The best boutique management consulting firms to work for in the UK

05 June 2018

Eight consulting firms have been named a top boutique management consulting firm to work for in the UK. Abbott Risk, Alpha Financial, Clarasys, Q5, OEE, Redington, Kantar Health and Red Badger were all exalted by the annual Sunday Times ranking in the small businesses category, based on feedback from employees of firms sized 50 staff and over.

The Sunday Times has released a list of the best companies to work for in the UK. The assortment of top firms comes in three categories; small, medium and large. The top 100 small companies in the UK has a large presence from the consulting industry. The competitive list features eight firms from across the spectrum of the professional services sector – all of whom have to employ at least 50 full-time staff and achieve a high approval score among those staff in order to be named. Scores are pieced together via an eight-fold survey, asking employees their opinions on a company with regards to management, leadership, team culture, wellbeing, pay and benefits, personal growth, corporate social responsibility and overall feelings toward a company.

Boutique firms

Abbott Risk Consulting was established in 2002, and provides advisory services to some of the most high-hazard industries in the global economy. From 12 sites across the UK and Australia, the firm works to plan for the risk associated with hazardous events, such as oil platforms exploding, trains crashing, or accidents affecting nuclear power stations. The firm’s employees think most highly of the organisation in terms of its inclination to corporate social responsibility efforts. 98% of staff agreed that their organisation encourages charitable activities, while Abbott has also made strides toward clipping its carbon footprint, including having no parking policy at its Edinburgh head office, resulting in more than 50% of staff either regularly cycling or walking to work.

Alpha Financial Markets Consulting is based in London, and since its launch in 2003, it has become a leading global consultancy to the asset and wealth-management industry. The company offers industry leaders a competitive edge through unique expertise and industry insight. Staff at the firm most value its leadership as its top quality, and 100% of Alpha staff agreed senior managers truly live the values of the organisation. The rules apply the same to everyone at the firm, to the extent that the open-office hot-desking policy means anyone can sit next to the UK Chief Executive Officer, Global Chief Executive Officer or the senior management team, providing chances to engage and network within the firm on a daily basis.

Founded by Chief Executive Officer Matt Cheung, Clarasys is another London-based independent management consultancy which works for a range of clients from small not-for-profit organisations to multinational corporations. The versatile firm offers business process, business change, project management and related services to enterprise B2B clients. While all staff polled similarly cited leadership as a key quality, 100% of employees also noted that their job was good for their own personal growth. Clarasys maintains this atmosphere by assigning each employee a coach to meet with them once a week for an hour, and talk through their personal development, building a plan to develop their skills in areas best aligned to their career ambitions.

The best boutique management consulting firms

Having opened for business in 2009, today Q5 has nearly 200 employees and offices in London, New York, Sydney and Hong Kong. The brainchild of four friends wanting to change the way things were done in the traditional consulting industry, during the world’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. They believed they could help businesses respond to the challenges confronting them, with benefits that lasted beyond the four quarters of the financial year, into the 'Q5' the company derives its name from. A key part of the firm’s subsequent success has been that a large part of this new breed of consultancy has been tight-knit and trusting teams. 100% of Q5 staff agreed people in their team go out of their way to help them – and Q5 fosters this in a number of innovative manners beyond face-to-face interaction, including the Q5er (an internal Google+ community), Global Espresso video calls, Slack, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts and a monthly team meeting outside the office hosted by a different Q5er.

OEE Consulting was established in 1997. In the 20 years since, the Oxford-based consultancy boasts a global reach, with more than 200 consultants and trainers working internationally across multiple disciplines and languages. OEE Consulting works with clients to transform and improve the business model of large organisations. 96% of staff agreed that the organisation’s leader – Managing Director Mark Palmer – runs the company based on sound moral principles, the top favoured factor from OEE employees. According to the firm, OEE Consulting’s values reflect the attitude of everyone at the company: bringing people with us; understanding the real issues; creative energy; focused on outcomes; and “getting stuck in”.

