Thomas Kuruvilla on Arthur D. Little’s expansion plans in the GCC

25 April 2022 10 min. read
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The world’s oldest strategy and management consultancy – Arthur D. Little – is on a growth track in the Middle East. Hot on the heels of a record year for the regional practice, ConsultancyME spoke with managing partner Thomas Kuruvilla on the firm’s offerings, growth plans in the GCC, and why the firm is an in-demand home for top talent.

How would you define what differentiates Arthur D. Little from rival brands?

Arthur D. Little is the first management consulting firm in the world and is now beginning its 136th consecutive year of expert consultancy services. We believe in an open world, and that means open consulting: not what a consulting firm can provide but what is best available in the world for our clients.

This promise also means recommending our competitors at times which has led to a relationship of trust with Arthur D. Little and grounded a reliance over our capabilities and project scopes.

Thomas Kuruvilla, Middle East Managing Partner, Arthur D. Little

For the Middle East region, especially, trust is imperative. Unlike other markets, clients in the region come to us expecting an end-to-end service to first explore the problem and then develop solutions, as opposed to other markets whose reliance on consultancy remains targeted – in other words, recommending a solution versus aligning on the problem to be resolved.

As trusted advisors, we owe our clients the very best rationalized value-add results, and they truly appreciate this.

Can you share a case-study where you have helped solve your clients’ problems?

In a recent report, Arthur D. Little developed a comprehensive program ideation against the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on India’s economy, outlining in 10-point strategy to invest in India’s future with immediate benefits of GDP stimulus, job loss prevention and poverty alleviation, and the long-term potential to recover 50% of the investment at reasonably attractive rates of return.

Further reading: ADL puts forward 10-point strategy for reviving India's economy.

Other interesting case studies to share for clients in Saudi Arabia pertain to helping the Ministry of Health with its transformation journey across different regional clusters, supporting the National Center for Privatization with the implementation of programs across several sectors, helping setup the Saudi Space Commission by delineating a target operating model, and developing a technology foresight study for national critical sectors for a leading research institute.

Can you share the impactful projects and assignments that are foreseeable for the near future?

Building on the foundational work we have done in the region over recent years on sectoral regulation and national privatization agenda fronts, we anticipate a sizeable number of impactful projects to come our way on sectoral domain privatization strategy development and implementation governance.

The private sector will surely become more and more a constructive partner of governments in their drive to transform their sectoral focus, becoming more of sector regulators and leaving operational and service delivery functions to the private sector through the right partnership modality.

Adding to the above, we see our differentiated work on autonomous mobility, electric vehicle regulations, environmental sustainability and regional country net-zero commitments, digital transformation, advanced data analytics, financial services disruption, and organizational as well as operational strategic transformations to continue in support of our growing client base.

Tell us about your expansion plans in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?

At Arthur D. Little, we are well on our way to establish a regional hub in the capital, led by the first internally promoted Saudi national partner and overseeing other national and regional office branches. Being one of the most progressive countries globally undertaking a cross-sector national transformation program, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is decidedly a leading market for groundbreaking consulting.

We have been serving clients in the Kingdom since the mid-1960s covering national innovation, privatization and public private partnerships, space sector development, education development, ICT sector development and healthcare transformation to name a few.

Given the breadth and interdependencies of the national transformation program, consulting in the Kingdom transcends industry and functional service offerings towards digital disruption, innovation, and convergence.

We also very keen to broadening our partnership network with both local Saudi companies and academic institutions.

Meanwhile, Arthur D. Little recently launched an office in Bahrain and is preparing for launch in Qatar. Can you tell us more about these expansions?

In any new market we enter, we diligently work to leverage our broad and deep expertise across industry and functional domains, regionally and globally, and with a constant aim to be more cross-industry focused influenced by digital disruption, innovation, and convergence for additional client value creation.

In both markets, we will steer our cross-industry expertise and experience to effectively support the national sectoral priorities at hand. This will put us in a differentiated position in supporting governments in these new markets, and help the private sector grow with the proper regulations and incentives in place.

