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Posted on November 13, 2012
Emerging markets Moving overseas provides challenges but solutions are profitable, says Ross Tieman Double-digit growth in demand for consultancy has put emerging markets at the centre of expansion for many western firms in the consulting industry.
Global firms are pouring investment into their operations in fast-developing economies; medium and smaller consultancies are placing their bets among Bric nations, Asean and other markets; the Middle East and Africa inspire the kind of enthusiasm reserved for Russia in the 1990s.
Yet emerging markets are far from homogenous. In the Middle East, the consulting market of the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council, including the hotspots of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, grew more than 20 per cent in 2011 to EUR1.1bn, says Fiona Czerniawska, managing director of Source Information Services.
But the Indian market, worth about EUR1bn, grew by just 5 per cent, she reckons. Not only was the Indian market smaller than that of Spain, but its growth lagged behind the estimated 7 per cent achieved in the German market, which, at around EUR5.7bn, rivals the UK to be the world’s second-largest after the US.
Firms debating where to invest face complex choices around relative growth rates and market size. But by common consent, the pace of Indian market growth will recover, and today’s hotspots also include parts of Latin America as well as Russia, China, Turkey, Indonesia and Viet-nam.
The arrival of western consultants in emerging markets was triggered by demands from local companies that were globalising, and the need of emerging market governments for advice.
Two main strategies developed in response: global advisory champions sought to be local everywhere and national or specialist firms followed their clients.
“Larger international firms go to China, they go to Brazil or Argentina – to country markets – and invest in building up an office, and take a lower margin or even a loss for two to three years,” says Antonio Schnieder, president of the German Federal Association of Management Consultants (BDU) and chief executive of Capgemini Deutschland.
German-based firms, meantime, have followed automotive and machine tool manufacturing clients to markets such as China and Brazil, he says. But now the biggest “have decided to go more towards the pattern of the larger firms”.
Mogens Heering, senior vice-president for China, Middle East and Central and eastern Europe at Danish technical engineering consultancy COWI, says his firm developed a substantial international activity by following clients including financial institutions, development agencies and the EU.
Mr Heering says: “We are consolidating these footholds, making them into a growing business, preparing ourselves for substantial expansion in some of these markets.”
COWI sees transport, health, energy and water as the four high-growth sectors globally, he says.
That is driven by rapid urbanisation, plus, in the Middle East, efforts by governments to upgrade the quality of services they provide in the wake of the Arab spring of 2011.
But Andy Embury, advisory services leader for Europe, Middle East, India and Africa at Ernst & Young says private sector demand is developing, too. Consultants continue to counsel western firms inbound into emerging markets.
But now they also advise emerging market champions locally and those that are “outbound” both to developed markets and from India to Africa, for example.
John Kerr, managing director, global consulting at Deloitte, says: “There is a huge opportunity for us to help companies based in emerging markets to grow.”
Tony Poulter, global head of consulting at PwC, says consultancies are responding by changing the way they service emerging market clients. Mr Poulter says: “It’s no longer just a case of building a local team in the fastest growing markets. You need to serve clients from those markets globally and mobilise the best international expertise – as well as have a relationship with them locally.”
Partners at the Big Four audit and advisory firms stress the importance of a strong local presence, with understanding of the local culture and of the legal, tax and business environments.
Technology change and the increasing sophistication of some emerging markets add another imperative for consultants to be present.
Clients are not seeking hand-me-down western business or organisational models, but best-of-type solutions adapted to local circumstances.
Consumers in emerging markets may set global trends while companies often pioneer new ways of doing business – including in consulting.
Indian challengers such as Tata Consulting Services and Wipro have thrived internationally using a blended business model drawing on lower-cost expertise in India.
Mr Schnieder sees rising local competition in India, China, Russia and elsewhere.
John Furth, chief executive of the US Association of Management Consulting Firms (AMCF), says: “If you go country to country you are going to find some pretty major competitors to the big global firms.”
One result is “brutal” competition, says Mr Embury at E&Y. One solution is working with local firms.
Though some big firms eschew partnering except when obliged by clients to hook up, others seek out local partners. For midsized or smaller firms, the incentives can be strong.
Ms Czerniawska calculates that “about a third of all consulting work has an international component to it”, so to bid for that chunk of business firms need international reach.
This has triggered moves by some small to midsized consultancy firms to create links with peers in different countries, she says.
Partnership can also rhyme with courtship. Consulting firms are often wary of acquisitions, lest staff at the target leave after the deal.
But partnerships between international and emerging market consultancies have been a longstanding way of testing compatibility. Mr Schnieder says: “Sometimes you acquire them and sometimes you do not.” View of Riyadh and the Kingdom Tower: Saudi Arabia is a consulting hotspot