a-connect recently completed a year-long post-merger integration (PMI) project with a leading consumer goods company across Europe and North America. Our client was in the process of a major PMI effort, focusing on integrating a number of consumer and luxury brands into its portfolio. a-connect was brought on board to support the company’s work in the sales/go-to-market integration – a complex area involving a diverse range of salesforces, channels and broader functional integration initiatives. We interviewed three of our European independent professionals (IPs), who were part of an overall team of eight that supported our client across this project. They told us what went well on the project, what they would change, and more.
Our three European IP interviewees
Michael is a former consultant with A.T. Kearney and PERBILITY, a boutique HR/organizational consultancy, and has worked as an independent consultant since 2014. He has worked in a wide range of consumer-facing industries and industrial/B2B companies, and has successfully completed multiple a-connect projects. His expertise is in PMI, HR/organizational and broader strategic projects.
Valerie has extensive professional experience in the FMCG industry, including as a consultant for Arthur D. Little and roles with AOL, Avon and Godrej Consumer Products. She has worked across marketing, sales, strategy and digital functional areas OR topics within FMCG companies. Valerie was relatively new to independent consulting when she started this year-long project with a-connect.
Gonçalo has more than 15 years’ consultancy experience, both at Roland Berger and as an independent consultant. Throughout his career, he has been involved in multiple PMI and strategy projects, though his main areas of expertise are strategy, marketing and sales for consumer and luxury goods companies. He also founded and ran an e-commerce company in Portugal.
Our IPs’ thoughts on the project
a-connect: What worked well on this project?
Michael: We quickly built close connections with local businesses, with a network across the project’s different countries and divisions. Although time-consuming, especially in the initial phase, it was worthwhile to travel to all the relevant locations and meet as many people as possible. Later, I was able to draw upon that network of people to quickly gather and validate information, or discuss, prioritize and solve issues.
There was a team of a-connect consultants with similar roles across regions, and the collaboration within the team was truly helpful. Quickly sharing updates from central team members or giving a heads up on potential issues, often already combined with solutions, as well as exchanging on approaches and best practices, enabled us to stay on top of things, even in the complex and fluid setting. As IPs took turns in proactively stepping up and contributing for the team, others could draft in the slipstream, which gave us an edge as a team.
Valerie: The close collaboration and teamwork among the IP consultants was critical to the success of this project. By sharing information on issues and challenges encountered, solutions found, and best practices, we were able to effectively support the business and deliver rapid resolution to problems that arose, and effectively communicate on these both locally and within the client PMI team.
Another key enabler to this high-pace, complex project was the introduction of a full-time, global project manager to ensure better communication, coordination and alignment with the central PMI team.
Gonçalo: Despite some initial difficulties with determining the exact content and boundaries of the project with the client, the a-connect team was able to succeed through close IP collaboration and coordination across geographies. The team ended up deeply involved in what was one of the largest and most intense PMI process ever completed in the consumer goods sector, carried out successfully and in record time. At the end, the close collaboration of IPs and the client’s main local contacts across the year was absolutely key to the end result.
a-connect: With hindsight, what would you have done differently?
Michael: Having a strong project manager right from the start would have helped to initially get scope, communication channels and other project governance aspects set up properly.
If I had a second chance, I would travel to the EU headquarters earlier and more frequently. Meeting the PMI leadership team, key stakeholders and workstream leaders face to face is always beneficial, in order to align and move things forward.
Valerie: With hindsight, I would have spent more time in the EU HQ office at the beginning of the project, when we did not yet have a full-time global project manager in place. Although we did have regular interactions with the central team, as well as the occasional interaction with senior leadership, I think that spending regular time with the various central team players could have helped to ensure alignment between the global and local teams regarding challenges and key priorities.
Gonçalo: One of the biggest challenges for this project was the central-to-local information flow. Central decisions and information updates needed to flow quickly to the markets, so that everyone in the project was in the loop and could act accordingly. Due to the complexity and detail of the topics at hand, I would have made an effort to spend a number of days per month at the company headquarters, so as to be able to detail in depth some of the key issues raised face to face. This vital, detailed information can be very helpful locally in the divisions. This is easier said than done, as in my case I was responsible for four countries, across six cities and 10 divisions.
a-connect: What impact do you feel we have had on the client?
Michael: The a-connect team did a fair share of ensuring business continuity and a well-controlled transition in this complex PMI, despite ambitious timing.
As well as being an effective means for central teams to transport information to local businesses, we were perceived and esteemed by local leaders and teams as advocates for the business. I could structure, prioritize and effectively communicate to both central teams and local contacts in order to broker solutions – and then follow up to ensure they were implemented.
Additional value came from our ability to share information, approaches, issues and solutions between our different countries and divisions in scope.
Overall, we have earned a reputation for getting things done, even beyond our immediate scope .
Valerie: By working closely with both the local business teams and the central PMI team, we were able to provide solutions for local issues and localize centrally designed processes and tools to make them relevant to the local market. This allowed us to maximize the business value delivered within the broader operational integration, resulting in a successful post-merger integration that was completed within a very ambitious time frame.
Gonçalo: The key impact is, of course, a successful PMI done in record time. On a professional level, we were part of a broader organization that allowed this to happen. Teamwork and rapid solutions for urgent issues were key, and, in my opinion, the client valued these significantly.
a-connect: What have you learned as a result of this project?
Michael: This project is in my top three in terms of complexity, with regard to the number of people involved, project vs business organization, and the different layers of geographical and content-wise project hierarchies creating various areas of overlap and ambiguity. To avoid the idea that ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’, it was crucial to clearly align on governance and to be specific about each other’s expectations – while being flexible enough to adjust to changing needs and priorities.
In such a setup, it is necessary to make friends not only with the business but also with other stakeholders. Creating opportunities to socialize during the kickoff phase was time and money well spent.
Valerie: This PMI project had multiple complex elements, requiring a good understanding of various product categories, customer segments and markets (four divisions and six markets with different customer dynamics, and setup for ‘my’ hub), as well as some knowledge of SAP systems. As these defined a number of the project’s key elements – in particular, key milestones and timings – I had to quickly get up to speed on IT systems and local IT tools. I was able to do so by working closely with the central/local IT teams and consultants from other companies that were supporting the project, which enabled me to get into the details of how these IT systems and tools supported the local business processes.
Gonçalo: I needed to adapt to a completely new project situation and scope, which were somewhat outside of my knowledge area due to their technical and technological content. This project was about implementation, in close coordination with the many other consulting companies that had different roles within the project. The flexibility to adapt and make things happen within this tough environment was key. The sooner you learnt to be flexible and adapt, the more helpful you could be to the client.
a-connect: What advice would you give to other consultants embarking on a similar project?
Michael: Ask for support and you will receive it. Voice your concerns and you will be heard!
Valerie: At the end of the day, even though we all worked in different hubs, with different local teams and setups, the fact that we worked as a team – sharing information and what we saw as best practices – was critical in successfully delivering this project. Our a-connect Client Service and Talent Partners also provided the team with strong support, especially during the first few months of the project, which was a period of evolving priorities and overall scope from the client’s side.
Gonçalo: The end objective is that it works for the client. As an IP, this is much more than a theoretical role within a larger consulting team, where the output might often only be analytical. You need to be ready to move your ideas forward and make them happen.
If you would like to find out how a-connect can help you implement a team of specialist independent professionals to ensure the success of your project, simply contact us today.