*At the time of this interview Arthur held the role of Group Strategy and Business Development Director at Inchcape plc.
After spending more than 10 years at BCG, you left the firm as a Partner to go into industry as a Strategy Director at Toyota Motor Europe. Why did you decide to leave BCG when you did, and what was your thought process in choosing that particular role?
For me, after a couple of years at the Partner level, I had reached a plateau where consulting wasn’t getting more interesting. I had never been interested in internal management at that level (managing other Partners), and the firm had become much more business-oriented in that Partners were more focused on few long term clients – which necessarily leads to less variety. I wanted change and a role where I could grow beyond what I was doing at the time, which presented itself in an opportunity with a leader in the automotive industry. I liked the people and the company, and decided to make the move – without having done a job search.
Many consultants feel they cannot get sufficient management experience before moving into industry. With senior roles at BCG including co-founder of its global automotive practice, can you expand upon your experience and how it influenced your management experience in corporate (if at all)?
Everyone at BCG had to cover an internal management role of some sort, so it was a standard part of career development to gain management experience there. I was very active in the development of younger consultants, and I further involved myself with the recruiting process and the business school sponsorship program. Consulting is very different from corporate career development, however, because it is always temporary and “in and out” the door from both an internal and external management perspective. Internally, consulting is an inherently eager, young business, where consultants really manage themselves for the most part. With clients, you might work with them for the long-term – but you are never truly “inside”: you present your recommendation, and then company management closes its doors for an internal discussion to decide what to actually do next, plus you usually get called upon for a dedicated project, not all aspects of the business. So you hardly ever get the full exposure to all of the functions, the external stakeholders, and competitors, and it remains kind of difficult to understand them in the “real world” instead of as dots on a slide. Managing a business is different from advising one, so when speaking strictly of management, I didn’t transfer much from one to the other.
Most of your roles in corporate have been in strategy, including your current position as Group Strategy and Business Development Director at Inchcape, after a three-year stint as a regional Managing Director at Toyota. Why the move back into strategy, and did you think you would ultimately stay in internal strategy at the outset of your corporate career? How do you compare / contrast your experience in external versus internal strategy?
I had no definite plans in the beginning of my corporate career – I had joined a great company, and knew I would work hard from there. I took the operational role because it filled an important experience gap for me, and it was fun in that it was a very interesting, complex turnaround situation. As the day-to-day started to level out, however, I began to crave more variety (I do have the heart of a consultant, after all). For me, I found the operations role to be a little too monotonous in the long term – you launch a product, deal with the problems, launch a product, deal with other problems, and so on. In comparison, I’m very happy in my role today, which is global and comes with a broad portfolio of responsibilities.
The difference between my current role and consulting is that I now see the full depth of problems I need to solve and have all of the data. In consulting, clients will share some points of what is happening, but you do not understand the full picture as you do when you are in the actual company itself. In internal management, I stay on through the analysis and into the implementation, and don’t need to worry about selling my work because I already have a seat at the executive committee table. Being part of the top management team is also very different because I have a much deeper relationship with the issues – I am partly involved in ops and in planning and development, but I am also a shareholder (even if it is a very small stake), i.e. I’m part of the problem and will remain part of the solution even when the actual project ends.
I’ll mention one downside to corporate management versus consulting – I do sometimes miss having more than one work place. In consulting, you work at the client, and then “retreat” home come Friday.
Having been involved with automotive throughout the entirety of your career, what do you find most exciting about the industry? What advice would you give consultants who are looking to go into the space?
It’s everything I want in an industry. It combines global, consumer brands with very complex supply chains, high technology, and lots of regulatory impact as well. It’s not just complex technology that you can only really sell B2B, or simply a complex product for consumers – you have it all, it touches a lot of people, and the buyers really like the product versus something they simply need in their lives.
For consultants looking to get into automotive, I would tell them to make sure they are targeting the premium / winning players. It’s not an easy industry, especially with the recent crises, bankruptcies, etc., and if you’re at a losing player it is very difficult to change the momentum of a big ship. Compared to the early 90s when car makers really only hired engineers or business grads out of school, the good news is that now all are hiring consultants regularly – and at fairly senior levels as well. R&D will probably remain difficult to get into (it is the domain of engineers), but for the most part we’ve crossed the line and the doors are open. I see a lot of BCG alumni at the major players now.
Having worked for an outside strategy firm and an automotive manufacturer, and now at an automotive retailer and distributor, what similarities or differences can you point to in each of your experiences? What prompted your switch from manufacturer to distributor?
It’s all the same industry, really – I’ve just always liked anything to do with automotive. Working with and finally at a carmaker I mostly focused on the customer end of things – so it was only natural that I now ended up in a distribution and retail company. Inchcape is a sizable business with over 10,000 people worldwide, but compared to the large carmakers we are a small very agile company – and that is certainly a different feeling.
You have had a lot of international experience throughout your career, and grew up / attended school in Europe. What importance do you give international experience when evaluating an executive?
My current company is active in 26 countries on five continents, and I really enjoy that. As part of my development role I visit even more markets and always learn something new on a trip. If you’re in a senior position within a company that has an international business, it’s really hard to understand other cultures without experience making the adjustment to a different place and way of doing things. Visiting a country is very different than actually living and working there, so personal experience with that type of change and immersion is certainly valuable.