Leadership Reimagined Podcast: Successfully Navigating Disruptive Forces (Podcast)

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AlixPartners

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AlixPartners is a results-driven global consulting firm that specializes in helping businesses successfully address their most complex and critical challenges.
We are pleased to present this month's episode of Leadership Reimagined, featuring Simon Freakley, Chief Executive Officer of AlixPartners.
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We are pleased to present this month's episode of Leadership Reimagined, featuring Simon Freakley, Chief Executive Officer of AlixPartners. Join us as Simon shares his profound insights on the importance of diversity and inclusion, or, rather, inclusion and diversity in the workplace, stating, "We walk outside onto the street, and the world is diverse. That's just our reality. If we don't have an inclusive environment in our companies that embraces that diversity and also capitalizes on the rich talents that come with a diverse workforce, then we're simply short-changing ourselves." The insights Simon discusses from the 5th annual AlixPartners Disruption Index and its implications for leaders navigating today's rapidly changing business landscape are daunting. Don't miss this enlightening discussion on leadership, innovation, and the power of embracing inclusion!

Simon has been the Chief Executive Officer of AlixPartners since 2015. He is known for steering large companies through the intricacies of accelerated change and responding swiftly and decisively to the challenges faced by businesses and stakeholders. As a Chief Restructuring Officer, he has spearheaded financial and operational restructurings on a global scale. Prior to AlixPartners, Simon served as the CEO of Zolfo Cooper Europe and Kroll Inc., a New York-based corporate investigations and risk consulting firm. Simon also serves as Chairman of Grange Park Opera, Music Masters, and the American Friends of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and is a Board member for the John Jay College Foundation and Global Screening Services. His previous Board affiliations include the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington and the English National Ballet.

Please enjoy this episode of Leadership Reimagined, Game Changing Conversations featuring Simon Freakley, Chief Executive Officer of AlixPartners!

Janice Ellig
Welcome to Leadership Reimagined, where game-changing conversations are reshaping the world of work. I'm Janice Ellig, CEO and founder of Ellig Group Executive Search Advisors, pioneers in redefining executive search through our unwavering commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Today on Leadership Reimagined, our topic is successfully navigating disruptive forces. And I'm delighted to welcome Simon Freakley, Chief Executive Officer of AlixPartners, a global consulting firm founded in 1981.

Simon became CEO of AlixPartners in 2015 and has more than 30 years of experience in business turnaround, strategic consulting, and the development of performance improvement and accelerated transformation projects for large and high-profile businesses. Before joining AlixPartners, Simon was CEO of Zolfo Cooper Europe and Kroll Inc. Long involved in philanthropic causes, Simon is the chairman of the American Friends of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as chairman of Grange Park Opera and London Music Masters. We have much to talk about. And Simon, you've been a busy man just coming back from Saudi Arabia, I'm delighted you could join us today.

Simon Freakley
Thank you for having me, Janice.

Janice Ellig
So AlixPartners is a unique firm that started, as we said in 1981, advising on some of the largest bankruptcy cases in major turnarounds, and then you also do other consulting assignments. What's so unique about AlixPartners? Tell us a little bit about the firm.

Simon Freakley
Well, as you pointed out, the firm started in the very early '80s when there'd just been an overhaul of the bankruptcy legislation. So Chapter 11, as we now know it, and the bankruptcy code was brought into force, which meant that there was a whole new industry created of debtor side advisory work, advising debtors, the companies, on how they would deal with a financial crisis and possibly going through a bankruptcy filing. So Jay Alix, the individual, started the company in 1981, and he was just very, very well suited to this type of work. Qualified as an accountant with PwC, had a very much a can-do attitude and was the type of personality that ran into burning buildings rather than ran away from them. And of course, this new world of debtor side advisory on the back of Chapter 11 was just ripe for new entrants like Jay.

