Inside Business: The consultants are ready to take advice

Roger Trapp looks at the contrast in styles between PA's two leaders
IT IS an old adage that organisations are run either by cost-cutters or managers wedded to growth. Generally, one gives way to the other, depending on the stage in the business's cycle. But PA Consulting has come up with the interesting idea of running the two in tandem.

For the past few weeks Jon Moynihan, the chairman, has been assisted in running the 2,500-strong organisation by Jeremy Asher, a 39-year-old MBA who joined as chief executive after spells in consulting, trading oil products and finally acquiring and revitalising a former Mobil oil refinery in Germany.

The firm, which was in some trouble several years ago when it appointed Mr Moynihan to the then combined role of chairman and chief executive, sees the arrangement as a way of building on the financial soundness he has instilled.

According to Mr Moynihan, "the building blocks for our continued success are now in place. Given the performance, size and global reach of PA, we needed to strengthen our senior management team. This will be achieved by splitting the role of CEO and chairman."

In selecting Mr Asher, the firm seems to have gone deliberately for a contrast in styles. Where Mr Moynihan is something of a snappy can-do manager whose reputation is largely based on linking the in-vogue concept of shareholder value to executive remuneration, Mr Asher exudes a calmer, more strategic approach.

By applying his enthusiasm for using value creation as the basis for incentives to the firm, Mr Moynihan is credited not only with returning the organisation to financial health but refocusing it away from geographic lines towards a "more integrated, market-facing organisation based on global industries and services".

Given that the firm is broadly based enough to include an executive development centre and a product development arm alongside the usual consultancy specialisms, that has been quite a challenge.

In Mr Moynihan's view one of the keys to succeeding in this area has been to align the interests of everybody in the firm, so that the potentially differentiating skills provided by the Sundridge Park Management Centre or Cambridge Consultants, say, can be brought to bear on clients of other parts of the firm.

Achieving this meant altering the ownership structure. It also led to Mr Moynihan tendering his resignation at the end of last year after problems arose during discussions with the then majority shareholder, the Butten Trust, about reforming the structure to give all employees, rather than just senior executives, a share in the profits. With those difficulties now resolved, Mr Moynihan has agreed to remain in place alongside Mr Asher.

Although the firm emphasises that Mr Asher's last role in turning around an oil operation, on top of his past consulting work with what is now Mercer Management Consulting, makes him an "action-oriented executive" who will focus on driving the business forward through the key areas of management, information and technology consultancy, it is clear that his key contribution will be as a thinker.

As executive chairman Mr Moynihan will focus on governance issues, long- term vision and strategy, but he says he will be looking to his new colleague to "provide us with new insights into how we can continue to grow the organisation and build on our already strong reputation in the market".

Mr Asher is starting off by taking a detailed look at the whole business, but he has already been struck by PA's success in introducing share ownership and a stake in the bonus pool for everybody in the organisation, and points out that as a result PA is assisting several other professional services firms with these issues.

He also professes himself impressed by the breadth of the firm's operations. And while conscious that it is possible to be too broadly based, he sees real benefit in being able to draw on all that expertise. PA can add "tremendous amounts of value" and, accordingly, solve problems that others cannot, he says.