Boutique consulting firm UMS Group has appointed Ed de Vroedt as Director of its Benelux arm. De Vroedt, who has been with the firm since 2007, will report to the Dutchman Jan Schipper, who leads the firm’s European operations. Prior to this new role de Vroedt was based in Australia for two years to lead the firm’s business down under.
After spending nearly seven years in management consulting and five years at Nuon, one of the largest energy utilities companies in the Netherlands, Ed de Vroedt joined UMS Group in the summer of 2007. At the consulting firm, specialised in technical and commercial asset management, De Vroedt held a range of roles with growing seniority. While serving as a Director, a role he held for number of years based out of Amsterdam, De Vroedt was in 2014 granted an office transfer to UMS Group’s Australian office, where he was tasked with heading the firm’s regional consulting business.
In September last year the Dutch national returned to his home soil to take on the challenge of leading the Benelux business of UMS Group. Several months into his new position, Consultancy.uk asked De Vroedt about his experience in APAC, the types of consulting projects the Benelux arm delivers and his ambitions for the consultancy.
Congratulations on your leadership role. Could you tell us a bit more about UMS Group Benelux – the profile, team and types of projects?
UMS Group is an international consulting firm with offices covering large regions in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific. With the diversity in business cultures across Europe, we felt that we needed to set up a hub structure for our European operations to better service our clients. Our current structure, which consists of four hubs (the Benelux, German speaking region, Scandinavia and the United Kingdom), enables us to provide high value-added solutions, while maintaining close proximity to our clients, understanding their needs and regional context. Because the hubs are located at a local level, we are also able to attract and retain local talent on each market. This structure reflects the decentralised, multinational and multicultural character of UMS Group (the firm is headquartered in the US and also has an office in The Philippines), which is perfectly suited to the international energy business.
Our Benelux team focuses on the Dutch and Belgium utility sector and comprises seasoned experts predominantly with a Dutch background. All consultants have worked in the utility industry prior to UMS Group. This is why we can easily connect to the issues utilities are faced with. We know their culture and way of working that helps us to excel in our assignments.
In the Benelux, Asset Management is our core service offering. We have built up a vast range of services and solutions to support utilities in their quest to make better informed asset decisions. Asset Management (AM) drives the traditionally technocratic utilities towards a more business orientation, balancing diverse stakeholder needs from technical requirements to reputation damage and environmental impact. This requires other competencies in client organisations – not only technical skills are important – but also within our team. We try to balance our teams to cover all needed competencies to optimally support our clients. Not only basic consultancy skills and deep technical knowledge are important, but also looking for other competencies like change management skills. For example, we have a change expert in our team that helps our clients embed the new way of working and its subsequent culture within their organisation.
Our projects are diverse but have one common denominator: Asset Management. We do Asset Management assessments according to ISO55000, we help identifying and closing gaps in AM, we support the embedding of Asset Risk Management, Portfolio Management and Performance Management in Asset intensive organisations and we have a range of supporting Asset Management tools. Besides these projects, we run a number of international learning platforms where utilities exchange data and leading practices. We further have a platform which highlights best practices in the field.
What are your key objectives for the coming period?
We have a strong footprint in the Dutch market. Our key objective is to grow the UMS brand and awareness among clients across the entire Benelux, including Belgium and Luxembourg. Not only at the traditional grid operators but also in the renewable sector and among key governmental bodies. All these sectors are in our eyes increasing their focus on Asset Management in light of the growing need to optimise operations.
The energy transition is one area which is set to redefine the face of the energy & utilities sector. Slow moving companies see it as a threat, others embrace it. We see huge opportunities for UMS Group to position ourselves as partner in this rapidly changing landscape.
Prior to taking leadership roles, consultants are typically incentivised to gain international experience through cross-border engagements or an office transfer. From a personal perspective, what learnings and experiences has your spell down under brought you?
Within UMS Group you are encouraged to take roles outside your comfort zone. It stimulates the learning curve. This could mean a new functional expertise, a new project role but also delivering engagements outside your home base. In our European practice this is business as usual. Projects are sourced from a client perspective, matching the best skill set for successful delivery. Across the board, the overlarge majority of UMS consultants work on cross-border engagements. So when I transferred offices, working abroad was not the challenge. Learning the culture and establishing myself in a new market was the challenge. A door opener was my European perspective, bringing insights from the other side of the world to APAC. But I needed to understand the local context to really be of value for those companies. So learning the ‘ins and outs’ of the APAC market was crucial for my success.
You’ve spent over two years working abroad. What cultural differences between Europe and Australia / the APAC region have you noted on client and project work?
Each region, country or even city has its own business culture and customs. Surprisingly the cultural differences with Australia were not that big. Dutchies are globally known for their directness, but that was not really an issue.
In China it was a different story. China drives on relationships and hierarchy. Building up a relationship of mutual trust is very important and you can’t rush that process. We initially did a small assessment project and based on the earned trust, we finally got a big implementation assignment. The whole process took six months but we established a strong ‘we are in this together’ partnership. From a project perspective, you really need to dive in the culture and understand their way of working and living. For instance, no decision will be made if the hierarchy is not respected. Yet, one the decision is made, there is commonly no turning back. We brought in one of our Chinese colleagues to bridge the cultural differences as well as the language barrier. This was crucial for the trust and success of the project.