Global strategy consulting firm OC&C is one of the lead corporate partners of Impetus-PEF. Since 2004, OC&C has applied its commercial insight to more than 22 projects helping Impetus-PEF identify the best charities to invest in and then working with those charities to create the most effective pathways to growth and impact. Founding partner Chris Outram – the “O” in OC&C – recently answered questions about OC&C’s engagement with Impetus-PEF.
What’s different about working with a charity, and how do you help them?
Fundamentally, a charity’s objective is very different from that of a more commercial entity. The primary function of our normal clients is to create value from differentiated and sustainably profitable businesses. A charity, on the other hand, is there to execute against a series of social and cultural objectives.
There is, however, some common ground between the commercial and the social: Firstly, a charity has to raise money and be very efficient about how it spends it. We help charities to hone the commercial edge of what they’re doing. We’re more “capitalistic” in the way we approach their social concerns. But not because we’re trying to change their values. Rather, we are trying to help them be more effective in their interactions with funders, suppliers and corporations that ought to be on their side. Secondly, like a commercial concern, charities want to grow and succeed; in a charity’s case to maximise their social impact. We help commercial business groups succeed every day and apply the same logic here. We help them address these issues head on and in a commercially relevant way.
In 2012, OC&C’s celebrated its 25th anniversary. What is your secret to success?
OC&C competes with major global strategy consultancies. So we have to be even better than those fine companies in doing strategy work and thinking hard on behalf of our clients. We are very dedicated to our clients and collaborate with them. A client survey indicated that our close collaboration and being very much in communion with them was something clients valued disproportionately. We’re very good at that.
In turn this is one of the things that helps with our work for Impetus-PEF. The leaders of charities tend not to be the same sort of executives as those heading more commercially oriented organisations. Our ability to work with different types of people, being very productive while not being arrogant or didactic, is an important quality at OC&C.
OC&C is very progressive in the way it approaches its work with Impetus-PEF. You provide teams to work on Impetus-PEF projects in exactly the same way they work with commercial clients, rather than trying to squeeze CSR in around the “day job”. What made you decide to support Impetus-PEF in the way you do?
Even though we are highly commercial in our day job, OC&C is staffed by people who have social as well as commercial objectives. By applying our skills and processes to charitable organisations we believe we can make them better at what they do. By working in teams with Impetus-PEF charities, we help them develop business plans that make sense and which differentiate them to win whatever competitive battle they’re fighting. Our work with Impetus-PEF, therefore, really is business as usual, but in a fundamentally different context.
What do your staff enjoy about the work they do with our charities?
OC&C’s staff clearly get a great deal of reward out of doing something that is not purely commercial. It’s a way of “giving back” and they enjoy that. In particular they enjoy the different types of people they get to interact with. They also have more degrees of freedom in these assignments, because we encourage the associate partners and the managers to take a bigger role than they perhaps would in a huge client relationship with a global consumer goods company, for example. Our work with Impetus-PEF charities allows them to take on bigger roles and more responsibility, which is very stimulating.
In some ways, our work with Impetus-PEF is very similar to a short secondment, where the individual is working with different types of people and a different type of activity.
Do you look at this work as part of your talent management strategy?
Working with Impetus-PEF charities is certainly very positive in terms of talent management, there’s no doubt of that. Anything that motivates our staff and teaches them something new about the world is very valuable to OC&C.
It is also part of the way we project OC&C to the market. We have two markets – one is clients and the other is recruits.
We want our recruits to know that we undertake some charitable activities which are interesting and different and a core part of our portfolio of work. Whether it persuades people to join us or not, I’m not sure. But it is important for us to say we’re not just out-and-out “capitalists” and that we care about other things in society. I think it reassures recruits that they are joining a company that has a soul, rather than just a mechanistic approach to business.
Why did you get involved in Impetus-PEF in the first place?
First of all, we are a great supporter of Impetus-PEF’s venture philanthropy model. It’s bold things that excite us, trying to do something quite dramatic and bold with our approach that helps charities become more effective.
In addition, we feel that this work is very satisfying. The feedback we’re getting from Impetus-PEF and the charities we work with is that it has been very useful, so that is a cause for celebration. Helping Impetus-PEF do what it does, and have a significant impact on the individual causes, is very rewarding for OC&C and the individuals in each team.
What would you say to other companies considering getting involved in Impetus-PEF?
We are involved in Impetus-PEF because we believe in the Impetus-PEF business model.
There is no doubt that one could get more publicity by working with large, well known charities. On the other hand, I am confident that the involvement of OC&C and other professional services companies has a disproportionately large impact on the small charities that Impetus-PEF supports.
This is rewarding for OC&C and its staff. I am confident that other firms would have a similar experience.