Jason Sanders, Vice President at Ivy Exec, recently interviewed Tom Bolger, Managing Director of West Monroe Partners’ Seattle office. The firm was named one of the best small firms to work for by Consulting Magazine two years in a row and has received awards from numerous outlets. West Monroe has undergone significant growth despite the recent recession and is optimistic about the future.
Jason Sanders: Right now where do you see the greatest growth opportunities for West Monroe?
Tom Bolger: There are four areas where we are finding fast growth within our business.
Our energy and utilities practice in general is probably our highest growth area, particularly within the smart grid space. It’s very interesting work. There are a lot of business and regulatory issues, so there are many tactical challenges and financial hurdles. It really tests our ability to provide team-based consulting, which means bringing the best of West Monroe to bear on a given client challenge; we need our best technical experts, financial experts and industry experts on these projects. Smart grid also provides a great benefit for environmental conservation.
Our healthcare practice is also growing rapidly as we help clients in an industry facing unprecedented change. We have made some fairly significant investments to continue to be strong in healthcare strategy, cost containment and communications and it has paid off, particularly on the insurance side of business.
Mergers and acquisitions would be the third largest growth area. It is our longest-running practice; going on ten years. We work with financial buyers in the private equity space. We also work with strategic buyers in other aspects of the financial services industry, particularly banking. Because we are in an era of consolidation, we’ve been very busy helping clients manage these transactions from due diligence through deal close and providing post-close support as needed.
And the last area would be our workforce optimization practice, which is really looking at different front and back office operations to uncover ways to improve productivity using industrial engineering approaches. So, as you can see, it’s topical, but those are the four areas where we’ve seen significant growth – and we expect that to continue.
Jason: It sounds to me like you’re bringing people from different industries to these projects, creating mobility among industries. Can your experienced consultants expect to apply their skills in different areas?
Tom: Absolutely! We organize into industry groups and what we call horizontal solution lines; a great example is customer experience. We have developed and really honed our experience working in the banking industry on everything from customer relationship management to web portals and other communication channels. We’re taking a lot of that knowledge and expertise into the utility space and have been able to take advantage of tools, techniques and methods that we use in other industries.
Jason: Can you tell me about your growth in the past few years and your targets in the coming year or two?
Tom: Coming out of the recession we grew quite rapidly, probably mid 40%’s in terms of both revenue and head count. We see that moderating slightly. This year we are on target in the high 20%’s to low 30%’s, focusing on different forms of growth. We are going to expand geographically; this year we will open a new office in Minneapolis. We are going to continue to expand in additional industries and capabilities in the geographies where we are already strong.
Jason: What do you look for when you hire new staff? What elements are the most important to you beyond the core skill set that you would expect?
Tom: The most dominant topic of discussion with every new employee is the culture. We talk about it a lot internally. We focus on trying to articulate what that means, and we look beyond skills, capabilities and education.
We want to find people that are going to be a great part of our team and they must embody the values that we have as a firm. So we spend probably a disproportionate amount of time in the interview process getting to know the individuals and making sure that they will add to the culture that we have created over the last ten years.
Another thing we look for is a real entrepreneurial spirit. The firm was founded in 2002 and if you recall that was a real downtime in the consulting industry. We had this motto in the very beginning which was, “live to fight another day.” Real entrepreneurial spirit means that that we act like owners, and, in fact, the firm is 100% employee-owned. We don’t just hire people to put them on clients; we don’t hire people just to staff them out. We want consultants to join West Monroe to help us build a great firm. People that are passionate about that, that have that desire to help us build a great firm; those are the kind people that we want.