Interview : John Furth, President, AMCF
December 2009 the 63 rd AMCF Annual Meeting in New York was the
right moment to meet for the first time with John Furth, the new AMCF
president. As the
next "Global Leadership Forum" to be held in New York is now
approaching and as its satellite conference in Paris, the European
Leadership Forum, is just a few weeks ahead we felt it was the right
time to update our recordings and to introduce John Furth, whose
acquaintance with Europe is not new, to our readers…
John, you are the new President of the
AMCF, the Association of
Management Consulting Firms, and your expertise has been so far
precisely within the consulting field where you have had a long
experience with big names such as Roland Berger or
Accenture, notably in Europe and Asia before returning to Roland
Berger, the largest European consultancy, and finally joining in
January 2009 the AMCF board as President. However, people in France and
a few in Europe don't know you yet ! Could you introduce yourself
John Furth : I see that you already
know it very well [laughter]. I
started my career with Roland Berger Strategy Consultants and my
biggest project was with the European Commission. That is the link with
Europe. So basically I worked for the European then I boarded to Japan.
So my career has been very international.
And you are the one man
who set-up the New York office of Roland Berger…
John Furth : That's
right ! In 1996.
Does it mean that as the president of the
association you will be very open to European firms ?
John Furth : Sure, very much. We
already have members from Europe.
Historically we developed the activity quite a long time ago and we
have European members such as Capgemini, Algoé, BPI, long time
practitioners, and many other consultancies originating from Europe :
Deloitte, Ineum [now Kurt Salmon]…and I would say from all over the
world with names big like TCS…
Will you also be keen to
develop more activities in Europe and the rest of the world?
John Furth : Well, we are very
America focused. However we developed
activities in the world like meetings, forums in Europe. Asia as
well…And as we have members in Europe, they mainly consider their
activity in Europe. But here we are still primarily America focused.
2003, Lanny Cohen, the then Chairman of the annual meeting
reminded us about the history of the association which started in 1929,
the year of the big recession. He depicted the structure of the
membership with the strategists gathering at the beginning, the relay
through the management firms and finally the "coming in" of the big IT
firms and the BPO "outsourcers" at the end of the 20th century. What
might be the next kind of company joining in the association?
John Furth : We have niche players,
local niche players in marketing,
communication, public relation, organization, financial services,
healthcare, real estate etc. So we have niche players "and" big
players, large companies. This is very specific. We do have at the same
time large and small companies.
But despite the crisis,
numerous new members are coming in at the moment, nearly one each month
John Furth : That's right. New ones
of different kinds, niche players
and also former large members that feel comfortable at coming back to
the conference and forums. PwC, TCS, Mercer LLC…. Among the niche
players we have Campbell Alliance (based in Raleigh NC) specializing in
the healthcare and biotechnology industries; Gray Matters from Chicago,
specializing in training on commercial methodologies for intellectual
services; Target team (based in Boston) whose solutions are used by
more than 40 different consultancies; PepperCom, a strategic
communication agency; also PDN from London, a training group as well as
Exec Com from NewYork City. And finally I would mention the Hokenson
Group, a business development and strategic alliance consultancy from
Washington DC. At the moment of the coming European Forum we have 48
member firms (54 with MCG subsidiaries, the Management Consulting
Group). This also includes a new category of "Start-ups" which are very
small 2 or 3 man firms that are just starting their growth plans.
How do you see the AMCF today ? Is it an
elite club as it is seen from Europe?
John Furth : It is not a club. It is
a place where people come to work
are much more than a club and we are definitely not a closed club. We
have new sorts of category, events and services.
your first acts as new president has been the coming out of a
new website. What about this platform? Is it a new tool for your
John Furth : Yes. We developed it
with a team from Capgemini. It relies
on Joomla technology and new functionalities appear each month. We also
have members only sections.
few years ago people at the AMCF annual meeting, especially from
the BCG, noticed that we had not observed recently any new idea in
management and consulting fields. After the Y2K years all ideas such as
Quality, Reengineering, e-Business, BPO, Offshoring, as well as
Coaching, or Agility in the HR field looked already part of history
with no replacement in sight. What's your feeling about that ?
John Furth : At the moment we don't
have a topic to capitalize on. New
ideas are limited to specialties. I don't think that anyone at the
moment sees any major topic, any major idea. People are
developing abroad, but you are right and the people at the meetings
were right in observing this lack of new concepts. This is not to
that consultancies would not have big ideas kept secret within the firm
but that no big ideas have permeated the industry. However I would
observe that people are working hard at peer review meetings and
affinity group to compensate for this lack of big methods or guidelines
and I think they are trying to find collaborative solutions more than
this the reason why you choose David Maister as the 2009 Annual
Meeting keynotes lecturer? And wasn't that choice a little bit risky
for the new president as we know David Maister as a man who in
strategic circumstances has always had a straight talk ?
