#4 Booz Allen Hamilton – an overview of the top four consulting firms 2008

 

  1. McKinsey & Company
  2. Boston Consulting Group
  3. Bain & Company
  4. Booz Allen Hamilton

NOTE: In July 2008, Booz Allen Hamilton separated its two core businesses into two companies. Booz Allen Hamilton now provides U.S. government consulting, and Booz & Company provides commercial management consulting.

4. Booz Allen Hamilton

Organisation type

Private company

Headquarters

McLean, Virginia, USA

Key people

Dr. Ralph Shrader, Chairman and CEO

Other key people

Size

19,000 employees in 115 offices across six continents

Revenue

$4 billion (2006)

Expertise

Main expertise is strategy and technology consulting, in commercial and government sectors.

Mission

To deliver results that endure.

Operational structure

Firm’s services are broken into strategy and leadership, organization and change management, operations, innovation, sales and marketing, and information technology.

Clients

After WWI, Edwin Booz increasingly used his ties to Washington and the public sector, establishing a tradition of government service that continues at Booz Allen to the present.

Booz clients also include the world’s largest corporations and emerging growth companies from every industry sector and every country.

Culture

Client confidentiality is important at Booz Allen and the firm doesn’t typically publicise the names of clients.

The firm is said to have a very non-hierarchical open structure which fosters a culture of team work and cooperation.

Booz Allen consultants typically get heavy workloads and travel is a fairly regular thing. Consultants at Booz Allen would generally be out-of-town four days at a stretch, with Fridays back at the home office.

Promotions are up-or-out, you get promoted upwards or asked to leave.

Publications

Since 1995, the firm has published strategy+business, a magazine for business executives.

Brief history

1914 Founded in Chicago by Edwin G. Booz. Booz believed that companies would be more successful if they could call on someone outside their own organizations for expert advice. He is credited with being the founder of the management consulting profession.

1940 The firm was hired to help the US Secretary of the Navy with WWII preparations, marking the beginning of a longstanding relationship with the US Federal Government.

1950s The firm went global in the 1950s, with a contract in the Philippines and its first international office in Zurich.

1962 Firm changes its structure from a partnership to a privately held corporation.

1970 Booz Allen goes public with an initial offering of 500,000 shares at $24 per share.

1976 The partners took the firm private again through one of the first management buyouts to allow the firm to consider long-range investments that companies beholden to shareholders might not be able to make.

1982 Booz Allen Vice President Keith Oliver develops the concept for supply chain management working with the Dutch electronics giant Phillips.

2003 Booz Allen develops the Org DNA online self-assessment tool, enabling company leaders to better understand how the inherent traits of their organisations influence employee behaviour and affect company performance.

Nota bene

Notable intellectual contributions include the OrgDNA framework, the PERT management technique, and the product lifecycle theory.

2008 Ranked 4th most prestigious consulting firm in the world by the Vault Guide.

2007. The firm has been recognized one of the 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers by Working Mother magazine for seven straight years to 2007

2007. The firm has been recognised as one of Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work for two years running in 2007

Careers information

There is a strong emphasis on case interviews.

Website

www.boozallen.com

Warren Buffett on long term value investing

BACK IN 1998, Warren Buffett gave an inspirational talk to a group of MBA students at the University of Florida, College of Business. In the speech, Buffett gives his perspective on investing, in which he outlines the need to understand the underlying economics of the businesses that you invest in, and the need to stick to disciplined principles of business evaluation without being swayed by passing investment fads.

Here are 15 of the most interesting and insightful points made by Buffett in his speech about successful long term investing, as follows:

1. Return on equity is key

Return on equity is fundamental. In general, there is no point to investing, just because of the availability of cheap financing, if a business has a low return on equity. It’s hard to earn much as an investor when the business you’re in doesn’t earn very much money. Buffett elaborates that when he started out as an investor he would sometimes purchase very ordinary stocks at prices way below the value of working capital. This is what Buffett calls the ‘Cigar Butt’ approach to investing. You look around for a cigar butt (i.e. really cheap company), you find one that is old and soggy. You get one free puff out of it, and then you throw it away and try to find another one. If you’re looking for a free puff then this approach to investing works, but these are very low return businesses. By investing in a wonderful business with a high return on equity then, even if you initially pay a little too much, you’ll do well if you stay in for a long time.

