Its Not Always a Bed of Roses for Ex-Big Fivers

Chris Formant is only one of a number of Big Five consulting partners who have left to head struggling Internet-based firms.

Chris Formant is only one of a number of Big Five consulting partners who have left to head struggling Internet-based firms. So far, according to industry observers, these former Big Fivers have had mixed success.

"Its an age-old truism: Great consultants dont always make great executives," says Tom Rodenhauser, a veteran industry analyst. "A Big Five consultant is focused on satisfying his or her clients in the role of an adviser, not a doer. … A CEO, on the other hand, is accountable to everyone, from investors, to all the customers and employees. Its a different job with different skills."

Jim Hunt, CEO of EYT (formerly Ernst & Young Technologies), agrees that while Big Five consultants bring with them enormous industry knowledge and business-process expertise, not to mention client interface skills, they tend to lack the experience to cope with the constant pressure of hitting quarterly numbers. They also experience changes in their living standards, says Hunt, who notes that Big Five partners prefer to travel in style, using their own pretax dollars to offset their income. But when they move from cash-based accounting firms to public companies, it can be quite a shock. "When you are used to The Four Seasons, Motel 6 is not too appealing," Hunt says.

Another issue revolves around the nature of the sales and marketing process. Big Five firms still depend heavily on individual "rainmakers" (industry account managers) to bring home the bacon. Now that price wars are flaring in the consulting market, argues Rodenhauser, some ex-Big Five CEOs are at a loss as to how to sell "productized services" in the absence of those rainmakers.

Doug Holden, a former KPMG partner who last year became CEO of Zamba Solutions, acknowledges that things work differently outside the Big Five. For example, the big partnerships dont have to spend a lot on lead generation or brand positioning, whereas a small CRM solutions provider like Zamba has to proactively market itself just to remain on the competitive radar screen.

But Holden, who last quarter began a ramp-up of Zambas direct sales force, says the Big Five firms all have instituted professional sales organizations over the past few years, and he disputes the contention that executives like himself are clueless when it comes to generating demand in a downturn.

"I was well aware of all these issues before I came over here," he says. "In terms of sales and marketing, there has been no learning curve for me."