Has the consulting industry changed or is it the same old, same old?
If we take a look back into history, the rich and powerful folks have always needed advice on how to better manage their affairs and make effective decisions. Biblical kings had prophets to guide them, Persian sultans had viziers and Greek city-states had the oracle at Delphi to aid in making decisions. Even the Mafia had their consigliore.
It wasn’t until the industrial age that formal organizations that specialized in management advice emerged. The demand for mass-produced goods drove thousands of employees into large factories where there was little expertise in organizing people, processes and machinery to maximize efficiency.
Two specialist engineers, Charles Babbage and Frederick Taylor, turned those management problems around and achieved significant improvements by deploying methods for work organization.
The first recognized management consulting firm was formed in 1890 by Arthur D. Little, specializing in technical research, and later specializing in management engineering. Ordering people around was a way to get things done and was raised to a science in October 1910, when Louis Brandeis, an attorney from Boston, decided to label what experts do as “scientific management.”
He and others found a new way to make money. How? By watching people work and then writing a report telling them how to work faster, thus charging for his services.
During the second half of the 1980s, the big accounting firms entered the IT consulting segment. The wave of growth in the 1990s was driven by strategy and information technology advice. Today, there is a current trend toward a clearer segmentation of management consulting firms.
Various approaches are utilized: expert approach or facilitative.
I thought it would be interesting to examine Genesis Inc., a consulting firm that has been in business since 1967. I interviewed Georgia Everse, one of the managing partners of the local branch since 2005. The firm’s website claims the founding partners are creative problem solvers, execution specialists and fearless thinkers. The company utilizes a team-based approach to projects both internally and externally. The goal is to develop close, long-term relationships and foster trust, efficiency and accountability.
Everse has a proven track record and advises executive leaders on building their brands as a strategic asset. She has successfully worked with both for-profit and nonprofit organizations by integrating communications strategies and has developed tools as well as processes to build a firm’s internal capabilities. Everse is a skilled executive facilitator in the areas of marketing, planning, corporate strategy and culture change.
One of the projects she and her team worked on was the “Thank You, Beer” exhibit at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. The firm designed the identity, signage and merchandise, and created posters and online advertising, as well as spots for radio, newspapers and magazines. A second example of Genesis’ work is for Pearl Izumi, a leader in the apparel business targeted toward riders and triathletes. Genesis created a marketing program and positioned, named and marketed the new line. Yet another example of the company’s work is Novelis, a leader in aluminum recycling, that tells a story of innovation. Genesis created the positioning, name and symbol for the new technology that would communicate benefits. The identity on cans will signal new technology and spread the word about recycling.
Innovation is at the heart of the Genesis legacy, Everse said.
“In Grand Rapids there are visionary institutions and people, which offer diverse industries. Today, in the global business, there is so much competition to remain fit, sustainable. We can’t rest on what we’ve done in the past,” she said. “Since the 2009 business crash, everything changed, and yet the driving need is to differentiate, innovate and effectively communicate. The traditional industry of marketing and communication consulting has expanded. Business leads; education works with business and nonprofits.”
Everse said innovation is a buzzword today, but real global pressures are forcing changes and new ways of doing business. The ultimate goal is to differentiate and build long-term relationships versus transactions.
“We all can learn and have something to give,” she said. “That’s the place of excitement.”
Maria Landon is an affiliate professor of marketing at Grand Valley State University.