View from the Top: Chris Wakerley, Boxwood

Boxwood have been recognised at the MCA Awards eight times in the last ten years after winning the top prize of Project of the Year at this year's Awards. We spoke to Chris Wakerley, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Boxwood, about Boxwood's success and his career in consulting.

Your project for Balfour Beatty was quite a serious challenge. Did you expect to make such a big saving at the outset of the project?

When we first spoke to Balfour we felt there was a good deal of room for improvement but it was only after we had a good look around that we got a real sense of the scale of opportunity that existed. They were in a tight spot but there was a lot of engagement and passion on both sides to actually get the job done.

On the awards night we had the chap from Balfour who was on the frontline with us on our table.  He was an excellent guy and we got him a separate trophy for him to keep.


You were up against some of the bigger consulting firms at the MCA Awards. How are you able to compete with them when in comparison you are relatively small in size?

From the outset we have tried to build a company which can compete with the best of the best. As a niche firm we are able to bring a lot of experience to projects. We don’t hire people with less than 8-10 years’ experience and we ideally like a mixture of industry and consulting practice. I think when we are presenting and pitching to clients this experience comes across and they certainly feel it on delivery.


You have been recognised at the MCA Awards eight times in the last ten years. What makes your projects award winning?

First and foremost we only try and work on the challenging projects that are a top priority for the CEO. If you are working on difficult projects which are expected to deliver big results for a CEO, in my view these will always be popular for awards. We built the company so it was able to deliver these types of projects, which is why we have the model that we have. Some would say that we are organisationally top heavy but we utilise our clients to fill the junior end of delivery roles and add our people to give maximum value to the client.

We don’t do nice to do projects, only serious work, with clients with serious commitment.


How did you start off in consulting?

I was in the armed forces having just spent a long period of time in Bosnia and the Balkans. I was thinking about what I was going to do next when I was contacted by someone who used to work for me about a move to consultancy. In the military I had run all sorts of different organisation from aviation to information systems and I had worked with a lot commercial suppliers, it was really interesting to step out of the military and into consultancy.

I was pretty determined not to stay in the defence industry which is the normal route for ex-military getting into consulting and instead went straight into the mainstream business sector. It was a big change but an awful lot of fun.


Why do you feel consulting is such a popular path for ex-military personnel?

What you get from the armed forces is a lot of leadership and disciplined execution and strategic thinking that is key to a CEO’s agenda. People from the military are pretty used to complexity, planning, implementing, getting things done and leading large scale change. In my own discipline I had to understand technical things from end to end which is tremendously valuable in a commercial world that is evolving quickly and has technology as its heart.


Boxwood recently rebranded, what were your thoughts behind the new direction?

We were very pleased with the original branding but we felt it had run its course. The business has grown and matured and we needed a more confident image. We are now much clearer about where we want to be positioned around the business transformation and growth agenda.


What does the future hold for Boxwood?

We want to continue to grow, deliver great projects with our clients and compete with the best. The consulting market is changing and clients what to see real results and a return on their investment in consultants.

We have been changing our firm, hiring high quality people to give us high quality insights. We now have a really strong analytical front end to complement our extremely experienced implementation capability – this is about delivering top and bottom line results.


What do you look for in experienced hires?

We look for people who have the passion and ambition for the type of work we do and are willing to get in alongside the CEO and leaders of the business and shoulder the burden of getting the job done. Part of our brand is that energy and drive we bring to a programme.

We also look for people who do interesting things outside of work as we feel that having that balance in your life is essential to having the right energy drive.


What advice to someone starting out in the industry?

It is difficult for young people to decide where to start their careers. If you are coming out of university I would look for the opportunity to go somewhere where you will be trained. Looking at some of the larger firms and where they aspire to be, that might be a very exciting place to put your time and effort. You want to be at firm where you can channel your energy, get on interesting projects and broaden your horizons.  We hope that when people have been at a bigger firm for four or five years we might be lucky enough to get some of them at Boxwood where you can accelerate your career and get a lot of responsibility quickly.

The consulting industry is an exciting place for young people to go to.


If you could change one thing in the consulting industry what would it be?

I feel the UK consulting industry is very mature and creates lot of value but I don’t think clients like to recognise the value they receive.  Consultants unblock some really knotty issues that business find hard to confront on their own.

Consultancies need to make sure their projects have clear deliverables, which will only enhance the reputation of the industry and help UK plc to get stronger.