We’re very excited to share this year’s final installation of our Consulting Secrets blog series!
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.
Nick leads Baringa’s CFO Advisory practice, covering anything relating to change strategy and org design in the CFO world. More recently he has been leading a lot of their work in climate change in Financial Services.
Chris has been with Baringa for 12 years, working as a Partner for 4 years and now leads their Financial Crime team. He also helps their clients lead their largest regulatory transformation programmes.
Aby: This series is called consulting secrets. Can you tell us a secret about yourself that not many people know?
Chris: I was once on holiday in San Francisco with a couple of mates and we decided to hire bikes and do a cycle tour of the city, which was great. But I have an irrational fear of bridges. So, we got to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, what should be a really memorable life experience and the plan was to cycle across it and have a beer on the other side. I actually could not bring myself to cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge because I was terrified for no reason whatsoever! I don’t know why. But I just have this weird thing with bridges, and I couldn’t cycle over it, so I sat and had a coffee in Starbucks at the other end of the Golden Gate Bridge, and I gave my friends my camera. This was before mobile phones had good cameras on them! They took my photos for me so when I came home, everybody had assumed that I had safely cycled over the Golden Gate Bridge and took some lovely photos of San Francisco from the other side but actually I couldn’t do it!
Nick: My secret is probably slightly different to Chris’; I have a third person in my relationship. My wife who I’ve been married to for 15 years knows that I’m obsessed with a man called Gary Vaynerchuk or Gary V, as we refer to him as. He’s an internet sensation. He’s an entrepreneur, and he’s someone that I follow a lot on social media. And as Chris knows because he works with me, I talk a lot about the things that Gary V does both in terms of his approach to life, his approach to operating the positive vibe that he has and he’s someone that you either love or hate but I certainly love him. I pay homage to Gary V in a lot of what I do at work and in my home life much to my wife’s disgust!
Aby: I’ve just Googled him, and he looks great, very interesting! How did you get into consulting and what interested you in working for a boutique consultancy?
Nick: I’m a boomerang in consulting terms. I started in consulting at Arthur Andersen as they then were, who then became Deloitte. The Enron disaster was the end of Andersen. Interestingly, Baringa formed from one part of Andersen; it was the Andersen consulting that became Accenture. That was the heritage of Baringa. I spent about eight years in Investment Banking, so in industry, and then I came back to consulting, initially with EY and then with Baringa. For me, the big thing is about the culture. At Baringa, we talk a lot about being passionate and being curious, in terms of the work we do. Frankly, I’m just very nosy. I think it’s quite good when you’re a consultant if you’re nosy and you like learning about new things, and you like talking about new topics that are happening in the market. The thing that got me back to Baringa and the reason why I’m planning to spend the rest of my career here, is the people, the collaboration and the culture. Out of all the consulting firms, we’ve got all of those ingredients, and we’ve managed to get it right most of the time.
Chris: When I was brought up, there was a programme on TV called ‘Ally McBeal’, a law drama set in the 90s. It made law look really cool and exciting, so I went to University to do a degree thinking I was going to, have a real life ‘Ally McBeal’ experience. However, I realised very quickly that law is incredibly dull and unexciting – for me personally anyway! On leaving University having sat through all my exams, I concluded two things. One is that I didn’t want to be a lawyer. Two was I didn’t want to do any more exams. That ruled out accountancy, so I ended up getting a job in consulting. What I actually thought at the time was, ‘I’ll go and do consulting until I find a proper job’ because I didn’t really know exactly what consulting was. I started with Accenture where I realised I liked the variety and the problem solving and I’d stumbled across a job that I really liked. But with Accenture, I always felt like a very small part of the machine. I never saw the senior people looking very happy. I realized that I didn’t want to make a life-long career at Accenture, but I really enjoyed the job. I was tossing up whether to leave consulting and go into industry or stick with consulting.
