Howard was a consultant with Gemini Consulting when that name was used. He is a graduate of the prestigious Wharton MBA program and worked for Gemini Consulting in London, South Africa and New Jersey between 2000 and 2002. He has gratefully agreed to an interview over wine and tapas in Toronto, Ontario’s thriving King West restaurant scene as the temperature hovers near 35 degrees centigrade.
Maybe explain the names Gemini Consulting, Capgemini and CGEY since these are going to be confusing to many?
Gemini consulting was formed in the early 1990’s through the merger of United Research and the MAC group in the USA. The MAC group was staffed with brilliant MBA strategy types while United Research focused on implementing solutions at the operating level. They were equally brilliant at what they did and invented many clever techniques like brown paper mapping and so on. Several other acquisitions followed, including, I think, Bossard in France to form Cap Gemini Sogeti’s, the French IT companies, management consulting arm.
Sometime in the latter 1990’s Cap Gemini Sogeti acquired Ernst & Young’s healthcare consulting business in the USA, and Cap Gemini Sogeti was renamed Cap Gemini Ernst & Young. At around the same time, leadership disputes between the consulting and IT business, and a decline in consulting revenues led to CGEY renaming Gemini Consulting, simply CGEY. So the Gemini Consulting name disappeared, although not quite. Most of the people remained, although CGEY did not advertise its consulting division as explicitly as it did before. Moreover, and this is something not many people know, even those in the French head-office, is that the Gemini Consulting name was still alive and maintained, up until today!
Some offices, particularly South Africa, and I think Argentina, Mexico and Russia, never had IT practices but just management consulting offices, and they kept the Gemini Consulting name since they saw no reason to change the brand. So when CGEY became Capgemini in about 2005, these offices continued to be called Gemini Consulting. They are still called Gemini Consulting and Capgemini is aware of this and helps them support the logos.
Tell me a bit about the Gemini Consulting culture back at its peak and the Capgemini culture today?
I read your earlier article about Capgemini and although I agree with your points, I think that it only applies across the business. Within the Capgemini firm, there are divisions which are truly stellar and the criticism does not completely apply. When I worked at Gemini Consulting, it was at the front-end of the push into management consulting. In the USA, for sure, there was a feeling that the one firm which could take on McKinsey had failed at its chance.
Yet, that message never seemed to reach London, and especially Johannesburg. The people in London, and Johannesburg, truly believed they were better than McKinsey. And they were. There was a real and genuine pride. Not like what you see today at many, many firms where many people are proud to work at one firm but secretly pine for BCG or McKinsey. When I worked there, we truly believed we were better. We went after the most complex and challenging strategy projects and we won. Hands down. We attracted outstanding people and did great work.
We had a slogan called “People Matter. Results Count.” I think it is still the slogan? That was our mantra and we lived it every day. People would come into the office and believe they were doing important work. There was this spirit of greatness.
You have to remember that back in the 1990′s, Gemini was such a hot name that people even wrote books about Gemini Consulting. That’s how great it was. Younger MBA’s forget this. I recall one book called Consulting Demons which is definitely worth reading and highlighted the adventures of one particularly interesting Cap partner.
I believe it is still like that in parts of the business where the Gemini Consulting philosophy lives on in spirit and name. Particularly in telecoms, financial services and pharmaceuticals. The bottom line is that the culture was competitive, supportive and encouraging. I enjoyed going to the office every day and working with these truly amazing people; a Cambridge physics Ph.D., a doctoral chemical engineer, LSE economist…just amazing.
As I said before, many parts of Capgemini still have these pockets of greatness. You just have to look beyond the IT advertising.
Before I ask about the pockets of greatness, why do you think people see Capgemini as purely an IT shop?
There are two reasons. Capgemini has a very strong and powerful IT heritage and that is played up. The entire executive team comes from this background. When Gemini Consulting was merged into Capgemini, the firm stopped deliberately advertising its management consulting arm. So it was always there, but just never advertised.
And let me add that the management consultants where not just a bunch of IT technicians trying to sell consulting.
They were world-class, and are still world-class. Even today, Capgemini has one of the most formidable collections of management consulting tools, training material, intellectual property and guides. There were world experts on everything, writing books, presentations, research reports and more. The pure management consulting intellectual property sitting in Capgemini, even today, is mind-blowing. People should understand this. It is just a question of finding it, since the information management system, at least when I was there, was terrible at locating good material. You had to know people. Even when I tell Cap people who are employed there today about some of the material and whom to ask about it, they seem a little surprised and more so when they find the material!
And the pockets of excellence?
I can talk about my South African and London experiences?
Is South Africa really relevant to our global readers?
Yes – especially when I tell you about the work done. I will talk about some engagements before I joined, while I was there and after I left. And remember, these were international teams tackling issues which just happened to be in South Africa. I liked the work since the weather was good and food cheap.
