Caden Strategy is a boutique strategy consulting firm providing market intelligence, strategy development and acquisition support to business leaders.
The firm’s principal focus is the Food & Beverage industry. Over the last 20 years, the team has helped experienced executives take their companies’ assets into new geographies and product categories, and ambitious founders advance their strategies and business plans.
The Founder’s Perspective
I spent the first ten years of my career in finance, enjoying life as an international investment banker. I worked for a prestigious bank and was well rewarded. But I came from a family business background and banking seemed too far removed from the ‘real world’ of business. Eventually, I packed it all in and went to business school.
On graduation, I had several offers from large consulting firms. But all the firms felt unwieldy and the travel requirements were onerous. I turned down the offers and joined a start-up. It was an exciting, fast-paced environment and the results were tangible. When the time came to move on, I was again invited to work in consulting, but this time for a boutique firm. I took the plunge and ended up staying for nearly ten years.
In 2013, I set up Caden Strategy. The attraction was obvious. I could deliver strategy consulting in my own style and, crucially, enjoy the thrill of growing a business.
So how has it worked out? We got off to a good start. I managed to win a project with a multinational seafood company with aggressive growth ambitions. One successful project led to another and Caden Strategy began to grow. On a project in Russia, I shared a taxi with a partner from KPMG who was managing another work stream for our mutual client. He had been reflecting on why the client had elected to use Caden Strategy as well as KPMG. “The client treats you like a genuine trusted adviser … that’s very valuable”. He was right. Our key client sponsor knew that he could rely on us to immediately understand what was required and to deliver. I have come to realise that this is one of the real selling points of a boutique firm: client intimacy.
Since then, we have diversified our client base. It now includes small-medium sized enterprises challenging the status quo, as well as market leaders. Smaller, high-growth clients can be a good fit for boutique firms. The clients appreciate the personal attention and younger members of the boutique firm get much more exposure and experience than they would have had with a larger client.
The other thing that has changed is our attitude to hiring. At the outset, I was worried about fixed costs. So, I supplemented the core team with contractors. Today, we have a larger core team and rarely use contractors. I have realised how much I enjoy coaching team members and also how well-suited a boutique firm is to train new consultants. Instead of sending staff on lots of expensive training programmes, we give them real responsibility early on and invest time coaching them. This has been extremely effective. When a senior member of the team is willing to spend substantial time training a junior member, the junior tends to be highly motivated and learns fast.
So, what’s next? Well, we want to continue to grow and are currently investing in marketing and training. However, we do not want to lose the key advantages of a boutique firm: superior client service and an opportunity for every member of our team to contribute to the growth of our clients and Caden Strategy.
The Associate’s Perspective
Boutique strategy consultancies typically have less than 100 employees and offer specialist services. Clients are drawn to boutique firms for the expertise, but also the flexibility and close working relationship.
Boutique firms offer exciting career prospects for entrepreneurial advisors who are fascinated by the mechanics underlying different businesses, and who are driven to take ownership of business challenges.
Representative of this personality type, I began my early career launching tech start-ups in London’s Imperial College incubator, before transitioning into the consulting department of an international professional services firm. Whilst the workplace culture could not have been more different, at a high level, the purpose of both companies was the same – to solve business challenges and increase margins. Realising that there were strengths in both approaches, I decided to search for a workplace that combined the entrepreneurial and pragmatic decision-making processes of the start-up world with the professionalism and strategic approach of the corporate world. This led me to Caden Strategy.
The training I have received has been highly commercial and pragmatic, blending fast-paced, real life situational training – commonly found in the start-up world – with in-house technical training with the Managing Director. This has been supplemented with external certified training courses. Whilst the classroom education has been useful in developing hard skills, the benefits of sitting opposite the Managing Director every day, participating in meetings with senior executives, observing negotiations and collaborating to deliver projects has been invaluable.
Working at a boutique firm also offers the opportunity to work on a wider range of client engagements. With a broader client base, I have had the opportunity to advise global market leaders as well as smaller, disruptive players. I cannot think of a better way to improve my commercial skills and express my entrepreneurial spirit than through working closely with a client company founder. Not only do we look at the external market context but we also get the chance to look at the detailed internal workings of the company, including management reporting, logistics, operations and financing. Only then do we help the client team develop a compelling strategy and business plan.
Our firm’s culture is meritocratic, combining the formal structure and working practices of a larger entity, with the flexibility, camaraderie and trust of a smaller entrepreneurial environment. This means that ideas are selected on merit, and we all play a role in ensuring the success of our clients, as well as the success and direction of the firm itself.
Find out more about Caden Strategy Consultants here.