Founded in Boston in 1886, Arthur D. Little lays claim to the dual
titles of first and oldest management consultancy in the
world. The pioneering spirit of the founder who lent the firm
its name is the stuff of legend, as is the firm's continued
survival, despite a serious restructuring that led to its being
acquired by France's Altran Technologies in 2002. So while
Arthur D. Little himself may be long gone, the firm that bears his
name is still going strong. The 1,000-plus consultants it
employs today find themselves spread across 30 countries, offering
tailored services to clients in industries including automotive,
chemical, energy and utilities, financial services, health
care/life sciences, manufacturing, TIME (telecommunications,
information technology, media and electronics), consumer goods,
private equity and transportation. The company also serves
state and federal agencies, as well as foreign governments.
Arthur Dehon Little was only half of the partnership of chemists
that founded the firm. The other half was his fellow MIT
student Roger Griffin, and together the pair set up as researchers
for hire, pioneering the concept of process improvement through
outsourcing research. Originally called Griffin and Little,
the name was changed following Griffin's untimely death in 1893,
when an experiment went awry.
As his firm grew in size and capability over the years, Little
developed something of a genius for eye-catching PR stunts, which
served no small role in increasing the firm's visibility and, thus,
client base. Among the stunts designed to prove Little's
maxim of "Who says it can't be done?" were Little literally turning
a sow's ear into a silk purse, as well as a competition among a
group of staff in the 1970s to make a lead balloon fly-both of
which were achieved to considerable acclaim.
Those feats brought some visibility to the company, underscoring
the unusual measures it was prepared to take to get the job done,
and establishing Little as a leading name in the field by the 1960s
and a reputation it guards to this day. "Arthur D. Little may
not be the easiest global firm to manage, but it will never become
one of the 'grey' consulting firms where everyone gets brainwashed
into behaving the same way and delivering the same
products-unthinkable." So wrote Rick Eager, UK Managing
Director of ADL, in a 2006 overview of the firm's history.
"The firm's great strength is its people and its culture.
More Vivienne Westwood than Chanel-vive la différence!"
After the boom
After a corporate restructuring in 2002, Arthur D. Little sold off
parts of its business (and reduced its workforce by almost
half). Altran Technologies bought the core management
consulting business, as well as the Arthur D. Little name.
This change led, perhaps unintentionally, to increased attention on
business affairs in Europe, rather than in North America. In
September 2006, this refocusing was formally confirmed by the shift
of the firm's global headquarters from Boston to Paris.
Moreover, German-born Michael Träm, formerly of A.T. Kearney,
replaced Richard Clarke as the company's CEO.
As an extension of its consulting efforts, ADL also produces
research reports and studies on the direction of business, the
combined effect of which is meant to raise the company's profile
and mark it as a thought leader. Chief among these is a
biannual publication called Prism, which reflects on up-and-coming
industry trends, updates on business-related topics and insights
into how businesses and business leaders are thinking.
The firm is also a strong proponent of sustainability-with more
than 40 years of experience in advising clients on the
opportunities and risks presented by the issue-and also does its
part to raise awareness of climate change and carbon agendas.
The firm's sustainable impulse is no mere attempt to take advantage
of a relatively recent buzzword, however; as far back as 1906,
founder Arthur Dehon Little was clearly concerned with the concept
as a basic plank of good business strategy. "Every waste that
is prevented, or turned to profit, every problem solved, and every
more effective process that is developed makes for better living in
the material sense and for cleaner and more wholesome living in the
higher sense." How's that for forward thinking?