2. Ownership of a stock is partownership of a business

Ownership of a stock is part ownership of a business.  With that in mind, the investors should not pay attention to the day to day stock fluctuations.

3. Invest in businesses that you understand

As Buffer jokes, this significantly narrows down the number of companies that he has to look at. You need to look for a simple business which is easy to understand, and which has honest and able management. Buffett says that this lets him understand where a company is going to be in ten years time. If he can’t see where the company will be in ten years, he won’t buy it. Buffett says that “investing is putting out money now, to be sure of getting more money back later at an appropriate rate. To do that you need to understand the business.” Buffett says that he wouldn’t invest money in a new internet business because he doesn’t understand that business and couldn’t say where it would be in ten years time. In his early years he would conduct extensive industry research. For example, by asking every CEO in an industry “if you could buy the stock of one other company in the industry, which one would it be and why?”

4. Invest within your circle of competence

The nice thing about investing is you don’t need to learn anything very new. Buffett says that he learnt about Wrigley’s chewing gum 40 years ago, and still understands that industry today. As a result, you will develop a pool of knowledge about different industries that builds up over time. Interestingly, Buffett says that most of his deals get completed in a matter of hours. If you don’t know enough about a business instantly, you won’t know enough in a month or two.

5. Invest based on solid reasoning

If someone told you about a company at a cocktail party or the charts look good, that’s not good enough. Paying a little too much for a wonderful business, you’ll do well if you stay in for a long time. You buy a lousy business for a good price; you stay in for a long time you’ll get a lousy result. If you’re right about the business, you’ll make a lot of money.

6. Invest for the long term

Buffett recommends buying businesses that you would be happy to own forever. It may happen that you have to sell for one reason or another, but you should, at the time you buy, want to be buying a company that you’ll own forever.

7. Strong businesses need a durable competitive advantage

A strong business needs a durable competitive advantage. Buffett says that although he wants to understand the businesses he goes into, he doesn’t want a business that is easy. You want a business with a moat around it with a duke defending the castle. That moat might be low cost operations, quality of products, service, patents, real estate location, or share of mind (Buffett explains that thirty years ago, Kodak’s moat was as wide as Coke’s moat. Kodak had share of mind, forget about share of market. They had something in everybody’s mind that said, “Kodak is the best”).

8. Feel strongly about the products

You want a business that has products that are not price dependant. Disney and Coca-Cola have developed a favourable impression in the mind of consumers that allows these companies to charge more for their products and sell more of them than other companies in the same industry.

9. Don’t borrow money that you don’t need

Buffett says that he never borrows money. He loves his job and was doing the same thing when he had $10,000 and when making $1,000 was a big deal. He recommends taking a job that if you were independently wealthy you would take. “If you think you’re going to be a lot happier if you have 2X instead of X, then you’re probably making a mistake.”

10. You only have to get rich once

Risking what you have and need to get what you don’t have and don’t need is foolish. Buffett gives the example of Long Term Capital Management. This hedge fund was run by smart people, with extensive experience and with their own money invested. To make money they didn’t have and didn’t need, they risked money they did have and did need. Buffett says, “if you risk something that is important to you for something that is unimportant to you, that decision just doesn’t make sense.”

11. Be patient, think carefully and avoid over stimulation

Buffett says that, in his opinion, the best way to think about investments is to sit in a room and just think. The problem with being in a market environment is that you get the feeling that you have to do something everyday, you get over stimulated. You want to be away from any environment that stimulates activity. Get one good idea a year, and ride it to its full potential.

12. Professional investors should not diversify

Buffett believes that if you are not a professional investor, which is ninety nine percent of people, then you should extensively diversify your investments and not trade. However, once you decide that you are going to bring an intensity to the game and start evaluating businesses and bring the effort, intensity and time involved to get that job done, then Buffett believes that diversification is a terrible mistake. In his opinion, if you really know businesses then you shouldn’t own more than 6 of them. “Very few people have got rich on their seventh best idea.”

