One on One with Strong-Bridge’s Ken Simpson

Strong-Bridge Consulting and Envision Business Consulting recently announced they would combine, through a majority investment by Bow River Capital, to form a new company with a wider geographic footprint and offering expanded capabilities to clients. Consulting sat down with Ken Simpson, co-founder and partner of Strong-Bridge to talk about how Envision was selected for the partnership, how the companies’ cultural alignment sealed the deal, and talk about possible future growth through acquisition for the Seattle-based firm.

Consulting: What was the impetus behind the partnership with Envision?

Simpson: In 2015, Strong-Bridge became engaged with an equity partner called Bow River Capital. Since then, we spent time together looking at options for both organic growth as well as growth through mergers and acquisitions. Over that period we looked at well over 25 companies that could be potential partners for us to grow through the transaction side. Through that process we were able to identify a few potential fits, but it’s an extremely important decision, almost like you’re getting married in a business sense. Over time we narrowed it down to Envision as our last really strong option we felt great about.

Consulting: Is this primarily a talent play? A location play? What made Envision such an attractive target?

Simpson: It’s really multifaceted. On one hand it’s a talent play for sure, we really love their team. But it’s also an opportunity to expand geographically given they’re in Denver, a place we’re not represented. They also have satellite offices in the Milwaukee area and in the New York/New Jersey area. So it gave us the opportunity to expand geographically. From a skillset perspective, they do some things we do differently than we do in terms of competencies, they do a lot in the human capital area and in the change management area and learning areas, so a lot of people-centric focus to their services where we tend to be not as focused in that area, so it allowed us to add complementary skillsets or practice areas as we call them. Industry wise, they do some work in industries we haven’t typically touched or don’t do a lot of work in, for example food and beverage, where we have a few marquee brands we work with, they were able to bring additional brands in that vertical to the table, so it bolsters that category.

Consulting: Is this an acquisition? An acqui-hire? A merger?

Simpson: We’re calling it an investment. The idea is to really combine the companies operationally and delivery and sales-wise. I would call it an investment and say we’re really combining the companies in every way. We like to think of it more as a partnership than anything, because I think that more accurately captures the spirit of the deal. We’ll maintain the brands separately for a period of time, probably in the 6 to 12 months range, that’s our most likely projection. In terms of integrations, we’ve identified workstreams and put it under our program structured umbrella with governance and everything you’d expect. So from the brand workstream we’ve identified leaders and are connecting them with counterparts on the Envision side to go out and assess the situation; look at the strength of the Strong-Bridge brand, the Envision brand, and get marketplace reactions through a number of exercises. So we’ll use quantitative data to support any decision making there. If I look into a crystal ball, I’d say we will most likely end up with a unified brand by next summer at the latest.

Consulting: Talk about the values match between Strong-Bridge and Envision.

Simpson: I think the part we were a little hesitant on looking at some of these 25 companies is that we didn’t feel like the cultures were exactly aligned. That’s not to say they were bad people or anything like that, just that the culture was different. It was usually for those intangible reasons that we backed away from other opportunities we had when we were scanning the marketplace for partners. The unique thing about the Envision interaction, the more we interacted the more we felt extremely comfortable that we shared similar cultures within our firms, similar types of people we hired, similar value sets and how we thought about work. We even sat down and said let’s compare our stated values and talk about how much we really live them. They were remarkably similar in terms of not only the stated message but the application of them. We felt really good about that.

Consulting: Is more growth on the horizon for Strong-Bridge?

Simpson: We certainly want to keep growing organically. That means in the six or so markets we’ll be in with the newly merged company we’ll continue to grow existing business and new clients in those markets. So there’s absolutely an important organic component to our growth. In terms of whether there could be additional future partnerships, adding another brand into the mix, I think that’s very much a real possibility. It’s not a must-do or must-have, it’s more that we’ll continue to look at the marketplace for organizations that could be a great fit based on what we’re trying to achieve. If that opportunity arose we would definitely entertain the notion of proceeding with another deal that would allow us to inorganically grow.

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