International executive search firm Odgers Berndtson has launched a new arm that, according to the firm, will compete with some of the most renowned names in the consulting industry. Odgers Interim Consulting, as the new unit has been titled, seeks to build a community of top tier independent management consultants and offer them at significantly lower rates to clients compared to the likes of the strategy houses or the Big Four.
On the back of buoyant growth in recent years, the consulting industry has attracted growing interest from new entrants aiming at capturing a piece of the growing pie. Accounting firms have, of late, diverted significant focus from traditional audit and accountancy to consultancy, with in particular financial advisory, operations management and technology consultancy in high demand. Across the Big Four growth rates of consulting have considerably outpaced other business units – globally EY Advisory for instance grew by 18% last year, compared to 8% in Assurance, while in the UK, Deloitte Consulting managed 11% growth in FY15, compared to 0% for Audit. In the case of KPMG and PwC, as well as within the other major accounting and consulting giants such as BDO, RSM and Grant Thornton, similar developments are visible.
The rise of new technologies and digital platforms is another area that is introducing more competition to the marketplace. Platforms such as Expert360, blur and MBA & Company are actively building large databases of highly qualified consultants, and on the back of a digital, in some cases virtual business model, they are able to position themselves as rivals providing similar quality for slashed prices vis a vis the brick-and-mortar players. Such new actors typically also differentiate themselves in the agility and customer experience space – UK-based blur for instance allows clients to launch a RFP process within a few clicks, anytime and anywhere, from the backseat of a cab up to a hammock on the beach.
Other players that have recently ramped up their market entry efforts into the management consultancy domain include large corporates (bolstering their internal consulting arms), tech players (growing their data science advisory units), investment banks (shifting their portfolio towards financial advisory) and, arguably the group with the largest impact in terms of sheer numbers, freelancers. The UK nowadays counts more than 135,000 registered freelance management consultants, according to a study by Consultancy.uk, up from 108,000 back in 2009. The rise of freelancing consultants has heated the competition, in particular in the operational and tactical segments of the marketplace, while at the same time some freelancing networks (such as Eden McCallum) have been able to successfully position themselves in the upper echelons of the industry.
From recruitment to consulting
The latest player to enter the market is Odgers Berndtson, an executive search firm with eight offices across the UK, as well as six hubs in Australia and Canada. To lead its new unit, named Odgers Interim Consulting, the recruiter has appointed Chris Preston, who joins from Page Group after ten years with the company that saw him hold a variety of senior management positions in London, Shanghai and Taipei. Preston most recently served as Regional Director of the firm's UK operations.
Odgers Interim Consulting will focus mainly on staffing consulting teams and interim placements, and in doing so will work closely with Odgers Berndtson Executive Search, the firm’s headhunting arm for senior positions. It will tap into the talent pool already at its disposal, which according to Preston consists of independent consultants who have “amassed substantial experience at pre-eminent consulting firms whilst many also have a considerable track record of achievement in industry.” The benefits to clients are evident, he says: “Independent consultants are already making their mark. These interim professionals have the academic background, track record and prestigious training to compete at the highest levels, but the economics allows them to charge up to 50 per cent less than the fees of the major firms.”
Although the breakdown of Odgers Interim Consulting’s talent pool is shrouded in some secrecy, Preston says the database includes alumni of the top ‘MBB’ strategy firms (e.g. McKinsey & Company, BCG, Bain & Company) and the major accounting and consulting firms like Deloitte, EY, KPMG or PwC.
In building the unit, Preston is supported by Charlotte Gregson who began her career in consulting with L.E.K. Consulting before moving to IMS Consulting Group in 2007, where she solved strategic and commercial issues for clients in healthcare and life sciences. Most recently, Gregson was a manager at Eden McCallum where she focussed on cross-sector talent management. This encompassed consultant recruiting, staffing and relationship management, alongside managing delivery of internal strategic and operational improvement projects.
Gregson highlights that the business model and the correspondent resourcing approach applied by network based consultancies such as Odgers Interim Consulting is gradually winning more and more hearts in the field. “We see consultants leaving the major firms as they did not aspire to the gruelling travel schedule, lack of work-life balance and time away from friends and family that the sector often demands. Instead, the greater flexibility on offer to choose your own clients, area of expertise and workload is attracting many to consider making the move to becoming independent.” Against this backdrop, she signals the firm faces a “rapidly growing pool of consultancy talent to pick from.”
Grant Speed, Managing Director of Odgers Interim, comments: “We are delighted to be developing this business area and bringing the same rigour, quality and delivery associated with Odgers to this rapidly growing sector.”
In another blend of worlds between recruitment and consultancy, in September last year Korn Ferry – the world’s largest executive-search firm – acquired HR consultancy Hay Group.