Ten years ago, Andreas Florissen and Jörg Fengler founded acondas. In this three-part interview they talk about what they experienced during this time of independence, how acondas has evolved over time, and what their vision is for their company.
What has changed the most at acondas over the last ten years?
Jörg: In the beginning, we worked more operationally and supported pure strategy implementation. Since 2018, we now start much earlier in the process with strategy operationalization. This has made our task more challenging and difficult, but it has paid off: We now have larger and more challenging projects and understand the overall context much better.
Andreas: This is also reflected in our slogan. We now have our fourth slogan, which is intended to signal what acondas does. Our recently developed slogan, Bringing strategies to life, embodies our professional expertise in operationalize and implementing strategies.
So far we’ve been talking about the changes on the project side. How has acondas evolved internally?
Jörg: In the beginning, we didn’t have a significant internal setup. In 2013, we set out to define our structures, processes and methods to achieve further growth. To this end, we established different work teams, such as marketing and sales.
In 2018, we adopted agile organization, combining functional teams for internal tasks with knowledge teams, which develop a customer-focused content topic every six months. The knowledge generated in such agile teams helps customers considerably in certain implementation situations. We have experienced great success with this approach so far. We have been able to support a number of large and important projects extremely successfully by applying our expertise on topics such as carve-out, post-merger integration, sustainability and culture development 1:1 in our project work.
Andreas: The topic of employee development has also evolved quickly. In the first few years, we developed eighteen in-house training courses to train consultants in the basics of project work. Then we added self-learning formats and special method training, such as design thinking. For employees interested in completing a master’s or doctoral program, we offered cooperation programs with universities. As you see, the issue grew broader and broader. We also refined our mentoring concept. Every employee at our company now has a so-called HR manager as a mentor. We gave mentors a lot of tools to help them guide employees. Many have grown with acondas and then taken on leadership responsibilities. Feedback processes have been expanded, and we now have 360-degree feedback. Every year, something new is added. We hold on to the tried and true, but we also give up things that are no longer up to date.
What was your most exciting project assignment?
Andreas: For me, it was the development and implementation of a digitization strategy for an agricultural chemicals company. In that project, we held some steering committees on experimental farms in rubber boots. The project was rather atypical for acondas. It started in the strategy development phase. So we developed the strategy, operationalized it, and then expanded it into a big program with several implementation projects. The great diversity of the individual subprojects was fascinating. Data was collected in the fields using sensor technology, which was then processed, prepared and analyzed in order to draw conclusions and make recommendations for optimizing the use of fertilizers, water or pesticides. That was technologically very fascinating and very unusual in terms of the industry and the customers.
And what was your most exciting project, Jörg?
Jörg: At the very beginning, it was our largest carve-out project so far. A company with sales of over 20 billion euros had to be split into 5 parts. These then had to be reassigned to various other Group companies during ongoing operations. Neither we nor the customer had ever done that. And at that time, it was rare to see it done on such a large scale. Because we knew the context very well, we supported the entire project very successfully for 18 months. It was subsequently a beacon project within the Group because everything was completed on time, on quality and below budget, which the entire team was very proud of.
In such carve-out projects, you naturally also have a very steep learning curve. You have to rethink everything from the legal, tax, commercial, HR and IT perspectives. Even the inventory of the entire company: including, among other things, the company’s wine cellar, where great treasures were unearthed. All joking aside: we gained new insights every day, hands-on. This showed right at the beginning what an exciting field transaction implementation actually is.
Were there any strange situations that you experienced in your autonomy?
Jörg: A situation just came to mind at one of the media companies we work for. They are much smaller and culturally quite different from the rest of our client portfolio. In one meeting, one of the participants got up and sat down on the floor in the middle of the room because he could think better there. At the time, I imagined how that would be received by a DAX company. It’s like looking through a completely different lens, and I always find that very refreshing. This cross-company and cross-sector approach has a very strong appeal. It makes it very tangible what corporate culture is all about, and you develop a different sensibility in this direction because of these strong differences.
Andreas: I must say that in the beginning we found it quite challenging to explain what we actually do, what implementation consulting is. This resulted in us getting some very curious project requests in the beginning. One of them was that we were asked to count street lamps in a large German city that were not properly noted in the land registry. I think the client ended up using some students who rode around on bicycles.
What makes you happy when you look back on the last 10 years of company history?
Andreas: The team. When you stand in front of it and see everyone who’s in the team, how creative the team is, what kind of ideas and personalities they have, what kind of interpersonal interaction takes place – that’s the absolute highlight and also what’s so special about acondas. I’d say that’s pretty unique in the market.
Jörg: I think so, too. They are very special people. Over the last ten years, as in any other management consultancy, many have left. When you see what becomes of the former employees and where they then continue their careers, you know that we really do have an extremely good and motivated team here, from which each individual successfully goes their own way afterwards.
Read more about acondas’ vision for the next few years in part three of the interview next week.