I moved to Baringa because it was small, and it was right at the start of their financial services business. It was a real opportunity to build a business within a business and I really enjoyed that aspect of it. We are a business of businesses, with the management team being the glue holding it together, but also the people and culture too. The number of businesses grows all the time. It’s about growing the bits that aren’t mature yet and identifying the next bits we’d like to build. I feel like that’s what we’re still doing. We’re still building our Financial Crime business and we’re building a climate change business right now. We’ve never really stopped building the firm. It’s not about the boutique-ness for me, it’s about the growth. It’s about the fact that this is a business that is always changing, always evolving, and as a partnership, we have complete control over the direction that we take that in. The people and culture side of it obviously helps massively too.
Aby: What are the benefits of working for a boutique consultancy versus a larger one?
Chris: It’s the individual aspect of it. As a group of partners, we know everybody, they all know us. There’s not this sense of matching unnamed resources with demand. It’s very much trying to understand how do we help people to build their careers? How do we put people in the right position? And that’s on a very personal level. We’re able to really bring the human aspect to consulting. The second part is the fact we can do whatever we want, right? We’re not owned by shareholders, we can pivot, we can change direction, we can accelerate, we can decelerate, we can place bids wherever we want, in terms of how we grow the business. There’s a huge benefit, not just for us as a partnership, but for the people coming through the firm as well. We’ve got junior people who are already actively trying to build new parts of our business that in 10 years’ time may be fully fledged parts of the firm. That’s really exciting.
Nick: Having worked in a big monster of a consulting firm at EY, where I was a partner for five years, I’d add that it’s about that ownership and accountability, which is a really big differentiator. I know it’s all very well for us as partners saying it, but I do genuinely think we empower all of our people, even from Analysts and Consultant level, to think in that same mindset. There is a real sense of one single P&L. I’ve worked at two organisations where they said they had one P&L, and they clearly didn’t, but we genuinely do. At the end of the year, there is a single profit pool that our partners get paid out of, and that same profit pool is the one that we pay the employee profit share as well. The partners have done a lot of training in the last couple of years about being T shaped. Not thinking about being in the vertical, but being in the top of the T, so when you make decisions, whether it’s about resourcing, whether it’s about bids to go after, or new areas to explore, thinking about being T shaped and thinking about the organisation as a whole.
Aby: What do you think makes a good consultant?
Nick: I mentioned this earlier actually; being nosy. We’re talking about people being curious. I think curious is probably a better word than nosy. A good consultant has to have a certain level of IQ or intellectual ability, because we work with a large range of clients, we typically have very short timeframes to get up to speed with clients, whether it’s a new project, or a new client themselves, or a new area that we’re working on, whether it’s a new regulation, climate change, financial crime, or something in the finance space, etc. The most successful consultants also balance that IQ with EQ or emotional intelligence. We have to build relationships with our clients, we have to build relationships with our people, our colleagues, and our team. Our job as a partner is to coach and shape and obviously win business but also bring our team up and to develop our team. Therefore, you need a huge amount of emotional intelligence, sympathy, or the ability to resonate and motivate people.
Chris: I’d definitely echo all of that. At Baringa, we talk about a growth mindset. We want people to want to stretch themselves, to develop, and to be comfortable outside of their comfort zone. We try to encourage people to recognise discomfort and create opportunities to learn new things. The other thing that I think echoes what Nick said, is being able to walk in your clients’ shoes. I think a good consultant is one who can deliver quality at pace but can really empathise with the client and understand what the client is looking for, and what’s going to make the client successful. Being able to walk in their shoes sets the best apart from the very good.
Aby: Definitely, these are all points we consistently hear from our clients. What is the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in consulting so far?