Redington was co-founded by Robert Gardner and Dawid Konotey-Ahulu in 2006. The duo aimed to transform people’s experience of saving for retirement from fear and uncertainty to clarity, confidence and control – a mission continued by current Chief Executive Officer Mitesh Sheth. Redington provides investment consulting, offering expert advice to pension funds, with a long-term goal of helping 100 million people enjoy a financially secure retirement. One of the key factors leading to the firm’s popularity among staff is its keen sense of giving back. At least 20% of staff are known to undertake charitable activities during business hours without incurring financial loss – as a result, 98% of staff agree that the organisation has a strong social conscience. The firm also upgrades staff PCs every three years and have introduced flexible working.

Other representatives from the professional services space were Kantar Health and Red Badger. Kantar’s presence in the ranking was boosted by its employee’s opinions of their managers. 94% of staff agreed that their manager regularly expresses appreciation when they do a good job. Meanwhile, Red Badger has a senior management team that is at least 40% female, something which has no doubt contributed to the opinion of 94% of staff that their job is good for their personal growth.

Large consultancies

The successful consultancies of the small businesses list join a prestigious trio of firms on the Sunday Times’s list for big companies.

EY, which has 15,302 staff in the UK, saw its favourability among employees boosted by its commitment to personal development. The firm is among a number on the Sunday Times’ list which support non-work related training, while the Big Four company has also launched a ‘Let’s Talk Digital’ programme to upskill its workforce in digital fluency. The on-demand learning course for all EY people is one of the reasons why 87% of staff agreed the experience they gain from their job is valuable for their future.

Accenture has 67 sites across the UK. Employees at the firm praised Accenture for its ethical standpoint, with the firm committed to helping 3 million people in the world build the skills they need to get a job or start a business by 2020. Since 2010, local initiatives have provided training and support to more than 112,000 young people in the UK. 91% of staff therefore agreed their organisation encourages charitable activities.

Deloitte, which has 17,161 staff in Britain, was similarly praised by employees on this basis. 89% of staff agreed that the organisation encourages charitable activities as the firm enters its second year of the One Million Futures (OMF) Responsible Business strategy, which aims to help a million people get to where they want to be by 2021; whether in the classroom, the workplace or the boardroom.

In mid-sized company list, while consultancies are absent, many professional services firms made the grade. These include: accounting and advisory firms PKF Cooper Parry, Bishop Fleming, Anderson Anderson & Brown and Price Bailey, IT consultancy Kainos, digital and creative agency Karmarama (acquired by Accenture in 2016) and engineering consultancy BWB Consulting.

Related: Cost-weary clients could look to specialised consultancies for best value.


Accenture's push into the creative sector is an identity crisis

18 April 2019

In its latest push into the creative sector, Accenture Interactive acquired New York and London-based ad agency Droga5 earlier this month, adding illustrious clients such as HBO, Amazon and The New York Times to its roster of clients. With the latest in a long line of similar purchases, Accenture Interactive further demonstrated its ambition of becoming the globe’s leading trusted advisor to chief marketing officers. Yet according to Ben Langdon, Chairman of Class35, Accenture’s strategy may be heading in the wrong direction.

A press release on Accenture’s website announcing the acquisition sits next to a quote stating that “brands aren’t built through advertising” – a huge contradiction from a consultancy firm hell-bent on becoming the ‘CMO agency of choice’. It’s not alone of course. The entire consulting industry wants a piece of the creative pie right now. In addition to Accenture Interactive, recent acquisitions by PwC Digital, IBM iX, and Deloitte Digital meant that in 2017, for the first time ever, four of the world’s ten largest creative agencies were consultancies.