So he started specializing in that work and built one of the best boutique restructuring businesses in the US based in Michigan. Obviously, Detroit being the home of the motor industry, he specialized in automotive and then branched out into other industries. So the heart of the firm was financial and operational restructuring. And then what we found, of course, was that the core capabilities of people who thrived in that environment taking really difficult situations, often in very time-pressured conditions, and leaning in and driving outcomes transformations was just as relevant to good companies who wanted to be great as it was for companies that were in distress and needing to restabilize. And so the firm broadened out to what it is today, which is 3,000 people, 26 offices, 14 countries, where only 20% of the firm's revenues are now restructuring revenues. Eighty percent is advising healthy companies going from good to great.

Janice Ellig
You have a unique employee profile, I think in terms of what you look for in people, that only 3,000 people, but you do some very high-profile work and the people that you have, they have some unique qualities and characteristics, don't they?

Simon Freakley
Yes. Well, there's a couple of features, I think. One is that we tend to recruit people, not all of them, but many of them mid-career. So that in a laterally hiring experienced people, many of whom by the way have had operating roles, not just a successful consulting career, means that you are working with experienced people in working with AlixPartners. If you look into an AlixPartners team room at a client, it tends to be a smaller number of more senior people rather than a lot of people more junior in their careers.

The second thing, which I honestly think is the secret sauce of AlixPartners for which I can take no credit at all, is that we have an assessment which is made up of a battery of different psychological tests, obvious ones IQ, critical thinking, verbal reasoning, and that cocktail of tests, the cocktail being our own mix, has become very accurate at predicting who will thrive not only in the type of work that we do, but our environment. And so what we found is that people that have a high IQ, they're not overwhelmed by complexity, but also have a predisposition to really lean into difficult problems. We call them persistors. And people that just enjoy the process of doing these transformations are just very well suited to our type of work. We call them high IQ worker persistors. And putting small groups of senior high IQ worker persistors to solve a complex and sometimes urgent problem just happens to be the type of work in which we thrive.

Janice Ellig
But their low ego.

Simon Freakley
Well, I would say that the average AlixPartners person has a very high-performance ego, which is they really, really care about doing a great job, but they have quite a low personal ego. All they really care about is the people they're working with know what they're doing and are similarly motivated. So the high-performance ego matched with a low personal ego tends to make these small teams really lean in and get difficult stuff done.

Janice Ellig
And that's really being client centric, isn't it?

Simon Freakley
Well, at the end of the day, we're here to serve our clients. We always say that we're client-centric, but we're also people-focused. Our colleagues are everything and with values based and it's the combination of our values, our people centricity, and our client-focus that we think brings all of the essential elements together.

Janice Ellig
And your leadership style and where you learned some leadership lessons, I understand some of it came from your father who owned a boatyard. Is that true?

Simon Freakley
Yeah. My dad had a small family business. It was maybe 25 employees maximum. He made beautiful boats. And so the house that I grew up in was in the boatyard. So I grew up literally in the middle of boats being assembled and repaired. So every weekend, every school vacation, I would be scrubbing barnacles off the bottom of boats or painting the bilges of boats or whatever. So from a very young child, I would spend a lot of time with my dad as he talked to colleagues about the work they were doing and just talked with customers about what they needed and wanted and just had a master class from an early age as to how you get the best out of people. I learned some lessons from that. I'm sure I could have learned more if I'd studied even harder, but he was quite a good role model in that, quite understated as an individual, but very clear in terms of what he wanted, the quality standard that he expected, and also how to get the best out of people.

Janice Ellig
So from your father and some of those lessons, you made CEO of a small consulting firm at a pretty young age, at 34.

