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  Mick James,’s management consultancy columnist, finds consultancy i2a has put “good business” at the front and centre of its offerings.

Consultancy i2a says good business is good for business

The world may be in dire straits but there’s never been a better time to talk about business ethics. Perhaps one of the great discoveries of our age is that there is no great dichotomy between being a good business and what is good for business—that businesses that subscribe to apparently high-minded principles actually find themselves more successful in the long run.

One consultancy that has put “good business” at the front and centre of its offerings is i2a (originally “ideas to action”). i2a has been with us for a few years now, after being set up by ex-Ernst &Young; consultants who didn’t see themselves fitting in at Capgemini after it acquired the E&Y; consultancy practice in 2000. As founding partner Alan Holroyd explains, this background gave the fledgling firm two things: an excellent foundational client in BP, and an approach to clients that stressed the long term.

“We very much rely on long-term relationships with clients,” he says. “If you think back to Ernst & Young, they’ve been auditing BP for a hundred years. We may not hope to have clients for that long but we’ve been working with BP for 10 years already.”

This approach almost automatically encourages certain values of honest and straight dealing. As Holroyd says, “We’d rather say no than do something we couldn’t do; we want to be asked back next year.”

But it also depends on your clients being around next year, and the year after as well. It was natural therefore that i2a’s thoughts should begin to coalesce around the notion of sustainability.

“We thought about who we wanted to be, and came up with the concept of “good business,” says Holroyd. “The idea of “good business” is that it helps people be more efficient and effective, to be more sustainable and engage with the community.”

And it’s also been good for business. “As a small consultancy, eventually your relationships run out, either you can’t expand beyond a certain size or you have to find a way to spread into new clients,” he says. “It’s enabled us to meet new and different clients. We’ve moved from selling by relationships to talking about ideas—it’s still traditional consultancy but from a different angle.”

I2a has created a series of business sustainability indices to measure the “health” of a business in terms of where they operate in the world, their compliance procedures, how well they are connected to the local community and so forth. It’s proving popular with clients whose minds have been focused not just by reputational damage their businesses could suffer but the financial and personal risk posed by legislation such as the Corrupt Practices Act.

“Clients tend to come to us in some distress,” says Holroyd. ”There’s been an incident or the threat of prosecution—the majority come when it’s almost too late. But we’d like to get to a more enlightened stage where people come to us and say, talk to me about why my business isn’t a good business.”

Holroyd says the majority of businesses are still reactive phase at the moment, but he hopes that the development of things like the sustainability indices will provoke a bit of soul-searching.

“There’s an older idea of business as a sustainable contributor to society,” he says. “We need to think about who we are, the things we are proud of and whether we can look ourselves in the mirror.”

In the meantime, i2a is not short of work and has collected some high profile clients along the way. “Having started with BP, we find it very natural to work with companies such as Diageo,” says Holroyd. “If anything, the clients have gotten bigger rather than smaller.”

After experiencing a brief plateau during the recession, i2a is now recruiting as fast as it can.

“In theory, we have an open-ended recruitment policy,” he says. “If we can, we will take people on, we are having to turn work away at the moment. We think the key to our success has been our recruitment policy, but it takes time to find and meet up with [candidates]. Next year, if we could recruit a person a month, we would certainly do so—there’d be no trouble in finding work for them.”

Holroyd says the firm is looking for people at consultant and senior consultant level who are ambitious but who also buy into what is still a core value—building client relationships.

“Consultancy is bought by individuals, and we find you get repeat buying regardless of where the individual is,” he says. This is what, in the end, makes i2a itself a long-term, sustainable business: “We feel secure because of the depth of our relationships.”

All views expressed in this article are those of Mick James and do not necessarily reflect the views of and

Contact Mick with your views or suggestions at: [email protected].

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