Ammad Ahmad on how consulting skills helped him build Atheneum

21 September 2018

Last week Atheneum co-founder Ammad Ahmad unveiled that the global knowledge sharing platform has closed a €10 million investment. The company, which has 10 offices including in London, New York and Berlin, will use the financial injection to help accelerate the growth of the business. sat down with former management consultant Ahmad, asking him about his period in consulting and how consultancy skills have helped him build such a successful company. 

Why did you quit your role as a management consultant?

I graduated with a Computer Science degree and after doing a few stints in industry I began my management consulting career with Kaiser Associates in Washington DC. Having successfully been on the consulting path for a few years, the economic recession hit the markets and I felt it was a good time to go back to full time education. I knew that a European master’s degree would give me a competitive edge over my peers in the US so I moved to Germany for a joint master’s degree at the WHU School of Management, combining an MBA and Law programme with the Bucerius Law School. This all came in very handy later as an entrepreneur. I could still do freelance consulting while studying and managed to retain Kaiser Associates as a client. I really had the best of all worlds. 

It was through the school’s entrepreneurial networks that I met Michael Brehm and Mathias Wengeler, who also had a background in management consulting. He previously worked for L.E.K. Consulting in Munich and Boston, working in transactions and M&A, and for Oliver Wyman in Munich and Dubai, as well as for a major investment bank. Together we founded Atheneum – our experience overlapped in so many areas it really helped us get the business off the ground. 

What skills did you learn during your in-house consulting career?

As a management consultant the best thing you can learn is structured communication and working with a problem solving attitude. I learnt to use my initiative and picked up on several presentation and analytical frameworks that I still use today. I also learnt that you don’t have to be an expert to know what you’re talking about. Much of the work you do as a management consultant is based on well-founded research. Research is crucial if you want to succeed in the profession. When it comes to technical skills, of course I picked them up along the way.

Ammad Ahmad on how consulting skills helped build Atheneum

Most importantly, it really helped me understand what I’m good at. Being relentless during the primary research phase and being able to persuade stakeholders (internal & external) were invaluable traits on every engagement. One of the tasks most junior management consultants have to do a lot is finding, calling & interviewing experts. We call this primary research and it was something I became good at very quickly. It’s probably because I like talking and I love people. I can understand their points of view and put myself in their shoes. Put these things together and I found that if you ask someone nicely to do something, they are very likely to say yes. 

Finding sector specific experts for primary research was always an element of the management consultant business model that made me feel clients weren’t always getting great value for money. I spent many hours hunting down experts only to find they didn’t have capacity, were on holiday or simply didn’t want to engage in the project. Multiply this up with the number of experts needed on a project and the time, the cost to consulting firms for simply getting the experts on board are huge. 

What did you have to learn to make a success of Atheneum?

To go from building a career to building a business is a huge transition. Mathias and I were both just 29 when we first set up. We found the various facets of HR surprisingly challenging and it was a very steep learning curve. It’s also one of the most important aspects of scaling up successfully. We also learned a few crucial cash flow lessons in the very early days, despite getting paid for work soon after setting up the company. We still had lots of bills to pay and needed to manage cash flow every day.

I also learned not to start fundraising too early and when you do, make sure you have a clear plan on what to spend it on. It’s a common mistake for entrepreneurs to embark on “funding for funding’s sake”. In reality, it should be something that new business owners avoid at all costs. 

Where are you at now with Atheneum?

Eight years on we’ve got a network of more than 400,000 experts, 180+ team members and ten offices around the world. We’ve developed an amazing technology that will continue to revolutionise market intelligence and the way the industry does primary research. We’ve also just received €10 million funding and plan to grow the business by a further 60% in the next 12 months as we continuing to hire extensively in our key hubs like London, Berlin, New York and Shanghai.

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Robert Park on the launch of his consultancy RWG Enterprises

18 April 2019

Following a lengthy spell as a General Manager at an international materials corporation, Robert Park was keen to rediscover his inner entrepreneur. With the launch of his new consulting firm, RWG Enterprises, Park spoke with to outline his hopes for the future of the company, and how he believes his boutique will be able to challenge the market.

Robert Park commenced his career in retail, taking up a string of General Store Manager positions with companies – including Poundstretcher and The Gadget Shop – before making the 2005 move that would lead him to a 13-year stay with Morgan Advanced Materials. First taking up a role as Production Supervisor with the organisation, Park quickly worked his way to the upper echelons of the group. By 2013, he held the role of UK Operations Manager for the company’s UK ceramic core business, Certech UK, before seeing out his final four years at the firm as General Manager, leading the senior management team and strategic direction of the business.

Despite his success with the firm, however, Park found himself getting itchy feet. A change of career seemed increasingly appealing, and by February 2019, the time to take a new path had arrived.

Park explained: “I was losing the ability to to use the entrepreneurial flair that I had enjoyed in the past; the organisation was moving more towards a structured and common approach for doing things, and that made me feel restricted. I also really enjoy the troubleshooting, problem solving side of my role. However, having been in my last post for four years, the troubleshooting and firefighting was long behind me. I realised that I am really energised by tackling difficult issues or turning around things that are clearly struggling.”

New consulting firm RWG Enterprises launches

His criteria for a new career seemed to point conclusively in the direction of management consulting, and while his CV has no formal experience in the sector, Park believes his career to date has provided him with a wealth of transferable skills. During his time with Certech at Morgan Advanced Materials, he became a Senior Manager at the age of just 21, and went on to succeed in a harsh factory environment where six former candidates had previously failed to deliver results.

Later, he became the group’s youngest General Manager in its history, and was involved in the turnaround of numerous departments. He also developed vast experience dealing with a wide range of ‘people’ challenges, including re-organisation, talent development, talent acquisition and leadership development. Along the way, Park noted that he learned to deal with large, blue chip organisations such as Rolls Royce, securing major long-term contracts worth upwards of £25 million.

Now, he hopes to take that know-how and apply it to the diverse world of consulting work. Park elaborated: “I really want to be able to help organisations that feel that there is no hope or have lost faith in the business… Having been there myself I know how helpful it would have been to have someone to refer to in times of crisis… The firm will also focus on leadership development, as I spent a lot of time with the global graduate program during my corporate career… and I was really motivated to see these individuals grow and develop… helping them to find their own way through challenging situations.

New enterprise

Park’s new Derby-based consultancy, RWG Enterprises, will focus on five key operational fronts. As stated, leadership development and business rescue will be two of these areas, as well as manufacturing – where the firm will tackle challenges such as new product introduction. RWG will also offer financial advisory services and strategic business planning offerings.

While Park is understandably guarded about the firm’s initial engagements, he revealed that he has been “speaking at length to a well-known university and business school about providing mentoring and coaching support to students.” In the long-term, the aim is for RWG Enterprises to take on engagements from clients across the industrial spectrum. He added that as “the company is very embryonic”, it would be “foolish” to become too focused on target clients at this stage.

When asked how RWG Enterprises intends to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack, in an ever-more-crowded UK consulting sector, Park is undaunted by the task ahead. He stated, “I think the main differentiator is that we are small... I have operated at a very senior level for many years but I have enjoyed a very diverse background having worked in most functions within my last organisation. I also won’t take on any work or clients that I feel I cannot deliver value for, I am honest and ethical and am really motivated by seeing others become successful… The main thing I am focused on is 'can I add value' and 'can I help?'”