Tom Blacksell is one of the originals in the field of consultancy. He has
been there from the heady beginnings of the fledgling industry in the 1990s and
experienced its vicissitudes, watching it mature into what can now be described
as a collection of sub-sectors, classified by the catch-all term of consultancy.
Consultancy is no longer a cut-and-dried sector. To reflect the changes
Capgemini has divided
its three main services lines equally between outsourcing, technology and
consulting. Blacksell has stayed true to his roots and remains wholeheartedly in
the pure consulting camp, resulting in his appointment as chief executive office
of Capgemini Consulting UK. Blacksell presides over a business worth around
£100m, with 600 staff in the UK. Overall, Capgemini has 4,000 consultants in
Europe and in April posted first quarter consolidated group revenues of ¤2,214m
(£1,517m) compared with ¤1,869m for the same period in 2006.
‘I’ve been through the full cycle of consulting,’ Blacksell says. ‘The market
has changed in my view quite fundamentally from the mid-1990s. I’m not sure
buyers were as discerning around the purchase of consulting skills then. People
have got a lot more mature about what is consulting and what isn’t, and how they
With the market changing so rapidly, Capgemini split its businesses to ensure
that each division targets the right buyers and capitalises on what people want.
It’s undoubtedly driven by more demanding clients.
‘We’ve had a strong three years, particularly in Europe. But they are all
fundamentally different businesses, so we got to a point of growth where we
really had to invest in and fuel that growth in each business differently. The
fundamentals have a lot of overlaps but what we realised was that we had to fuel
The change to the operating model probably has a lot to do with attracting
and keeping the right employees, too. Although technology consultancy remains
strong, its growth is nowhere near the rates of the 1980s and 1990s, while
outsourcing consulting has overtaken where technology was leading. High-flying
consultants in outsourcing surely want to keep their double-figure profits to
‘If you leave them integrated, the consulting business gets sucked into being
a part of trying to develop some cross-business. That’s why Accenture is doing
quite a lot of reorganisation at the moment, and they’ve had quite a lot of
consulting people leave – we’ve hired quite a few – because they are fed up with
being pre-sales guys for large outsourcing and BPO technology deals.’
After eight years in the oil industry, Blacksell joined Ernst & Young in
the management consulting practice when the firm was taking its first tentative
steps into consulting in the mid-1990s. At the time E&Y was establishing
sector groupings, offering a perfect fit for Blacksell to advise on the oil
business. Along with the audit partners he managed the non-audit work for BP,
‘which was E&Y’s, and probably still is E&Y’s, biggest audit client’.
In 2001 Capgemini bought E&Y’s consulting arm as the accounting firms
retreated from the business. Blacksell continued to work with clients in the
energy and utilities division and has since gradually worked his way to the top.
Although the consulting division dabbles in advisory consulting – into which
the Big Four accountancy firms have been slowly returning despite protestations
to the contrary following their withdrawal back in 2000 and 2001 – Blacksell
dismisses out of hand any competitive threat that the Big Four might pose to
‘We don’t meet the Big Four head to head in the market that much. When we’re
bidding for client-side advisory work, we do. They have some good guys. But we
don’t consider them main competitors. They may have an aspiration to move into
operational advisory work, but that doesn’t keep me awake for one moment.’
Operational advisory work is what Blacksell deems his heartland, where
‘buyers are demanding the ability to execute as well as the ability to advise’.
Analysis reports are all well and good but today, he says, clients want you to
put your words into actions and get the job done.
For that, you need the expertise, experience, capability and investment. As
he puts it, ‘it’s not just about plucking people out’ to join a company. That’s
why Blacksell says he’s not concerned about the accountancy firms moving into
‘The ability to execute as well as to advise is a prerequisite to being
successful in the market. Those that can’t provide the organisational
wherewithal to be credible in the execution as well as the advice may well pick
up some work but they’ll have very limited aspirations.
‘Many times clients ask us just to do advice work in the operational space,
but more often they also ask us to demonstrate our ability to execute. There’s
less and less separation between the advice and design and the implementation.
People see bundling it as a way of getting good value for money, and some level
Deloitte is the only one of the Big Four that Blacksell considers to be close
to the type of work Capgemini is doing. And he’s curious to see if the other
firms will decide on a concerted push to enter the market.
Blacksell says he has no intention of seeking out advisory work, as it’s
primarily compliance work off the back of new regulations on corporate
governance such as Sarbanes-Oxley. Ironically, the new rules were implemented to
curb many of the accountancy firms’ activities and unintentionally ended up
creating a new source of revenue for the firms.
‘We don’t believe that doing compliance work is consistent with our brand
aspiration or recruitment policy. It’s not what we recruit people to do. We have
specific functional skills. We don’t want to build a compliance factory.’
Despite being a seasoned consultant Blacksell doesn’t fit the industry’s
pushy and excessively smooth-talking image. He seems down to earth and affable,
although when it comes to the hard sell he’s as single-minded as any City
dealmaker – at one time he was UK sales director for Capgemini technology and
consulting. As he walks the corridors of the Capgemini’s Soho offices, he seems
perfectly relaxed despite everyone seeming to want a piece of him. Times are
With a new structure in place Blacksell considers the future rosy – and with
few of the governance constraints on further growth that hold back the
accountancy firms. It looks like the CEO will be around to see more developments
in the consulting business – maybe even a serious Big Four rival for his
heartland. But for now it’s not his major concern.
Accountability and the public sector
After a decade of surging growth in the consultancy industry, a series of
major failures brought home to customers that consultants weren’t infallible.
One error that hit the industry hard was the IT deal between Accenture and the
Blacksell says that although it was not good for the reputation of the
industry at large, the episode hasn’t clipped consultants’ wings, particularly
in the pure consulting field.
‘It’s not a worry for me in the consulting arena but in the technology
arena.‘We could accuse Accenture of being overly focused on delivery. We’ve a
very strong delivery management process and we understand the consequences of
failed delivery but what we’ve seen in the public sector is that there’s a
strong delivery track record.’
Some of the biggest consulting contracts in the past 10 years have been in
the public sector. Many observers, not to mention taxpayers, are critical of the
amount government has spent on consultants, but when a contract as big as the
Accenture one fails, the knives really come out. However, Blacksell says the
public sector is at least as discerning as any business in the private sector.
‘You can’t get away in the public sector now with providing advice and not
being held accountable for the execution. If you ignore that, you pay the price
that those guys did. Buyers link advice and delivery and they will hold you
accountable. The public sector, much like the private sector, tracks performance
and holds people accountable for it. And rightly so in my view.
‘For us, that’s where the market has really shifted and I don’t think that
trajectory will change. Those who don’t realise that will ultimately fail. If
you haven’t got the ability to tie the two things together, you will fail.’
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