Phillips Consulting, a Home-Grown Nigerian Consultancy Company

“Fortunately for us we have moved past the challenge of being a small local firm and therefore you won’t succeed. After 23 years we have crossed that bridge and we certainly compete aggressively with even the big firms.”

Interview with Foluso Phillips, Chairman-CEO of Phillips Consulting

Foluso Phillips, Chairman-CEO of Phillips Consulting

We have recently met with Accenture and we would like to know your assessment of the consultancy business environment in Nigeria. How would you define it and what are the trends? How do you see it from a local consultancy company’s perspective?

Today the consulting profession in Nigeria is being redefined based on what is trending. A lot of focus is being put on digital interfacing. If you look at what has been happening in the banking sector, the telecommunication sector and distributive trade, it has been shifting significantly into a more service delivery focused operation. Now I can order online, pay online and then have the products delivered to me. For the buyer it’s a totally new experience and for the seller it’s a phenomenal expansion of the market because all of a sudden I have demand coming through a digital framework where instead of having to hunt for customers I just have the challenge of delivering the goods. That in itself has totally changed the mind-set of people and it has changed the service paradigm that many companies are faced with. If you look at Nigeria you will see that we are not much of a manufacturing country. We still have a lot to do in that area so we tend to move more to issues regarding trade distribution, selling, buying and things of that nature. The ability to facilitate access to the market and access to sellers has to a great extent changed the type of service that consulting companies must provide. The traditional consulting work is still there. Looking at strategy and looking at people issues. Technology as well as learning, development, training and capacity building have all become increasingly important in the life of organizations. For a firm like us, you will find that the strategy focus is actually being reduced and being redirected more towards delivery. How can we get people to do the things that they are supposed to do? How can we make people be more efficient? How can we make people more responsive? How do we raise the competencies and capabilities of people in an organization so that they can deliver on their promises? That is what we currently find is the major push with organizations. Years ago consulting firms concentrated on processing issues and making sure that things work well. Those process challenges have now been much more digitized to such an extent that all you have to do is push a button. All it entails is having the right application. It’s a very app driven environment now. The demand for driving processes and designing processes have mostly fallen away because the digital system that you now work with defines the way you are supposed to behave and act. Emphasis has moved away from that. For us in Nigeria there is also the challenge of building. What I mean by that is we need to move away from the intellectual side and we need to start using our hands. To build in Africa, apart from Nigeria, we need people that are more mechanically and technically minded. When we say we want to build a country we are talking about physically building roads, bridges, houses, window frames, roofing sheets and furniture and actually use our hands to build as opposed to operating a mental model of importing all of these things. That is how people can be engaged and employed in the country today. Again you will find emphasis on capacity development but from a much more vocational point of view because that is another weakness we have in this system. As a result we are concentrating more on how we can get people to use their brain for one part and also how to use their hands for the other side of things. We need to show them that there is dignity in labour because there is a tendency for them to say, I don’t want to be a carpenter or plumber or a technician. I want to be a lawyer or a doctor and so on. Yet we know that to truly build a nation we need many more carpenters, plumbers and technicians. You will find that to date, certainly for our firm, trying to get to grips with reality is our edge. Beyond that it’s all high level strategy and fancy things which, in my opinion, end up on the shelf. If you really want to deliver in this environment you need to get your hands dirty.

We are extremely local. We think local. We act local. We are local. Our approach to many of the problems that companies have which can sometimes be cultural is why we try to understand the little innuendos that exist in companies.

Phillips Consulting is a home-grown Nigerian company. How difficult is it to compete with other companies in your industry? What is your niche in the market? How do you differentiate yourselves?

