To hear that a financial services consultancy is treading water in this economy is impressive. But to hear of one that’s growing from $18 million in 2008 to $24 million in 2009—well that’s truly something special. And that’s exactly what Alas Consulting is doing, says Harjinder Sidhu, managing director of the firm. “The firm is built upon industry expertise,” Sidhu explains, “and when you’re using Alas, you’re actually talking to somebody who has been in your shoes and understands and empathizes with the problems that you’re facing.”
Sidhu says hiring the right people and staying true to the company mission has helped fuel the firm’s success. Specialization is key, he emphasizes. “We’re not talking about advising our clients on investment strategies; we’re very much about control and efficiency, making sure our clients are processing transactions, often high volume, high in materiality in terms of dollars, in an efficient and controlled way.” Alas does a great deal of business process re-engineering, control and efficiency reviews and integration work, he says.
And while many companies are currently seeking out ways to cut costs, Alas, Sidhu says, is looking beyond the current economic turmoil. “As we project out beyond 2009, there’s going to be a lot of regulation in the industry, which is going to drive a lot of change, and that’s where we are positioning ourselves more aggressively for the future.”
But first Alas must get through a year that few in any industry are excited about. Coming off a year in which the firm grew at a 67 percent clip, Alas is forecasting more modest growth—38 percent—in 2009, but still incredibly impressive in this economy. “We have done a lot of soul searching and thinking about how we deal with this environment, how we make sure that the quality of our delivery to our clients is still is as high as it ever was. There is still money being spent out there,” Sidhu says, adding that service-level agreements toward outsourcing and value-added services are two creative ways the firm is looking to generate revenue.
And those ideas must be working, because the firm, which currently has 104 billable consultants, looks to grow to 140 by the year’s end—and has already made hires this year. The firm wants both experienced consultants and recent graduates. And that’s good for both young consultants who may have chosen their career path after seeing the uncertainty of the banks, and those who may have worked for an organization that collapsed.
But Sidhu says Alas has much to offer a financial services whiz other than shelter from the banking storm. “I think with Alas more than anywhere else, you really can determine your own destiny. If you want to go down a very technical route and want to be a deep subject matter expert and get your hands dirty every single day of the week, then that’s something that’s open to you. Likewise, if you want to be a more business-oriented, revenue-generating person, then that’s obviously open to you, as well.”
In addition, the size of the firm’s lone office in New York also breeds close relationships, he says, though the firm is also considering opening a second office this year; a location has not yet been determined.
Sidhu says a real turnaround in the market isn’t likely until 2010, but clients, he says, need to start looking beyond the here and now if they plan on long-term survival. “I think inevitably we’ve got to believe that the markets will free up. I think there are some signs that that’s happening, but there’s a long way to go,” Sidhu says. “And once that happens I think the last couple of years’ worth of lack of investment will start coming back to the fore of [companies’ minds], that they downsized and cut back on investment. My expectation is that’s [going to happen] toward the end of this year and through next year.”
Those companies can look to Alas as a prime example of why investing in a downturn truly pays off.