Simon Freakley
That's true. And I wasn't planning on being CEO at 34, and I don't think the partnership was planning on me being CEO at 34. But the senior partner who I admired very much, a chap called Peter Phillips, had a health issue and had to take six months out of work. And we were only about six partners at the time. And for whatever reason, they concluded that even though I was the younger of the partners, that maybe I should run the firm for six months while he was recuperating. And so I was asked to lead the firm and the firm was only about 60 people at the time. It wasn't a big firm, but the condition was that I had to have a mentor and meet with that mentor every week. And it couldn't be any mentor. It had to be somebody in particular that the former CEO nominated. And I thought, gosh, that's a terrible burden, but turned out to be an enormous gift. And so yes, I had my first CEO job at 34 and ran the firm for about five years until I sold it to Kroll.

Janice Ellig
Interesting. Okay. So you did grow it and had a sale there, a liquidity event?

Simon Freakley
Yeah. So we grew it from about 60 people to about 250 people. And then I sold it to Jules Kroll in June 1999. And I wasn't planning on selling the firm, but Jules, who I'd come to know was interested in us joining them at this stage. Jules had taken his company onto the NASDAQ, so we sold into a small public company and that marked the start of another chapter.

Janice Ellig
So what were those lessons you learned during the five years of building this company that you use today as CEO of AlixPartners?

Simon Freakley
Well, I was too young really to be chief executive, and so it was the circumstances that put me in that spot. And so I had a lot to learn in a hurry, which was why this mentor, who became a very important person in my life, was so foundational in my professional growth during that time. And of course I was thinking to myself, it's all about, "How I make sure I do great client delivery and how I make sure that we're doing the nuts and bolts of business." He wasn't remotely interested in any of that. He was interested in, "What makes human beings work? What makes people want to form part of a community and a business? And what makes a client feel that you're the type of person that they want to have as a trusted advisor?" And so he really taught me about the human condition, which was utterly foundational, honestly, in terms of my own development from somebody who needed a lot of developing and it was quite a ride.

Janice Ellig
We find when we're doing executive searches, table stakes or the competencies experiences, how will that person really be inspirational to the people and want them to follow them up that proverbial hill and for clients as well to really connect with them.

Simon Freakley
Right, and of course, leadership without followership is nothing. And so how do you create followership? And of course it starts with listening. And actually, most good ideas come from other people. So the old adage of 'a good idea doesn't mind who had it' is quite important. And of course, if one isn't listening to the collective ideas and insights and observations of colleagues who together have many perspectives that as a leader you can't gather on your own, you're just denying yourself the best opportunities. So I think the listening is key to it.

Janice Ellig
Sometimes the frontline workers, even in manufacturing plants, have the best ideas of how things should be done, so really does pay to listen to everybody and becomes a listening culture, doesn't it? And a questioning culture to ask questions.

Simon Freakley
One of my friends, a chap called Archie Norman, who's the chairman of a big retailer in the UK called Marks & Spencer, who's done this just phenomenal turnaround of M&S over a multiple year period. People asked him, "What was the key to the turnaround of that retail chain where others have really struggled?" And he said, "The most important thing in that turnaround is really listening to the customer service colleagues who are at the checkout or their stacking shelves or filling racks, because they're hearing right from the frontline what the customers think, what the customers want, and making them feel empowered and valuable. And a core part of the enterprise was utterly foundational and the turnaround." And I would say that that has been my experience.

Janice Ellig
And we're seeing that today in the news a lot with lines of customers and customers not getting the product or the stores not being clean. And so there's so much to be learned from the front line there. Let's talk about this disruption index, your fifth annual survey of 3,100 executives worldwide. It's a really informative survey. I enjoyed all 60 pages of it and learned a lot from it. But I want to hear from you, why did you start this? What was important? Because it was five years ago, so it was pre-pandemic, was it that you started?

Simon Freakley
Yes. I'll tell you exactly what happened. What I found was that obviously because we have this privilege of a front row seat with our clients as they try and capture their biggest opportunities or meet their biggest challenges, what we found was that the issues our clients were dealing with were less about managing the economic cycle. Were we in a growth cycle? Were we in a deflationary environment? Because of course, federal banks and governments have got much, much better at managing economic cycles than maybe we remember from the '80s or earlier. The forces that they were managing were forces of all sorts of different kinds that were buffeting them in their markets. And so when we realized that these were the issues that they were dealing with, we decided to study it. So I took eight or so of our best and brightest consultants and had them study for a year five global industries.

