Nextcontinent's leaders on building a network to rival the giants

07 September 2020 Consultancy.eu

In the past years, global consulting network Nextcontinent has doubled in size, and expanded its geographic footprint to boast a global coverage. Nextcontinent board members Francis Rousseau and François Pouzeratte spoke to Consultancy.org about how the network is helping its ‘citizens’ challenge on an international basis.

“Let me tell you a story,” begins Francis Rousseau, harking back to the years following his co-founding of Eurogroup Consulting in 1982. “In the 1980s and early 90s in France, Eurogroup was a leader in the banking sector. We were the leading player. But then, with internationalising contracts, localised operators came under pressure – and so the likes of global consulting groups such as McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group and Accenture came into favour.”

Rousseau refers to the rise of Master Services Agreements (MSAs), which has transformed procurement in the consulting industry. Having previously worked with dozens, if not hundreds of local suppliers, multinationals rationalised their portfolio, appointing a select group of consultancies that could serve their interests anywhere in the world. Enter the big firms, which since have enjoyed an edge over purely local players.

Problematically, Rousseau adds, around the time this shift took place, the received wisdom among nationally focused consultancies remained “When we compete, we will win.” The Eurogroup Consulting partner does not mince words regarding that dog-eat-dog mind-set, remarking that such logic among smaller firms was “completely stupid” when they were losing work to the world’s largest consulting empires.

Francis Rousseau and François Pouzeratte, Nextcontinent

Outlining the beliefs at the heart of Nextcontinent, a network he co-founded seven years ago, Rousseau explains that while you can ‘win’ with this kind of approach, it will only ever be “for little things.”

“If you want to win big deals, on strategic topics, then you must grow scale and work together,” Rousseau asserts. “We were not called for MSAs as a lone consultancy – but as a Nextcontinent citizen we are.”

Nextcontinent is a network of independent consultancies in their respective markets, who are united by a unique entrepreneurial vision. Rousseau, who is the organisation’s incumbent President, explains that trust is the key word shared by all the constituent groups, as opposed to the financial ties which might more typically bind such an alliance together. Stating emphatically that Nextcontinent does not want “anything capitalistic, or based on monetary links,” he expands that firms involved are considered citizens rather than ‘members’ as the relationship they have with the network is based on rights and responsibilities.

Having started life as a European network, Nextcontinent has since snowballed into a grouping of 17 citizens, operating across 40 countries. It represents more than $1 billion in turnover, and has complimentary skills across many, many cultures – with prospective citizens vetted by Nextcontinent before admitting them into its pool of consultancies. According to Rousseau, while there is categorically no financial commissioning between citizens, the strength and breadth of talent it now offers clients means its mutual benefits mean that it would be unnecessary anyway.

“If you give, you will receive,” Rousseau states. “The DNA of Nextcontinent is built on cultures and languages – we are not a single-methodology brand, with one way of doing things for all firms everywhere. A one-size-fits-all approach cannot deal with problems which are diverse – we need to be diverse ourselves to do address such problems.”

Citizenship

In the last few years of Nextcontinent’s rapid expansion, its citizens have seen that this theoretical base has made it much easier to win MSAs. Sometimes known as a framework agreement, this is a contract reached between parties, in which the parties agree to most of the terms that will govern future transactions, enabling quick setup and delivery of projects.

MSAs represent extremely lucrative work for consultancies, as such an agreement can ensure a steady stream of projects coming from a large multinational client for a number of years – but such clients favour firms with a global reach. While this inevitably favours the world’s largest generalist professional services firms, then, the citizens of Nextcontinent have found that with the network backing them up, they are able to compete for MSAs at an unprecedented rate.

Eurogroup Consulting Partner François Pouzeratte has seen this unfold first-hand. Buoyed by Nextcontinent’s global profile, “we have been able to sign between 30-40 big MSAs” in recent years. These span a variety of different sectors, from banking, to automotive, to energy, to luxury goods.

Signed two weeks ago, Eurogroup Consulting penned an MSA with a French financial services giant saying it is a permanent network member with other providers around the world, making each citizen a sub-contractor in the agreement. If the client has a US project, for example, it will be signed by PointB – but with reference to the MSA signed by Eurogroup. Similarly, projects in Asia are undertaken by YCP Solidiance, while in Germany the matters are dealt with on the ground by umlaut.

“Over the last two years, Nextcontinent integrated six big new citizens and now, our footprint is truly global. We can present ourselves as a player with a worldwide reach. And, building on our seven-year track record, we can also demonstrate stability and consistency in our services.”

“But,” added Rousseau, “building a brand and top of mind recognition takes a long, long time. We are still more of an exception than the rule of the biggest consultancies, but our joining of forces means that we can up our game and compete on their stage.”

The future

Pouzeratte, who describes himself as “the young boy of the team” at 55 years old, was installed as General Manager for Nextcontinent in its last electoral cycle. At present, the signs point toward him being Rousseau’s heir-apparent as the President of the network – the latter joking that he doubts he will be in the job “for 100 years!” The duo have been working closely together in recent years to help prepare for such a transition. In the meantime, however, Rousseau still has big plans for the network’s immediate future.

“We have both a dream and an objective,” the Nextcontinent President explains. “The objective is to grow and mature the network, serving more and more customers on their increasingly pressing challenges.”

In the long-run, Rousseau’s hopes are even grander, however. Stating that “to create a global network you need about 20-30 years,” he outlines an ambition to ultimately create a network which can continuously rival the largest professional services networks of the world.

He concludes, “My dream for a long time is to show that we can make something huge, interesting, high quality – and we can do it in a different way to the typical Anglo-Saxon groups. There are currently no large networks outside of the US and we want to demonstrate that something coming from Europe and beyond can be high quality, with different values, and respecting all the cultures. The dream is to be one of the main actors in the consultancy world, from zero to that. That’s the dream.”


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