An antique grandfather clock dominates the reception area of Deloitte Consulting. A symbol of tradition amidst an organisation that has recently been acknowledged as one of the most modern and forward thinking of consultancies.
Deloitte enjoyed the top consultancy ranking in Fortune magazine’s The Most Attractive Firm to Work For survey. So, what is so attractive about this consultancy? What makes this the firm that has been successful in poaching a significant number of post-merger PricewaterhouseCoopers’ consultants?
Managing partner John Everett is used to being a man in the middle of change. Not only has his extensive client experience put him at the heart of some of the industry’s biggest change projects, but, before entering the profession, he was a senior manager at Rover, within one of the most tempestuous of pre-Thatcher industries. “In those days, all management philosophies and strategies had to be geared around industrial relations.
It was predominantly an environment of conflict. Things had started to change but it was still an industry driven by issues other than the ones we expect today.” One would think that such an atmosphere would present a constantly stimulating environment for a senior manager. Not so for Everett, who believed that the bureaucracy, red-tape and often mundane routine didn’t allow for more creative management solutions.
A break from the union
The move into consultancy was, he felt, a logical one. “You did come across many consultants while working within industry and the possibilities that were offered were very attractive indeed. The move from industry to consultancy can be like jumping from the frying pan into the fire, so the choice of which consultant to work for was an important one. Deloitte Consulting attracted me quite simply because of the people.”
There it is again. People. A good place to work. There isn’t a consultancy in the world that wouldn’t claim these factors as being perfect descriptions of their business and yet at Deloitte it does come across as a mantra.
Yet, pinning down what really makes the difference is a little harder.
When asked if he regrets not having the time to undertake as much client work as he used to, he replies: “I miss the personal contact of working on such projects. Some of the clients I worked with have since become personal friends.” It’s hard to imagine an Andersen, PwC or McKinsey consultant espousing such regrets.
The personal angle to working at Deloitte seems to be at the heart of its philosophy. This philosophy seems to have been developed organically.
“We went through a great period of change a few years back, where we re-examined our core values, our relationship with our own staff and, as a result of that work, changed the way in which we interact and serve our clients. There is a direct thread between the way in which we advise our clients and the way in which our own internal organisation is run.”
Running that organisation is Everett’s biggest challenge. The firm is steeling itself for a much tighter fiscal year ahead and Everett is focused on steering it through and ensuring that “lateral thinking” consultants, full of ideas and at times “all over the place” are not too swayed from the business mission. Managing consultants is, perhaps, the hardest part of the job.
“The sheer practicality of keeping in touch with consultants, despite the wealth of technology we are surrounded with, gets harder. Face to face contact, unless managed carefully becomes a rare event. All the e-mails in the world aren’t going to make up for that. You can’t create a truly global business with e-mail alone.” As a result of his experience within Rover, Everett is ever watchful of what he describes as “creeping bureaucracy.” He has done much to strip away cursory management layers and claims to constantly devolve power around the organisation.
The growth pattern
Deloitte Consulting is currently contributing about 25 percent of total revenue to its parent group. The accountancy side of the firm still takes the lion’s share. This is a lower proportion than the industry average of around 36 percent. Is that likely to remain the case? “Audit revenues are starting to contract. The consulting side is definitely going to increase. It’s already the fastest growing sector. In the UK we are already evaluating our capacity for growth, financially, with regard to personnel and even office space.”
Last year Deloitte Consulting notched up growth of just under 40 percent.
Everett predicts growth for this year to be around 25 percent. “We going to be hit along with everyone else. It’s hard to say which specific sectors are going to suffer. We may be seeing signs of IT slowing a little now that Y2K issues are mostly in hand. The considerable layoffs in the financial services sector are having a knock-on effect.”
However, Deloitte seems to be very bullish about the manufacturing sector, traditionally a sector of deep gloom through recessions. “That sector is holding up very well for us. It performed well last year, and it continues to do so, though we do expect it to go through a tough period at year end. Telecoms, government and utilities look as though they will be the real performers for us in the next year. They’re incredible boom sectors.
Overall, we see a recession with a soft landing. I really believe that this is a confidence issue, rather than a macro-economic one at this stage.
If Wall Street falls out of bed or the Asian crisis relapses then the entire industry will be thrown.”
Women at work
Deloitte is spearheading the drive for equality at work. Its global women’s initiative began in January 1992 in order to examine three areas; the environment in which Deloitte operates, perceived obstacles to career advancement and balancing multiple commitments in professional and personal lives. The recommendations were put into effect in April 1993. So, what’s really changed for women within Deloitte?
“We had too few senior female consultants. We employed a 50/50 split but found that as time passed we lost many female workers. This was mainly due to assessments being very male oriented. Words such as “assertive” and “aggressive” were given far too much weight. There were, naturally, a lack of role models for the women within our company. There was nothing that they could aspire to. The work life balance structures we had in place were also a major stumbling block with regard to career advancement.
We’ve addressed all of these issues and we’re now rated higher by our female employees than the males.”
So everything’s fine and dandy for women at Deloitte? Not entirely.
Everett glumly admits that women make up only 10 percent of the firm’s partners. This does seem a ridiculously low figure. Without initiatives, most of the Big Five could claim similar proportions. “The change will not happen overnight,” says Everett. No, but a six-year initiative should reap something a little better than such a small percentage.
Everett is wary of the benefits that the new industry-wide qualification, the CMC, will bring to Deloitte. “Our own internal training programmes are very intensive. So much time is spent on not only general training subjects but also on ensuring that our consultants are kept abreast of industry trends. That is the sort of training that we promote to our clients. Tried and tested. I’m sceptical about the real benefits that such a qualification would bring to a client. There is an argument that it is an independent qualification and that there is a standard level of competency that it guarantees but our level of training is outstanding; the level of our competitors’ training is outstanding. It’s hard to see where such a qualification fits in. For us track record is everything – our brand is our bond.”
Everett is very aware of the demands that customers make on a consultancy.
“The whole process of buying consultancy has become much more sophisticated.
The projects have become much bigger and so have the risks. The level of confidence they must have in a consultant is very high. The days of the unsophisticated client are over.”
JOHN EVERETT: CURRICULUM VITAE
John Everett studied Economics at the London School of Economics and then spent seven years working in the financial planning field for Fisons, British Steel and Bowater. Before joining Deloitte & Touche Consulting Group in 1978, he was corporate planning manager at British Leyland.
During his career he has been involved in the development and implementation of corporate planning systems, the specification and use of computer planning models and the integration of annual budgets and longer range plans.
He has also specialised in acquisition studies of both private and public companies and has been involved in the appraisal of expenditure on major budget items with costs in excess of #25m.
He spent three years at the Centre for InterFirm Comparison where he was responsible for a section which focused on the development of management information systems and consultancy programmes for the transport, chemical and food manufacturing industries.