How pragmatism underpins RGP's rising ambitions in Europe

11 December 2019 Consultancy.eu

International consulting firm RGP is setting its sights on growth across Europe in the coming decade. Three of the firm’s continental leaders sat with Consultancy.eu to explain how an integrated approach, complementing advisory with flexible resourcing, and above all, pragmatism, are already positioning the firm to succeed as a ‘third category’ consultancy.

Initially founded in 1996 as Resources Global Professionals – following a split from Deloitte in the US – RGP is a global provider of consulting services for a spectrum of major clients, ranging from corporates and financial institutions to national government. Headquartered in California, over the last 23 years RGP has become one of the larger consulting firms in America, and currently works with 86 of the Fortune 100.

Despite enjoying a market leading brand on the other side of the Atlantic, however, RGP still has some building to do in Europe. Grounded in the more traditional interim and co-sourcing work, RGP has in recent years been enriching its model with more advisory and project work, explained Hans Wichink, Vice President Delivery Europe at RGP.

“We were always very strong in our flexible workforce proposition, mixed with a certain amount of advisory, but taking that to Europe, we recognise the position we are in means we must strengthen our offering with more intellectual property and content. That should be carried by our own employed consultants, in a more ‘European’ set-up than RGP uses in the US.”Hans Wichink, Vice President Delivery Europe at RGPWichink has been with RGP for more than a decade, the last year of which he has spent in his current continent-wide role. Prior to that, he spent five years as Country Managing Director for the firm’s Benelux activities. The Netherlands was one of RGP's first European locales, when the company took over EY's interim management practice in Utrecht in 2003 (with an office in Brussels soon following), and since coming under Wichink’s leadership the company has achieved strong results.

While RGP does not release its sales data as a publicly traded company in the US, in 2018 Wichink told Consultancy.nl that the region had enjoyed double-digit growth during his reign. A year later, Wichink said that the company is now aiming at realising similar growth for its broader European operations.

According to Wichink, the plan is to build a European group of consultants. He reiterated that “the firm is not a pyramid,” and one of the ways it differentiates itself from the Big Four is that it takes on chiefly experienced consultants, rather than sending graduates to learn on the job “client-side.” On this base of seasoned professionals, RGP is building its European proposition across five advisory practices. Wichink noted that all of these segments will have areas of overlap where they support one another, but also stand as distinct offerings to be built up.

Advisory propositions

Finance and accounting is RGP’s bread and butter, as the firm’s most traditional practice inherited from its Big Four heritage. Similarly, project and change management is a practice the firm already has a historic grounding in. A newer proposition for the firm is digital and technology. Co-led by professionals in the Netherlands and the UK – the wing drives forth the company’s set of digital transformation offerings, while also supporting the other four major practices.

Led by Director Igor Buszta, the risk and compliance practice mainly focuses on advisory and execution projects with clients in internal audit, control frameworks and risk assessment. Meanwhile, Wichink added, “supply chain is a pretty new area" for RGP. Led by Paul Hehenkamp, over the last three years, the firm has built up a group of consultants. “Paul set up this practice in the Netherlands, and since then, his team have worked together on typical improvement and supply chain practices – something we have now expanded to the whole of Europe due to its success.”

About RGP

Recalling his arrival at the firm, Hehenkamp – who is now Director Supply Chain & Procurement – said, “When I joined RGP, supply chain was one of the areas the firm was working on, but it was not really pro-actively being driven as one of the service lines. It is traditionally a much bigger line in the US, RGP has many strong specialists there and it is a known key field for the firm – but here we had to build it.”

Rather than simply “disappearing off on a few assignments” to chase short-term fee income, then, Hehenkamp was instead asked to “actively build the practice.” When commercial opportunities presented themselves, he was given the backing to hire consultants on a permanent contract to forge a team of five full-time consultants to bring in long-term relationships with clients in the service line. Having sourced the talent, the practice has begun building a broadening client base.

Planning and logistics are the practice’s primary capabilities at present, while sourcing and manufacturing are the secondary elements RGP focuses on. One of the challenges which many industries face, and which these capabilities can assist with, is balancing demand and supply.

Hehenkamp explained; “We have been active in a few projects addressing that in recent years. One of our clients is in the animal feed industry, for them we initially helped them identify where they stand and what the opportunities are for enhancing supply chain management… We are in demand beyond these more traditional business problems too, though. In the UK for example, we have a very interesting client base with some enormous opportunities coming up, thanks to the disruption to supply chain management Brexit will bring.”

