Scaling professional services business in an uncertain market

04 October 2021 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read

The former Founder and CEO of Accenture Interactive, Tim Breene is a life-long expert from the world of technology, digital media and consulting. After retiring from his latest role as CEO of World Relief, Breene joined PCB Partners as a Senior Advisor to support the leadership team. In a Consultancy.uk exclusive, he explores how business leaders can effectively navigate the rapidly changing marketplace.

We live in a time when we are awash with new management theories seeking to explain the keys to success and to future proofing your organisation in a rapidly changing marketplace. Whether it’s Reid Hoffmann’s theory of “blitzscaling” or Brian Robertson’s thinking on “Holacracy” to institutionalise agile working, it seems there is always a new theory to apply to help us scale our businesses in the rapidly transforming economy. Sadly, if there is one thing we can be certain of, it is that predicting the future is, at best, an imprecise science. We live in a world that is VUCA - volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. The links between the past, the present and the future are not tidy – we’re always in the middle of a new revolution.

As business leaders we‘re touched by the major developments happening around us now - the trend to hyper-specialisation; the M&A fueled race to dominant scale; the acceleration of digital transformation and growth fueled by the Covid experience of virtual working; networking as the new norm; the power of data – to name just a few. At the same time, we are looking ahead and asking hard questions so that we’re positioned for the future, as well as for our success today.

Scaling professional services business in an uncertain market

When I first conceived of what became Accenture Interactive, it was because I recognised that traditional advertising agencies did not have either the culture or the technology expertise to respond to a content rich, data-informed multichannel universe. Client IT shops, steeped in ‘waterfall’ development processes could not respond with the agility that CMOs would need in an increasingly digital world. It was what Paul Nunes and I described in our book “Jumping the S-Curve” labelled a BEMI – a big enough market insight – to propel a journey to leadership today in digital marketing and advertising.

The insight informed several early acquisitions for Accenture Interactive, extending its capabilities into new domains, and setting in motion a process of discovery and invention as we consciously sought out talent beyond the edge of Accenture’s traditional culture via non-traditional partnerships. All the while, reflecting on the right balance between separation from, and integration with, Accenture’s core delivery model. The detail of the vision and model were adjusted in the light of successes, failures and the evolving external environment. When we finally formalised the launch of Accenture Interactive in 2009, it was after 4 years of experimentation and storming to discover ‘the pattern that worked’.

The current race for scale, which has resulted in dramatic increases in acquisition activity over the last year – with more than 1,000 digital commerce transactions in the first half of 2021, an increase of more than 40% compared to just 3 years ago - is set to remain because maximising network effects will continue to matter and aggressive growth in the current market carries a premium over efficiency.  But sooner or later, large fast-growing organisations will have to grapple with changing workforce expectations, and some of the cultural and organisational pressures arising from this rush to scale. The winners will be those who think beyond the immediate challenges of acquiring the assets and people needed to stay competitive today. These winners are thoughtful about creating the culture and organisation that will enable them to continue changing ahead of the curve.

That’s because the only thing we know for certain is that we cannot ever truly predict the future. When the next seismic shock comes, the organisations with the best, most engaged and committed talent will be the winners.

PCB Partners is an entrepreneurial global M&A advisory firm serving digital and consulting businesses. It works with clients looking to form acquisition strategies, prepare businesses for a sale, or build a business strategy.