Both offices will be led by a partner with affinity to each country’s sectoral development agendas and other pressing national requirements.

Our ambitions for the GCC region are advancing rapidly – over the last two years we’ve tripled the number of offices we have in the region. Recently, we also moved a sizable number of our Moscow office team to the region enhancing our capabilities across several sectors. Our expansions are predicted to grow significantly in the coming years.

Arthur D. Little has grown its team to 200-strong in the Middle East. What’s next?

Indeed, we have onboarded over 75 new hires across all cohorts in the past year, lifting our current consulting capacity to around 200 staff.

Looking ahead to 2022, we expect our partner team to grow to 25 by end of the year, through both internal promotions and external hires. This foresight is firmly anchored in our unequivocal belief that by linking strategy, technology, and innovation to serve clients, the agendas to be supported will always benefit from the most compelling thought-leadership and emerging solutions.

Add to this belief is our embracement of an ‘open consulting’ model. Through our subsidiaries Cutter and Presans, we can access thousands of domain experts and hence provide our clients with the right complementary specialized capabilities.

We have bold ambitions in the Middle East: In the next 4 to 5 years, we aim to double our capacity across all cohorts, including the partner level.

What types of people are you trying to bring to the firm?

At Arthur D. Little, we constantly seek global talents who are not only willing to learn and educate, but are also entrepreneurial in their thinking, with a profound client-centric mantra. We aim to attract qualified professionals whose expertise is one built on a curiosity to develop themselves, and through their mentorship help fellow peers, as opposed to sheer internal competitive drivers seen in other organizations.

Furthermore, to strengthen team spirit we promote a non-hierarchical leadership and flat organization structure, which altogether can facilitate flexibility, creativity and problem-solving with strong results on the long-term. A strong driver for us at Arthur D. Little is practicing and leading with ethical behavior as this maintains integrity, drives trust and transparency.

Lastly, and based on years of experience, we see that people with an aim to become an owner or shareholder of the business tend to work longer with Arthur D. Little than those with salaried management aspirations.

Arthur D. Little is currently increasing its remuneration across all levels. Can you tell us more about this adjustment?

Against our ongoing expansion, we have significantly upgraded our compensation to match the expected value addition to the client. The increase in remuneration is to the tune of 30%.

The adjustment builds on a process of continued productivity enhancement. With the proliferation of more and more AI-enabled tools that can support consulting work, and with our adoption of such tools, our collective productivity will continue to rise, and in-turn so will client value add, so compensation adjustments will be periodically made going forward.

Supporting this is a major investment in our support functions. We have worked diligently to upgrade our functions including research, graphics, data analytics, and translation, so that consultants can focus primarily on impactful client value adding activities.

In Saudi Arabia, Arthur D. Little recently launched the AFAQ skilling program. What is the program’s focus?

Given our profound commitment to staff development and to prepare a broader number of graduates for a career in consulting, we launched the AFAQ skilling program. As the name in Arabic suggests, this program offers new horizons for aspiring recent graduates from national universities to develop their consulting skills set in a pragmatic case-based manner.

Since the launch, this program has attracted hundreds of new or soon to be graduates, which attests to the high interest local talent has in consulting and their appreciation of the learnings they will acquire during this tailored-made program.

Finally, you’ve been in the world of consulting for 25 years. What is the most challenging part of the business?

Advanced digital technologies and data analytics have brought in a wave of converging expertise expectations across all sectors and, as such, the consulting ecosystem needs to be re-purposed and re-structured to give more adapted recommendations against the tide of rapid disruptive transformation. Achieving this and allowing for further agility for any future developments is the main challenge I see in the consulting business today.

We simply live in a world of industry use cases that can be transferred or leveraged in other industries with tremendous timely impact. Add to this the vast number of innovative start-ups that have put legacy conglomerates at risk of dissolution. This development further pushes consulting firms to look at ecosystem synergies to bring forward to clients through concepts like corp-ups.

Thomas Kuruvilla has been with Arthur D. Little since 1998. He has been leading the Middle East region since 2006 and is a member of the firm’s global board of directors.