We’re super excited to share the first post in our new blog series, Consulting Secrets.
JBM has always worked with a number of entrepreneurial consultancies, in particular boutiques, and have built a great network of inspiring consultants. We wanted to create a series for consultants, to showcase what it’s like to work for a boutique consultancy and what the differences and benefits are.
In each blog, we will be chatting to a consulting leader who will be talking through their journey in consulting as well as sharing advice for people who are thinking about moving from a bigger consultancy to a smaller one.
Prior to Woodhurst Consulting, Luke started off his career at Accenture before making the first move to a much smaller company, BCS Consulting, which grew from 60 to 160 people within the five years of Luke being there. Following this experience, Luke founded Woodhurst with two former BCS colleagues and in our interview, we dive into some of the challenges he’s faced since.
Aby: Before we begin, this series is called Consulting Secrets – Can you tell us a secret about yourself that not many people know?
Luke: I set up my first business at the age of 13. It was a random opportunity which came about from a friend of mine. His dad had received a bulk lot of Christmas cards in November, approximately 1000 Christmas cards, which he had no way of getting rid of, so myself and a friend set up an online shop on eBay and sold a number of Christmas cards and turned over a tiny profit.
That’s a great secret. You’ve been an entrepreneur from a very young age! So, how did you get into consulting and what interested you in working for a boutique consultancy?
I studied Economics at the University of Bath. I did a four-year course with a third-year work placement at UBS Asset Management in London. Although I liked the role and learning about the world of work, I didn’t like the very strict, rigorous processes and it was quite repetitive. I loved that it was in financial services, and I’ve always been drawn to that as an industry.
But I knew that I wanted more variety. That’s why I started looking around and saw consulting as a potential industry to work in. From what I understood at the time about consultancy, you did a lot of short-term projects and it was quite strategic focused; you were solving challenges for your clients. That all played to what I saw as my strengths at that time, and there was the opportunity to work within financial services as well.
I started applying for consultancy companies coming out of University and settled on Accenture, which to this day I’m still very happy I did. The training was fantastic to start off when you’re going into consulting and you work with so many great people, it was a brilliant place to start my career.
What moved me to pursue a career at a smaller consultancy was I that I wanted to work at a consultancy where I could see more of the front to back elements of consulting. That’s what drew me to BCS; they were quite small when I joined. And I loved my time there, as I was able to really dive into the consulting company as a whole. I worked quite closely with a number of the senior leaders and I was able to see things through from start to finish. I saw the company grow and how they managed that growth, both from a headcount point of view, but also how they maintained that small company culture as they were growing. I found that really fascinating.
Having an entrepreneurial spirit, as my secret drew out, led me to want to start my own company and try to build our own culture within our consulting company, bringing me to Woodhurst.
I love the emphasis you put on building your own culture there, so how would you describe the culture at Woodhurst?
At Woodhurst, we’re very small, so we want an open, inclusive culture, and we want to make sure that as we grow, we keep that small company culture. That’s what the three founders: Ben, Josh and I all loved about working at BCS when they were small, was that you knew everybody, and they were all approachable and collaborative. We wanted to take that and use that as our foundation for Woodhurst.
What we also want to do is make sure that we have a flat structure. We try to break away from having that traditional hierarchy, which you see at most consultancies. We don’t have official role titles or grades; we like to think of our Consultants as Management Consultants for Woodhurst. And depending upon your experience, this will determine whether you’re a people manager or leading programmes on client site, or you’re still building your consulting skill set.
In addition, we want people to be able have constructive suggestions if they feel that there’s something that can be done in a better way. We want people to feel that they can speak up, that they will be listened to and they will be able to make change themselves. People can be empowered to deliver that change.
I think you guys have a fantastic culture there and it’s probably one of the main attractions of moving to a boutique consultancy. What else would you say are the benefits of working for a boutique consultancy versus a larger one?
When you’re working for a boutique consultancy, I think you’ve got a lot more opportunity to get involved in the day to day running of the business.
If I look at my experience to date, when I was at Accenture, I was on a very large project team on a client, which probably had over 1000 consultants from Accenture at the same time, so you’re very much a small cog in a big wheel.
