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A letter from our CEO, Ken Toombs



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A letter from Ken Toombs, CEO

I joined PA two years ago because I saw a firm built on purpose – Bringing Ingenuity to Life. I saw a team with a unique combination of skills – strategy, design, science, technology, engineering – that were all coming together to deliver end-to-end innovation. I saw exciting projects that were changing the world. And it’s a privilege to now have the opportunity to lead this amazing team on our mission to build a positive human future.

I’ve spent my career advising clients and consulting firms on how to transform and grow, and the purpose we all share at PA is something special.

Ingenuity has been vital to our work with clients, the wellbeing of our people and our support of our communities in this remarkable year. And ingenuity will drive us forward in the future.

Our clients

The challenges of 2020 confronted organisations with their kryptonite: uncertainty. Yet these challenges also made them tap into their superpower: ingenuity. We’ve been bringing ingenuity to life with organisations around the world, helping them reinvent what they do and how they do it.

In our annual review, we share examples of the work our extraordinarily talented people have delivered, from the deeply personal, through projects of national importance, to work on sustainability that protects our planet.

You’ll read stories about how we designed inclusive products with Guide Beauty. The company’s founder, Terri Bryant, had been a make-up artist and educator for 30 years before Parkinson’s disease made it increasingly difficult for her to continue with her life’s work. Together, we developed award-winning, ergonomic applicators to make make-up more accessible for all. Guide Beauty is the first true innovation in make-up application for decades.

You’ll also read how our work saves lives. In the UK, we led the national effort to produce thousands of life-saving ventilators to meet demand during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Our engineers, scientists and government experts brought together the public and private sectors to design new ventilators, put them through clinical trials, get them approved by the medical regulator, and manufacture them at speed. During 2020, everyone who needed a ventilator got one.

And you’ll learn how we innovate for sustainability. As part of our work to build a more sustainable planet, we worked with Swedish start-up PulPac to remove plastics from the global supply chain by creating packaging from paper pulp. As PulPac’s global development partner, we’re commercialising and scaling their intellectual property (IP) to have a transformational, global impact.

Our annual review also details how our people shape global conversations with market-leading thought leadership, from our research on how to gain competitive advantage in downturns and beyond, to our Circular Business Model Design Guide that helps organisations become more sustainable by embracing the circular economy.

Our people

Our people are everything to our firm, so their health and safety is of utmost importance. As COVID-19 spread at the start of 2020, keeping our people safe was our number one priority. We switched to remote working overnight. Using innovative technologies, including the latest collaboration tools, we ensured our people could continue to serve our clients effectively, safely and with support for their health and wellbeing.

This was no mean feat for our people, who thrive in environments where they can work closely with diverse teams and build strong relationships with colleagues and clients through face-to-face collaboration. Yet their ingenuity shone through. The phenomenal efforts of our people meant we continued to deliver great work to a high standard, with 96 per cent of our clients saying they would recommend us.

We’ve also been growing our firm to ensure we meet our clients’ changing needs. We welcomed nearly 40 new partners into the team, a record for the firm, and made two acquisitions of award-winning, innovative teams.

In June, San Francisco-based Astro Studios joined us, bringing world-class experience of creating new brands and user-centred designs. In September, the Fast Company 2020 Innovation by Design Awards honoured Astro projects across the Wellness, Home, and Graphic Design categories.

Then, in November, Cooper Perkins became part of PA. With co-headquarters in Boston and San Francisco, they bring exceptional technology development and engineering skills – skills that played a significant part in the development of Hydrow, a connected home rowing machine named in Time magazine’s 100 Best Inventions of 2020.

Together, we’ll be able to combine even more diverse expertise to deliver end-to-end innovation for our clients.

Of course, the pandemic wasn’t the only seismic global event of 2020. The tragic death of George Floyd reminded everyone of the urgent imperative to create a truly equal society. At PA, we accelerated our efforts to shape an even more inclusive and diverse firm, building on our vibrant inclusion networks.

We created a Board subcommittee to ensure inclusion and diversity are ever-present priorities at the highest level of our firm. We made a series of commitments including improving diversity in our leadership positions, recruiting from historically Black colleges in the US, offering training to all of our people on race allyship, and identifying ways for our people to use their skills and expertise, pro bono, to have a positive impact on Black lives in our communities. And we have strong ambitions to go further in the year ahead.

Our communities

Unlocking ingenuity within our communities is also important to building a positive human future. That’s why we give time and expertise to inspire the next generation of ingenious leaders.

Our Raspberry Pi Competition – now in its ninth year – promotes STEM education by challenging schoolchildren to use a Raspberry Pi microcomputer to innovate for a positive human future. Last year, we ran competitions in the UK and the Netherlands. We took the competition virtual and had more entrants than ever, with teams coming up with ideas for the sustainable city of tomorrow.

‘Springboard’ is our annual work experience programme for disadvantaged students, which we pivoted to virtual in the US and UK in 2020. Students worked closely with our experts to find innovative ways to speed progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The result is a group of young people with new skills and experience, inspired to embark on ambitious, world-changing careers.

Diversity is key to success – the creative dissonance of a diverse team of experts generates the most successful innovations. Yet women hold only a fraction of digital and technology jobs. We’re addressing this imbalance by hosting inspirational training and events for young women. In 2020, our Women in Tech team ran Code First Girls courses that taught more than 120 women new digital skills.

Alongside our firm-wide programmes, our people also use their skills and expertise to support their communities in their own ways, from helping those with rare diseases share their experiences, to mentoring refugees and young asylum seekers. Our people are inspiring in their drive to build a positive human future.

