Oliver Wyman’s John Romeo, Managing Partner of NA, looks to build off ‘record year’
John Romeo has worked for Oliver Wyman for more than 20 years. Starting out in London in its Financial Services practice in 1994, he worked in wholesale banking, covering firms in the investment banking, trading practices and technology arenas. In 2007, he set up the firm’s Corporate Advisory practice in an effort to maximize the commercial value of the firm’s large stores of intellectual capital. In his words, “taking a little bit of a risk and betting on ourselves was the way to go,” so they started with private equity firms and expanded outwards. This year, Romeo was named Managing Partner of North America for Oliver Wyman. Consulting sat down with him to talk about the North American consulting market, emerging challenges and opportunities for clients and more.
Consulting: What’s been keeping you busiest so far?
Romeo: Since I came into the role I’ve really gotten to know the North America business. I’ve been involved globally for years but I traveled around to the major- ity of our offices really spending time with the people, some of our big clients, really understanding our positioning and in listening mode initially on where we were strongest, where we can improve, what we should be looking to do. Now it’s focused on pulling together a little bit of a vision for the direction we’re headed with the core team. For example enhancing our market presence, evolving our existing model. Some of that is external in terms of staying engaged with our clients to improve our brand and positioning, some is internal.
Secondary is around innovation, and the third is culture. That’s how I think about spending my time in the area of focus. The key here is continuing to do what we’ve always done but do it really well, but on top of that we’ve got to spot new opportunities. In consulting, the only way we’re going to win is if the company changes in an incremental and continuous fashion.
Consulting: What is the overall state of the North American consulting market?
Romeo: There’s a huge amount of uncertainty in the direction of the economy and that translates into the consulting market. Last year was a record year for us; we had tremendous growth across all of our practice groups, every one grow- ing in double digits. Driven by different factors in each business unit, but really compelling growth. That applies globally last year. This year in North America that continues to be very strong, May was our best month ever and it continues to pow- er on. The road ahead is not always very clear, but we see strong growth carrying on certainly into next year. We have the impact of regulation in financial services, healthcare reform has created a huge wave of change, there’s a lot of growth driven by technology, so we see a pretty healthy market.
Consulting: What are you finding that clients are demanding?
Romeo: Our core positioning has always been hav- ing deep vertical knowledge, clear views around the evolution of the business, strong analytics and understanding of the underlying microeconomics. I don’t think that’s changed. There are some big themes like digital, cyber and analytics that a lot of people are looking at as a stand-alone. We don’t re- ally see that, digital is a good example; we see that as being part of the business system so you need to almost address it within the vertical.
We’ve sort of moved beyond the early stages of vertical where it was a nice new toy to being an integral part of strategy. Digital is one that goes across the board, we see it disrupting the value chain in most of our industries. Financial services we see a lot of regulatory-driven change, but we’re starting to see that move from a compliance orientation into now being a bit more risk culture and how you begin to change the organization.
Consulting: What are some of the biggest challenges clients are facing?
Romeo: Disintermediation is clearly a challenge. There are new players coming in. The challenge isn’t so much in the ideas, people can see to some extent where a lot of the change is coming, new players entering the market with a different angle on the industry. The biggest challenge for some of our big clients is not just thinking of the idea and how they respond but mobilizing internally and making that change happen.
In our business years ago strategy consulting was coming up with great ideas and to some extent implementation was being left to lower-cost players or the companies themselves. I think now that’s just not good enough. If you really want to have impact as a consulting firm you’ve got to be able to work alongside clients to help them drive that change and impact. We work very closely alongside our clients, we’re seeing more long-term relationships every year and the number of clients we’ve had continues to go up. It becomes more of a partnership mod- el where we’re working alongside them hand in hand to help them realize some of these changes externally and internally, and making sure they overcome any blockages along the way.