With the help of the Oracle
More important than knowing when to leave is having to gain support for the company’s growth
At 26 years of age, after a meteoric career in the multinational consultancy Accenture, São Paulo native Carlos Lima, decided he wanted to become an entrepreneur, unsatisfied with the career opportunities that existed inside a large corporation. In the consultancy environment, the decision to become an entrepreneur was seen with scepticism, given the high number of frustrated attempts endeavoured by former consultants who had tried a solo career or had opened small consulting offices. At Accenture, it was no different. In fact, the perception was quite reasonable, after all which company would hire a young 30-year-old businessman to provide consulting services? Lima paid no attention to these negative manifestations from everyone around him. “I had zero support, it was actually negative support”, reminisced the graduate of Business Administration from Fundação Getúlio Vargas. Consciously or not, Lima was already influenced by his entrepreneurial experience acquired in 1987 during the brief six months he participated in FGV’s Junior Company, a consultancy driven by undergraduates that catered to small companies.
The practical experience in the Junior Company strengthened his conviction for the career of consulting, which made it an easy decision when Lima received and accepted the invitation to join Accenture. During the six years he worked with the company, he frequently questioned himself about the company method of operations, especially because he established a pace that was different to others. Always in the company of the current Managing Partner, Andrea Aun, together the pair were often invited to settle the most difficult issues. When the project was becoming problematic, Lima wouldn’t hesitate in talking to the CEO of the consultancy- Mario Fleck, even though he sometimes had to later argue with the director responsible for the project. “I did not agree with the projects in some specific situations. So, at 21, I would walk into the CEO’s office, something that my thirty year old colleagues wouldn’t do. I saw myself as part of the business, and I wanted to make it better. I had an owner’s perception, very different from the common mind set in companies, in which you can simply exchange you salary for anything.” Due to this posture, Lima climbed the Accenture ladder very fast.
Subsequently, due to this posture, he made some enemies along the way. “Given that I was shaking the business’ status quo, I was seen as invasive by some people”. On the other hand, he would gain space with those that shared the same vision, particularly with Mario Fleck, CEO of Accenture at the time. Fleck became “the great oracle” in the eyes of Lima, however that did not create impediments as Fleck was willing to meet and help Lima whenever necessary. This different perception of the work gave Lima the essential experience and confidence to venture into entrepreneurship in the future. He was challenged in situations that required a business leader, creating units, opening industries and becoming responsible for specific operations. “It wasn’t a defined, structured, trajectory for what came afterwards with Integration. It was much more intuitive, kind of vocational. It was essential for me to test my self-confidence and self-awareness. It is important that you learn about limits, pressure and power variations, all very common obstacles in large companies. There is a huge difference between having a conscious attitude and opening you own business with this experience and background to support you and simply having to become a businessperson overnight because you have some money from indemnities and no other alternatives.”
In 1994, six years after joining the consultancy, Lima and Marcelo Berger, one of the founding members of Integration, started to question the model used by consultancies in general and their own future at Accenture. With the typical entrepreneurial restlessness, they soon realised they would not be happy there. “It took us two seconds together to decide that we would leave the company and open our own business. We had not been thinking about it, but once we had decided our objective, we developed a structured process.” So, at 26 years of age, both partners believed in their capacity to provide consulting services, supported by a research study that they had in their hands which was performed in the last six months that Lima and Berger spent at Accenture.
To map the market where they would start working, they hired an American consulting company named Team Technologies, through to a friend who worked there. It was a company dedicated to start-ups. Rather than paying for the services, Lima helped them in with a project that they had to perform in Brazil. Thus, the lack of money as an obstacle was solved. The American consultancy recommended that they focused on the small and medium company market, developing two special competences that allowed them to stand out. The first was related with performance areas of the new company, focusing on processes rather than areas such as Technology or HR, for example. However, the differential did not lie here. Their major opportunity was what the American company called ‘touch’, or a way of providing the service of how to deal with the client.
The research showed that in general consultants are known to have arrogant characteristics and have difficulty integrating with the client company. It was also clearly shown in the study that the business model of most consultancies did not please the client. They wanted to see more than the work concluded by the final report that contained recommendations on what to do. Clients needed someone who could help them implement the content of the report. “We realised this could be our differential, the ‘how to do’ consultancy and not simply the ‘deliver’ consultancy product”. Based on these conclusions, the company came up with the idea of a hands-on consulting services, in which ‘making it happen’ would be the differential.
The importance of the relationship for your first sale
Berger and Lima began from scratch. They set a financial reserve to open the company and were able to hold up the first six months without a client. “We left the company on Friday and then we thought – what now? On Monday everything started from square one. We didn’t even know where the company would operate from”. While they were still working on the presentation to introduce the new company and defining the list of companies they would approached, the telephone rang. It was a top manager from Exxon Móbil, the largest company in the world in the beginning of 2005. He explained that he had called Accenture requesting to speak with Lima and learned he had left the company. He asked to schedule a lunch so that he could understand what had happened. Lima explained that he had quit Accenture and decided to open his own business and he talked about their plans for the next six months. The director Exxon Móbil wished him good luck and then left. That same day, at 4:00pm, he called Lima again, he said the President had a project, but did not want to work with Accenture. He wanted Lima.
At first, they were startled. Lima was concerned how Accenture would receive the news, thought he couldn’t handle it and was worried with the more basic and practical issues, for example, how would they profit? Thus, he started analysing one thing at a time. He called his former company to speak with account manager, Luis Carlos Ferezin and the CEO Mario Fleck. He was reassured when Fleck told him it was a small project and they could certainly go on with it. Still not satisfied with this arrangement, Lima asked for a written authorisation to do so. Aware that consulting services relies heavily on reliability and image, he feared that it would be interpreted as if he had stolen Accenture’s clientele. In addition to signing the letter, Fleck also called the CEO of Exxon Móbil to give his blessing.
The second challenge was to define pricing. Lima had no idea how much the project should cost. They made some internal calculations and defined a price to design and implement a new model for distribution of lubricant over the course of four months’, however they didn’t bill the company as at this time they didn’t even have a tax receipt. After some months of conceptualisation, the partners focused on action. For the first two months, Lima trained distributors in 43 cities in Brazil. In the meantime, Berger was responsible for restructuring the plant internal management model. If the distribution product worked fine, they would experience shortage of products. The project lasted one year and was a success. So much so that at the end of the project, the company’s CEO called Lima and Berger and gave them a cheque for $80,000, in addition to what they had already paid. Confused, they asked what was going on. To which the CEO responded, “Your price was too low.” Integration also got an award for its good performance. “We wondered if it would always turn out that well, but it has never happened since!”
The project caused the company to change its position. They had initially thought about working with small and medium sized companies but they had already worked with one of the largest companies in the world, so why not continue on this track? The next year, the worked on the launch of Gatorade in Brazil, and from then on, only large clients followed.
From the book “How to make a company work in an uncertain country”, chapter “With the help of the Oracle” extracted (Endeavor – Editora Campus, 2005).