View from the Top: Martin Cook, EY

Martin Cook is Chair of the Oversight Board for the new Chartered Management Consultant (ChMC) award and UK and Ireland Commercial Managing Partner at EY.  Martin talks to the MCA about the ChMC Award, creating the EY Foundation, the business case for the arts and his tips to young consultants. 

You have recently become Chair of the Board overseeing the introduction of the Chartered Management Consultant award. What motivated you to take on the role?  

The consulting profession is already an integral part of our economy. More people than ever before are involved in the industry. It is a key engine for growth and change in the agile economy we are trying to create.

Our commitment to promoting the very best standards of consulting through charter status will inspire even greater confidence in the profession.  It represents the coming of age of the profession.

This is an exciting time. I have been in and around consulting for 20 odd years. It is a privilege to be involved in this important next step.

What would be the ambition for the Chartered Management Consultant project?

Ultimately, the aim must be that that ChMC will hold the same kind of status and respect from clients as the other great chartered professions, engineers, surveyors and so on. As part of the process we will establish what makes a great consultant and get those principles firmly embedded throughout the industry, be it small firms, big firms or individuals. This will give clients the confidence they are getting the best advice, technical expertise and consulting skills.

You have had a leading role in developing the EY Foundation. How did the Foundation come about?

I am hugely proud of the Foundation. Let me tell you about one Foundation programme called Smart Futures which runs now across the country encouraging young people who wouldn’t traditionally think of a career in professional services or get a chance to do so to think again.  We provide skills training and work experience in our offices and with other firms.  We worked with some 500 young people around the country this year, a good number of whom subsequently joined our own school leaver programme, others went to university, others joined other professional service firms. The young people talk about their experiences on You Tube – it’s great stuff

EY’s CSR journey, like a lot of firms, began with providing support for and match-funding for our people when they volunteered.  This progressed to working with partner bodies and then running our own programmes, where our people used their skills and experience to make a real difference to young people seeking pathways to employment, education and entrepreneurship.

However, there are always going to be limits to what any firm can do in a CSR sense. So as one way of demonstrating EYs purpose of 'building a better working world' we decided to set up a charity to take our CSR efforts to the next level. This enabled us to recruit an independent chairman and trustees to work with our Partners, bringing different experiences of working with young people, and new and fresh ideas. We touched the blue touch-paper on some inspiring and engaging fundraising by our people – we have just welcomed some intrepid rowers back from the Yukon, for example.

You are a big enthusiast for the arts, where has that come from?

I am a big believer in the value of creative industries to the economy – it is the fastest growing sector – and of the huge benefits of firms like ours working with them.  More people go to museums and galleries on a weekend than go to premier league football matches.

The benefit we get from EY's partnership with Tate is enormous, in terms of engaging our clients and employees in unique experiences, obviously in being associated with a very cool brand and in working with people who share our outlook on many things from inclusive leadership to providing opportunities to young people in our communities. 

Personally, I have always been a music addict, everything from opera in Verona to rock, blues and Punk. I go to a lot of gigs still; in the last two weeks, Imagine Dragons, Lord Huron, Fish and Bird and Bachs Mass at Canterbury Cathedral.

I am also very keen on visual arts but I am a rank amateur sadly, although the more I work with Tate and other museums, the more I hope to learn! I am always so impressed with people like Nick Serota or his astonishing curators who rather than standing on any dignity always engage in discussion about art and artists, however dim the audience in my case!

How do you think consulting is placed to address the big challenges facing clients’ businesses today?

To some extent the UK has is going through a period of sustained recovery; but the world economy is still very fragile. Factors like mass migration of people will have a profound effect. With all that going on, consultants have a number of important roles to play.

First, we should be endlessly curious, looking for ways to do new things and solve the business problems that our clients now face.

Secondly, we have fantastic convening power. In EY we have a Strategic Growth Forum that brings entrepreneurs and small firms together with our large corporate clients and our experts and shares insights around a particular business problem or set of problems. Bringing people together is great way of getting ideas to proliferate, and to get capital allocated where it will do most good.

And finally, consultants have the obligation to provide the science to help clients make informed decisions rather than trusting to gut alone. Whether it’s about finding the right channels or the right product portfolio, by bringing deep analytic capabilities and the best knowledge we can enable clients to make informed choices at a time when their ability to invest heavily in new capabilities is sometimes constrained.  

What advice would you give to new entrants to the industry? 

I think it is terribly important for people joining the consulting profession to realise just how lucky we are. We get to work with very smart people, get paid a lot of money and work with interesting clients with interesting business models who listen to our advice and seek our support.

So we must take our responsibilities very seriously, and always put our clients first.

But we should never take ourselves too seriously! The world does not need parody consultants who talk in jargon and are, in the ingot, totally up themselves!