So we took 635 companies on the major stock exchanges of the world in those five industry verticals. And we looked deeply into their performance and all the analyst reports to understand what were the forces that they were managing, what were the opportunities they were capitalizing on, what were the challenges that they were mitigating to understand what these forces of disruption were. And as we really uncovered these forces, there was no real surprise in it. There were demographic issues, climate related issues, technology issues. You may say, "Well, there's nothing unusual about that." But it wasn't so much the individual forces themselves, it was the way that these forces layered on top of each other that turned a rolling sea into a choppy sea for our clients. And this was the market conditions they were dealing with. So to give you an example, it's obvious to say that technology has been a disruptor in the last 25 years, but within technology, there's 3 billion smartphone devices in the world today within technology and the connectivity they provide.

So the way in which consumers can curate their own news sources, their own goods and services by reference to their value system was an extraordinary disruption, not just to retail and consumer goods or news organizations, but so many businesses. And so as we looked to the layering of these issues on top of each other, we realized that this was the foundation of the challenges that our clients faced. And so in January 2020, I launched our first disruption insight report at Davos, and then the mother of all disruptions happened. It was just completely by chance.

And so I had this meeting in Davos with 40 or 50 CEOs and just revealed our findings. And of course, then the whole world turned upside down. And what we found in subsequent disruption surveys we just released in the last couple of months, our most recent, our fifth survey, is that actually the pandemic disruption itself is largely behind us. But there are many underlying disruptions that are still having a profound effect on business, some of which are getting to a real tipping point. So for example, this year in the US, it'll be the largest number of retirements of baby boomers in the cycle of baby boomers. So a very large and disproportionately large number of 65-year-olds will be retiring this year.

And then actually what the US is facing is a shrinking workforce. That's not a surprise. The same's happening in China. In fact, the same's happening in every developed western economy. So the labor pool is shrinking, the skills pool is even more scarce. And so how do people navigate through those conditions and continue to grow their enterprises? To what extent will technology, not just generative AI, but technology generally make up for the productivity gains of a shrinking workforce. And so these are the things that we found and uncovered in our disruption work, and it is proven to be a very rich seam of understanding of the underlying issues that so many of our clients are dealing with.

Janice Ellig
So, Simon, in reading this, so we look at technology, and we see that is one of the number-one opportunities that executives are seeing, but there are challenges with that too. So many are really concerned that they'll be able to keep up with technology, that their people will be able to keep up with technology and that they may lose their jobs or other drastic things will happen and shareholder value can go down. So tell us, what were some of those findings, those takeaways that really... And maybe they have changed a little bit over time?

Simon Freakley
All of that is true. I sometimes joke that we should call the disruption index, the anxiety index, because it really exposes the anxieties of senior executives and maybe they should be anxious because of course they get to see right from the pointy end, the challenges and the opportunities their companies face. I think that there is an anxiety within senior executives that actually technology is evolving faster than they can keep up because of the demographic of senior executives, they typically weren't born digitally native. They're trying as hard as they can to be digitally fluent. The way they do that is by assembling teams that really do understand where their industry is going, how their company capitalizes on the eddies in the stream of opportunity, but it's a geometric progression. And actually, everybody's trying to work out how to make sense of the very, very, very fast developments as technology affects them.

And of course, with generative AI, there's a lot of discussion about large language models and how we get the best analytics and predictive tools. What's become profoundly clear to us through our client work as well as our research is that the winners are going to be the people with the best data, not the people with the best large language models. Large language models will be available and there'll be a choice of quite a number of them, but the people with the best data, not necessarily just the best scrubbed data, but the best data, the pools of understanding that they can dig into and analyze, use whichever large language model they license or adjust to their own needs to understand their data to navigate the future of their enterprise, where their customers are going and how they best capitalize on that will be the winners.

