Management consulting is all about helping clients solve critical problems, and, of course, hitting the metrics. For consulting giants, volume fuels growth, and growth is success. Boutique firms are more likely to focus on a specific area and strive to be the best within that space, or they may offer the same services as the bigger firms at a lower price point. One consulting firm, however, is pursuing the ultimate niche of competing on quality, by serving only one client at a time.
“Consultants will spend upwards of 10 years climbing the rungs to become a partner at a ‘Big 5’ consulting firm,” observes Amira elAdawi, founder of AMIRA & CO, a global consulting practice that specializes in post-M&A integration and enterprise optimization. “Once they make it, their job shifts to creating opportunities for those who come in under them. Senior partners may be juggling three or four projects at once, in addition to business development and ‘networking.’ This model has worked well for traditional consulting firms, but we saw an unmet market need to take the opposite tack.”
When elAdawi left her senior executive position at a ‘Big 5’ firm herself to start a boutique consulting firm, one of the key aspects she wanted to change in her service offering was to ensure that, as a senior partner, she is personally dedicated to one client at a time. But her firm’s differentiation did not stop there. She then assembled a team that includes experts from top-tier consultants, to sea captains, rocket scientist PhDs, and yoga teachers. Despite having a senior team delivering work, elAdawi still personally leads the delivery of each client project, and is fully embedded in the C-suite throughout each engagement. “One client at a time” is, in fact, a mantra of AMIRA & CO’s value proposition.
“We believe that presence on the ground matters,” elAdawi says. “It’s not just the benefit to the project of more senior-level experience, but the benefit to the client’s C-Suite of having full-time access to a thought-partner and confidante on a daily basis. It’s one of the things our clients always list as priceless.”
Continued growth is driven by trust. This is a sentiment shared by many and was confirmed in a survey by the Management Consultancies Association. elAdawi agrees and uses this as the basis behind her “one client at a time” approach.
“The key to building trust inside the C-suite is actually building trust outside of the C-suite.” For instance, elAdawi always ensures that a senior leaders are present wherever and whenever important decisions are being made. This not only produces deeper insights for her team, she says, but also provides clients at every level of theorganization with a full-time confidante. “Because we are there, day-in and day-out, employees tell us things that they cannot or will not tell their manager.”
After two decades of senior executive experience within big consulting firms — experience for which she remains perpetually grateful — elAdawi was able to see the value in the little time she was able to spend on the ground with her clients, which led to the idea for the one-client-at-a-time approach that AMIRA & CO takes.
“You learn so much at a young age working in a big, prestigious firm,” she observes. “However, as soon as you get senior enough to really add value, you no longer have time to do it. By that time, you’re splitting your time between 3 or 4 clients.”
“Employees, investors, and board members expect the C-Suite to have all the answers, as well as unwavering confidence in their decision-making, and in turn, the C-Suite hires consultants to provide that. However, being the single source of truth — one that is external to the corporate structure — is not the way to create sustainable, lasting change,” states elAdawi. “When I started my firm, I didn’t want to just give our clients the fish; I wanted to teach them how to fish.”
If tasks like problem-solving, change management, and cultural integration are shared experiences, elAdawi adds, they are much more likely to stick. “Our approach ensures that more junior employees have regular coaching from our senior consultants, so they are constantly learning new skills. By the time AMIRA & CO has moved on to the next client, elAdawi says she wants to be confident that enough experience has been gleaned at every level — and enough ownership taken — that the client has not only seen results, but can continue the learned approach through whatever contexts arise in the future.
Working with only one client at any given time enables elAdawi and her team to remain fully committed to each project they take on. As a result, they are able to establish deeper trust with (and within) every team they consult with, allowing clients to gain the insights and experience necessary to address and solve critical issues without the need to hire more consultants again and again. With this unique approach, elAdawi sets a precedent for other consultancy firms who tend to operate in a more traditional manner, and aims to disrupt the consulting industry enough that it results in more lasting resulting for clients.
“When the contract is complete, we must be ready to give another client 100%,” she says with a smile. “One of the major differences with our firm is that we don’t want to keep doing the same thing over and over again. We want to be able to help as many clients as possible, and we can’t do that if we keep doing the same thing for the same client. It’s much easier to aim for ‘repeat business,’ but not only is our way more beneficial to clients, it’s also a lot more interesting for us!”