This profile article first appeared on TheBusinessDesk.com on Monday 30th November 2020 – view it here.
Richard Coates is the founder and managing director of Whitecap Consulting, a regional strategy consultancy established in 2012 and headquartered in Leeds. Since then the business has grown and now has offices in Manchester, Milton Keynes, Birmingham, Bristol and Newcastle. It typically works with boards, executives and investors of predominantly mid-sized organisations with a turnover of c£10m-£300m, helping clients analyse, develop and implement growth strategies. The firm’s clients are from a range of sectors including financial services, technology, FinTech, outsourcing, consumer and retail, property, healthcare, higher education, manufacturing and professional services, including corporate finance and PE.
What is the best thing about your job?
There are two linked aspects of my job that I really enjoy. The first is immersing myself in the details and nuances of a specific market and a client organisation’s response to that market. The second is helping leadership teams gain absolute clarity and focus on their strategic agenda over the planning horizon – which could be three months or three years, and taking into account their risk appetite and growth ambitions.
Where is the opportunity for the business in the next year?
Over the last 3 years, Whitecap has grown very rapidly by increasing its senior team and number of offices across the UK, and this has resulted in more clients and projects. As organisations come out of 2020, and hopefully we all move on from the coronavirus pandemic, clients will re-appraise their strategic and commercial aims, and are likely to benefit from independent rigour, challenge and support. As a result, we hope that we will be well placed to receive new enquiries and assignments.
What is the big issue affecting your sector at the moment, and how will this make itself felt more widely?
A rapidly changing external environment, on multiple fronts, combined with rapidly evolving customer needs and competition are some of the major issues impacting the advisory sector. After all, strategy consulting is to some extent a conceptual discipline, where one is analysing recent facts, appraising current and emerging trends, and shaping potential options and strategies to drive future organisational performance and growth.
What has been the biggest change to your sector in the last 5-10 years, and what has been the impact of that?
As with all sectors, the use of technology has developed in consulting, specifically for market analysis and insights, as well as client engagement and project management. This will continue to evolve and develop across the sector, adding new and enhanced tools and processes for client and consultancy benefits.
Do you (or your company) have a phrase or motto that you use or rely on, and why does it resonate with you?
One of my favourite and recurring questions that I pose to myself, clients and the team is “what is the exam question we are trying to help answer”. I believe that this is essential as we need to be crystal clear about what we are trying to address for clients. Sometimes clients are very clear about this, although on occasions it is not immediately apparent. Defining and agreeing the exam question is a critical foundation for successful and efficient project delivery.
Give me an example of a lesson you learnt early in your career that has stuck with you?
As with other execs, I developed my early career in a specific function; marketing and strategic marketing in my case. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that ‘your’ function is the most important one in the organisation. As I got more involved in senior management and strategy, I quickly realised that all functions have a different and entirely legitimate view of the organisation. The key is to be able to see and appreciate all perspectives and reach a neutral and balanced view; rather than a biased and polarised view.
Who has been the biggest influence on their career? / Who inspires you?
At my university college in York in the 80’s, the most influential person for both my degree and my subsequent career, was lecturer Romano Zavaroni. He had a unique and enabling style of teaching that encouraged all his students to analyse, think for themselves and push boundaries. In October 2018, York St John recognised his contribution made to the college, and to education in general, by awarding him with an Honorary Fellowship.
How do you relax away from work?
When I set the company up in 2012 and was thinking about the name for the business, Whitecap reflected some of my interest. I have enjoyed several outdoor sports for many years: climbing, skiing, coastal sailing and off-road motorbiking interests and our designer picked-up on this which lead to our logo featuring both a stylised mountain and a wave.
In October Whitecap was the winner of the Professional Services Award at TheBusinessDesk.com’s Yorkshire Business Masters awards, and was shortlisted in Professional Services and Fast Growth categories at the West Midlands Business Masters awards.