At the beginning of last year, Mark Billige and Andreas von der Gathen took over as Co-CEOs at Simon-Kucher. Since then a lot has happened! We caught up to talk about their first year as CEOs, and what they are most looking forward to in the coming months.
Mark, Andreas, you took over as the Co-CEOs in January 2020. Now, more than a year later, what have your experiences been?
When we started in January, we were full of energy to visit all our offices around the world and meet more of the team in person. Then the COVID-19 crisis hit and the world as we knew it changed in many regards. We shifted very quickly from being new CEOs, focused on driving our vision, meeting our teams, and starting our transition project, into crisis management mode. This was especially challenging as neither of us, nor the company itself, had ever had to deal with a crisis on this scale. After all, COVID-19 was not just a business crisis. Firstly we needed to keep everybody safe health-wise, and then we had to work out the effects in every country and industry we operated in.
Our whole team did a fantastic job to navigate the company through the crisis and out the other end in amazing shape. We also learnt a huge amount from working through this unique period. Simon-Kucher’s core qualities like a great team spirit, a fantastic leadership team, our divisional structure, our decentralized organizational model, and our entrepreneurialism proved to be very beneficial in this situation. Together with our central functions, division and practice heads we were able to keep everything running, meaning as CEOs we could concentrate on steering the overall direction and staying focused on the key goals.
I also think that through some of the communication methods we’ve adopted such as our regular town halls, we’ve been able to reach a new level of transparency inside our company that will definitely accompany us through the rest of our CEO tenure.
How does being a “CEO team” influence your way of managing the company? Would you recommend it to other firms?
Working together as Co-CEOs changes the way we manage things very positively. Our CEO task is not taking binary strategic decisions such as which new product to launch or which brand name to choose. That kind of work usually benefits from a single decision maker. Our CEO task is different as we already have a fantastic business model and our job is to keep it going and above all to scale it. In this endeavor, having two of us is very helpful. It not only doubles the bandwidth, it also gives each of us a built-in sparring partner. Even though we have only been able to see each other in person three or four times since we started, we talk at least three times per day. This way, we can constantly bounce ideas off each other and compare different perspectives. The result is more creative energy and increased efficiency.
So yes, I would recommend this leadership model to other companies, and especially professional services companies. We have proved that it works during the last, challenging year, and we continue to develop and evolve our working model together. What has been paramount for this success is having the same values, though. We came to this role with incredibly similar ideas of what is important for our company, how our culture should feel, our vision and values, as well as the things we wanted to get done in the next five years. If there is this level of synergy and trust, Co-CEOship can be very beneficial.
Which projects are you most looking forward to this year and beyond?
We have many things going on that we’re excited about. First of all, as CEOs we are working on evolving our company. Our plan is to scale Simon-Kucher to twice its size in the next five years while at the same time keeping it, as much as possible, the same company we all know and love so much.
In support of this, there are three key projects we are focusing on this year:
- Over the last few months, we have significantly invested in our digital and software capabilities. We not only created a dedicated practice that gathers talent and ideas in one place, but have also established our own software entity. Here, we can professionally manage our solution resources and build them most efficiently. But above all, we expect this entity to become a real investment vehicle and incubator for truly innovative software products. This new approach promises to take us to entirely new levels and will get us deep into the software business.
- Another goal for this year is to re-examine our brand as well as our vision and values. After all, the world has moved on decades in a year, and it’s high time to change the way we talk about our company. There is a lot to be proud of and we should do more to highlight our capabilities and our culture, not just what we do for our clients.
- In addition to that, we want to talk about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). We have announced some ambitious goals for 2021, such as our commitment to become carbon neutral this year. Of course, we will still be on-site to serve our clients effectively, but we will be travelling less and won’t be flying around for half-hour meetings. This is a real priority for us as we work to become more sustainable across our business.
Are there any topics within Simon-Kucher you want to drive in the near future?
Yes, absolutely! We are very enthusiastic about the projects already mentioned, but supporting and developing our team is our number one priority. The assets and values of our teams were vital for coming through the crisis as we did. They are the prerequisite for Simon-Kucher’s amazing growth story. We therefore want to ensure our company offers the best possible working environment we can; for every individual and for our team as a whole. By refocusing on our colleagues and communities, we want to acknowledge and celebrate the amazing performance delivered every day. As well as enabling this to continue in the future.
We started last year with our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiative. It will be at the front and center of a lot of policy changes this year, especially regarding our HR processes and recruiting efforts. Another key project this year is Project Future, in which we are re-thinking how and where we work to better reflect today’s world. Taking into account lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis, we will fundamentally change what kind of workplace Simon-Kucher will be in the future. This is not only in terms of office space and culture, but also in terms of our focus and commitment to flexibility, transparency, and equity. This will be reflected, for instance, in a more innovative bonus structure, more transparent hierarchy levels, and a more development-focused evaluation system. It is important that we acknowledge that our team, which is the heart of this company, is also the foundation as well as the driver of our progress.
Looking at the consulting industry as a whole, how do you think the sector has weathered the ongoing crisis?
We are very lucky to be in an industry that adapted well to the new way of working that the COVID-19 crisis made necessary. Unlike some others, we were able to deliver services to our clients throughout last year. Our business model has proven itself well suited to the new circumstances and restrictions. And, whilst not all consultancies were as resilient as we were, the industry on the whole survived well. And the next two to three years are expected to be “golden years” for our sector.
Right now, every consultancy is busy, and not only due to pent-up demand and previously postponed projects. There is lots to do for companies in the next few years. The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated many changes, and, in general, change is good for consulting, and fast change is even better. Businesses need help rethinking their revenue and sales models, and we can support this. The whole industry is looking forward to the next few years. We are also really excited about it and we predict a couple of very strong years for Simon-Kucher.