Expert Insights

Boutique or large consultancy? Why not both?

Using a global management consultancy firm to deliver transformational change offers many benefits and is often the norm for large companies. But there are also tremendous advantages to using a boutique company. Williams Bain Director Mark Kitchen argues that in today’s fast-moving world, it really doesn’t have to be one or the other – outstanding results are being realised by companies using a model blending the best of both worlds.

When you need to deliver effective transformation, there’s little room for error. It’s hardly surprising, then, that so many choose the services of a large consultancy company; after all, they’re renowned global brands with vast resources and long-standing reputations for quality and professionalism.

On the flip side, smaller boutique-style consultancies can often effect change faster using industry experts, offer greater flexibility throughout the programme, and, in some cases, cause less disruption to the management team. But in the eyes of shareholders, choosing a lesser-known company can raise a certain amount of scepticism.

“You can’t knock the big consultancy firms,” says Mark. “They’re multibillion-dollar companies and incredibly successful at what they do.

“What’s interesting is that we’re seeing more companies delivering large-scale transformational change in a way that suits them. And that’s by using consultancies to their strengths. The speed, agility and expertise of a boutique consultancy can be very effective when used alongside a global management consultancy firm who are hired to assure the programme of change. In a way, the large management consulting firm is policing the boutique consultancy and providing the added assurance that a plc board needs.

Innovation, flexibility – and peace of mind

This best-of-both-worlds strategy, says Mark, allows a client to benefit from specialist experts and real flexibility if things suddenly change, while having the peace of mind that one of the world’s biggest consultancies is giving a badge of approval.

Mark recalls a recent group transformation programme that was only partly successful, but could have delivered even better results had this approach been followed. “It involved two UK managing directors overseeing change in their respective divisions of a global plc. One asked us for help, the other wanted a large consultancy,” he explains.

“Within a week of meeting with MD1 we had started the discovery phase and within 10 weeks, we’d completed it, designed a clear solution, enabled the MD to get board approval on his business case and already started achieving quick wins. At the same stage, MD2 had selected his consultancy firm, negotiated a price, signed the contract and was awaiting a discovery phase start date.”

Meeting changing demand

Then, at week 20, came a critical, mandated change from the plc board. A cost-reduction exercise began straight away and there was an immediate ban on balance sheet spending. Because of Williams Bain’s flexibility, it suggested MD1 restructure the programme and change the desired outcomes to suit the new environment. A smaller programme continued and, by week 24, it was able to report real and measurable cost-savings to the plc board.

“Due to the contract with the large consultancy firm, MD2 simply didn’t have that flexibility,” Mark adds. “He was unable to curb spending quickly and couldn’t cancel the contract without paying a penalty equal to a large percentage of the original price.

“Of course, its completely understandable why MD2 chose the global consultancy firm, and he couldn’t have foreseen the major change at week 20.

“What would have worked for both was a combination of ourselves and a large consultancy firm. That way they could have benefited from our expertise and flexibility, while giving the MDs, the plc board and shareholders the assurance that an independent, global consultancy was providing oversight.”

As more and more companies need to deliver transformation programmes in a fast-moving, ever-changing market, combining the best of the boutique and global management consultancy firms is proving to be an innovative model that delivers real results.


  • Boutiques can provide a more flexible approach than large consultancy firms.
  • The big names bring the reputation that boards and shareholders are looking for.
  • A combination of the two – where the boutique delivers the programme and larger firm provides assurance – is becoming increasingly popular.

Mark Kitchen

Mark Kitchen created Williams Bain to discreetly support board directors who want to deliver transformational change in a way that suits their business.

Williams Bain

Williams Bain supplies organisations with experts that deliver major change. Our unique model is responsible for delivering growth at over 200% year on year.