Chris: For me, it relates to the point about walking in the clients’ shoes. As a junior person at Accenture, as part of a huge delivery programme within a client, you didn’t see clients that much to be honest, it was about executing on a huge complex transformation programme. Your role was very much about delivering on the bit that you were responsible for. As I moved to Baringa, where the model is very different, it took me a little while to work out, that actually it wasn’t always about what the statement of work said I had to do, what time it had to be delivered by, and getting it over line at all costs, regardless of everything else. It’s actually developing that ability to stop, step back, and realising that we need to take these people on a journey and finding out if this is what the client really needs to be successful. It’s not necessarily that you can point to a contract and say it said, ‘I needed to do this, and I can show you every single place in this document where I’ve delivered that and it’s laid out for you.’ It’s actually what the client thinks of the work. Has the client been able to use the work what they needed it for, and have you taken the client and their team on the journey with you? That’s the really fundamental part at the end of a piece of work, not whether you can tick off the set of things in the contract that you were meant to do, but it’s that softer side of it too. That was the turning point between being a good delivery person and actually being able to be a true consultant.
Nick: It’s a very recent problem, and we’re not out of it yet, but COVID was a massive personal and firm challenge, as it has been for every organisation, big and small and across all industries. I still remember very clearly the day after Mothering Sunday, on the Monday morning we had a call with 80 of the partners and we were still getting used to this Teams or Zoom thing that’s second nature to us now. Adrian and Andrew, two of our senior partners, were just trying to rally the troops a little bit. And frankly, we were all sitting there and staring, most people weren’t on the screen because they couldn’t work out how to use the camera yet or couldn’t get the mute off! I mean, frankly we were all extremely worried about what it meant for our business, what it meant for our people, what it meant for ourselves and our livelihoods. We talked about it earlier, but the benefits and strength of Baringa and our culture manifested over the next few weeks. We won a few projects, and those projects were extended into months. Now, nearly nine months forward, we’ve actually had massively successful growth in that period, which is down to some of the hard decisions we made quickly, but also the collaboration and just the sheer individual and combined will of the partner group to drive and operate ourselves through the initial bit of the crisis to get to where we are now. Clearly COVID is by no means over, but we now have the ability to work and be successful in a fully virtual world, serve clients, engage people, hire new people, assess people and do all the things that businesses need to do. We feel massively more confident going into 2021.
Aby: Great. It looks like Baringa are doing very well at the moment due to the sheer volume of hiring you’re doing at the moment! What advice do you have for anyone looking to work for a firm like Baringa?
Nick: Just have a chat. Be yourself. I don’t think we look for any particular person; there’s no standard Baringa employee. This goes back to what I mentioned earlier, we look for people that are passionate and curious, and as Chris said, have got a growth mindset. You can see on our website, all the areas that we’re currently working in are growing, and in all of the competencies that we offer at Baringa. I think we’re looking for like-minded people to join the organisation and to grow with us. We look for people that are honest, hardworking, and ambitious in terms of what they want to do in their career. I always love it when people have done their research on the firm, they’ve even looked me up on LinkedIn and they ask questions that show that they are thinking about who they are meeting in the firm they’re joining.
Chris: It’s probably a combination of passion and authenticity. I want to see somebody who’s excited and curious about Baringa, someone who has thought about why this is the right move for them. I really want an interview to feel like a two-way process. I want it to feel like the person that we’re meeting is as curious about why they would want to spend the next part of their career at Baringa, as we are about whether we think they’re the right person to come and strengthen our team. I still have to challenge my own unconscious bias about that and make sure that I’m not coming up with a definition of what passion is. It’s that curiosity, thoughtfulness, and preparedness that they’ve come to the interview and thought about the questions they want to ask. That’s a really important thing. There’s an authenticity aspect too; we don’t want to hire to a formula, we want people to feel like they can be themselves at work. It’s incredibly tiring and pretty stressful to come to work every day and try and be something that isn’t your natural self. We want to really see that in the interview process, we want to hire you for that. And we want to build a business where people feel they can be successful by being themselves. I actively look for that authenticity in the interview process, as well as talent, high EQ, high IQ and all of these things you’d expect.
Aby: Thank you both so much. That was great!