James McNicol and Andrew Oliver on ea Change's buy-out

29 March 2021 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read
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James McNicol and Andrew Oliver, the new Managing Directors of business change consultancy ea Change, explain why they pursued a management buy-out in 2021, despite uncertain market conditions, and why this year offers unique advantages for business and technology transformation.

Brexit, the pandemic and new tax legislation on contractors have had a huge impact on the consultancy sector this year, but businesses that have survived the turbulence now have a rare opportunity to make change.

Over the past year a lot of our clients have gone through restructuring and have adapted and accelerated their pace of change and with that, they need the right people to support them on keeping the foot on the pedal at the accelerated pace of change. Consultancies should ask themselves: “If we could survive the perfect storm and still be profitable after the three biggest disrupters to impact our industry, what could we do in a good market?”

James McNicol and Andrew Oliver - EA Change

New habits offer a change for wider changes

Not to mention, now that people can work from anywhere and projects can be delivered across the country, previous business and delivery models have been overhauled and a nimble approach is proving fruitful. For sector businesses that have already had to incorporate remote working practices during the pandemic, it’s only a short jump to embedding this into the wider delivery of services.

Over the course of 2021, we also see the marketplace further opening back up and consultancies should ensure they have the capacity and flexibility ready to meet these new opportunities. For example, we have been preparing to provide a mixture of Statement of Work, Permanent and Interims, so we are able to be really flexible in supporting our clients’ needs.

Technology companies are particularly well-placed to thrive in this environment – whether consultancies, potential clients or as a proof point for the necessity of accelerating digital transformation across the UK. We have seen a particular uptake in automation, perhaps unsurprising given new working models.

Now is also a fantastic time for consulting firms to begin looking toward the future, hiring the latest wave of promising recruits to bolster services and turn pandemic-inspired change into the new normal. For instance, we offer a program called ea Futures to the latest, brightest graduates from universities, employing them on a full-time basis. They become part of the ea family and get deployed on site with a client for 12- or 24-month as a project analyst.

We can’t stop the pace of change, but we can harness it. It’s a small pivot to move from seeing this coming year as an opportunity, not a challenge, but this could pay dividends for businesses in the sector.

Why a buy-out now?

Introducing business change at a time of disruption is a risky undertaking, but if change is happening anyway why not bite the bullet?

James McNicol and Andrew Oliver on ea Change's buy-out

The pandemic provided a unique opportunity to reevaluate our systems, team and processes and gave us the opportunity to make changes and enhance the business. Consultancies in similar positions should consider the value of condensing change into a short period, rather than riding out current market uncertainty only to then re-introduce disruption with a buy-out in later years.

It’s also key to ensure where possible that the expertise and experience of current owners isn’t lost entirely. We were fortunate that this was a friendly process and we were able to retain our founders Steve Robson and Jon Murphy as non-executive director and non-executive chairman, marrying the potential for new change with the experience that has seen us this far.

We have a great team and that is one of the biggest reasons for us to have confidence the business will continue to grow. Over the last couple of years we have had the chance to shape and restructure the team, putting in processes that have really accelerated the team’s ability to focus on the important things within the business. The team we have are hardworking, dedicated and committed to making sure our clients’ and associates’ expectations are exceeded.

This may not be possible with every management buy-out, but consultancies should consider how best to keep the process from becoming acrimonious or contentious. In the end, it’s essential that your clients have a seamless transition and not impacted by any change within your own business.