FEACO Chair Eric Falque on the future of Europe’s consulting industry

27 June 2019 Consultancy.eu

After nearly 30 years in consulting, the Chair of the European Federation of Management Consultancies Associations is anything but a beginner. In conversation with Consultancy.eu, Eric Falque explained how his heritage in the industry has given him confidence that European consulting can adapt to the myriad of challenges it presently faces.

Despite having been in consulting for the best part of three decades, the Chair of Europe’s overarching association of management consulting firms Eric Falque’s commitment to the industry has not waned in the slightest. If anything, it seems to have grown stronger. When asked why he has lasted so long in the sector, he explained consulting’s fast changing nature keeps him heavily invested.

“It’s a business that is reinventing itself all the time,” Falque said. “My strong belief and interest is that it’s a business run by smart and talented people who can understand which trends will impact their clients before helping them adapt to it. For that reason, since I have been in this business, Europe’s sector has been experiencing an average of 4% to 5% growth over the last 30 years. This is not by chance, or because we are just sitting in a comfortable place. People have always been anticipating key trends and adapting to them, so I am even more confident in the consulting industry today and in the future than I was when I began.”

Falque had already been at the top table of consulting in France for some time, before his ascension to the Chair of the industry’s continental representative body, FEACO. Having spent a decade with PwC, becoming a Partner along the way, he moved on to BearingPoint in 2001, eventually becoming the firm’s Regional Leader for France, Benelux and Africa in 2012 – a role he still holds.Eric Falque, Chair, FEACOThen, after 22 years in consulting, Falque became Director on the Board of the French management consulting association, Consult’in France (today part of Syntec Conseil). The role gave him insight into a variety of different topics across the consulting industry, something which led to his name being mentioned when the Chair of FEACO came up for selection.

Cross-roads

“A year ago, my colleagues ask me to be the French candidate for this position because France is an important market in Europe and there had not been a French candidate for a long time,” Falque explained. With a market size of €7.3 billion, according to data from Syntec Conseil, France’s is Europe’s third largest consulting market, trailing just the UK and Germany.

As the out-going Ezio Lattanzio stood aside, having completed his two-term stay in the role, the management consulting sector found itself at something of a cross-roads in Europe. Growth remained healthy, but it was notably slowing across key markets, amid a sea of geo-political and domestic uncertainty.

At the same time, while Brexit and economic slowdowns across the West of Europe impacted the order book, the use of consultants by governments attempting to trim the fat from their respective states was also coming under heightened scrutiny. What was clear to Falque was that FEACO would therefore have to double down on its commitment to helping the national consulting associations that make up its membership.

FEACO currently represents 15 local country associations, however; “growing the number of countries is not my priority. If someone asked to join we would obviously consider, but in the meantime the priority is to strengthen the average level of performance of each national association.”

Continuing, he said; “What I had in mind when I went for the job was two objectives. To serve the national associations as best we can, helping for instance to make sure that leading consultancy firms participate as fully as they should. Unfortunately they do not do so in all national associations,” Falque admitted, with France leading by example in this respect with all of the Big Four and a few strategic consultancies also part of the association. “Second, we want to continue the business of promoting our consulting industry across Europe, including presenting awards and lobbying in Brussels.”

Best practices

Falque’s Chairing of FEACO does not necessarily constitute a change of tack, and builds on strengthening the work and values it already pushed forward. While the tactic of using industry prizes and political lobbying to emphasise the value provided by consultants might not be especially new, the more combatant tone with which consulting associations now pursue these goals represents a marked change.

“Management consulting is a business that is reinventing itself all the time… so I am even more confident in the industry today and in the future than I was when I began.”