Our future

At PA, we’re perfectly positioned to respond to our fast-changing world.

Our purpose guides our every move. And our strategy is clear. We’ll create vibrant and exciting opportunities for our people and clients, and great returns for our shareholders, our employees included. We aim to grow our annual revenue to more than £1 billion by 2025.

We have a great base to build from. We’re the only firm to offer end-to-end innovation. We have long-term relationships with clients who value what we do. We’re recognised for our deep sector and technical expertise. And, perhaps most importantly, we offer a bright and attractive career for our people.

We’ll build on these strengths by investing in our deep sector expertise and bringing together our capabilities in ingenious ways to create value for clients. We’ll enhance our relationships with our loyal client base and grow through new and innovative work in every geography in which we operate. And we’ll continue investing in building our team, and creating opportunities for our people to learn, develop and build their careers. At the same time, we’ll proactively make acquisitions that contribute to our end-to-end innovation offer.

One of the many exciting developments to look forward to in 2021 is the opportunity to start a new partnership with Jacobs. In Jacobs, we get a private equity-style investment that gives PA the operational independence to deliver against our purpose and strategy, and attract and retain the best talent. With Jacobs, we share values that are based on always doing the right thing for our people, planet and clients; a strong purpose; a desire to make the world a better place; and a drive to help innovative organisations go further, faster. Jacobs’ investment will see us build on our success.

Of course, a great company is only as good as its people. And its leadership sets the tone and direction. Alan Middleton, who stepped down as CEO in October, has created a stronger, more dynamic firm in his last 13 years as CEO, as well as a record year of results in 2020. Thank you, Alan!

The coming months and years will be an exciting time for PA. It’s an honour to be part of this ambitious team as we seize the opportunities ahead of us. We believe in the power of ingenuity to build a positive human future in a technology-driven world.

John Alexander

A message from John Alexander

Chair of the Board

2020 was an extraordinarily challenging year as the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the whole world. Many, many lives have been lost, and continue to be lost, across the globe. I’m sure I speak for everyone at PA in extending our condolences to the families and loved ones of those who have been lost, and our thoughts and best wishes to those who are still struggling with the impact of this terrible virus. None of us will forget the tragic events of 2020 and the ongoing impact of the pandemic on communities worldwide.

PA responded to the pandemic with incredible agility, ingenuity and hard work across the firm. As a result, we ended the year in a stronger position than ever before. I am proud that PA contributed to many aspects of the COVID-19 response, including helping healthcare authorities save lives. At the same time, this was a year in which we all witnessed with horror and shock the death of George Floyd on 25 May 2020. Like many organisations, we’ve renewed our commitment to inclusion and diversity and responded with a series of specific initiatives. However, even as I write this, I’m filled with shame and anger that our society has allowed such discrimination to continue. We must not rest until discrimination in any form is no longer part of the institutions we work with or the world we live in.

Against this backdrop, we’ve had the opportunity to do important work for important clients to create a positive human future. And as a firm, we achieved great results. This is due to the support and trust of our clients and the incredible hard work, skill and dedication of our people, all of whom I would like to thank on behalf of the PA board.

At the end of 2020, we announced that the PA board had recommended to our shareholders a new private equity-style investment from Jacobs, the leading US-headquartered and listed consulting firm. By bringing our complementary capabilities together, we believe we can further strengthen our ability to deliver end-to-end innovation for our clients and create new opportunities for our people to build their careers here.

With this transition, I would like to thank The Carlyle Group for their excellent partnership over the last five years. PA has grown strongly, with compound annual revenue growth of 12 per cent since 2016, resulting in EBITDA more than doubling over the period.

There has, of course, been one further important transition at PA this year. After some 30 years with the firm, 13 as CEO, Alan Middleton chose to step down and hand over the reins of PA to his successor. Alan has been the architect of PA’s journey for more than a decade. He’s articulated our purpose, crafted our strategy and led the team to grow the business and deliver stellar results. He should be proud of what he and the team have accomplished. On behalf of the PA board, past and present, I would like to thank him sincerely for what he has done for the firm.

As part of the transition triggered by Alan’s decision, I was delighted to confirm Ken Toombs as our new CEO in October. Ken has helped us flourish since he first joined our team two years ago, and is an excellent strategist, great with clients and cares deeply about our people. With the momentum we have and the continued trust and support of our clients and PA people, I’m confident Ken will continue to lead the team and further strengthen PA as the outstanding leader in our space over the coming years.

A message from Alan Middleton

Board Director

I’ve been fortunate to work with the very best people for more than 30 years at PA. After joining the firm, those people quickly became my extended family.

Leadership in PA is all about service to others – we hold our roles for only a short time, we are just passing through. Ultimately, we are simply trying to leave something behind – something that’s even better than when we first took it on.

In recent years, as we articulated our purpose, partnered with The Carlyle Group and welcomed many new and brilliant colleagues into our team, I believe we’ve improved our firm immeasurably. Together, we’re creating an environment where talented people of all beliefs, backgrounds and ways of life can flourish.

Despite the very real challenges of 2020, we delivered a record year. As clients needed us, we rose to the occasion. We delivered amazing work that made the world a better place, supported our people and achieved brilliant business results. We finished the year by welcoming Jacobs as our next strategic investor, setting the firm up for a bright future. And we welcomed Ken as our CEO. In Ken, we have someone with great intellect and a strong moral compass who will be an ambitious guardian of our purpose, our values, our history and our future.

I appreciate the PA family for your support, advice and contributions in 2020, and throughout my career at PA.

Thank you. You’re amazing.

Back to annual review

Alan Middleton