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When Nick Bloor, chief executive of Triumph Motorcycles, held a beauty parade of consultancies for a project, he picked OC&C Strategy Consultants, a group outside the big league and one with which he had not previously worked.
Two things struck him: “They were very much into mining the data within the organisation and presenting to us . . . But what clinched it was the team that pitched: they were very down to earth, very intelligent — obviously — and seemed to have a real want to understand the business.”
That was four years ago. Triumph, the Hinckley, Leicestershire business which Mr Bloor’s father built on the remains of an engineering group that collapsed in the 1980s, has since hired OC&C for three projects.
Mr Bloor likes working with the same core team, many of whom learnt to ride Triumphs. Other consultants did not jump on his motorcycles, he notes. “It shows a passion to understand the product and learn more about you as a business.”
OC&C was set up in London in 1987 by Chris Outram and Geoff Cullinan, former Booz Allen Hamilton consultants, specialising in consumer goods. Its first client was Coca-Cola Schweppes.
The firm’s core expertise is retail, which it has built on by expanding into fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG). Though smaller than peers such as McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group or Bain, its UK retail practice is as big, if not bigger, than theirs, says David Krucik, UK managing partner. It won a six-star rating for the consumer goods and retail category in the UK’s Leading Management Consultants 2018, compiled by the FT and Statista.
Beyond retail and FMCG, OC&C covers technology, media and telecoms, business services and manufacturing. The firm focuses on strategic work, rather than implementation.
Mr Krucik, a Canadian and life-long consultant, was the first external partner recruited in London by the firm’s founders, having been hired in 1999 to set up OC&C’s private equity practice. He moved on to consumer goods and has run the UK business since 2011.
In the UK, where there are 33 partners, revenues have grown by 20 per cent on average over the past five years, says Mr Krucik — well above the industry average of 9 per cent.
OC&C charges in line with rivals because staff salaries have to be competitive. “We consciously chose to be a boutique at the premium end and we need to hire the best talent in the industry,” he says.
The firm has a slightly higher ratio of partners to staff than rivals.
“We sell more partner time because we think our clients want advice and that comes from experience and therefore they want to see the person on the project who’s been doing it for 20 years.”
This has been the experience of client Richard Pennycook, former chief executive of the Co-Op Group and former finance director at Morrisons supermarkets. “It’s a relatively small consultancy compared to the ‘Big Four’ but that means I find them approachable and I tend to know the senior team well,” he says. “Given that a big part of what they do is develop trust in decision-making, then they are effective at that because of their size and specialism, culture and values.”
OC&C initially grew as a loose federation of franchises, enabling international expansion with low capital costs, but this model ran into problems.
“Our franchise or federated structure was paralysing our decision-making,” says Mr Krucik. “What happens is each office tends to focus only on the local territory. You tend not to pursue global opportunities but eventually your local growth runs out.”
The decision was taken in 2014 to shift to an integrated partnership, a process which was overseen by Mr Krucik, who was managing partner of international and the UK until September, when James George took on the international role.
The process has not been easy — most of the senior team in France decamped to a rival. Mr Krucik brought Philippe Pruneau, a former French partner, out of retirement and relocated some UK-based partners to Paris. Most offices — the UK, US, China, Turkey, France and Poland — have been integrated, while others are in the process.
“It’s really important to understand that in our industry there are constant spinouts. Some manage and thrive but mostly they fall by the wayside for failing to embrace growth and failing to solve succession issues,” says Mr Krucik.
“Succession issues” are often resolved when the founder sells the business and makes a windfall capital gain. In OC&C’s case, “Chris [Outram] said, ‘We’re not going to sell.’ He was willing to give his shares to the next generations, so all of our shares sit in a trust for future generations,” says Mr Krucik.
“When I retire, I know I’m not going to get a capital event . . . More importantly, I always say that anybody working in this industry, if they’re interested in making money — they’re in the wrong industry.”