And so for industries like financial services, for instance, that's very, very data rich or healthcare or insurance as an example of financial services. The people with the best data sets and really understand how to aggregate that data, understand it, and use predictive analytics to decide where they go will be the winners as a result of that.

Janice Ellig
What percentage though of CEOs feel that they are on that pathway to having that data and feeling comfortable about it?

Simon Freakley
The vast majority of them feel that they're not moving quickly enough. They feel that not only are they not moving quickly enough, but their enterprises aren't moving quickly enough. Our most recent research, which actually is pretty consistent over the last five years though it's accelerated, is over 90% of chief executives say, "They have to reimagine their business models in the next three years." Over a third of them say, "They have to reimagine their business models in the next 12 months." So there's a real urgency to this, and they see all these forces buffeting them. I sometimes draw the analogy of the CEO being on the top of a skyscraper, right at the top, the building sways, and they feel the swaying of the building lower down the building. You don't feel it so much at the bottom of the building, you don't feel it at all.

So the CEOs are anxious because they feel the swaying of their market conditions. And one of their biggest challenges is how to really focus their enterprises, the whole enterprise, on the urgent need to change and to evolve. And so I sometimes say that chief executives have to be their own chief communication officers because almost the most important thing they do other than have a good sense of where they're going is the ability to narrate that and carry people back to followership, carry people on the journey of change that'll be required for them to stay relevant.

Janice Ellig
Interesting. I've heard you speak about that, the type rope too. The forces are coming at that CEO walking on a tightrope, but you have to keep moving.

Simon Freakley
Yeah. Keep moving.

Janice Ellig
And you hope your people are moving with you. And we see that in search sometimes where they'll say, "We need more talent 'cause the CEO can't do it all."

Simon Freakley
Yes. And what I found out is so interesting. The best CEOs, the best companies, are people who have a predisposition to action because the thought of a perfect strategy is a myth. There's no such thing as a perfect strategy. There are good strategies and bad strategies, but you have a good strategy. The winners are those people who actually just lean straight into the execution of the strategy, but also are not a hostage of the strategy if circumstances change.

Janice Ellig
So they'll pivot.

Simon Freakley
So they'll pivot. We have this expression of, "Do it nearly right, but do it now." This predisposition to moving to action is what marks out the best CEOs. And then as you say, when things change that they can pivot on a dime to say, "Okay, with new information or new insight, we'll now adjust our strategies." They're always cost correcting their strategy on the basis of new information. And in our disruption index work, we identify those companies that have both high revenue growth and high profitability. We call them the superstars. And so these 3,100 companies, there's about 8% of those companies that we call superstars because they're high growth and high profitability.

And so we've analyzed those 8% to see what is it that's different about them to others. And of course, the reality is that they're dealing with all the same market conditions, all the same forces, all the same challenges as their non-superstar competitors. But what makes them different is they have this predisposition to action, and they pivot on new information very quickly. So actually, the power of execution triumphs over a supposedly perfect strategy every single time if that strategy isn't executed well.

Janice Ellig
Speaking of the CEO, but what about the teams and the boards and... Are they all prone to this action, but not where some would say, "If I don't race to the space to get into this space, I will lose the race." So they're taking these calculated risks or these calculated moves. Is that right?

Simon Freakley
So yes. So it's not all about the CEO clearly, and in fact, in my experience it's certainly not all about the CEO, but it's having the team, the executive team focused on the right things, moving to action, not getting distracted by the nice to haves, but really focusing on the core elements, the execution of the core elements of the strategy. And of course, one of my insights in this last 12 months, partly with the disruption index work, partly with my client work from the front line, is that about 75% of strategy discussions is taken up with what AI and generative AI are going to do to our business and our industry.