When you move to a to a smaller consultancy, it’s likely that you’ll be working in smaller teams of maybe 3 or 4 people and working more directly with clients. That gives you the opportunity for more day to day client interaction. And it gives you the opportunity to see the end to end consulting process too. When you’re at a small consultancy, you get involved in BD discussions, you understand what an MSA is, immediately you start working on SOWs and you start doing a lot more of the consulting process which, at the larger consultancies, senior managers and partners handle these activities.
Finally, the ability to get involved in internal work, which has a real effect on the company is more of a possibility when you’re at a smaller consultancy. You can take an initiative, run with it, deliver it and see the benefits across the entire company.
Absolutely. Overall, what do you think makes a good consultant?
Being bright, having great eye for detail, being able to work with big data and come to conclusions very quickly, presenting yourself succinctly, etc are definitely great skills for a consultant.
But I think the best skill for a consultant is being able and willing to challenge the client. Clients bring consultants on board because they want an opinion on something or want the consultant to make change happen in their organisation. A good skill for a consultant is being able to critically look at the organisation and be able to challenge the client on their existing thinking in the right way.
You can build rapport with clients if you’re able to make tangible suggestions to them, and once they’re implemented, the client can see you’re helping them move their organisation forwards. That builds a trusted partner relationship, which is so important for your client network, which you continue developing as you go through consulting projects.
We had a meeting yesterday with a client and they said exactly the same thing! What would you say is the biggest challenge you have had to overcome in consulting so far?
Starting Woodhurst is the biggest challenge. It’s definitely one that isn’t complete and won’t be complete for a long time. When I think back to the three of us first getting together and discussing starting our own consultancy, it almost seemed like it would be fairly easy and what you quickly realise is that there’s a lot of things you’ve got to do around the edges to make it happen.
The journey for me over the past 18 months has been fantastic and such a great learning experience. I’ve loved every minute of it, but the number of things I’ve had to deal with, which you wouldn’t expect to deal with, certainly has been the most challenging aspect.
For me that’s definitely the toughest hurdle and then, as an extra speed bump, having to deal with COVID this year. For us, our first year was all about setting ourselves up for growth and the second year was going to be around growth in headcount and clients; we were aiming to get to 10 permanent consultants by the end of 2020. And COVID definitely forced us to reassess that.
Overall, the biggest challenge to date is definitely setting up Woodhurst, although equally, my proudest career achievement to date. I normally find things that are a challenge normally end up being proud achievements.
You mentioned that you’ve had to deal with other hurdles whilst at Woodhurst that you didn’t even think of? Do you have an example of that?
I hadn’t realised quite how in depth the actual startup of a company would be. A good example of this is setting up the company from a legal point of view. During the shareholders agreement, we ended up spending hours going through fairly complex legal documents with lawyers, which at the time, was definitely very painful and still feels quite painful now, when I think back to it!
Another example is setting up the pension plan for new employees. It’s quite difficult as a small company, as most pension providers are more interested in larger companies. We want all of our employee benefits to be market leading, so this was a struggle for us.
I had no idea it was that tricky; I just thought you set it up! This has been so insightful. Before we wrap up – what advice do you have for anyone looking to work for a firm like yours?
If you’re in a larger consultancy already, understanding the market as much as you possibly can is useful. There’s a couple of resources online which show you the different boutique consultancies. Once you’ve earmarked the different levels of boutique, look into what they specialise in and work out what you want to specialise in. There’s so many different flavours of boutique consultancy so make sure you do your research, understand what that spectrum looks like from a sector point of view, a specialisation point of view, a cultural point of view and size point of view.
Actively reach out to the ones which you think match your skill set and ambitions. I’d say reach out directly as well, because if you were to reach out to the CEO of a company who have 150 or 200 consultants, it’s likely that they’ll put you in touch with their HR department or give you a response directly.
At Woodhurst, we love it when we get direct approaches. We’ve got a ‘book a meeting’ button on our website, and it always makes me smile when I get an approach on there. I always reply to those. Go out of your way to put yourself forward and have conversations. That’s the best way of getting involved and that will lead to you understanding more about that consultancy. And you can then work out as an individual, whether that firm aligns to your goals and ambitions.
Definitely, or use a recruiter!
Or use JBM because they’ll be able to put you in touch with them!
Exactly! Well, I think we’ve covered a lot there. Thank you so much for your time!
Likewise, if you’re currently exploring roles in consulting or you’re a consultancy looking to grow your team, feel free to drop me a line at ku.oc.cmbj@yba