13. Business size is not the important consideration

When investing, business size is not the important consideration. Small, medium and large cap stocks can all represent good investment opportunities. It doesn’t matter about the size of the business; it’s the certainty of the returns that counts. The relevant questions are:

  1. Can we understand the business?
  2. Do we like the people running it?
  3. Does it sell for a price that is attractive?

14. Only worry about what is important and knowable

Anything that is unimportant or unknowable, you should forget about it. Buffett outlines that market predictions do not affect his investment decisions. “I have no idea where the market is going to go.”

15. Make investment mistakes

Buffett says that the mistakes that he has actively made have been far less costly than his mistakes of omission. He reflected that the times where he understood a business, saw an opportunity and sat on his hands and did nothing have cost him tens of billions of dollars.

What is management consulting?

A LOT of people have trouble describing what a consultant does, because ‘consulting’ is such broad term. The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary defines a consultant to be a person who provides information or advice. Since consultants are typically employed to analyse the problems and challenges faced by management and to develop plans for improvement, they are called ‘management consultants’. In October 2003, the Institute of Management Consultants defined management consultants as “objective professionals who provide advice and assistance in the process of management across national boundaries.” Traditionally, consultants were employed to help management in the private sector but are now also used by government and non-governmental organisations.

Consultants are able to assist management by:

  1. providing expert knowledge;
  2. facilitating the investigation of business problems;
  3. implementing solutions; and
  4. supporting organisational change.

1. Providing expert knowledge

Consultants can provide management with the expertise needed to address specific business problems. For example, a company that needs to update its computer systems might seek advice from IT consultants. The benefit of bringing in specialist consultants is that they are likely to have experience solving similar problems and to have an understanding of industry best practice.  Large consulting firms are able provide clients with a broad range of expertise to address a variety of business problems because they can draw on a breadth of experience.

Areas of expertise that consultants can bring to clients include:

  • Industry specific knowledge
  • Business strategy, which includes looking at
    • assessing and responding to industry trends,
    • defining strategic priorities,
    • restructuring a company’s organisation,
    • developing a strong brand image,
    • increasing profitability (cutting costs and boosting revenues),
    • creating growth (developing new products, expanding into new markets, acquiring assets and companies),
    • improving marketing and distribution of products, and
    • deciding whether and how to outsource activities.
  • Information technology
  • Tax
  • Risk management
  • Human resources

2. Facilitating the investigation of business problems

Consultants can assist management by facilitating the examination of business problems. There are three reasons why consultants are well placed to do this:

  1. Performance incentives: Consultants have an incentive to be organised and to work quickly because they are typically engaged on short term contracts and paid high fees in order to provide a recommendation.
  2. Open communication: Consultants may be able to facilitate open communication within a company and to allow good ideas that already exist within a company to reach management.  As consultants are not full time employees they are able to talk openly with employees at all levels within the company. This allows consultants to collect good ideas from different levels within an organisation, structure those ideas within a strategic framework, and to present those ideas to management.
  3. Objective recommendations: Consultants are able to provide more independent and objective recommendations.  For example, consultants are able to provide disinterested advice about cost saving measures. Introducing more efficient work practices might save a company millions of dollars, but might also lead to redundancies. Existing employees may be aware that more efficient work practices exist but are unlikely to suggest changes that may lead to job loses.

3. Implementing Solutions

Consultants can assist management by implementing any business solutions that may be required to help management achieve its objectives or to tackle specific business problems.

4. Supporting organisational change

Consultants can assist management by supporting organisational change.  There are two reasons why consultants are well placed to support organisational change:

  1. Impetus for action: Consultants are able to provide independent research-based support for a particular plan of action.  This kind of external support can legitimise management’s plan, and provide an impetus for action by clearly explaining the reasons why the proposed plan of action should be undertaken.
  2. Employee engagement: In the process of collecting information, consultants should be able to engage with staff at all levels within an organisation. If employees within the organisation feel a sense ownership in the change process then they are less likely to resist any changes that are made, and the proposed plan of action is more likely to succeed.