John Furth : At the moment David
Maister is one of the best three or
four most important thinkers and speakers in the field of consulting
industry, with a very people-oriented approach and one who is not just
issued from academic consulting. He is very open-minded and he is
exactly the right man at the right moment. So it has nothing to do with
risk and he is very well known by the membership. And this year the
meeting's title was "An industry in Change", so he and Ritchard Metzler
were the right men for this 2009 meeting. Richard has been with the
association for about 30 years, very protective, and David Maister for
me is excellent, brilliant, and Richard is exceptional to us. They are
definitely the two best people for this year of change. So there were
no risks. The industry is restructuring and some sectors deserve
attention: Communication, Energy and Environment, Automotive and
Healthcare. We have had sessions and lectures on these topics. And
about how can consultants adjust their practice to help manage these
sectors David was definitely the right man.
David Maister was the 2009 recipient of the Sloane Award for Excellence
in Management Consulting that he received from the hands of
Richard Metzler. Could you remind us of all the people who have been
awarded the Sloane Prize in the past ?
John Furth : Roland Berger, was the
first recipient (in 1999), a very
smart, very ambitious man, and Roland Berger Strategy Consultants is
the largest European strategy consultancy. He was to come this year but
he was very busy and did not make it out. About the list I would say:
Mike Hammer, Edward de Bono, inventor of the 6 hats method in 2005,
Ginni Rometti, Vice President of IBM in 2006, C. K. Prahalad from the
University of Michigan in 2007, Henry Mintzberg from the
Sherbrooke Canada in 2008, and finally David Maister, former professor
of the Harvard Business School and the "consultant's consultant".
would you summarize the 2009 AMCF meeting? In terms of the state
of the economy, state of the consulting industry, quality of the
meeting and choice of the topics ?
John Furth : Let me start with the
topics. We choose these industries
because they are in trouble at the moment and because it is where the
consultants can help much. So it is where consulting makes a lot of
significant change and where government can provide support for that
change, especially in Energy and Healthcare. Automotive is in trouble
at the moment all over the world but Healthcare is almost US and linked
to the Obama policies. Other topics have been chosen because of the
economic recession. Internet and Communication as well as Energy are
strong fields but hit by the recession. We might have added Retail,
Real Estate which are big industries in the US. Now, about the state of
the economy and consulting I would say that for the consulting industry
it needs to reinvigorate itself. We need to come up with interesting
new ideas and new methodologies. About the state of the economy, I
would say it will be difficult. The year 2010 [and probably 2011]
be difficult as it will be in Europe. We are at the beginning of
recovery but it is very difficult and somehow different from what it is
in Europe. About the meeting itself I am happy to say the 2009 edition
was an excellent meeting, very positive in term of energy, with people
very enthusiastic. And it helped much to get a true vision of the
state of consulting; And I would summarize it this way: The
idea is not yet here ! And as observed by the people at Kennedy
information, consulting is a mature industry and like all mature
industries it certainly has to reinvent itself. And this is the big
topic we will have to work on at the next meetings and forums.
which conclusion brings me elegantly to our following question.
For the next Leadership Forum (new name of the annual meeting) which is
to be held on Dec 2-3 2010 at the University Club of New York, Peter
Shiff of Europacific Capital, Jeremy Siegel from the Wahrton School and
James Champy, the internationally acclaimed consultant, will be the
"guest stars" of the meeting, with James Champy being the year
recipient of the Sloane Award. As we all know James Champy as the
inventor with Michael Hammer of the Reengineering, do we have to see in
this "casting" a link to the temporary lack of "big ideas" we talked
John Furth : That is always a topic
for us. You didn't mention Prof.
Bob Eccles from Harvard Business School. He will talk to us later in
the session about he thinks is the next big idea for consulting.
a few weeks before the New York forum will be held in Paris
the European Leadership Forum at the Deloitte headquarters in Neuilly.
Again you propose a nice list of panelists with Brad Smith from Kennedy
Information and Rick Carter of Equation Consulting, Gerard
from Algoé and Christian Chattay of Deloitte. Could you unveil
readers the topics that might be dealt with by these talented experts ?
John Furth : We are going to be
talking a lot about what our clients
expect and need from their consultants. We will also talk a lot about
the state of the industry, especially in North America and Asia.
Europeans always like to know what's going on outside of their
this year we saw Ineum merging with Kurt Salmon, Watson Wyatt
merging with Tower Perrin and finally Hewitt merging with Aon
Consulting . As a final question we would like to know your feeling
about these merging and mega fusions? Is this the beginning of a new
consolidation wave or is this the sign of the crisis end ?
John Furth : M&A [Merging &
Acquisition] is always a major way to gain market share or cut
costs in a mature industry like ours. I expect we will be seeing a lot
of this kind of activity in the next few years.
Mister President, on the
behalf of our readers, I thank you very much
for this overview and for these invaluable comments. Thanks John.
Words collected by
Chief Editor, ConsultingNewsLine