Meet the Directors – Luke Freeman
What brought you into consulting?
Focus and variety. Specifically, the opportunity to really focus on strategic problem solving, with less distraction from the ‘clutter’ that comes as part of corporate life, and the ability to work with a variety of unique clients and businesses who derive value from the rigour learned in those corporate environments.
Where do you specialise?
Helping senior management design and build tomorrow’s business. For me ‘Commercial Clarity’ largely flows from a business having a reasonably detailed, coherent and singular view of the business it wants to be – usually 3-5 years into the future. From this target state management teams can build ambitious and believable plans, develop compelling propositions designed to attract target customers and make smarter decisions today about how and where to invest and deploy resource. My passion is helping senior management teams through this process.
In terms of sectors, I spent about 12 years in Financial Services, 10 years before that in B2B marketing and distribution and most recently a year or so in Software, so naturally I have some industry-specific content knowledge in those areas. Interestingly, I would say that while of course there are differences in strategic and competitive dynamics between sectors, in terms of the big questions businesses are facing, and the practical steps they can take to clarify and address those questions, there is much more that different sectors have in common than separates them.
How do you work?
I get a big kick out of effective collaboration, so operating as a virtual part of my clients’ management team is something I always look to do. It goes without saying that getting the engagement right when building a strategy is a massive help when it comes to implementation, so encouraging a client to actively seek the right level of involvement from their colleagues is usually part of the approach. There are some set pieces which are often beneficial as part of a project, so a mixture of informal meetings and conversations, more structured workshops and a certain amount of time drawing pictures on whiteboards is par for the course!
What makes you tick?
Having something to look forward to – especially when it’s a shared view. The moments when a team makes a breakthrough in articulating a shared vision, the excitement that generates in building plans, the way previously difficult decisions become simple and clear cut – those moments make the hard yards in doing research, analysis and fact-bases all worthwhile.
Most unusual project?
My first experience in consultancy was as part of a large internal consulting business in Barclays. An off the cuff comment made by the then Chief Executive led to a raft of strategic reviews being commissioned on the Group’s central functions (HR; Risk; Purchasing etc). I was asked to lead a couple of these and while they yielded valuable insight and some interesting options, they were also slightly peculiar case studies of mobilising a lot of people in answering a set of questions that no-one had really asked. Strategy formulation can be a great way to improve decision making, engagement, performance and return on investment. It can also be a box ticking exercise undertaken just “because XYZ said so”… I know which type of project I prefer to do!
Has there been a shift in industries needing support?
I’m not sure I would describe it as a shift in industries so much as a growing awareness amongst small and mid-cap businesses that consultancy isn’t something that’s only an option for big corporates. Owner-managers and Senior Execs of SMEs are increasingly interested in the flexible access to relevant expertise that the consultancy model offers them, and consultancy firms that can quickly mobilise small teams to help owner-managers and senior execs of SMEs address specific challenges are clearly part of this picture.
At Whitecap, some of our most interesting projects have been from SMEs exploring and developing their growth strategy and vision and using the outputs of that work to make better and more consistent investment decisions in the here and now.
What’s your favourite thing about working at Whitecap?
Honestly, lots of things… I’d say three main things though:
- It’s a laugh – I can rely on someone in the Whitecap team saying or doing something every day which makes me laugh.
- Building something – generally speaking we practice what we preach, so the sense that we are collectively creating something, with clear goals in mind, against an agreed design is enormously exciting and brings great satisfaction. It really helps that as a team we have different but complementary skills and interests.
- It sounds more than a little cheesy, but helping people is something that makes us all feel good, and working at Whitecap gives me the opportunity to help some really interesting people, with really interesting businesses to achieve great things.
Pivotal Moment in your career?
I was running the marketing department in a B2B merchanting / distribution business, when the MD, my then boss, asked me to take responsibility for writing the businesses case for a potential merger, and then the go-forward strategy for the combined business. It was brilliant – it gave me an opportunity to apply some of the theory I was absorbing via an Executive MBA, but also to work with a wider leadership team to articulate a vision and roadmap in very clear commercial terms – I knew then that this was the kind of work I really wanted to do.
Business Leader you most admire and why?
There are a couple I’ve worked with and for, whose best qualities I’d like to cherry pick.
One who had the most insatiable curiosity about… everything: the markets he operated in, the opportunities for his business, and crucially, for the ideas and interests of his team – he would question, challenge and chivvy everything, but it was all done because he genuinely wanted to understand and embrace new ideas. A CEO who struck a perfect balance between informality and authority – he embraced open plan working for himself and his Exec team years before it was commonplace, seemed to personally know and relate to hundreds if not thousands of employees, but retained an aura of absolute professionalism and respect.
And another who brought the benefit of simplicity and clarity to even the largest projects. He set the bar very high but everybody involved was left in no doubt what the big picture looked like, what their individual role was, what was expected, and what ‘great’ would look like… more than a few top coaches in team sports seem to follow a similar model!