What brought you into Consulting?
I’ve worked in some big businesses in my career. When you work in a large organisation, you get a lot of valuable experience, but as you reach more senior roles you find yourself doing less of the things that got you there, and get increasingly caught up in meetings, governance and management. That’s what happened to me, and I was drawn to consulting as it would enable me to focus on my strengths and the types of work I found more interesting.
Additionally, rather than just working in one business, consultants get a lot of varied experience with different situations and individuals. It’s a constant learning curve but I feel I now provide more informed input than I ever could as an employee of just one company.
Where do you specialise?
My background is primarily in financial services in a B2B context. Most of my early career was spent in marketing roles, but over time my work increasingly involved tackling broader strategic issues. Since joining Whitecap in 2012, the majority of my project work has been on FS and FinTech projects, but I have also worked in several other sectors including retail, fast food and technology. (read Julian’s team bio)
Over time at Whitecap we’ve realised that there’s more crossover between different industries than you might think. We can provide a degree of valuable knowledge and insight without being a sector-specialist – in fact sometimes bringing a fresh perspective is incredibly valuable. As consultants we’ll never know more about any business the people who are running it, but we have expertise and skills to work alongside them in helping them achieve their goals.
How do you work?
I’m people person, I couldn’t sit and work on my own all day so it’s great to be out seeing clients, networking, or in one of our offices with the Whitecap team. But there are also times when I like to delve individually into a piece of work, investing time in creating an important output, which will usually manifest itself in the form of a document.
I tend to be working on multiple projects at the same time. You’ve got to be quite dynamic in this line of work – it’s not a standard 9-5 job and there are many extra-long days, but there’s also a lot of flexibility. As a golden rule, client deadlines and needs are the top priority as a consultant – non-client work or activities must wait, no matter how interesting they might be.
I’m predominantly Leeds based, but invariably there’s a lot of travel, which I prefer to do by train so I can make use of the time to work. A lot of our conversations don’t need to happen face to face – in fact, many of our client communication happens by phone, email, WhatsApp, or Skype. This is especially true of international clients.
That said, when it comes to brainstorming a client issue, or tackling a new project, we find that nothing really beats being sat around a whiteboard.
What makes you tick?
Problem solving – I like turning meetings and discussions into meaningful and valuable outputs.
It’s incredibly satisfying when a client comes to us knowing what they want to achieve but are not clear on how to get there, and we then help them gain clarity on exactly what they are going to do and why. That’s when you know you have really added value. I think any consultant could relate to that.
I also like to invest time in my own development. I’ve recently completed the Institute of Directors ‘Diploma in Company Direction’, which puts me one step away from becoming a Chartered Director.
The most unusual project you’ve worked on?
In 2016 we received a new enquiry through our website from an established firm looking for help developing a strategy to set up the first peer to peer lending company in Azerbaijan, which was certainly not a country we’d envisaged working in. The project kick-off involved spending a week in Baku, running a workshop for the management team that would lead the new venture.
The fact it came out of the blue was a nice surprise as most of our projects come via our existing network from referrals and recommendations.
How has consulting changed in the past 5/10 years?
Like all industries consulting has had to adapt because businesses today are looking to be more dynamic and agile and have more flexibility in what they are doing, so their advisers need to align to this. Fewer leadership teams are taking a 5-10 year view, and are now looking over much shorter time frames. (see our recent blog on ‘Always-on strategy’)
Consultants will generally be hired to help with things that are changing, and that’s now happening faster than ever. This means consultants need to stay ahead of the curve and try to develop an understanding of areas where CEOs can see the potential for change, opportunities and challenges. There’s a lot of opportunity as many businesses today don’t have the resources or experience internally to evaluate those situations with confidence, so they look for independent external advice.
Has there been a shift in what companies are looking for from external support?
We’ve noticed mid sized companies and corporates seem increasingly keen to engage with smaller consultancies rather than the mainstream consultancies – especially on a regional basis outside of London. Our clients who fall into this category tell us they feel they get comparable outputs from projects in a more cost efficient manner, and particularly appreciate that our most experienced consultants are actually delivering the work rather than simply setting up the opportunity for more junior teams to fulfil.
What sort of projects have been in highest demand recently?
The most common theme in our projects is evaluating the future impact of digital change. Not so much from a technology perspective, more in terms of strategic impact. Businesses across all sectors are looking to understand the opportunities and challenges that digital presents, and how they can best adapt. The growth and impact of the FinTech sector is a great example of where medium and large organisations in FS are looking to establish how this can be embedded within their strategy.
Whitecap has been going 5 years now- describe a significant moment.
One of the challenges of growing a consulting business, is to get away from people thinking of you as an individual consultant, and instead to view you as a business entity.
For example, people used to say, “I think Julian Wells could help with this”, but now they say. “I think I need some Whitecap help with this”. This is a significant as it shows we’re building something collectively that is more valuable than our individual input would be in isolation.
How do you see Whitecap developing in the next 3 years?
As of April 2017 we have three regional offices, so I fully expect we will develop a our brand presence and a more diverse client base. We’re especially looking to further grow our presence in the technology and education sectors. We’re also looking to expand our capabilities into broader strategic areas such as change management and delivery.
Business Leader you most admire and why?
I have learned from many inspirational people in my career, and I think I’ve gained more from these people than any industry gurus or famous business leaders.
In my time at The Boston Consulting Group in London, however, I learnt about the vision of founder Bruce Henderson in building a consulting firm. His story is not widely known but he built one of the most successful consulting businesses in the world and pioneered an approach to thought leadership marketing that has served me well throughout my career.