If you look at their 2024 budgets, financial budgets, about three or four percent of their technology spenders on AI or generative AI, and you think, "Well, how can that be right? If they're spending 75% of their time wondering what to do on the back of AI and gen AI, but only 4% of their tech spend, what's the disconnection?" The disconnection is that they don't yet know what to do, but they are studying it and really driving down into what should be done and then the spend will follow. So I predict in five, six, and seven, we'll see a much bigger proportion of technology spend being focused on these tools and capabilities.

Janice Ellig
So they're using data to really find out what

Simon Freakley
They're using the data.

Janice Ellig
... they should be doing.

Simon Freakley
And that's what smart people are doing.

Janice Ellig
Yeah. So are there some key characteristics, leadership traits that you're seeing in some of these super growth high profitable businesses that you've looked at and studied?

Simon Freakley
Yes. Absolutely. So we talked about the propensity to action. That's certainly core to it. Strong communicators are also core to it. And so you probably saw recently that Lyft, the ride company, limousine company, they had a typo in their last quarter's financials where they said that they had much more significant margin improvement than they did because they got the decimal point in the wrong place. And so of course –

Janice Ellig
Don't want to do that.

Simon Freakley
For many people it would've just been crucifying, but actually the CEO got right on the front thought and said, "It was a typo." We had 50 basis points improvement, not 500. But let me tell you about our strategy and why we're seeing real traction. And in fact, ultimately the share price recovered and –

Janice Ellig
Went up.

Simon Freakley
... in fact, went up. And so it's so good communicators, absolutely a core feature of excellent CEOs and leadership teams focusing on the core elements of the strategy and rigorously driving them, not getting distracted by the nice to haves is certainly core. I give you Larry Culp, for instance, what he's done with the repositioning of GE and the spinning out into three companies. It's really remarkable master class actually on how to do that. We also see best-of-class businesses and leaders really to the extent possible, moving their fixed costs into variable costs, to give them optionality when things change. They're not a hostage of two high fixed costs.

And also people making sure they have liquidity on their balance sheet by selling non-core assets or making sure they have liquidity lines to be able to capitalize on special opportunities is a combination of all of these features and leadership elements that make the 8% of these companies, the superstars stand out from the crowd, and interestingly enough, as we've studied them, they perform better than their peers on a multi-year basis, not just in a particular year. These disciplines, these areas of focus, this commitment to focusing on what really matters marks them out.

Janice Ellig
Yeah. So friend of mine, Maggie Wilderotter, said that on a board she was at the CEO said, "No is a complete sentence." Sometimes you have to know when to say, "No," or to let go of that baby and disengage to really get to the core. It's hard.

Simon Freakley
It is hard, but I think ensuring that one isn't emotionally vested in something such that it's difficult to let go is really important. And that of course, whereas the team plays such a valuable role. So why it's so important to have a strong CFO, so important to have a strong GC or other senior executives that actually, even though people have positional authority and responsibilities that go with that, actually when you're in the executive room or the team room and the door shut, that everybody has a right to speak and to shout about the things that they see and that matter to them. And the best CEOs facilitate an environment for that honest and candid discussion to happen.

Janice Ellig
I recently did a podcast with Kevin Lobo of Stryker, and he talked about a questioning organization. He questions, and he wants everybody in the organization to really question and without fear of reprisal. And I think that's so healthy.

Simon Freakley
Yes. And I know there's not one secret formula to leadership. There are different ways to be effective and successful. Ultimately the person has to be authentic, otherwise it doesn't work. But just ensuring that, number one, there's a vision as to where the corporation needs to go. Secondly, that that can be explained and narrated to all the stakeholders, customers, employees, investors, et cetera, narrated on the one hand that is a purposeful strategy. And secondly, that it's a strategy that's possible to implement, so purposeful and possible, and then just having the execution skills and the fortitude to block and tackle on a daily basis to see it through.

