Meet the Directors – Richard Coates, Managing Director
What brought you into Consulting?
I’ve worked for 25 years, working for a range of businesses, and I had always had it in my mind that at some point I would want to run my own business. I also knew that there would likely be an event that would trigger that. It so happened that I worked for a business that went through a change of fortune, and one thing they didn’t need was a growth oriented marketing and strategy director. I took the opportunity of voluntary redundancy in 2012, and that was the spring board to set up Whitecap. Since then I’ve really enjoyed being my own boss and working with great people and ultimately focusing on the work I love doing.
Where do you specialise?
I specialise in strategic marketing and business strategy, having done that for many years in client and agency roles. My background is actually quite broad in terms of sectors – I’ve worked across tourism, hospitality, automotive, petrol, retail and FS. I think the thing I specialise in is actually more of a process area. For whatever reason, that I don’t quite understand (laughs), I have the ability to cut through stuff very quickly and get to the heart of the issue. And actually for me, the more complex, ambiguous and challenging the problem is, the more I enjoy it. I think I work well in those situations and help bring clarity to what the organisation needs to focus on to move forward (Read Richards team bio here.)
How do you work?
I would like to think that I’m very inclusive and have a working style that engages individuals in the problem solving process. I can be quite quick to get to the heart of the matter, and then I enjoy being challenged on those initial views to improve the outcomes. I’m definitely a very visual thinker. In fact, I was given a whiteboard for my 50th birthday by my colleagues (thanks!). I use a whiteboard as a way to structure my thinking and thought process working out what we need to do. It’s not just good to structure my thoughts, but it helps express and share them in a way that other people can add to too.
What makes you tick?
I love to be busy and I love to be challenged. I like to be doing new work and understanding new markets and business situations, and then trying to add some value to them. I think (know) I have a very low boredom threshold, so I’m always up for a new challenge (and challenging myself in fact).
The most unusual project you’ve worked on?
A strategic marketing plan and implementation project for the Falkland islands – post conflict in the 1980’s. One of my first jobs after graduating was with a small tourism consultancy. We were appointed by the Falkland Islands Development Corporation to develop the tourism marketing strategy and lead the marketing activity – we were responsible for promoting the Islands to different market segments (e.g. wildlife watchers, sports fishermen, adventure cruise companies etc.) internationally. It was great, I loved it. I went there twice in the late ‘80s.
Most people’s perceptions of the islands were negative, understandably – fueled by the war. But actually, once you go, it is an amazing place to visit. So it was great to have some input in showing the islands in a positive light and being part of that.
How has the consulting changed over the past 5/10 years?
I think a few years ago businesses would have done the big 10 year vision, 5 year strategy and plan. The strategy process was predominately a boardroom exercise, then cascaded down through the company. Now, it’s much more agile and connected to the business. It’s more common now to do a 5 year long-term view, a 2-3 year strategy and 1 year detailed plan. It’s much more dynamic and fluid and connected to the business with much more organisational / colleague engagement – sharing with people what the business is trying to achieve and the individual’s role within it.
Has there been a shift in industries needing external support?
Yes definitely. Historically there would have been a lot of support in sectors like manufacturing and traditional process based industries, helping to drive efficiency. What we’re seeing now in the economy is growth of service industries especially in areas such as FinTech and Digital and we’re developing good experience in these sectors. At the same time, we are seeing a lot of turbulence in markets and changing conditions and also shift in flexibility, collaboration and innovation.
What sort of projects have been in highest demand recently?
We are seeing a lot of projects where the combined changes in regulation, technology and consumer behavior are requiring firms to evolve and change. We have recent and current projects with these issues. For example, in regards to data, there are changes in how it is being used and managed, involving consumer protection, GDPR, PSD2, Open Banking, etc. But also, almost every sector is experiencing these changing dynamics as this change continues to be fueled by digital and mobile innovation.
How has Whitecap changed up to date?
It has grown consistently year-on-year. We have a larger director, consultant and associate team now across 3 locations and have a larger range of projects than I could have originally expected. It’s always fascinating to see what enquiries we get coming outside of our core network base. For example, the opportunities that come through the website are always interesting in terms of scope and / or countries.
You’re the MD, describe how you run a consulting firm.
Firstly, like everyone who has set up and is running a growing business, you are learning all the time, and that never stops. That’s the excitement and fun of it to be honest. In terms of projects, and having been on the client side I always put myself on the client side and think ‘what are they receiving from Whitecap’. That’s my benchmark and perspective to make sure we are delivering value. I try to ensure we deliver a quality output and add a new perspective. But, of course there is still lot to learn. It’s about trying to understand what businesses need today, and how to add value to the organisation in different ways – whether that’s P&L and / or valuation growth.
From a Whitecap team perspective, we’re changing. We now have a bigger footprint across three regions and have more diversity of skills and personalities, and that helps in how we approach client projects and our own growth, so it’s great to have new perspectives.
Describe a pivotal moment in your career.
My first client side experience being a marketing director stands out. I had been working in two large marketing agencies for several years, working on client projects, and I had two big insights right about the same time. The first one, I had come from an environment, where everyone I had engaged with all knew what marketing was, valued it, and could see the benefits of it. Then I went client side, and most of the senior management team I worked with didn’t understand what marketing was, certainly didn’t see it as a strategic function (rather “the colouring in dept.”) and didn’t value it. That was an eye opener. It’s so easy to assume everyone knows what you are talking about.
Round about the same time, I was getting more involved in the business strategy and thinking about the effectiveness of the company. I didn’t really have the experience to work out what was going on in certain situations. At that time I was doing my Executive MBA and I started to really understand things like strategy, organisational behaviour, culture and decision making. That helped me really understand what was going on in the company and why. It was that senior experience combined with the technical understanding that all came together for me, and then subsequently helped me with future roles and especially as a strategy consultant now.
Business leader you most admire and why?
Without naming individuals, there have been 2 CEOs I have worked with as clients that I respect very highly and I have learnt a lot from them. Their leadership styles have been a combination of strong strategic direction, senior management team engagement and collaboration, combined with execution of activity that drives performance. It’s this balance between those attributes and their personal leadership impact that I most respect; they are hard things to do consistently.