‘As the consulting industry is doing well, the recruitment market is becoming more competitive’

Michael Mahony, Partner and Co-Founder of Berkeley Partnership, describes 2015 as a good year, but with some challenges. “We’ve hit our budget targets and done well. However, although we have seen a drop in fees from a major client these have been replaced by several new but smaller clients. Of course, this has been a mixed blessing – client diversification is a good thing and something we focus on, but we also recognise it does increase cost of sale. It also accentuates our firm’s key growth challenge. Capacity.”

Michael suggests that there is high demand for Berkeley Partnership’s specialised skills, especially in transformation programme and project management. They are also seeing demand in new areas, such as pre-deal operational due diligence, reflecting clients’ increasing interest in operational excellence and fitness for purpose. The principal constraint on the firm’s ability to grow is the pace at which Berkeley Partnership can grow its workforce. “As the consulting industry is doing well, the recruitment market is becoming more competitive.”

Michael notes other pressures, such as continuing commoditisation in programme management (driven in particular by low-cost contractors) and the belief some potential clients have that they can run large-scale transformation projects themselves. “Nevertheless, we’re having some success in convincing our clients that managing a big £50-60m SAP or Oracle implementation is a challenging and highly skilled task. The necessary skills are not the same as what’s needed to run an operating division. And hiring a low-cost, singleton contractor is no guarantee of securing the relevant skills nor the necessary back up.” Using skilled consulting teams, Michael argues, saves clients in two ways. “Big programmes come up too infrequently in most firms for it to make sense for them to keep the relevant capable personnel permanently on their books. So using specialist consultants allows them to manage and ‘flex’ their resources efficiently. And trying to run programmes in-house or with cheap contractors is likely to cost money in the medium term, as things start to go wrong. Getting able professionals in promptly, but only when they are needed, is sound business practice.”

Berkeley Partnership anticipates growth in 2016 and will be recruiting to achieve it. “We think there will be continued strong activity in retail and increased demand in some of our emerging sectors, such as financial services.”

In helping clients grow, Michael suggests a role remains for traditional consulting virtues and pragmatism. “Almost all retailers, for example, will want to expand online, consolidate their store footprints and move into overseas markets. While the first two ambitions are connected and have obvious Digital implications, they also have huge knock-on effects for organisation and processes. Staff will need to be retrained and redeployed, stores turned into warehouses and collection centres. Plans to expand overseas will impact supply chains and sourcing. If a company is moving to the Far East, for example, that geography may already be their source of competitively priced goods and materials for UK sales. Overseas diversification may thus necessitate a move from a strategy of importing into the UK and re-exporting, towards a more supple local approach.

“Growth strategies are exciting. But their fulfilment needs to be underpinned by sound management of change and transformation programmes. That’s where we come in.”