What brought you into Consulting?
Personally, to make a difference to clients and to make a difference to their organisations – by using all of the skills and experience that I have developed and gained in my career to date.
I have had a reasonably varied career and have learnt a lot of different things from different experiences. In my career, I have worked in strategy development, analytical functions, people focused functions, marketing and change teams – all of that experience has given me the depth but also breadth on how organisations work and “fit” together both structurally and culturally. So now I can take a holistic view on how organisations work which is both interesting and useful in helping understanding clients’ challenges.
Where do you specialise?
As a competency, it’s strategy development. And that is actually everything from the analysis (understanding your consumers, competitors and markets as well as stakeholders), and then moving that forward to developing the vision and options for the organisation and then helping the organisation making it happen once they have decided their desired way forward.
At a sector level, I have worked mainly in two sectors. The first part of my career was working in Financial Services (Santander, Barclays, KPMG). I have built on that commercial expertise that I developed and have more recently applied it to the education sector, helping educational institutions become more commercially effective, business minded and leading edge. Read Lal’s team bio here.
How do you work?
I’m passionate about working with an organisation. That means working with an objective but also understanding the culture and people of the organisation. It also means I will often be physically with an organisation as opposed to those consultants that may only drop into an assignment at the beginning and end! It’s really important that any solution that we might recommend for a client is actually appropriate for that client, in the sense that it will fit their culture, and that there’s a good likelihood of success of it being implemented.
And that behaviour is typical of my other Whitecap colleagues – I believe it’s a differentiator that “we are working with you, alongside you”, whereas a big consultancy might not be as hands on, we make sure that we really understand our clients and how they will implement our recommendations.
What makes you tick?
At heart, I’m a problem solver. So helping a client navigate through an issue or a challenge is what makes me tick. There’s nothing better than navigating the client move forward from not knowing how to tackle an issue, through to understanding the challenge in more detail, through to evaluating options, through to making it happen.
The most unusual project you’ve worked on?
I had worked with a client who liked what I did but wanted to learn how I operate as a consultant. They wanted their senior and middle managers to act more like consultants. So what they had asked me to do, was develop a short training course on how consultants think and act, so they could learn from the way of doings things rather than what we actually did.
It meant reflecting on things you do naturally as a consultant, that you’ve built up over time. It was about trying to document those things, it was actually quite tough to be honest. They were after pragmatic tips, simple but effective things to do in the consulting process. So it required me to be very reflective in a way I hadn’t done before.
Has there been a shift in industries needing external support?
Yes there have. From my perspective, I am seeing more education providers now looking to specialists for support to grapple with some of the industry issues.
Looking at higher education for example – They now have to view their students as customers, and they haven’t had to do that before. This is because students have more choice, but especially since they are now paying £9000+ a year for their fees they will think more about how they spend that money. Now that’s more of an issue, universities have to think about what their brand stands for and how they market that to potential and existing students.
So there’s an example of an industry going through a major shift, often leading to needing specialists in that area.
What’s your favourite thing about working at Whitecap?
Working with a bunch of people that are like minded but have a diverse set of skills.
Certainly from the director group, we are a similar age group, and have all gone through corporate leadership experience. We have all come to the point where we wanted to create something new and valuable and that’s a shared ambition. But within that context, there is a wide variety of skills and sectors, going through technology specialist, marketing specialist, strategy specialist etc. So its great to have those diverse backgrounds.
Business leader you most admire and why?
James Dyson – because of the number of times he got knocked back and kept on going. So in the context of organisational development, sometimes you need to fail to learn. Experimenting and failing fast hasn’t really been big in our culture until recently.
When I was in school, it was all about playing it safe. Where as now we see the importance of failing fast, learning your lesson, and quickly moving on.
Describe a pivotal moment in your career.
This was a while ago. For the first 15 years of my career I worked for big corporates which were very structured and had big support networks. I then went to work for a start-up FS company and we moved into full start-up mode launching our first branch on the high street. As the marketing director, I was actually putting up posters in the window of that branch, which I never would have done because in previous jobs there would be a whole “machine” i.e. a team of people to do stuff like that.
The pivotal moment was when we launched the branch, and on day one I watched people walk past the branch and past the window without looking at the branch at all. There was a big realisation there that we may think we know our customers and know our audiences. But really the only way to do that is to get in front of them and talk to them on a regular basis so you can understand what makes them tick and what they are most interested in.
The point is, if you’re in the Head Office of a big corporate, you don’t get close enough to a customer. You might spend a few days “getting back to the floor” – so you think you might know your customers, but in reality you probably don’t. So it’s about getting under the skin and getting out there to really understand what’s going on.