Episode 9: Rick Condon on his firm Inside Consulting
May 16, 2017
Our guest today is Rick Condon, a former submarine officer and a former Engagement Manager at McKinsey. He has been running his own consulting practice since 2004.
The majority of Rick’s clients are privately held mid-market companies and he works on a range of topics including preparing companies for sale; turn-around efforts, and jump-starting growth.
You can read about Rick’s firm Inside Consulting at insideconsulting.net
Will Bachman: Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of your background?
Rick Condon: I started out in the submarine force, went to business school in Chicago, and from there joined McKinsey. I spent a number of years there doing strategy and some operations work. From there I did a bit of work at Thompson Reuter’s in a strategy role, but quickly thereafter I fell into independent consulting, working on profit improvement for a manufacturing client.
That was back in 2004, and here we are ten years later.
How did you get into yoga?
Part of the downside of having spare time as an independent is that I try to structure my schedule so I have summers at a slower pace and I’m able to take on my own projects. I took on building a larger garden with a rock wall and got a little stubborn with the need for a forklift versus doing it myself. I ended up herniating my L5 disk. Never in my life have I felt pain quite that sharp —it was quite debilitating. I couldn’t sit for more than an hour, I couldn’t get on planes, it was pretty tough going. I was presented with a couple of really stark choices. One was back surgery, which had a 50/50 chance, the other was physical therapy and activity hoping to work that herniation back into place.
I started doing yoga, and over a period of a year-and-a-half it did the trick and had a lot of ancillary benefits, so now it’s part of my daily routine. I think our lives tend to run pretty hard. Having that break slows down the mind, clears it. Yoga and the meditation that’s mixed in has been great for me, and I can’t really say enough about it.
Now that you’re an independent, have you pursued professional development?
As an independent, my development has to have immediate value to the client for professional work. As an example, a lot of my work is focused on rapid profit improvement. We started picking up procurement opportunities to reduce material costs as part of increasing labor efficiencies in the plants, and as it turned out, a lot of those things paid off as much or even more than we were doing on the efficiency parts. Clients really valued that and I saw it as a great service extension that I needed to add to my skill set.
Have you built any proprietary technology around your work?
Yes. I was using some tools that were available in the market but they were too expensive, too complicated, and didn’t really get to what my teams needed to get the job done. We built a set of easy-to-use technology to improve both the efficiency of our delivery and the effect in terms of compression.
What does rapid profit improvement mean?
Outside spend compression is an element, and we’re also working on price lever and price related things. Profit improvement is just driving EBITA, so earnings: it’s mostly PNO focused, not balance sheet improvements. It’s any ideas or improvements that we can get in to full run in a year count. It’s tactical, practical things that we work on — stuff that’s two to five years out. I’d say maybe 5% of the work we do is strategy, but it’s usually an add-on to the core work that we’re focused on.
The types of clients we work with are cross industries. We serve software, all kind of technology, manufacturing. We’ve been in real estate, travel, insurance, pharmaceuticals … really all types of clients. Our focus is more mid-market then larger companies.
How do you diagnose the opportunity?
It’s situational. We go in, look through the PNO, and figure out what the key levers are — the drivers — the ones we can most immediately affect. We prioritize those and figure out the best approach for either taking the money out or for increasing revenue. You look at outside spend and things on the revenue side, employee productivity, the effectiveness of their development teams, things like that.
How do you get your leads?
The core mantra and principle from day one has been that the work has to sell itself and the clients have to value it. People are happy enough to hire us again and are a core source of leads. Core clients lead to more projects and either other businesses or other parts of the portfolio. Continuation and ongoing work is a high percentage of our business, but new leads are generally the CEO or CFO telling their friends and buddies. We didn’t even really have a web presence or pitch documents until a couple of years ago. For the first ten years it was people introducing us based on what we did.
Do you ask for referrals?
As an independent or small firm, you don’t have time or marketing resources, so I communicate to my clients that to the extent that they appreciate the work we do, part of how we keep our fees reasonable is that our marketing is word of mouth. It’s how I was introduced to them, and to the extent that they find our work valuable and think others would, please refer us. It’s predicated on the fact that it’s great work.
How often do you follow up with clients that you’ve served in the past, just to check in?
Immediately following a project I’m checking in frequently to make there isn’t any leakage in results, but once we get a bit further away, probably twice a year, and further back maybe once a year. More than that I really don’t think it’s necessary.
How do you build your virtual extended team?
Advertising and networking and simply posting. I think the pool of independent consultants is growing rapidly and that the interest in the field is there. I’m an ex submarine guy, so I always like to talk to ex submariners out of bias. That’s been a good source for the delivery teams.
Most the people stick around and come back for repeat engagements. For accounting and things like that I do nothing fancier than to Google local accountants, interview a few and pick one that I liked. In terms of legal counsel, I was an expert witness in a couple of cases and ran into a firm that I liked, and on the engagements we do, just meeting people that I see are talented and that I can trust, I hire them and keep them.
What kind of marketing collateral have you put together?
I used to whip together a few case examples and send it through, but now I have something with brand, image, trademarked, fonts, all that fancy stuff that make it look more standard and professional. It’s just a pitch deck and that’s it. People don’t usually like to look at more than 10 or 15 slides of anything.
Have you found any technology particularly helpful?
We use Zoom meetings. It keeps us off planes, keeps client expenses down and it’s super easy.
I can’t overstate the significance that has had for lifestyle and productivity. Other than that, the technology that I talked about earlier that we built ourselves. The user interfaces that they have now for building technology and apps to do stuff that you want mean that if you can’t find a good one at a reasonable price, go ahead and build it yourself.
Are there any books that have affected your thinking that you would recommend?
I read The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Economist, scan the Wall Street Journal. From there, stuff comes up professionally that makes sense to go through: McKinsey Quarterly, BCG has a lot of good content on their site that I read and keep track of. Personally, I’ve been doing a lot of research into how others have worked through current environments. I look at people who I admire … Gandhi, Dalai Lama, a lot of Eastern thought. The Dalai Lama has a book on joy that I thought was quite good. I also listen to a lot of podcasts in the car. I get a lot of this stuff through a website called Dharma Seed. It’s a Buddhist-leaning website. I listen to a lot of the podcasts that come out of that.
Whispering in Giants Ears was a good book. Another is Indian Givers by Jack Weatherford, The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama, How Can I Help.
If you could put a message on a billboard, what would it be?
At this point in time, I’d say, “Do to others as you’d have them do to you.”
How can people get in touch with you or learn more about you?
They can just go to the website, insideconsuliting.net. There’s an interface to send emails that goes directly to my email account. You can also direct message me on LinkedIn.