While we can speculate all day long about what businesses can do when they are given the huge amounts of someone else’s money to burn, how about those that are employee-owned and make their own investments using the hard-earned money they actually earned themselves?
When you look at the growth and success of HFS over the past 11 years to tackle competitors hundreds of times our size, there is one constant throughout the whole experience – the collective array of people who’ve made it all possible. While you can buy successful brands, IP, methodologies, APIs, and algorithms, the most important asset you can accumulate is your people.
One such individual, whom I have known since the days just prior to founding HFS, is Nigel Edwards – an enthusiastic and affable character who’s weathered the best of the Indian-heritage service providers namely Cognizant. Wipro and EXL, after earning his business and IT services stripes at Accenture in his earlier career. It was time for “Nige” to take nearly three decades of blood, sweat, BPO and captives and lend it to HFS’ long-suffering clients, crying out for a sense of reality and to exploit the current market turbulence. Now there isn’t too much to say about Nigel beyond the fact he’s a lifelong Foxes fan (Leicester City), has played cricket with David Gower and gets beaten up in a boxing ring by his son almost daily… so let’s hear a bit more from HFS’ Chief Client Officer, Nigel Edwards:
Phil Fersht (CEO, HFS): Before we get to all the work stuff, Nigel, can you share a little bit about yourself… your background, what gets you up in the morning?
The honest answer is that it’s a combination of my 6-year-old (the youngest of my 3 boys), the dog, or the sound of the refuse collection folk reminding me that I did not put out the recycling…
Seriously though, it’s the opportunity to do something creative. My dad was in the construction industry for many years and he doubled up as a highly accomplished artist, sculptor, and writer. Even at 78 he is still pushing out new ideas each day in his quiet, unassuming but engaging manner. I guess this appetite for creativity has continued throughout my career as I have always been interested in what is coming along next: from buying outsourcing services to BPO, to automation and now digital. I love nothing more than launching a new service, entering a new market, or initiating a large new client engagement.
Nigel Edwards (Chief Client Officer, HFS): How did you end up in the process services industry as a solution leader across the likes of Accenture, Cognizant, Wipro, and EXL? Did the industry change a lot during these times, or is it really only going through real change now?
Honestly, I never set out with a plan. I wanted to be a professional cricketer or a rock star, failed at both, so I logically settled on a career spanning technology and banking /& insurance! But like many things, if you keep an open mind, and look for opportunities, then door after door opens. I remember when, around 31 years old, I was asked to lead a major £250m account – probably as there was no-one else available! But I grabbed it with both hands while secretly being scared to death of failure – I’m pleased to say that we had a great team and I think we managed to pull it off.
But wow the industry has changed in the last 30 years. When I was with PwC, BPO was all about capex-heavy SI (SAP, Siebel), followed up by onshore shared service operations before setting up in Netherlands and Poland – real transformational stuff for those days. Then along came offshoring with a Leanops approach and the market grew significantly. Consequently, we made hay with the big wave of BPO and I moved into the world of deal-making as a Partner within Accenture’s Market Maker team. And quick as a flash, the Indian heritage players caught up and I spent some amazing years with Cognizant where we looked to combine the core IT strengths with BPO and leverage into key vertical segments in BFS and Insurance, Pharma, and Healthcare. More recently I ran the UK/European Business Process Services teams in EXL and Wipro where the industry and CX focus was critical to profitable growth.
What did you love and hate about those times?
It’s tough to polarise because they are often both sides of the same coin! On the plus side, the chance to meet amazing clients, to travel, and work with people from all over the globe has been something that I will always be thankful for. The more you travel, the more you see what unites us. Seeing a deal or a project come to fruition is one of the most rewarding things, not just because of the outcome, but also because of the deep knowledge and relationships we have built.
The downside? The time away from friends and family, and the quarterly cadence of large corporates take its toll, and for that I thankful to work in a privately-owned research business.
That said, lockdown has left me with a deep yearning to travel again!
So what, Nigel, drove you to look at the analyst industry at this point of your career? What are you hoping to achieve?
A couple of things. First, the intellectual challenge of deciphering a truly complex and rich marketplace. And second, the opportunity to leverage my experience working with some great minds and great people.
HFS really leads the way in forward-looking research, unafraid to call the big plays, so it really was a no-brainer to sign up.
What role do you see analysts playing as we emerge from this pandemic? Same old game, or is something new brewing?
Oh look, the world has already turned and the pace of digital feels exponential. The last 9 months have seen change on a seismic scale that we have delivered and never thought possible. Who would have thought that we can work, learn, consume and create from home on such an unprecedented scale?
But the challenge is how to navigate and retain engagement while assuring our mental health. What is our purpose? Where do we start? Who do we start with? How do we differentiate? What skills do we need? And do I make, buy, partner, or acquire? Mostly, we need to have the courage to leave behind old practices, old comfort zones, and address the change management agenda seriously for once.
From the discussions I am already having with our clients, this is how we can help.
What do you think we’ll be talking about when we gradually revert to a world beyond our screens? Will we get a resurgence of energy and excitement, or will we crawl out of our caves blinded by the sunlight?
I studied European Political History at University – I had the pleasure of standing on (the remains of) the Berlin Wall when it came down in 1989! And if there is one thing I l have earned is that life has a way of course-correcting. As a natural optimist, I am sure that life will emerge richer. We will find ways to engage digitally on our own terms, to work in jobs that are fulfilling, and to lead a life where work and pleasure exist in harmony – they are by no means mutually exclusive. Yes, it’s a little cheesy, but I think it’s a good goal to have, and I truly believe that our role as analysts will help pave the way for this correction.
It’s terrific having you as part of this great team, Nige!