With governments and cash-strapped clients considering cutting back on consulting spending, demonstrating the value consultancies offer without pulling punches has become imperative for the industry’s representatives. This can also be seen when looking at the early months of Tamzen Isacsson’s tenure as CEO of the British Management Consultancies Association. Earlier in the year, during the annual MCA Awards, Isacsson said the industry must “campaign to bust some of the myths about what we do and how we do it,” before arguing journalists treated “even a penny of taxpayers" cash spent by the government on consultants as in of itself "some kind of proof of misdemeanour.”

For Falque, this is not the only front on which FEACO can learn from the performance of the UK’s constituent industry body. Citing the MCA as an example, Falque marked out the institution’s “extremely well established” awards ceremony and its participation in the British consulting industry – including its dissemination of important analysis – for special praise.

“I think it’s not by chance that the UK is Europe’s largest management consulting market,” he argued. “There certainly is a link between the two. We are working on taking these best practices from the MCA and applying them to our work with other associations.”

One way which FEACO is looking to deploy these best practices is with its Constantinus European Award, which promotes excellence in consulting among its member associations. Initially conceived on the watch of former Chair Lattanzio, the primary objective of the award at European level is to promote the field in general, but also to serve as a platform for international cooperation in the industry.

Research is another key pillar of a successful industry body. Falque is keen for FEACO to tap into a rich vein of data coming from its constituent members to benefit them with analysis on continent-wide trends.

He confirmed; “We have a very comprehensive research process conducted by national associations. Yet, all this data is made available months after the year has ended. Now, I believe that we should have a more agile market sizing & trends approach, something like a quarterly European barometer. This is something which will very nicely complement the work done by national organisations.”

The road ahead

Many European nations are facing an uncertain future at present, with the impending impact of Brexit expected to be keenly felt on both sides of the channel. At the same time, sluggish economic performance and floundering government reform agendas have led to a rise in public anger, perhaps most notably in Falque’s home market of France. As with most crises, however, Falque sees this as another opportunity for consulting to thrive.

“We are extremely confident that we understand the challenges of our client, and can find how to solve the challenges. As long as we have this confidence, I think consulting will adapt.”

“One of the challenges of most modern European countries is that we are not reforming quickly enough as leaders, and we have limited resources… This is critical to European democracy. When you are not able to reform the state for example with digital transformation or organisational change, as in Spain or in France, your cost of government remains too high, and in the end you have 'gilets jaunes' in the streets. That’s a direct consequence. Consultancies have the opportunity to be the game changers across Europe, then, and this is what the European Commission understands, promoting and subsidising consulting work in smaller EU countries to help with modernisation.”

Consulting does itself face numerous challenges across Europe in the coming years. However, despite seeing a number of issues on the horizon which will take time to address, Falque remains confident that the sector has the know-how to take change in its stride.

“Challenges will come from integrating technology, finding talent, cost pressures… but we are extremely confident that we understand the challenges of our clients, and can find how to solve the challenges. As long as we have this confidence, I think consulting will adapt.

On the matter of technology, Falque remains unmoved by claims automation will see consulting as we know it go extinct in the near future. In fact, he said, “automating consulting is a contradiction in terms.” For the FEACO Chair, consulting by definition requires a deep understanding and fully customised answers produced via human interaction – something which cannot be produced digitally. “This is not to say that we cannot work differently,” he added, citing opportunities for back-office work and admin labour to be relocated to value adding work thanks to automation. However, “management consulting itself cannot be automated in full.”

The geo-political difficulties currently facing the European consulting sector also do not seem to have dampened the market’s potential. Falque pointed to the UK again, noting that in spite of “Brexit and everything,” it continued to be a positive market for the industry. He asserted that this “proved to me the solidity of this business in Europe, we are more than an industry businesses reach for in the good times – also in the bad.”

Feeding into this, Falque claimed the European market is still some distance from its potential. Pointing to the US, he claimed that while it accounts for 50% of the world consulting market, it is not 50% of the world economy. The French BearingPoint Partner concluded, “While that highlights the unbelievable maturity of consulting, it also shows we in Europe have a very large potential to grow.”


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