In these challenging times and in the midst of an unprecedented global crisis, to be able to effectively address complex and crucial challenges is a key factor in leading the change. In this context, the ESCP Turin Campus is delighted to establish a new strategic corporate partnership with AlixPartners that will bring exciting new opportunities for ESCP students’ careers.
For nearly forty years, AlixPartners has helped businesses around the world respond quickly and decisively to their most critical challenges.
To honour this partnership, we invited Federico Cesare, Master in Management student, to interview Simon Freakley, CEO of the global consulting firm AlixPartners.
Federico Cesare: AlixPartners is well-known for its turnaround and restructuring services but in fact you do a lot of work outside that sector. How has that heritage fuelled the firm’s growth?
Simon Freakley: Yes, the firm was founded 40 years ago as a turnaround and restructuring firm and, in the years since, we have grown to serve clients in areas such as performance improvement, organisational transformation, economic consulting, and internal investigations. Today, our turnaround and restructuring practice still accounts for approximately 20-30% of the firm’s work with clients in a typical year.
As a firm, we focus on what we call ‘when it really matters’ moments – those times when the decision at hand is really defining the client’s future. That could be a sudden shift in their industry – as we are seeing in many areas due to the massive disruption caused by the pandemic – or it could be a time-sensitive deal, a merger or acquisition, or any sort of critical, consequential decision. In these moments, we take an action-oriented approach to partner with our clients not just in building the strategy but all the way through to implementation. That kind of bias to urgent action in moments of disruption, the ability to move quickly from analysis to implementation, is rooted in our restructuring DNA, really differentiates us from other consulting firms, and has helped to fuel our continued growth outside of restructuring.
FC: AlixPartners has been recognised as a “Best Firm to Work For” by Consulting magazine: what does this recognition mean to you and how important is it to work in a place in which employees are happy and satisfied?
SF: I am very proud of and grateful for the recognition. Being people-centric is a key principal for us. Recognition as a Best Firm to Work For is an indicator that we are on the right path in this journey. It affirms that our people recognise our efforts in this area and motivates us to continue. And we believe it is a virtuous cycle. By attracting, developing, and retaining the best people, we can deliver the best results for our clients. Our clients recognise this, and it is one of reasons they rely on us in the most challenging times.
And by building an inclusive culture in which everyone can bring their whole selves to work and where we can celebrate our differences, we can attract and retain the top talent in the industry and provide them with an environment in which they can be themselves and reach their potential.
FC: Covid-19 has accelerated Digital Transformation in different sectors: what impact is this situation going to have on your activities? How will it affect your business?
SF: Obviously COVID-19 has been the mother of all disruptions for businesses around the world. It is by far the largest disruption in what we see as continuous cycles of disruption that businesses have been forced to confront. Long before the pandemic, we have seen in our work with clients around the world that the issues were not necessarily the regular business issues powered by economic cycles, but that in fact these challenges were being driven by cycles of disruption. And we observed that these cycles are accelerating and intensifying, across industries and geographies.
And then we were hit with Covid-19, which is of course the greatest disruption that’s happened in our lifetimes. Like all crises, Covid-19 too will pass. But disruption is here to stay. Businesses and their leaders will be defined by their ability to master the waves of disruption that are becoming more intense and more frequent. How a business fares in the face of disruption is partly down to the external environment — which is beyond management’s control — and the speed of response and quality of their leadership—which are absolutely within its control. This is a time when the decisions we make really matter – whether we’re talking about a business or industry that has been devastated by the disruption of the pandemic or whether it’s a business or industry that is seeing a new path of opportunity as a result of it. In either case AlixPartners as a firm is uniquely suited to help assess the situation and then move quickly and with purpose to address it.
Our firm was built to help clients in “when it really matters” situations and we have done just that in this turbulent period of intense disruption. It is in our DNA to deal with the most difficult and urgent issues – and we have applied that approach both internally in supporting our people during Covid-19, and externally in supporting our clients. Our culture is built on being Values Based, Client Focused and People Centric. These principles have served us especially well in these unprecedented times and we expect this to continue.
I am also very proud of our response to the pandemic, and every single person in the firm has dug deep to adapt and respond, going above and beyond to ensure our continued success. We have learned to collaborate efficiently without getting on an airplane, and colleagues have made the time to reach out to each other to check in and stay connected. With the support of the firm and colleagues, our people have risen to the challenges, which is very rewarding. Communication has been critical. While we do not have all the answers, we have made it a top priority to be open and provide opportunities to share our views on the evolving situation and address the questions that are on our people’s minds.
FC: What factors led AlixPartners to choose ESCP Business School as its Partner?
SF: The structure and content of ESCP’s curriculum ensures its graduates are ready to enter the workforce immediately following graduation and aligns closely with AlixPartners’ core values. The internship requirement gives all students on-the-job experience and often exposure to senior leaders, which equips them with a sense of professionalism. And access to the school’s multiple campuses throughout Europe equips students with a cross-cultural understanding and experience which serves them well throughout their careers. This ability to work and communicate effectively across countries and cultures is a skill that is in high demand, especially in global consulting firm. And finally, the school’s heavy focus on teamwork and networking gives its students a solid grounding in teamwork, communication, and personal respect.
FC: What skills are essential for success in the consulting sector?
SF: Of course every consulting firm recruits to its own parameters but I can tell you what we look for at AlixPartners, and what our clients value, is the combination of intellect, pragmatism and adaptability which means our people don’t just advise but they actually get things done shoulder to shoulder with the leaders of the organizations we work with.
FC: What values and behaviours do you feel are important to be a successful CEO?
SF: I believe that it’s essential for leaders to be authentic, communicative, inclusive, and pragmatic. As a CEO, I think it’s very important to lead with your values and let those values guide your decision making. This has always been important, and now more so than ever. CEOs have to navigate disruptive times by leading with an exceptionally clear sense of purpose and serve as a standard bearer for an organization’s values. If the CEO truly believes and exhibits the values and the purpose that he or she is espousing, if they’re authentic, inclusive, and transparent, only then they will be able to instill those same qualities in the rest of the organization and drive real change.
And then you’ve got to communicate those values, clearly and repeatedly across all levels of the organization. I often say part of the job of chief executive is to be your own chief communications officer as well – for both internal and external audiences. CEOs must be able to first define their vision and their values and then communicate them so that everyone in the organization understands not just what they’re doing as an organization but why they’re doing it.
Inclusivity is an absolute requirement. It’s the right thing to do and it’s the right business decision – we all know that a diversity of thought brings better outcomes. Building a culture in which everyone can bring their whole selves to work and where we can celebrate our differences lets people feel more engaged and be more productive, and it also enables the organization to attract and retain the top talent it needs to truly succeed.
And, finally, today’s CEO must be laser-focused on execution. It is always better to have a good strategy executed well than an excellent strategy executed poorly. Especially in these disruptive times. CEOs, as leaders of organizations, need to be laser-focused on making sure the strategy they have in place is being executed well and also that it remains relevant. In such disruptive times as we are living through today, leaders must be adaptive and continuously reassess and adapt their strategies and to meet the changing environment.
One of the key characteristics of ESCP Turin Campus is its strong ties with the business community. The campus boasts 18 corporate partners and robust relationships with several national and international companies.
Find out more about our Corporate Partners.
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