Janice Ellig
So let's talk about an article you recently wrote, 'Who runs the world? (Women)'. And in terms of that, "DEI is no longer a 'nice to have'," but a must-have, and how that's going to play out during these times of disruption and navigating through disruptive periods. What do women and underrepresented groups represent to the success of a company?

Simon Freakley
Well, I always say that inclusion should really come first. We should really call it I and D rather than D and I. And as somebody once said, and I've stolen the expression because I think it's so good, chap called Stephen Frost, he said, "Diversity is a reality. Inclusion is a choice." And I've always thought about it that way. We walk outside onto the street and the world is diverse. That's just our reality. If we don't have an inclusive environment in our companies that embraces that diversity and also capitalizes on the rich talents that come with a diverse workforce, then we're simply short-changing ourselves.

And so when I wrote the article on 'Who runs the world? (Women)' it was just to evidence the fact that -and no one data point is a complete explanation, but multiple data points do form a trend that is fantastic that these leading news organizations like the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal and The Economist, to name a few, all have senior female leaders as chief executives. And I think that's to be celebrated. And so in our firm as well as in our client work, we always say, "Look, we have to have an inclusive environment because then we embrace the very best talent. And it's not about men versus women or one ethnicity versus another or who you love. It's a matter of just the best talent and an environment in which people feel they can thrive." So when I wrote that article, I felt we still have a long way to go, but there's much to celebrate.

Janice Ellig
Well, the percentage that goes into ventures for women is very, very low, the 2%. So that needs to change. And also, the CEO in terms of only 10% of the CEOs being women and 34% women on boards and the C-suite. I think it's changing, but it is slipping back a little bit. So I think we need to still recognize that talent exists in many forms, and we have to tap all of that.

Simon Freakley
Yes. The business that I mentioned too that I ran, earlier in our discussion, I think we had 23 partners, and we had more women than men in the partner group. And actually, the discussions we had as a partner group were richer as a result that actually the perspectives that were brought to those discussions were absolutely enriched by the fact that we had a majority of women. So I personally, I'm thrilled when we manage to attract somebody to do a senior role, be part of the executive team at AlixPartners or anywhere else.

Simon Freakley
It's fantastic. That isn't to say that I don't have spectacular male leaders too. It's not a one or the other. It's just pulling together the best talent.

Janice Ellig
It's a balance. And you just have to tap into reflect your employees, your customers, your communities, and these shareholders. So what's ahead for AlixPartners? What do you see in the future? What's the growth area for you?

Simon Freakley
Well, we've doubled. We've more than doubled the size of the firm in the last seven or so years. I think that the opportunity for AlixPartners is this rather differentiated best of class consulting experience, slightly more senior people, people that have been operators as well as senior consultants. I think there's lots of opportunity left for us. I've always been of the view that there's more than enough market opportunity for the best players. So I've never seen it as being a race that one person wins. I've always seen it a bit like a very long-distance run, like a marathon where you end up with a clump of the very best athletes at the front of the pack. And we consider ourselves to be in that clump of athletes, and that's where we want to stay. On any particular day, somebody will win a particular race, but they're all world-class athletes, and there's more than enough opportunity market opportunity for all of the best of class consulting firms.

But for the type of work that we do, the transformational changes that we partner with our clients on affecting, I think there's lots more market opportunity for us. I'd be very surprised indeed if the firm didn't double again in size over the next seven or eight years, not that size is in and of itself our objective. We're not trying to get to a particular revenue level or a particular headcount. It's just fulfilling market opportunity and making sure that throughout all of that is a very, very strong thread of being values-based and being people-centric and being client-focused, which is at the end of the day, what makes us, I think, a great consulting firm to work with.

Janice Ellig
So when you're not being the CEO of AlixPartners, you're involved in some not-for-profits, why are those important to you?

