Founded in Boston in 1886, Arthur D. Little lays claim to the dual
titles of first and oldest management consulting firm in the
world. The pioneering spirit of the founder who lent the firm
its name is the stuff of legend--and the firm he founded is still
going strong, even after completing a journey that has seen it go
from private entity to public corporation (via a period of
ownership by Altran Technologies), and back to private following a
2012 management buyout.
The 1,000-plus consultants it employs today find themselves
spread across 30 countries, offering tailored services to clients
in industries including automotive, chemicals, energy and
utilities, financial services, health care/life sciences,
manufacturing, TIME (telecommunications, information technology,
media and electronics), consumer products, private equity and
transportation. The firm 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 classmate 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 companyâ€™s 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, Mr.
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 achieved 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 Arthur D. Little as a leading name in the field by
the 1960s--a position it maintained until the late 1990s, 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
product--unthinkable." So wrote Rick Eager, U.K. managing
director of Arthur D. Little 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
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.
Confirmation of that change has been underlined by the location of
the firm's headquarters: having shifted to Paris in 2006, the
center of ADL's operations is now in Brussels, Belgium.
In 2012, all would change again with a management buyout that
took the firm private.