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hanna moukanas consultorOliver Wyman’s French business has undergone consecutive periods of transformation, first under Jean Estin’s direction in the 1990s, then with the purchase of MID. The Parisian office now appears to be in strong shape. Hanna Moukanas, one of MID’s four founders, took (back) the reins last November.

The opportunity for a freeflowing lunch during which he touched upon the life of his firm, the French market and the industry’s future.

After more than 20 years spent in the consulting industry, both in France and worldwide, what do you see when you look at Oliver Wyman today?

I think we have really achieved something. Oliver Wyman is a relatively young firm in comparison to the “usual suspects”, but despite this young age we have become a global player with constant growth. Since 1990, Oliver Wyman displays an average annual growth rate of 11%. Today there are 3000 of us in over 50 offices. In France, with the exception of a few sectors that we are less involved in, we reflect the spectrum of the economy. And this all happened very quickly. Initially MID was very strong in industry; Mercer had a strong Retail/Consumer/Transport coloring. We joined Oliver Wyman in 2003 and today we have nine partners in France – soon to be ten – working on the financial industry. We have managed to become a leading firm in very short order.

Is external growth the model?

We have a history of acquisitions, past, present and future, and we will continue to make more. I know some people have reservations about this growth model, I do not agree. All of our acquisitions have been evolutionary, and each has created positive value in comparison to the initial investment.

It’s a lot less risky to acquire a company than to integrate partners from outside. You bring in teams with their own business, operations and expertise. We have a system to integrate them and it ultimately winds up creating value in terms of assets and skills.

Believe me, we are accountable to Marsh McLennan (the 100% shareholder); there is no free money. We recently made two acquisitions, there will be more and the results are there. But we’re starting to press down on the brakes, because we’re already at 12% growth and anything above 15% would be more complicated to manage.

External growth can seem scary, notably in regard to cultural aspects. A firm’s culture, its way of functioning, is what defines it, and is sometimes its actual added value. One of external growth’s perceived risks is that of killing the acquired company’s culture or of undermining the acquirer’s own. How do you handle that?

Our culture is precisely the diversity and inclusiveness that bring wealth to points of view and collective value-added. When we go to see a client, with consultants coming from different backgrounds but with similar platforms, common intellectual capital, we bring a strike force that seems to us much more impactful than that of a monolithic firm. I see this every day across the projects I work on. The new teams do not alter our culture, they bring added richness to it.

That being said, we still have a canvas and tools. For instance we have the Way We Work (WWW). This is what allows a team to efficiently work together on a project. Right now we have a mission in Algeria, with consultants from China, France and the United States. This is their first time in Algeria, they have never worked together. The WWW allows for meetings ahead of time, for a common language to be created and learned. It presents the opportunity to say what is expected from the project but also what each individual’s constraints are, for instance religious ones, to share work methods, coming to the office or not…

To get back to the issue of culture, I would go so far as to say that there is no such thing as THE Oliver Wyman way. Of course the first few years you’ll be a generalist, touch upon many things and learn our methods and our functioning. But then you’ll be affiliated to a horizontal practice and a vertical one and that is where you’ll learn the Oliver Wyman way in vehicles, in retail, in banking, in digital, or on topics such as organization or transformation…

Actually, that’s a reproach people sometimes make of Oliver Wyman, global practices that don’t speak amongst themselves…

Yes, we have chosen to globalize our practices. I’ll admit, this has some pitfalls, notably that of “compartmentalization”. We sometimes give the impression that our practices don’t speak to one another.

One explanation is that in 2007, we grew much faster than our competitors and felt the need to give our best everywhere, to our clients and to our consultants. We didn’t want to build geographic islets. We then fully removed the locks from local P&L… not from geographic activities, just from P&L… and today this means that when we sit down with a client, we bring the best of worldwide Oliver Wyman. For a consultant, it means that joining Oliver Wyman involves more travel. At any given time, 20 to 30 of the Paris office’s consultants are on a mission abroad. In terms of career progression, that is very interesting to our consultants. The opposite is true as well, we always have consultants from other offices in France.

This globalization was done in many stages. Today there is only a worldwide P&L, and I am responsible for Oliver Wyman’s activities in France, not for Oliver Wyman France. Which means that since all of our practices are globalized, I am responsible for the proper functioning of all of these practices in France. My role is to ensure that the appropriate resources are deployed for our clients, wherever they may be.

What has become our strength didn’t take place overnight, or without difficulty. So yes, you are right, there was a difficult period. No pain no gain. Would it have been possible to move from the 2007 model, with geographic P&L, to the 2015 one without any turbulence? No, it just isn’t possible, it’s like the transformations we help our clients undergo. We undertook this change and, while moving forward, corrected our aim to achieve good emulation between our model’s various dimensions.

Today some may say that we are too international. I don’t believe that to be the case, we simply moved our pendulum in the opposite direction: first globalize, then integrate global practices within geographic areas. But before implementing geography, we had to break down barriers…

For a consultant seeking to join your firm, what makes you unique?

