Looking back, I probably didn’t realize at the time just what a profound impact the Macedonian experience would have on me. I’d broken out of the London bubble and seen a whole other side of life. In these long winter evenings, I’d often reflected on why companies like my own were conspicuous by their absence in the Balkans. The obvious answer was that our fee rates were an order of magnitude too high. But just how much more could I have achieved if I’d been surrounded by my usual team of consultants? How might our company go beyond sending a handful of volunteers to “do some good” for VSO and instead bring our capabilities on an industrial scale to parts of the world with greatest need but least access to these skills? Was there a way of turning the traditional high cost, high profit management consulting business model on its head? Create a market that didn’t exist, but where there was a clear need for our expertise? My big idea wasn’t rocket science. It was based on the premise that not every management consultant, or business professional for that matter, is hell-bent on making a fortune. Instead, I was convinced many would be far more motivated by the chance to make a difference. No, not some spare time bullshit of digging wells or painting schools. But instead using their core skills and business expertise. Moreover, I firmly believed they’d even accept a significantly lower salary to do it, just like I had done. So my thinking was that if the firm was willing to reduce overhead charges and waive the profit on this kind of work, and if employees would voluntarily give up half their salary, then my rough calculations indicated that we could make the business self-sustaining and therefore scalable.
These thoughts percolated through my head as I sat in a café in Thessaloniki on my way back to my “normal” life in London. It was an article in the Financial Times that had brought me to Macedonia. How might the Financial Times describe the launch of a new consulting business with a difference – a non-profit business unit? As my daydreaming continued, I began to type into my computer. I chose the dramatic headline - “Accenture Hails CaeSaR” – a play on the acronym for Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR which was all the rage at the time. I cut and pasted an FT logo into it and set the date to be one year into the future. I described what the business would do, the non-profit clients it would work for and the fact that it had a mission driven by purpose instead of profit. Doubtless that little fake FT article I spent an hour creating was the most impactful thing I’ve ever written.