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  Strategy consultancy Roland Berger has had a difficult financial year but is now building up momentum in the run-up to Christmas, according to reports in the German media this week.

Revenues and profit for 2004 are expected to remain unchanged over the 2003 level, when turnover stood at 530m euros.
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Speaking to Germany’s Handelsblatt, Thomas Eichelmann is reported to have said that a “good” third quarter and a “strong” fourth quarter will offset the results of the company’s first two quarters of the year, which are understood to have been disappointing. Compare this flat growth with the average year-on-year growth of 18% that the firm has achieved over the past 30 years and it is clear that the firm has had a difficult year. But why?

Top-Consultant’s assessment is that it is the turbulent market for strategy consulting and in particular problems in some of the geographical markets that have hindered the firm’s growth this last year. Looking at the global picture, Roland Berger has retained its position as the second largest strategy consultancy in the German market, behind McKinsey and ahead of Boston Consulting Group.

Certain overseas markets – notably China, France and Japan – have seen Roland Berger achieve strong growth in the last year. But others – most notably Germany, UK, USA and Austria have had their problems.

Top-Consultant Director Tony Restell, formerly of Roland Berger, highlights the problems that the firm has faced this year:

“The German market is critical to RB – it provides the reputation and the finances that are the foundation of the global business. This year there has been considerable controversy in Germany over the way in which certain public sector consulting contracts were awarded – and this bad publicity has understandably impacted the business there. The Austrian office is also thought to have suffered. Taken in combination, RB’s usual Germanic cash cow markets have not delivered this year in the way that they might have been expected to.”

If the firm had succeeded in taking greater strides in its efforts to conquer the UK and US markets, the diminished Germanic performance would not be so critical. However in both the UK and the US the firm has had its fair share of problems.

“In the UK the firm has had a number of false starts. A merger in 1999 with IPG Consulting, a spin-off from Booz-Allen & Hamilton and Bain, never quite produced the leap in UK market share that Partners had been hoping for. The deal was realised only shortly before the dot-com bubble burst – and when it did the potential that the merger had promised to deliver could no longer be achieved.” Restell commented

In an effort to turn the situation around, David Stern has just been brought on board to strengthen the UK management team – though only time will tell whether he provides the impetus needed to see the UK office take-off.

The US has also proven to be a great drain on Roland Berger’s resources.

“Many of the firm’s rising stars have done stints in the US in an attempt to build a presence there that could one day rival the major strategy brands. Profit margins in the USA have remained slim though, simply because of the fierce competition that the downturn in the US market brought about. So the US contribution to the firm’s coffers has to date been small” Restell concluded

With growth in the third and fourth quarters accelerating once again, Partners will be hoping that 2004 proves to be a mere “blip” in the firm’s growth trajectory. With a rebounding market now on the cards, the next 12 months could prove to be a defining period for the firm and its aspirations to have a truly global footprint.
 
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