'At RGP we embrace a human first approach, even during crisis'

08 September 2020 Consultancy.eu

At the end of last year, Sander van Meurs became the Head of Benelux at RGP. At the time he had no idea what an unusual year 2020 would be – but looking back on his first nine months in the job, Van Meurs told Consultancy.org that despite a challenging climate, the firm is leveraging its human-first approach to navigate the crisis.

After years of working as a leader at two other consulting firms, Sander van Meurs joined the US listed Resources Global Professionals (RGP) in November last year. The global business services provider assists companies in areas such as finance and accounting, risk management, compliance, technology and digitisation, supply chain and business transformation.

But just months into his new role, the coronavirus pandemic hit, sending the world into months of lockdown. “It was of course an insane start,” Van Meurs said, cutting right to the point. “But it has worked out very well. RGP is a wonderful club, with a lot of value that we can build on… Sleeves up is our mantra.”

Sander van Meurs joins RGP as head of Benelux division

Discussing what has helped RGP thrive in spite of the adverse conditions, Van Meurs said, “We don't focus on writing an advisory report, but instead focus on supporting the execution, delivering tangible results. We always do this with experienced consultants, who work shoulder to shoulder with our clients.”

“We don’t staff large teams of consultants that ‘take over’ the project, but collaborate with clients. We also enjoy an independent status. For example, we are not tied to specific IT suppliers. The fact that we can provide our services independently and at a global level makes us unique in the marketplace.”

Human first

With Van Meurs having barely just arrived within the consultancy, all expectations for his first year went out of the window when the pandemic struck. First things first, it was important to adapt to the rapidly changing situation. “In the beginning there was of course astonishment,” Van Meurs explained, but then we switched quickly. “We formed Covid-19 teams in all countries where we operate to anticipate what is going on, find out how are our customers doing, and how can we make our services corona-proof.”

He added that the emphasis of these corona-teams was always on “human first”, one of the most important core values ​​of RGP, expanding, “Normally, this motto is reflected in our close cooperation with clients, among other things, but in recent months, it has acquired an extra meaning. For example, we work a lot with external parties. We immediately informed our third party partners working on our assignments that would not replace them with our own people, and that we wouldn’t extend our payment terms. This was received with much enthusiasm.”

Loyal customer base

As for RGP itself, while the firm has noticed an impact from the virus in some areas, others have seen improved performance. According to Van Meurs, while the firm is “hardly in the public sector”, and that is currently one of the few segments which is “still stable,” a large number of big pharmaceutical companies and a number of large technology companies belong to the firm’s clientele, meaning even now RGP is able to secure large projects.

As a result of this, while other large corporates you see a hiring freeze, RGP’s on-going business has barely ended. Van Meurs attributes this partly to the strong reputation that RGP enjoys among its customers.

Van Meurs explained, “In Europe, we may be less known to the general public than, for example, the Big Four, but the large corporates really know where to find us. We have been working with many of them for years, if not decades. Think of companies such as Google, Shell, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Toyota and Unilever. They simply have very good experiences with us, and that is now paying off.”

Spotless

What surprised Van Meurs the most, however, is how easy it was to switch to virtual work. He stated, “We have, in a manner of speaking, switched from one to the other and that went virtually smoothly. If you had told me that in advance, I would have thought you were crazy. The right digital tooling is one thing, but above all the enormous flexibility that people have shown is really amazingly beautiful.”

In this regard, the CEO also acknowledges that he himself was stuck in a number of dogmas. Laughingly describing himself as “a bit of a fossil in this sector,” he said that due to the perception of consulting being a ‘people business,’ he had traditionally assumed that to be based on physical contact. However, he now realises that “contact can also be very personal and effective digitally.” The last doubts he had on this point were dispelled by two client assignments from the past months.

Van Meurs concluded, “In the midst of the corona crisis, our people managed to work 100% virtually on two huge projects. There are a total of about 35 consultants on those projects, and they have never visited the client until now. We have never seen the stakeholders at the customer live. I find it so fascinating that this has succeeded, from all sides - the customer, our people and the self-employed: everyone makes a fantastic contribution.”