Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Australia’s most powerful consultants in 2021


Today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups... So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.

 - Power - Philip K Dick

Australia’s most powerful consultants in 2021

The AFR Magazine’s hotly anticipated annual Power issue includes lists of the key players across six different industry sectors. Here are this year’s most powerful people in consulting.

The great consultant shortage of 2021 has recast the power list for a sector that’s bounced back strongly after the pandemic downturn.

Demand is high from clients looking to digitise their operations, plus mergers and acquisitions activity is rampant.

Travel restrictions have squeezed the supply of experienced staff, however, while many accountants and consultants are leaving for rival firms or in-house roles, particularly finance. Thus, the main problem at the big firms is how to retain and attract staff.

The five biggest – Accenture, Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC – had almost 3500 open job ads on business networking site LinkedIn in August, an average of 700 each. The real number is much higher. Dozens of the ads are open calls for auditors through to technology and policy experts to get in touch.

Firms such as Accenture, PwC, Deloitte and KPMG have gone from making staff redundantto having their new chief executives talk extensively about how they want to offer the best “employee experience” – along with competitive pay and all manner of sign-on/retention/performance bonuses. It goes without saying that partner profits are booming.

Tara Brady, Tom Seymour, Chris Bradley, Adam Powick, Matt Rennie, Simone Rennie top the list. 

1. Tara Brady

The British-born head of Accenture ANZ was parachuted into the role in September 2020 amid disquiet about COVID-19 redundancies. An energetic master networker who has already connected with an array of business leaders, Brady has been busy rejigging his senior executive rankspoaching high-profit consultants from rivals and buying up smaller firms.

Accenture has won a series of big projects under his watch, such as the right to build the federal government’s new visa processing system, and it remains the largest provider of advisory services to the Commonwealth.

Brady wants Accenture to be seen as not just part of an extended “big five” in Australia with Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC, but as the first firm clients call for help with digitising operations.

He also has an edge when it comes to attracting and retaining staff. The Financial Review consulting salary guide shows that Accenture has the highest starting pay at all ranks compared with the big four consulting firms.

2. Tom Seymour

In March 2020, when Seymour became the head of PwC, business all but dried up as the pandemic took hold. His first mission was to manage redundancies, cuts to staff pay and hours and reduced partner profits. Now that the rebound in demand has arrived, Seymour is looking to position PwC as the firm best able to attract and retain experienced professionals.

Its roughly 8100 staff (average age 33) told the firm they value competitive pay as their top priority, followed by “the opportunity for career progression and professional development”.

Seymour responded by announcing pay would increase at a faster rate between formal promotions, and the proportion of staff who can earn bonuses would double to 80 per cent. He is also part way through a project to simplify the number of remuneration bands from the current thousands of variations.

He intends to publish staff salary bands internally by the end of 2021 or early next year, an unprecedented move among large consulting firms and a sign of his confidence of PwC’s standing in the market for professionals.

3. Chris Bradley

The McKinsey senior partner has been busy for the past 18 months talking to boards about how the pandemic has led to what he calls the Great Acceleration (updated from his initial term, the Great Amplification).

That’s where the factors that separated the best-performing businesses from the laggards – including best-in-class technology, a global outlook and a systemised approach to deal making – are even more important. In the past year, Bradley estimates he has advised more than 90 chief executives and non-executive directors.

While he provides views on what is over the horizon, he shies away from predictions. Instead, Bradley is an advocate of scenario planning and asking leaders to answer questions like ‘what if?’ and then pressing them to think about the ‘so what?’.

4. Adam Powick

Powick was happily leading Deloitte’s high-growth Asia Pacific consulting business when he was asked in March to take over Deloitte Australia. On his arrival, it was clear to the veteran technology consultant that Deloitte’s partners and staff had experienced a difficult pandemic year of job cuts, an exodus of leadersand professionals, and then an unexpected staffing crisis due to the rebound in demand.

He began by being more transparent about the firm’s operations with partners and then extended this to staff. In a firm where official communication had tended towards the relentlessly positive, he has been frank in the way only a technology consultant can be. (He is the first to lead an accounting firm globally.)

Powick is now working to make Deloitte a more appealing employer, while on the business side, Deloitte has been winning more technology consulting work with federal agencies.

5. Matt & Simone Rennie

In May, the Queensland-based husband and wife team launched boutique firm Rennie Partners to provide advice about the next big thing: transitioning to a net zero emissions economy.

It is representative of the growing number of boutique outfits in high demand from clients who want specialist advice without having to subsidise the overheads included in a major firm’s fee structure.

In this case, the couple are known experts in the energy sector – he led EY’s Australian energy advisory business for a decade, while she has been the manager of energy market regulation at Australian Energy Market Operator for the past two years. They are already sought after by clients wanting guidance about the transition to renewable energy and reduced carbon emissions.

The AFR Magazine annual Power issue is out Friday, October 1, inside The Australian Financial Review. Follow AFR Mag on Twitter and Instagram

Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.
 ~ George Orwell, 1984