So just what it is that Accenture wants to achieve from this? For one thing, it’s clearly trying to be a digital transformation business. A one-stop creative shop rivalling more traditional models, it wants to lure CMOs in with the promise of lower ad spend and a “more impactful customer experience”. At the same time, though, it’s still in thrall to those same slinky, shiny branding and advertising agencies it’s attempting to disrupt. The Droga5 acquisition and that of Karmarama a few years before are both testament to this.

There’s a fundamental problem with this, though. Digital transformation businesses don’t sell to CMOs. These people have enough on their plates trying to transform their own marketing skills in order to keep up with an ever-changing market – they just don’t have the time or the energy to concern themselves with digitally transforming a whole business. If Accenture’s purpose is digital transformation, then going after creative agencies is barking up the wrong tree.Is Accenture's push into the creative sector an identity crisis?

Worlds apart

Perhaps more importantly, these two industries are worlds apart in terms of the way they think. Creative agencies are all about ideas, campaigns and consumers. Digital businesses, on the other hand, are customer-driven – they think in terms such as lifetime value, measurement, and efficiency. Customer-led thinking is an entirely different beast to consumer-led thinking.

The reality is that the arrival of digital and an all-encompassing obsession with technology, measurement and social has led to the death of agencies in a reductive, zero-sum, efficiency-focused battle with brands. Indeed, agencies have become so obsessed with the latest tech fads, they’re beginning to forget how brands work. Worse still, they’re beginning to forget how brands are built. And, by forgetting, they’re destroying their own values.

Killing creativity

All things considered, it really feels to me as though Accenture is a chip leader in a game it doesn’t understand. Expensive acquisitions like these show that they’ve got the big money, but they don’t appear to have any idea what they’re doing with it. Take talent, for example. The best talent in the creative industry right now is out in the market; it’s not tied to any one agency. Both agencies might well be at the top of their game, but why would a consulting firm waste so much money on buying them when they could hire high-quality creative talent on a contingent basis instead?

As their presence in the top 10 creative agencies shows, there is a growing trend in which Accenture, like many of the other big players, are buying up agencies as if they were nothing more than keywords. What they’re really buying, though, is a collection of credentials, clients and IP. Unfortunately, the talent that created those credentials aren’t going to stay at the business, the clients that hired the agency in the first place won’t be interested in buying what is basically just another part of Accenture, and the IP never really existed to begin with.

Droga5, for example, was one of the few agencies that did great brand work the old-fashioned way – undoubtedly something that made it attractive to Accenture in the first place. The irony, though, is that by leading it further away from the way of working that made it so special, the consulting giant will kill its creativity.

“Accenture Interactive has been dazzled by its ambitions to become the CMO agency of record…. But, in flashing its cash, it is spending millions on acquiring nothing of any value.”

If pressed, the recently acquired agency staff at Accenture will tell you just how dysfunctional the new arrangement is. They’re largely unfulfilled. Rarely do they feel their work has any sort of meaning or purpose. What’s more, the different disciplines have found little or no common ground, and find it hard to work together as a cohesive whole. It’s not surprising, then, to see talented people leaving in droves.

Beyond the window dressing 

It’s clear, then, that consulting firms and creative agencies are no easy bedfellows. But in his company’s defence, Accenture Interactive’s Senior Managing Director for North America, Glen Hartman, described its culture as being “far, far away from what a stereotypical consulting firm would look like. Our office and studios look a lot like Droga5’s.”

In demonstrating a belief that office design equates to workplace culture, this statement serves as an illustration of how confused Accenture is right now. It wants to justify its new strategy so badly, it’s started dressing like a creative agency. But if you look beyond the window dressing and see that you and your partners are speaking a different language with a different purpose, selling to different people in a different market, there’s no getting away from the fact that you’re different.

Accenture Interactive has been dazzled by its ambitions to become the CMO agency of record, and it wants to dazzle others with its new direction. But, in flashing its cash, it is spending millions on acquiring nothing of any value.

Related: Space between consulting firms and creative agencies is converging.