PwC with The Courtauld Institute of Art

Strategy

There are examples of consultancy in action that leave a unique legacy and demonstrate what is really at the heart of the profession – the desire to prevent inherently worthwhile organisations taking the wrong path, and helping those that need it most improve their situation. This is one such case, and one very special to those who worked on it.

Both an academic institution and a major gallery, The Courtauld Institute of Art is one of the leading art-history institutions in the world. Part of the University of London, it is regarded as a world leader in art history education and research. Its gallery houses a pre-eminent collection including works by Van Gogh, Manet, Renoir and Cezanne.

Yet, despite its pre-eminence, The Courtauld found itself facing significant short-term challenges, similar to those faced by many other cultural institutions during the pandemic. While engaged in 2020 to help prepare The Courtauld’s long-term strategy, PwC Strategy& and the internal team identified potentially serious issues with the Institute’s finances, and so worked with The Courtauld’s leadership to develop and execute a new strategy, to avert a potential crisis and secure its future.

The Courtauld operates a delicate economy as a small, specialist higher education institution. Its major sources of income include student fees, Government grants and philanthropic donations – all of which have been challenged over the past few years. COVID and Brexit reduced student income and increased operational costs, and philanthropic income fell dramatically during the pandemic.

PwC Strategy&’s primary objective was to develop a turnaround strategy to eradicate The Courtauld’s net loss (equivalent to ~20% of revenue) and help it return to a sustainable surplus. Just as importantly, PwC Strategy& needed to energise the management team around the strategy, and ensure they had confidence in their ability to deliver it.

Within six weeks, the PwC Strategy& team had developed: a new corporate strategy and rapid turnaround plan; an immersive scenario-modelling tool to help management explore strategic and financial options in a live, war-room setting; and helped source new investment and external support.

At the Governing Board meeting on 25 November 2020, Lord Browne, Chairman of The Courtauld, identified the moment as “the most important meeting in the past 25 years of the Institute”. Lord Browne and the Märit Rausing Director then presented the turnaround strategy that would see The Courtauld secure the future of its 600-strong student body and the art collection which it safeguards.

Not only did the project meet all its objectives, but because the PwC Strategy& team moved quickly from high-level strategy into execution, the team also helped exceed most early performance targets. In particular: immediate cash savings were made; short-term growth opportunities identified and executed upon, and cash raised from grants and donors. This meant the renovation of The Courtauld’s Somerset House home could continue on track and put The Courtauld on a stable footing to maximise the reopening of the Gallery later in 2021.

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