Global operations consultancy Proudfoot marks 75th anniversary

14 June 2021 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read
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Global operations management consultancy Proudfoot has hit a special milestone this year: its 75th anniversary. 

What began as a vision to help companies achieve operational goals in a way that no other consultant had previously, has grown into an international management consultancy that operates in the UK, Europe, North and South America, Asia and South Africa, having worked with more than one million leaders and delivered over 50,000 engagements. 

In 1946, having previously completed a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Chicago, as well as having worked for a world-renowned strategy consulting firm, Alexander “Alec” Proudfoot stepped out on his own account and founded the Alexander Proudfoot Company, an operational consulting company. 

During his work up to that point, Alec had seen first-hand how advisors would review a company’s operations, produce a report – then walk away, leaving the client to implement the recommendations using only its existing managers and workforce. While this was the norm for consultants at the time, it was not a strategy he agreed with. 

This led to a core tenet of the Proudfoot philosophy – one that endures till today; the input of consultants is hands-on, not just confined to analysis and report-writing. Peter Isaac, an Alexander Proudfoot consultant in the 1970s, remembers when Sir Ian MacGregor, then head of British Steel, told him that what distinguished him and his Proudfoot colleagues from other consultants was that they had dirt under their fingernails. 

It was a compliment, Sir Ian assured Isaac: “You work at the coalface where things really happen; other consultants work in offices.”

Today, 75 years later, one of the most important aspects of any Proudfoot engagement is their ‘boots on the ground’ philosophy – whether that’s virtual or actual boots, Proudfoot teams get involved, they get to know the business, the front-line leaders, and seemingly become a part of their client’s team to ensure all transformation engagements are a shattering success.

Proudfoot’s philosophy

Another central element of Proudfoot’s philosophy emerged much earlier. In Alec’s college years, he developed a fascination for the works of the Stoic philosophers, in particular Socrates. No wonder then that after establishing Proudfoot, he actively employed the “Socratic method” in his work – pinpointing and addressing the root cause of a company’s problems, rather than just treating its symptoms.

“Our business is like a three-legged stool: attitude – behaviour – performance.”
– Alexander Proudfoot, 21 January 1958

As Alec’s firm grew and flourished, he invested a great deal of time into teaching and nurturing his people. Around this passion for continuous learning and development, Alec formulated the principles and philosophies that became the signature of the Alexander Proudfoot Company. He spent the rest of his life sharing this knowledge with his organisation. 

In turn, Alec’s passion for learning and teaching expanded to his clients, where Alexander Proudfoot’s consultants would teach and coach their clients on the skills and behaviours that would be required to transform and achieve operational excellence. 

This very principle is well alive today. In 1969, Proudfoot invented the ‘People Solutions’ approach, Proudfoot’s unique program to empower its client’s people to think big and act now to accelerate change, that many organisations are now starting to develop and implement themselves. To date, every Proudfoot engagement has a People Solutions workstream focused on coaching, training, communication, participation and engagement, ensuring that people change by choice, not by force; therefore, creating true sustainability of process and organizational change.

After battling a long illness Alec died in 1968; but the principles, philosophies, and values he embodied continue to thrive today. 

Company milestones

Having begun as a small operation in Chicago, the company saw its first expansion west of the Mississippi river in 1960, then went on to expand throughout the United States and globally. In the 1970s, Proudfoot established overseas ventures in Brazil and Europe.

The 1980s was a progressive decade for Proudfoot, with expansion into Mexico and West Africa. Proudfoot also gained a foothold in the Asia-Pacific region, with offices opening in Singapore, Sydney, Auckland, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei, Bangkok and Tokyo. One of the co-developers of Xerox Learning Systems was also hired in 1982 to create the innovative Sales Effectiveness practice. In 1987, Proudfoot was listed on the London Stock Exchange, and by the end of 1989 they had entered South Africa and opened an office in Johannesburg.

This year Proudfoot is not only celebrating its 75th anniversary, but also the launch of CEO Pamela Hackett’s new book, Manage to Engage. In her book, Pamela, who has been with the organisation for over 35 years and has been the CEO since 2017, introduces practical tools for leaders at every level to better engage people in a post-pandemic world and to drive positive transformational change. 

Today, Proudfoot integrates innovative approaches and its unique know-how in digital and operations transformation to provide innovative insights, proven solutions and lasting change for its clients. In true Proudfoot philosophy, Proudfoot’s staff roll up their sleeves and put on their boots to help implement sustainable transformation. Importantly, they focus on developing and building the capability of their client’s people – so next time they can do it themselves.