We are extremely local. We think local. We act local. We are local. Our approach to many of the problems that companies have which can sometimes be cultural is why we try to understand the little innuendos that exist in companies. So when we have a consulting assignment we are very people focused. We look at the particulars of individuals. We help them to appreciate the culture of the staff and the behaviour of the persons in various positions. We help them to understand why some things don’t work because it might not be a competency issue but an attitude issue which could be influenced by cultural norms. We try to understand these things and we try to build them into the solutions that we come up with. We have been operating for 23 years and our attitude has always been that we would be regarded as good as any global firm as well as always measuring up to global standards. My previous work experience was with an international consulting firm and therefore when I started my consulting practice I certainly had a mental model of how things should be done. Quality in our service and delivery and this has permeated the way we operate over the years. We have certainly proven that we have the edge in the market because many of the multinational firms have poached our consultants and been impressed by them. There is definitely a lot that we get right. We have been pushed to work harder because there is no global office that we can refer to. We are the beginning and the end of the firm. We don’t have readymade templates to pull out so we are forced to think a lot harder. We will go to what we call the war room and we devise solutions and proposal. Our thinking is original. That has helped to develop a certain attitude in the firm which makes our consultants self-developing. It takes a bit longer but it’s much more thorough. We engage with people. It will be a people focused solution that we will find every time because we find that most of the time in our consulting assignments it will be a people issue, People who don’t understand the processes or don’t want to engage in the processes. That has certainly been one of our key advantages and we have partnered with some international firms that have been in Nigeria. Those partnerships have been driven by the need for someone that understands the local environment. They might come up with much more high level strategy solutions whilst we are more concerned with delivery, implementing solutions and getting results.

Could you tell us about some of your international partners?

We work locally with McKinsey Consultants. They came to Nigeria and it took about 2 or 3 years for them to get to know us until we impressed them to the extent that we worked on an assignment with them and still continue to do so now. McKinsey Consultants are great strategists but when it comes to rolling out and implementing solutions they engage a local firm to help with that. That has been our role over the years. We have a strategy of engaging with global companies in other areas too. For example; our training programs, we have e-learning courses and we partner with Skillsoft which is the largest e-learning product provider in the world. We have competency assessments with an organization in South Africa. We have done a lot of work, in terms of learning systems such as Thomas Systems which is used for psychometric profiling. Our style has always been to partner with global organizations so that we can employ the best global practices. We have also partnered locally in Nigeria with Interbrand who are the leading branding consulting firm in the world. Again the focus was on brand implementation, culture change, to help people to live the brand and act the brand. Again all focused on the people and on delivery implementation.

Are you currently looking for any specific partnership?

At this point in time we are not necessarily looking because we have been spoilt. We have always been found by others who want to work with us. We don’t have any exclusive relationships. Recently we have been in discussion with the BCG, the Boston Consulting Group, who has just come into Nigeria. The whole idea is that we will work with any firm as long as we can help them to deliver what it is that they want to do. We are not locked into any particular organization.

What are the main challenges Phillips Consulting faces in Nigeria?

Fortunately for us we have moved past the challenge of being a small local firm and therefore you won’t succeed. After 23 years we have crossed that bridge and we certainly compete aggressively with even the big firms. What does hinder us from time to time is the size and scale of projects. A problem we do experience is losing our staff to other companies. We do a great job training our people. It’s a rigorous process they go through which makes them excellent consultants. We cannot always match the salaries that they get offered from our competitors. For some of our consultants it might be more about the experience they can get at another company as well as looking good on a resume. Other issues are more local. Receivables, especially when you work with the government. You don’t get paid on time and that can be rather challenging because you need the cash flow to keep going. Then again, the concept of consulting is new to some organizations and initially it is difficult for them to appreciate the value of the non-tangible service that we deliver. There is no physical product that they are buying. It’s an invisible solution and if matters don’t progress as quickly as they want them to they feel that they are not getting what they paid for and therefore they don’t have faith in the work we have done. Generally we find that we get by though.

Why did you decide to become a consultant? What is your vision for the company?

I have been in consulting for about 30 years. I studied industrial economics at a university in wales and I am a charted management accountant in the U.K and I am a chartered accountant in Nigeria. A lot of my background has been in systems accounting and IT driven accounting. I have worked for international companies here and in the United Kingdom. Back then I worked for Coopers & Lybrand for about 7 years which got me into the consulting business and I have been running this company for 23 years. It’s been a tough road but we are still here. We survived and we are thriving. In terms of the future, my vision is to have an organization that is still going long after I am gone. It’s so important to create an institution and that is what we are trying to focus on. To create a strong Nigerian institution that will be around for a long time. I think we are getting there. It has slowed us down but it’s not just about making money it’s about investing and reinvesting, taking time to realize that it’s a marathon and not a sprint and we will keep going year after year.


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