This is the sixth consecutive year that Kurt Salmon Associates has made our Best Firms to Work For list. This year’s appearance, however, has to rank as the most impressive. The reason? In October 2007, KSA was acquired by the London-based Management Consulting Group. With all the chaos and confusion that often accompanies an acquisition in the consulting industry, the fact that KSA has managed to keep morale high, the firm together and the staff focused on the tasks at hand is commendable.
“People go into these mergers expecting it to all go wrong,” says Mark Wietecha, chairman of Kurt Salmon Associates. “The fact that we’re sitting here as KSA almost a year after the acquisition without lots of turmoil or lots of staff departures is rewarding. Mergers have an opportunity to work if you can keep the core culture and core leadership in place.”
Those are two things that Wietecha has managed to do. “We’ve maintained our leadership structure and consistency, and we have a very good leadership team. I’m sure every consulting firm says that, but we’ve had continuity at the top. A lot of the bigger firms out there haven’t,” Wietecha says. “I’ve been the chairman since 2004. In fact, all of us on the leadership team have been with KSA for at least 15 years.”
And it certainly helped that Wietecha was made deputy chairman of the MCG board shortly after the acquisition, giving “people some feeling that we were connected to MCG,” he says. Indeed, Leadership was one of the areas where KSA employees gave the firm high marks in the survey.
“With these mergers you have to fight for things,” Wietecha says. “I think we’ve been pretty hard-headed and pretty clear about trying to maintain the core business that we’ve defined as KSA, our core clients, our core values and our core people. We’ve maintained continuity, but we’ve probably had to put a lot more energy into keeping those things than we originally thought we would.”
Those things include KSA’s unique culture, which remains a real a strength for the firm, according to the survey. “We’ve worked really hard on that one,” Wietecha says. “You have to be willing to act with total impunity to advance your culture into a merger like this because every single dynamic is trying to integrate you, mitigate you, find synergies, etc.”
Some things, of course, have changed, but mostly in the back office. “But key aspects of the firm, such as our compensation and promotion systems, need to stay in place,” he says. “There’s been some head knocking on some of this, but I think we have to take hard positions. Once you start making compromises, it’ll cost you in culture, and it’ll cost you in employee confidence.”
And employee confidence remains high, he says, because of a policy of full disclosure. “We’re pretty transparent, even down to the most junior levels of the firm. It’s our belief that we should tell people what’s going on, even when things aren’t going well,” Wietecha says. “We risk nothing by telling people the truth, but we risk once they think we’re not telling them the truth. Once that happens, you’ve lost them.” —Joseph Kornik