Simon Freakley
Well, I went on my very first non-profit board about 35 years ago. And a friend of mine who had just set up an opera company – who is a spectacularly capable person, woman called Wasfi Kani, she said, "Look, Simon, it's really important that there's more to your life than work. Come and get involved in my opera company." Of course, she was fundraising at the time. And so I did get involved and I went on the board about 25 years ago, and I've been chairman for probably 10. It's been a wonderful journey. It isn't the only non-profit I've been involved; I've been involved in several. But what I've found is that the people in the non-profit world are just as talented and just as ambitious and just as capable as people in the for-profit world. And I've had the privilege of working alongside or being in conversations with these amazing musicians and artists, actors, and also on the administrative side, people that just drive great organizations. And I've learned so much from them because they're just so capable. And it's been a real privilege to have the opportunity to see the world from a slightly different vantage point. And I think my life has undoubtedly been richer as a result.

Janice Ellig
We always look at executives: what do you give back to? How are you helping society?

Simon Freakley
Yes. Which I think is a great question. I've never thought of it that way. In my various board roles or non-profit engagement, I've always felt that I've got much more out of it than they've got out of me. And I've tried to be supportive in different ways that I can be supportive, but actually the richness of that opportunity is just fantastic. Last night, for instance, I had dinner with Marin Alsop, I'd say one of the leading conductors in the world, certainly the leading female conductor in the world.

And I watched her conduct El Niño at the Met last night, which was just the unbelievably difficult music to conduct. And of course she was magnificent. And just chatting with just world-class artists like that has been so rewarding. Not that talking with world-class business leaders isn't rewarding as well, but it's just as rewarding to talk in the non-profit sector as well. I'd never have met Marin had it not been for the work I do with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. So it's been an extraordinary privilege to do that, and I think that my world view has been enriched because of it.

Janice Ellig
It makes you more of a multidimensional person too. We have other interests besides just a company you're running, which is important, but again, the give back and then just more intellectually curious about other areas and how they operate.

Simon Freakley
Exactly.

Janice Ellig
So any parting words for our audience? This has been a fascinating discussion about what's going on in the world of corporations and the disruptive forces they're going through, the leadership challenges. Any parting words for our audience on what to look forward to, what they need to focus on?

Simon Freakley
Well, first of all, thank you for having me.

Janice Ellig
I'm delighted. It's an honor.

Simon Freakley
And secondly, thank you to your audience for listening to this. I think that leadership really matters. I think that more than ever leadership matters as we go through these challenging times, how we narrate to our stakeholders, where we stand on things that really matter to us, how we are able to express the purpose of our organization, and why it is purposeful for them to be a stakeholder in our business or build their career at our business. The ability to show that not only is the journey purposeful, but possible. I would say that my takeaway from so much of what I do is the importance of leadership and the importance of explaining, "Why a particular vision is the right vision for the company and why it's purposeful to follow it?" So I would say that leadership's always been important, I think is particularly important in the phase that we're going into with such a disruptive set of market forces, rich with opportunity, but also of course, challenges to navigate on the way.

Janice Ellig
I can tell you that from a search perspective, when we're talking to candidates, they look at who's leading the company, how they're leading the company, are they a purposeful organization, the people there, do they listen to their people? It's very, very important. And people make choices not on money, but on the culture, and will they have an opportunity to make an impact. So those are terrific lessons. I'm going to look forward as I know my audience will on the sixth annual disruption index that will be next year, right?

Simon Freakley
It certainly will.

Simon Freakley
Every year.

Janice Ellig
Simon Freakley, CEO of AlixPartners, thank you so much for these great insights. We will look forward, again, to your next disruption index. And I know that there will be more disruption, but you and your fabulous team will be there to help leaders and CEOs and companies through and navigate these treacherous waters.

Simon Freakley
Thank you so much for having me.

Janice Ellig
So thank you to our audience for tuning into another game-changing conversation on Leadership Reimagined.

Originally published by Ellig Group.

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