Showing how the firm’s five practices come together on projects, Hehenkamp pointed to the growing importance of digital in his field. He expanded; “Automation is becoming a huge part of supply chain management. By integrating data throughout a firm, from a supply chain angle, you can use customer-end data all the way down the supply chain to make sure demand is successfully translated into what you do upstream. Connecting applications and building big data lakes, and then enabling supply chain professionals to use that information to act, it’s a holistic process which requires collaboration between two of our service lines.”

"At the same time, you need risk understanding to fully consider what possible problems you will need to address when you leverage new technology – so that also necessitates our risk practice to come into play.”

“RGP’s strength is executing a strategy on an operational and tactical level. It’s about problem solving, tangible results, and true transfer of knowledge to our clients.”

Risk and compliance

Having spent the previous 18 years in audit and advisory at Big Four firm PwC, Igor Buszta has been with RGP since 2017. Hoping to broaden his horizons after close to two decades at one of the world’s largest professional services firms, Buszta arrived seeking more challenging work from his new employer.

“Everything I expected about that came true,” Buszta confirmed to Consultancy.eu. “While being at a larger organisation has its benefits, what I like since I came to RGP is that you can be the driver of change yourself. You can have your view, opinion and make the change, which has given me a lot more energy that I can in turn transmit to the rest of my team. On top of this, I think my joining of RGP has coincided with a very interesting time at the firm, with a lot of developments.”

As part of these changes, Buszta took on the role of Practice Director Governance Risk & Compliance for Europe one year ago. Risk management has evolved rapidly over the last decade, something which Buszta’s earlier career perfectly placed him to observe and learn from. Following the financial crisis in 2008, risk management to help avoid future crashes matured rapidly – and working with PwC, Buszta saw how the financial services sector came to “lead the world” in risk management. Now, many organisations are realising they could benefit from the best practices of financial firms, but need support to pull it off.

In order to tap into this area of growing demand, Buszta is overseeing the enhancement of four main areas. His remit includes: risk management; internal control; internal audit support and regulatory compliance – mainly supporting clients in financial services.

With each pillar of the practice looking to build on new niche areas to expand the capabilities clients benefit from, Buszta believes RGP is expertly positioned to help organisations cope with the myriad of risks – large and small – that they can often overlook. Pointing to the recent case of Dutch bank ABN Amro – the bank is under scrutiny for potentially lacking financial crime processes – he explained how the little things eventually add up to a huge problem, without holistic risk management.

“If you don’t step back from fire-fighting to solve a problem’s root-cause, it can lead to a massive problem,” Buszta expanded. “Look at ABN Amro, all their 5 million client files must now be reviewed; it’s going to take some time! As well as simply doing that, however, they need to look at how it came this far to leave them in this position. It means something imbedded in the system of risk management is misaligned, between requirements and practice. Fixing that gap in similar situations is where we play and important role.”

“With a hands-on approach, and deep industry and functional expertise, RGP can be a major beneficiary of the demand for practical consulting.”

Indeed, he asserted that without holistic approaches which consultants can help clients develop, even the massive potential of technology can fail to improve an organisation’s risk management. When asked if clients have seemed hesitant to commit to technological change in risk management, Buszta noted that while it depends on the size of their change budget, most “want to do something.” Rather than a reluctance to change, then, many clients need so overcome their habit of acting as siloes – something else the overview of a consultant can assist with.

He concluded; “While most want to do something with technology, most do not do it holistically. People look at RPA for example, from a view of what it can do for them as business unit owners, rather than what it can do for the whole business.”

Pragmatism

While the firm is ushering in multiple changes across its five advisory project services practices, RGP’s European leaders remain keen to stay true to the company’s key ideological underpinning: pragmatism. Wichink, Hehenkamp and Buszta echoed one another on the matter, each reiterating that while the support they offer to clients is expanding continuously, they are still focused on implementation over strategy.

Wichink explained; “Don’t be misled by the word ‘advisory’ in our services lines – we are not a strategic advisory company. Our strength is executing a strategy on an operational and tactical level, helping clients with critical initiatives, making it work. The step before that, which we do like to do with clients, is to make our own picture of the operation, make our own assessment of the situation, so that we can be more effective in improving their operations, and execute better.”

Sitting in this in-between space – where the firm is primarily looking to implement the strategy a client determines, but has enough flexibility to address gaps in that plan, or areas where it can be improved – is a key “flavour” of RGP, according to Wichink. In a fast changing world, where service lines have bled into one another, he added that pragmatic, to-the-point consulting is essential to providing the integral solutions that RGP’s clients require.

“It’s about problem solving, tangible results, and true transfer of knowledge to our clients. With a hands-on approach, and experienced expertise helping identify areas for improvement, RGP can be a major beneficiary of the demand for ‘third category’ consulting,” Buszta and Hehenkamp added.


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