Moving on – reflections from Nick Kirkbride as he retires from Eden McCallum
This summer, Nick Kirkbride is retiring from the Eden McCallum partnership after eight years helping spearhead the growth of the firm. Reflecting on his time with us, he shared a number of thoughts on our development, our impact with clients, and his greatest highlights in working with our consultants.
How did you come to join Eden McCallum? What made you want to be part of the firm?
I got the call! I had kept in touch with Dena and Liann over the years having first known Eden McCallum as a client. The quality of the work, and the consultants, and the in-house team were clearly all outstanding, and I was also attracted to growing another business, which had been my focus in the two decades since I left McKinsey. And the idea of returning to professional services was another big attraction – as I still say now, consulting has enabled me to meet more inspiring and interesting people than in any phase of my working life.
What surprised you most in your first few months here?
There weren’t really big surprises, but two things did strike me. The first was the difference that being in a partnership made, in that it brought with it some particular challenges in making decisions – after so many years in the corporate world, I had forgotten how completely different it is to make stuff happen in a partnership structure. For me that was a big adjustment.
The second discovery was the gap between the strategy firm that we had become, and the image we still had in parts of the market – eight years ago the brand was underplaying the impact we were having with clients. People still thought of us as matching talent to projects, and that was something we immediately addressed.
In what other ways has the firm changed over the years you have been here?
The most dramatic change has been in scale. I remember celebrating our tenth anniversary as a huge milestone – one of our advisory board pointed out that making it ten years as a startup confirmed we were a business to last, and it really felt that way. I had joined what still felt a bit like a startup office, bursting out of our office space, and I leave a business with three offices, and large teams delivering highly complex projects, with enormous impact. I’m proud of where we are.
More recently our hiring of analysts has been a pivotal change here, in my opinion: given the scarcity of freelance analysts, training our own has enabled us to get far greater leverage from our experienced talent. And in addition, our commitment to giving people a great start to their careers has been personally rewarding and energising for the whole core team.
Thinking about your client work, where did you and your project teams have the biggest impact?
I’m most proud of two major relationships I led over the course of the past five years or so. Both of them extended from strategy right through into all the change and implementation to make it real, where of course our consultants’ experience beyond consulting makes us really good at focusing on what counts.
The first of these was with a software company, where I worked with Petri Allas and a whole constellation of amazing consultants to develop their strategy. We then led major streams on specifics to support that strategy, such as pricing, and subsequently we supported local teams internationally to pilot and deliver a completely new strategic planning process. For me the real reward was in aligning the management team behind a completely new strategy, and supporting them to really make it happen.
The other project I found particularly rewarding was for quite different reasons, a piece with one of the biggest international retailers. We began with a space allocation project, in the context of multi-channel. We were a multi-disciplinary team, led by John Bateson and including stellar consultants with backgrounds in retail operations, hardcore analytics, online and merchandising. Not to mention John’s line and academic experience in marketing. It was immensely satisfying to see the power of all that knowledge combined with outstanding consulting toolkits.
Any other highlights? Abiding memories of your time here?
One of the real highlights of Eden McCallum for me has been how much I have learned from our consultants, who are quite extraordinary. A particularly strong memory is being alongside Aimée Pitman as we worked with a client who described his previous consulting experiences as ‘being duffed over’. The trust Aimée built was incredibly inspiring to watch, and her commitment to making him successful was at the heart of it. I like to think I managed to absorb some of that magic, and I was a different consultant after that.
And of course, one of the best things about being here has been forming some really great and lasting friendships. Perhaps that’s the most important of all.
It’s been eight years. Where would you picture Eden McCallum in another eight?
Eight years is the longest I’ve done anything, so thinking that far forward is not my style! But I would say that I think of us as a brilliant networked business, and I picture the reach and power of that network having a formidable impact on the business world. Thinking about ourselves as a networked business is for me a helpful way to look at our real reach and potential. I think we rather underplay the power of our extraordinary network.
And what about you? What are your plans?
It’s all still taking shape. I’m looking to build up a portfolio of board and advisory roles, most likely helping to build up smaller companies. And I’ll continue on the Board of the Science Museum, a really great institution.
But ask me again in eight years…!