It's not about the PowerPoint!
10 Years at Esher Advisory… “It’s not about the PowerPoint”
Trying to fit 10 years into a blog that holds the audience from start to finish, I figured it had to be personal.
August 12th, 2012 marked the launch. A straightforward process of registering Esher Advisory Limited at companies’ house.
Whilst this was a significant milestone, the journey to this point began many years prior.
I grew up in a two up two down house in the suburbs of London, Surrey, England, sharing a bedroom with two siblings. An incredibly happy household, but one that endured financial challenges most months. I spent a childhood watching my folks work long hours whilst trying to bring up three children, something I took for granted, until I became a father myself.
I have always believed that my subconscious during these times drove me to want to take control of my future work life. I never wanted to be constrained and I knew I was not well equipped to take direction from a hierarchical organisation. I respected my parents’ efforts, but deep down, I knew I wanted to create a life less ordinary for me and my family. This period in my life helped to create the entrepreneur within, and the resulting behaviours remain deep rooted in me today.
Back to Aug 2012, London was enjoying a wave of positivity, the Olympic host city, investment was flooding back in post the financial crises and the streets were a wash with colour. I figured; timing might just have been on my side.
At the outset I set about evaluating all the lessons I had picked up in consulting over the years. There are many tricks to selling, the big guys could author a book a week on the methods. Repeatedly, I had observed clients paying little attention to the value being derived from provisioning consultancies. All too often, procurements work is complete at the point of sale, the client blinks, the A team is now the C team, with the bulk of resource residing at the foot of the pyramid, you guessed it, the high margin space.
I also took note of the tricks, a “non-conflicting” secondment here, an internal promotion driving up the rate card there, the Partners working tirelessly and in functional unison behind the scenes, all in effort to make it inherently convenient for the client to keep buying. Nothing new or unique here, accept to say that knowing this, I wanted to create an opportunity that addressed these client pain points, even if they were blissfully unaware!
I sought to establish a service that proactively tackled the issue of transparency, on behalf of the client, one that fostered trust. This was inclusive of ensuring procurement (an independent function), observed status through reporting against plan, every month, and at our cost.
Whilst I had a vision for the business back then, I would be lying if I said it was crystal clear.
Do not pay attention to those that tell or teach you that a vision, strategy, or business case is essential. It’s not about the PowerPoint. What I learned during this period is that you need a strong work ethic (it is a hugely competitive sector), you must also be able to adapt to the situation, what’s right for one client could be catastrophic for another. A benevolent client also helps, as will your reputation, after all, it is tough to sell or deliver in the pro-services space without a track record or years of experience.
As our business evolved and the world embarked on significant digital change, I also recognised that the c-suite composition was evolving and fast. There was a desire for increased transparency, and a conversation that is not always caveated with what compliance or audit will allow the consultancy to speak of. This (for me) is a key differentiator for Esher.
Through reporting, initiative-taking client management, we closed this gap by offering advice that was not carefully choreographed, e.g., we did not add clauses in assurance findings that absolved us from every responsibility. We share the burden because we believe in what we say, and what we do.
We baked such lessons into our own culture, and we continuously work hard to ensure our people (an orchestra if you like), are equipped with the skills necessary such that a conductor not need always be present. Increasingly, we see more clients appreciating the realness of direct dialogue, especially when grounded in fact and relatable perspective.
Make no mistake, economic factors are of huge importance to a business-like Esher, in our formative years, 2012-2016, a buoyant marketplace delivered our clients higher revenues, wider margins, and more available capital.
In turn, this led to higher levels of M&A, transactions, investment into new digital tech, at times it even drove regulators to respond to those that lobbied for higher levels of control. Each of these points warranted clients needing external help and support. These were, and remain, the capability pain points we address for our clients.
This brings me to our people.
Over the years you learn to realise two fundamental things in consulting, firstly, you are a knowledge management business, so you better know your subject, and secondly, meeting demand is easy, doing so with the right people, not always so.
We have learnt to be ‘in’ the business of our clients, not ‘on’ the business. A shared agenda sits entirely at the heart of our ethos. Taking such an approach has allowed us to understand our clients’ cultures. It is important for us to be aware of our customers teams and shareholder/individuals’ motivations, in addition to understanding whether they are worried by continuous big project failures.
Only at the point of knowing these factors can a consultancy truly offer the optimal fit. Be clear, our success is not always grounded in absolute cultural alignment as clients will also want independent thinkers and legacy value because of having procured our service. This is the point I refer to earlier, being able to adapt to a situation is essential in consulting, especially at EA.
To distil our successes and lessons into a paragraph is a challenge, so I thought I would give you a couple of highlights. In our 10-year history, we have been engaged by c.50 clients, from PLC, to VC, PE, FTSE 100, start-up, UHNW individuals and everything in between. We have deployed close to one hundred of the brightest minds in consulting and delivered projects in four continents. We have won numerous industry awards, and we have managed projects with a combined capex budget well into the £Billions.
What I am most proud of though, is that many of our people have remained with us for an exceptionally long time. Including through the Pandemic. Like most businesses, we had to pivot fast, and we had to take incredibly tough decisions along the way. Our suppliers, clients and family’s resilience were tested to the absolute core during this period.
Most of us have examples of businesses and individuals exploiting various situations during the Pandemic, perhaps making unethical, even fraudulent decisions, using a narrative to comfort themselves for their actions. We weren’t immune, we got hit, and hard. Our team’s resilience during this time reminded me how valuable trust truly is and what integrity is really all about.
A significant part of what makes our people so resilient and so measured, can be attributed to how we invest in them. Fundamentally, we want them to select us, not us them. We work together in a way that allows our people to grow, to learn and create. We don’t invest in industry awards, great places to work etc, we just like to think our people enjoy being part of something unique, and that’s the Esher Way.
So, what about the next few years? What is important for us now is to grow, in size, shape and scale. To accelerate this, we have started to consider acquisition targets and additional value-add partnerships. In parallel, our core underlying culture has been key to our first ten years, and our Board want us to retain that as we grow. So, in summary, more technology and digital transformation, more transaction, M&A, IPO support, and more change.
To complement our growth agenda, I want to use this forum to officially announce the launch of our sister business, Esher Ventures. One of Esher Advisory’s equity Partners, Julian Thornley will join me as a director. Esher Ventures will focus on providing support (inc pro-bono) services to start-ups and scale-ups. The entity will also allow our more junior or creative staff an ability to immerse themselves into exploratory technologies and products and ideate concepts on behalf of clients and shareholders.
I would like to finish by thanking my family for their support during our first 10 years. I would also like to thank our clients, I recognise you have a choice, always. Finally, I would like to thank our people, partners, suppliers, back-office support network, and those mentors that advise me, and our Board.
I hope you will all stay close for the next ten years, and remember, it’s not about the PowerPoint.