Jennifer Winter and Kris Klein both began their careers with Arthur Andersen and then moved over to Hitachi Consulting. But the “big firm” way of doing business just wasn’t for them, so the two co-founded Vitalent Group in 2005, which was renamed Lenati in January 2009.
“Andersen got a lot less compelling for us because big services, I think, really is organized around—in the end—outsourcing and systems implementations,” Winter says. “So, we were both passionate about how do you make an organization more competitive in the market, grow share, grow revenue, and it just wasn’t happening for us at a big firm.”
Winter and Klein suspected there was a gap in the market around helping organizations figure out the best way to grow revenue through the use of services. “I still believe there aren’t a lot of firms that are very good at this, even today,” she says.
Winter, managing partner and co-founder of Lenati, has a background in statistics and human behavior sciences. “I was really passionate about business, but I was more passionate about the relationship aspect of business—how you deal with customers and changing customer behavior?” she says. “I came into business in a different way, but it was all sort of around sales and marketing, and that’s really all about connecting with customers.”
The two built their initial employee base out of people they knew and had worked with in the past. “We wanted to put a mix of people together that would be more collaborate,” Winter says. “We wanted to bring different expertise together that would help us solve problems that we were never able to do before since we were working in the leveraged model as opposed to the expertise model.”
The moves are obviously paying off. Lenati held pace last year and is projecting an 18 percent increase in 2010. Winter says there are a few reasons for that. “One, we’re in a pretty good market and the northwest was impacted a little bit less than the rest of the country economically,” she says. “We still had clients that were interested in making an investment in what we do. Two, our offerings are focused on driving revenue and competitive market gain and that sort of insulated us a little bit.”
Winter says the firm also really hunkered down with the relationships it had and held firm on rates. “Last year, we really doubled down on the relationships we had and on the clients that knew what we could do,” Winter says. “In a tough economy, everything gets more results driven. So when you have a practice, like we do, where you can show results it makes it a little easier.”
As far as 2010, Winter says Lenati’s pipeline is strong and that companies seem to be willing to invest in projects before adding to their headcount. “I think this trimming back has lead to this willingness to spend on projects because they need to get the work done, but an unwillingness to reinvest in headcount that they may have to divest later.”
Meanwhile, Lenati did something last year that it tells clients to do: it positioned itself for growth in a down market. Winter says there were some really talented people on the market through no fault of their own and the firm scooped them up—all part of the plan to double the practice over the next four years to about 80 people and $13 million in revenue. The firm will also look at some new “underserved” markets, such as Denver and Salt Lake City.
“I stared at a small practice with Andersen, but it grew really fast up to 150 people during the dot-com boom, and it really lost the connection of people trying to solve problems,” she says. “I don’t want us to grow too fast. For us, growing with consistency and quality has always been better than just trying to achieve numbers.”