“Collaboration, teamwork and insights will become our industry’s big story”

Former MCA President Paul Winter, Founder of Live Strategy, remembers his first day as a young consultant. “There were lots of grownups in the room. They seemed to have set ways of doing things and weren’t always listening to the client or understanding what they wanted. After a few months, I plucked up the courage to say something – and have never looked back.

“I learned an early lesson. I’ve always been sceptical about people who are the age I am now! It’s important not to get set in your ways. Great consulting is about listening, openness and fresh perspectives.”

The biggest change in consulting Paul has noted across his working life has been increased complexity. “If you thought it was hard running a business 25 years ago, now it is many, many times more challenging.” Paul also points to evolving client relationships. “In the past, relationships between consultants and clients were sometimes too close. But now some are too remote. If you want to give clients leading-edge insights, you must understand their (increasingly complex) predicament deeply. That demands a relationship of trust. We’re not talking about the cosiness that leads to producer capture or echo effects. But we shouldn’t be talking about cold commercial commoditisation either. The best consulting assignments are partnerships.”

Paul has no doubt about his worst experience as a consultant. “I advised a restaurant chain that we couldn’t accept their very generous fees because their business model simply doomed them to failure. I hated doing it and was really apologetic. All the stats said they were just bound to fail. We couldn’t risk spending reputational capital on them. And they’re now a massively successful household name. Their founder sent me a copy of his book, with a note saying ‘Doing fine’. Consulting’s a human business. You can’t win ‘em all!”

Looking to the next sixty years of the MCA, Paul says the Association is a modern and relevant institution and will still be here for its 120th Anniversary. “The MCA constantly reviews and renews its self, knowing that if we don’t stay ahead of the curve we can’t claim to add value to the customer. Our CEO Alan Leaman and his excellent staff should be given particular credit for their leadership and patience. Imagine being the operational team on a board governed by a dozen management consultants! 

“And with a few more upward movements in the retirement age, I will probably still be working sixty years from now. Which is an opportunity. Successful people have always depended on wise counsel. As I get older, I hope to get wiser. 

“In reality, the future of consulting will be about collaboration and strategic partnerships. Client needs will get more and more complex. So top-range consulting will be about working together to leverage assets and opportunities as a team. Clients and consultants will have to collaborate even more. My view is that collaboration, team work and insights, always a feature of consulting, will become our industry’s big story – for some time to come.” 

This interview was conducted as part of the MCA's 60th anniversary celebrations.

The 60th anniversary brochure 'The story so far, celebrating 60 years of the MCA' is available as a free download.