I clearly recall us beating McKinsey and Bain to win one of the largest petrochemicals strategy projects ever awarded in that year. In fact, in that year, it was a $10M engagement, and South Africa’s largest management consulting engagement. A petrochemical company was about to lose its government subsidies and wanted our help to find new sources of revenue. A team of 30 consultants worked on this for over 11 months, eventually positioning the client to become one of the top emerging markets companies worldwide. I think the consultants won a citation from the client for the work.
In another engagement, mid 2000’s, we again beat McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Accenture and Monitor to undertake the largest electricity sector strategy project of the year and one of the largest worldwide. We were basically creating a new business model and vision for one of the world’s 10 largest electricity companies. If I recall correctly, we had about 18 consultants from around the world, working on this project, and it was a tremendous success with the story appearing in the newspaper and so on. However, like true consultants we stayed out of the press and refused to comment.
Just recently, and I think this was in the press; we worked on a massive turnaround strategy for a multi-billion dollar mobile telecommunications company. 15 consultants from around the world worked on this project which generated well over $6m in strategy fees.
I am going to stress that these were pure strategy projects; not process redesign or operations projects branded as strategy, but the highest level of strategy management consulting.
Which was your most memorable project and why?
This was a project in a country I cannot name! We were brought in to turnaround a struggling agriculture business. Think of Archer Daniel Midlands and owning their own retail stores. This was our first multi-million dollar strategy engagement in the pure agriculture sector and about 25 consultants were working on this over 12 months. We were just working on the strategy. I enjoyed this project because it was management consulting at its best. We had no previous knowledge about the sector and had to work from first-principles and hypotheses to understand the issues, construct the analyses and do the analyses.
The storage facilities were in the middle of nowhere and on one scorching day, a bit like this, we could not get a rental car with an air-conditioner. Worse, we could only get a Toyota hatch-back and were trying to fit in 5 consultants! The culture of Capgemini comes through in this moment. Despite the heat and squeezed fit, I enjoyed the day with these great guys. We travelled to 3 locations, collected our data and managed to run the analyses which proved to the client they were over-paying on certain equipment.
Like all great consulting projects, many of the people on this team, although young, went on to great careers in consulting and corporate. That hot day, and project stands out in my memory.
Why should aspiring management consultants apply to Capgemini; given that it is now shrinking out of existence?
I think they must first go and read about the work we are doing. The website has some nice links but the strategy stuff is best. Then I think they need to go to the general consulting site and look at all the great work done. They should read some of the examples of work, and also read some of the thought leadership. It is truly impressive.
Once they have looked at this, they then need to ask themselves why they would not want to join a firm doing such great work for such great clients.
Granted, strategy is not as large as it used to be, but it is not dead. It exists throughout the organization and excellent, landmark projects are still done.
How is consulting structured?
This may have changed since I was there, but until 2007 it was like this. It may also have been different where management consulting was not a separate business. I know the titles were:
Graduates entered as consultants and MBA graduates entered as senior consultants. But I am pretty sure this has now changed. I left as a managing consultant.
Do you feel Capgemini will ever return to its glory days of management consulting?
There are definitely moves afoot to rebuild the consulting brand. I want to make a distinction here. The work is not dead. Just the brand needs more visibility.
But I think certainly in the US and UK, things are happening. And of course South Africa still has the last remaining pure strategy consulting outpost of about, and I may be wrong here, 60 consultants working on high-end strategy.
Do you have any memorable sound-bites for the readers or fast facts about Capgemini or the consulting business in particular?
Only for the consulting business and some of my information is dated, although certainly accurate around 2008-2010:
• ~ 90% client retention.
• It is the only consulting practice which separated operations, strategy and implementation. Everyone else confuses implementation and operations. I see your blog also makes this distinction.
• Consulting continues to grow rapidly.
• It is about a $1B dollar business. Yes, that large.
• Projects are being done all over the world.
Anything you forgot to add?
Yes – do not read horrible online reviews like Vault and Glassdoor for reviews about Capgemini consulting. They are terrible and have a love affair with the McKinsey et al. If you really want to understand Capgemini’ s consulting business, then pick up the phone and find someone in the consulting business at a senior level. The junior people only see the rebuilding of the consulting business and do not recall what existed before. The senior people remember what was, and know what will be.
We have a reputation for tough questions. I have to ask at least one. Ready?
You’re paying for dinner, go ahead.
The work in South Africa is certainly impressive. Yet the annual report of Capgemini does not list the South Africa office, even when you state they have about 70 people and do all this great work?
The South African office is owned by the local partners who manage the office and license the Gemini Consulting brand. Besides profit sharing, they operate like any other office; except they do not any IT work.
Added to this, I only gave you the South African examples since I knew them well. I could have easily provided examples from the UK, US, France, Botswana, Dubai and Japan. In fact, I know that one the most significant banking strategy projects in the UK in 1997 was done by Gemini Consulting. There are just so many other examples. Cap also did much of the consulting work for the French military and French government. In that regard they are similar to Booz and the US government.
Why did you leave Cap?
I was getting older and felt that I needed to make the transition soon to leave enough time to build a corporate career. The travelling was also just too much. Strategy engagements are also too stressful. All those things came together to support the transition.