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View from the Top: Alan Middleton CEO, PA Consulting

Richard Milne
Financial Times, page 18
4 January 2010

Alan Middleton, the chief executive of PA Consulting, has been a management consultant at the UK firm for his entire career. His background was in advising financial groups but now he has to deal with the threat from the UK's Conservative party to slash public sector spending on consultants, a big business for PA. Edited highlights of a video interview on FT.com appear below.

How should chief executives approach this new year?

I think that 2010 to some extent will be a continuation of 2009. It's not going to be an easy year. What we've been talking about is an economy characterised by zombies. By zombie, I mean entities or organisations that have existed before but that operate in different ways now [like the living dead].

What are the main challenges for companies in this zombie world?

I think one thing is to make sure you're not a zombie yourself. You have to worry very much about liquidity. The second thing is make sure you're not just applying "business as usual". I think it is a real challenge for CEOs to recognise it's a different environment, to look at their business and understand how to respond to the new needs. You shouldn't let a good crisis go to waste.

What kind of changes in leadership style should CEOs make?

I don't think a CEO's leadership style should change. I think it should be reasonably consistent - and what's really important is that good leaders lead rather than simply do. The other thing is many of us are battle weary. It's been a very tough year. As we move into 2010, strong leadership is terribly important.

Companies are expecting low growth for a while. What are the best strategies in that environment?

What we've seen many of our clients doing is looking at new business models and not simply looking at the cost cutting that we've seen so aggressively over the past 12-18 months. There are huge opportunities afforded by green technology and the like. Merger or acquisition is back on the cards too.

What lies behind that revival?

I think many smaller organisations are actually struggling not just to grow but to maintain the status quo and they're looking to bring organisations together. Prudence, I think, is quite important among CEOs. If a deal looks too good to be true, then probably it is.

The big news event in the UK this year will be the general election. Can anything stop the Conservatives?

When you look at all parties at the moment, the surprise I have is how similar everything they're saying is. I think the key thing for the country is to get the election over and done with quickly. My biggest fear is a hung parliament and I think that would be the very worst thing we could have in this country.

What are the lessons to be learnt from Accenture's sponsorship of Tiger Woods?

I would imagine you'll see Accenture in future thinking carefully about advertising, or associating with a larger entity [rather than an individual]. I think the best advert is the work you do, not associating with a sportsperson.

Consultants are notoriously heavy users of e-mails. How do you stop it dominating company life?

I hate e-mail with a passion. It's a horrible thing. It is the curse of modern industry, and of consulting. What do I do personally? I try not to use it very much.

You can click on the video link above, or click here to view the interview in full.


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