical questioning, we use real-life, real-world case studies to question recruits. For example, our main case study provides an hour for students or recruits to review a variety of data for one of our prior clients that was a manufacture of equipment and determine what potential improvement and restructuring opportunities were to then present to a partner and a 30 minute interview. The feedback is consistently high of the process.”
"Excel-based case study. Financial data and sales data. Present findings of case study to partner to gauge persuasiveness and confidence.”
“Keystone's case differs from other firms in that interviewees are given data in excel and a set period of time to analyze and draw conclusions from the data. They translate those findings into a PowerPoint storyboard before presenting to a partner at the firm. We find that this format better emulates day-to-day consulting.”
“Our interview questions are focused on key traits for success at the firm. The case interview is unique to Keystone. Candidates are given real client data in Excel and have an hour to work on a case prompt. We've found it to be extremely helpful to measure thought process and aptitude, rather than to see who has practiced case interviews the most.”
“Tell me about a time that you set an ambitious goal for yourself, worked hard for it and achieved it. Tell me about a time you challenged the conventional wisdom on something. Tell me about a time you failed and what you learned from it that you do differently now. Case questions are typically data-oriented requiring the candidate to review a dataset, graph, or table.”
311 S. Wacker Dr.
Chicago, IL 60606
Phone: (312) 960-3630
Employer Type: Private
President & CEO: Amar Shah
Chicago, IL (Headquarters)
Los Angeles, CA
Profit and Cash Flow Improvement
Merger and Acquisition Integration
Profitable Growth Strategy