Thomas Kuruvilla on Arthur D. Little's growth and the future of consulting

18 December 2023 7 min. read
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18 months after our last sit down with Thomas Kuruvilla, we reunited with Arthur D. Little’s Middle East managing partner to discuss how the strategy firm has managed to continue its growth track, the future of management consulting – and how Arthur D. Little caters to the industry’s changing dynamics.

When we last spoke, you outlined grand plans in the region. Fast forward to today, and it is safe to say they have been achieved. What has been driving the firm’s expansion?

Indeed, back then we were serving the region with around 200 staff. We have since grown the team to over 300 staff, and grown the partner team to 30+.

To a great extent, our expansion is driven by client needs. As a firm, we believe that listening is just as important as action, and we go to great lengths to understand the needs, realities, and aspirations of the organizations we support.

Thomas Kuruvilla on Arthur D. Little's growth and the future of consulting

In particular, clients are now requesting expanded support as artificial intelligence and digitalization begin to disrupt business models and challenge the status quo across industries – and we respond accordingly, making sure that the expertise and resources are in the right place at the right time.

Another important factor for us is that disruptions are crossing industry divides and creating convergences between sectors. For example, financial services are being disrupted by mobile services and energy is being disrupted by the evolution of mobility. With this in mind, we need to build deep expertise across all key sectors.

The expansion of Arthur D. Little in the region is also driven by our clear mission to become the most trusted partner to our clients. That means integrity, transparency, credibility, and of course, unparalleled expertise. It is maintaining these pillars that matters most as we grow our footprint.

You mention digitalization. How is this impacting the way companies operate and how should they adapt their strategies to ensure future success?

Moving forward, many existing business models and strategies will no longer be fit for purpose, requiring business leaders and decision makers to rethink the way their organizations work and to build new competencies and attract new talent, all within the context of a digitally-enabled organization. Today, building a robust business model is all about deciding on the right competencies required and figuring out how they can be adapted to ever-changing business and customer needs, and digitalisation facilitates such decisions to be most effective and impactful on internal operations and services delivery to customers.

The world is converging, which means that traditional thinking and siloed approaches don’t cut it anymore. Companies need expertise across multiple sectors to develop any strategy. Energy, sustainability, mobility, education, healthcare, housing – you name it – demands across almost all areas are becoming intertwined, and strategy development must reflect this with a specific focus on the enabling power of digitalisation.

How can the world of management consulting help organizations as they prepare for a new-look future?

Consultancies should be able to source the best expertise in the world and integrate internal expertise across sectors to provide pragmatic recommendations. For us, as consultants, we also need to participate in implementing strategy and share in the risks as well as the returns.

At Arthur D. Little, we have been successful in attracting the best talent, by providing an entrepreneurial and non-hierarchical environment. We actively encourage our juniors and seniors to discuss around the same table and our next generation of consultants is extremely ambitious and ready to provide expert support to clients.

In the right environment, it is now very clear that that a fresh, innovative mind can challenge experience and wisdom with breakthrough ideas.

Management consulting itself is not immune to the new forces shaping the business world. How is the industry changing, and what action do consulting firms need to take to remain competitive and to provide the best support to clients?

To remain relevant and to continue delivering value, management consulting will inevitably need to change.

First – and perhaps controversially – I believe it is necessary to move more towards a risk sharing model, where consultant fees are more closely linked to tangible and measurable outcomes, rather than tied to PowerPoint recommendations and fixed deliverables.

I am not suggesting that consultants should be paid less, but that it is those who deliver true value that should be rewarded accordingly, with benefits for client and consultant alike.

Clearly, the top consulting firms deliver the best results, but bigger does not necessarily mean better. Small, agile firms that take an ‘open consulting’ approach are often able to complement internal capabilities with best-in-class external expertise, making them equipped to tackle highly specialized needs and tailor their services to deliver results.

Second, junior resources, including graphics, research, and even business analyst tasks will largely be replaced by artificial intelligence over time. This creates a dilemma: we may need to think about consulting models that involve fewer junior roles, yet without junior team members, the industry will lack senior talent down the line. Striking the right balance will be a challenge, but it is an issue that requires attention, nonetheless.

Importantly, our junior resources will now be working on more value-added activities which will fast track their development.

The firm has significant growth ambitions for the Middle East. What progress has the firm made in the region in recent years?

Arthur D. Little has a long and successful track record in the Middle East. In fact, we were the first management consulting firm to set up in Saudi Arabia back in the 1950s and we remain firmly committed to the kingdom today.

In the past year alone, we have engaged in several high-impact projects like the National Investment Strategy and Expo 2030, and we have successfully entrenched the firm’s positioning in several promising and vital sectors for Vision 2030, including tourism, entertainment, culture, and sports.

This year, we were among the first strategy consultancies to obtain the RHQ license, and we are delighted to be part of Saudi Arabia’s team that worked on the Expo 2030 bid.

Our growth in Saudi Arabia is further reflected in our expanding team and the clients we have onboard. Notably, our Riyadh office will include five partners and 50 team members before the end of the year. Meanwhile, the firm has grown its client network to include several new government and regional development authorities, as well as PIF fully-owned entities and private sector companies.

We have also established an additional 10 framework agreements with key clients in the kingdom in recent months.

Our footprint in neighboring Bahrain has grown too, building on Arthur D. Little’s longstanding experience in the market that dates back to the 1990s. We opened our dedicated Bahrain office in 2021 and have since grown our team to include 10 Bahraini consultants – a number that we intend to double next year.

In terms of services, have been supporting public and private sector clients across Bahrain in key strategic areas through our signature side-by-side approach to consulting, with several landmark projects delivered to date.

Our progress in these two markets reflects our wider impact in the region, with our teams in the UAE, Beirut, and beyond delivering results for clients across the Middle East.

Now, as we look to 2024, our growth plans continue and we expect to grow the team of partners to 45+, adding further weight to the services and support we offer.