Beyond what we’ve been discussing, I think that our strength is that we do very serious things without taking ourselves too seriously. When you ask the consultants what they enjoy, they like that the firm is not at all hierarchical, not an army. We have a “partner to consultant” ratio that is lower than average, slightly less than one partner for every four consultants. Which means that we have more compact teams, and that there is much more learning between consultants and partners. What we put forward is that “with us, you will grow faster.” And we aren’t the ones saying so, our consultants are. We are very attentive to what they have to say.

First, the Way We Work that I mentioned earlier is analyzed on a monthly basis. Our consultants complete their time sheets and fill in the WWW at the same time. And at every step of the WWW, the question is “you, consultant, do you think we did a good job with this part, a good job with that one?” This also allows us to ask about work/life balance. We spot red areas, to see if some consultants worked too much and to understand why. Was the project improperly sized, was the project leader insufficiently clear about who does what, did our client change its mind on the way? This helps us to understand, and especially to address, any reasons for dissatisfaction.

We also have the trimestral “BarOWmeter”. Today, 100% of our consultants recommend Oliver Wyman as an employer; this wasn’t always the case. In 2011, we had poor results, with only 53% of our consultants recommending the firm. We were halfway through the practice-globalization process, we had four or five brands, seven or eights remuneration systems for partners in France. But we have worked hard since then, and that is why all of our consultants would recommend us today.

Now that the framework is in place, what does the future look like?

The future is growth. I believe that a consulting framework should grow by double digits. Is that 10 or 11%, is it 15%? We debate that internally. We think that we can double our size in five years. The details still need to be hammered out, we are assembling our plan. We’ll be holding a management committee in France this coming June, and that is when we’ll see what ambition and means we will give ourselves. But in any case the marketplace presents us with the opportunity to double. And that is the good news, we did an outside-in analysis, the same one that we recommend to our clients. There are still some white spaces left in France, and Oliver Wyman has the resources to occupy them.

Does that mean entering the national top 3?

In size, you mean? No, not necessarily. There are two firms in France with more than 50 partners, and our goal is not necessarily to overtake them. We actually think that we are a much more interesting alternative than most firms that are either smaller or one of the usual suspects.

Either because we are more specialized, with smaller, more senior teams, or because we are more globalized. We meet a need that, in our view, is increasingly common: offering specialist value-added rather than a junior army billed three times their cost. Our clients are looking for that value-added in the seniority and specialization of our teams.

Twenty years ago it was possible to make your way by positioning yourself as a generalist firm, with knowledge of multiple industries. That knowledge remains useful and necessary, but today when we scan Oliver Wyman’s operations in France we see a much higher level of expertise and specialization, which is on notable display in the studies that we publish.

But the real difference is that we have a global operation. We press a button on Friday, and teams with the proper expertise are ready to go on Monday. This is a reality, we have knocked off all the locks.

Since we’re talking about trends, the current groundswell in consulting is “digital”. Some think that this is part of a cycle, an important one but comparable to those that have come before and those that will come next. Others believe that it represents a real break in exactly how to be a consultant, one that menaces the entire profession. What is your take?

Digital is, of course, a power lever for transformation and a facilitator of access to intelligence, it’s all about immediacy. But that doesn’t mean we are in danger, and I am in full disagreement with some agitators who say that our very business is going to disappear. Digital inevitably changes our work. Today we can put things out in three weeks that would have taken months to produce a decade or two ago. So for me digital is a tremendous opportunity, and not remotely a threat to our business. Being good at digital is a requirement, there are no longer digital and non-digital missions. We did an internal study and every one of our missions, without a single exception, contains a digital aspect, although of varying degrees.

Oliver Wyman is well positioned in this regard. We have a well-outfitted Digital practice in France. The practice’s 30 worldwide partners met for three days in Atlanta last week, and in that team of 30 seven were from the Paris office. France, within Oliver Wyman, is very much at the forefront of these topics. We work on digital issues in almost every industry. We also started to codify our intellectual capital rather early, two years ago, and this is now part of our operations.

It’s true that, when you look at the press, we are sometimes less prominent than others. We should work on that. But we do have the expertise. Additionally, we created OW Labs internally, with data scientists. It is growing very rapidly.

One last question. What differentiates Oliver Wyman’s approach to missions?

We focus on co-production with our clients. We made the choice of “make with” rather than simply “make” or “have made”. We very quickly came to understand that we were not around to make pretty slides for the board or the CEO. That just does not interest us. What horrifies us is to create a project that never sees the light of day, that isn’t pursued. We are obsessed with making an impact. Our positioning is “impact through insight”. And in order to make an impact, we need our clients’ active participation. So yes, co-production with the client is non-negotiable for us. Sometimes it takes longer, but it is essential, because if you don’t make that investment all you will produce is an elegant report that will remain on someone’s desk.

Gillian Gobé for Consultor.news

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