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Solving problems, one at a time

A. T. Kearney is a management consulting firm with sixty-six offices in thirty-five countries.  It helps our clients make changes, prepare for the future, and employ the right strategy. Johan Kestens, a partner in the firm, tells us how he sees the world changing, and how his impetus and energy has made the Vlerick Centre for Financial Services in Brussels a reality.

We see as much change in one lifetime as twenty or thirty generations of Romans and nothing has prepared us for that.

Established Practice

“A. T. Kearney is a management consulting firm with sixty-six offices in thirty-five countries.  We help our clients make changes, prepare for the future, and employ the right strategy,” says Johan Kestens, a Partner in the firm. Each partner at A. T. Kearney specialises in different fields and Kestens is no exception – his expertise is in the financial industry, specifically Banking and Insurance.

Founded in Chicago, Illinois in 1926, A. T. Kearney has spent nearly a century assisting companies evolve as fast as technologies and business models do. Kestens, who leads the Brussels office, clearly understands the changes going on in the world, and he offers his insights based on not only the business world, but also the world in general. This is well illustrated by the choice of offices he has made for the company he manages. A.T. Kearney was one of the first tenants of the beautiful Royal Depot, an early 20th century warehouse, renovated in 2004, in the heart of the canal area. The atmosphere and feel is one akin to an ad agency where creative thought and the expression of ideas is encouraged, promoting an environment of collaboration between experience and enthusiasm.

Changes in the business world

“We are a collaborative, practical firm that helps clients anticipate change,” Kestens says. “We like to say that when we help our clients there is an immediate impact and that we help create growth. I believe though that everything is accelerating in terms of pace of change with the result that life cycles are getting shorter. For example, if you look at car models and televisions and how long companies remain on top you’ll realise that the period is becoming less and less long.” He expands on the theme and makes a reference to society in general. “It’s definitely more difficult to be a child today,” relates Kestens. “There’s so much more information available. It forces everyone to think for themselves, and I think that’s a good thing. Though, on top of that I’m not convinced the quality of the information is that good, so you have to pick and choose.”

So how does a well-established consulting firm such as A. T. Kearney evolve and offer good advice to others in times like these? “Well,” says Kestens, “In order to effectively assist other companies to adapt, A. T. Kearney has had to adapt itself. We’ve adopted a regional operational model,” explains Kestens, referring to A. T. Kearney’s own corporate changes. “This now leads to faster cooperation making it easier for consultants and partners to work together from around the world. Today, we use technology to get the best people helping our clients better, from wherever they are based.”

The Centre for Financial Services in Brussels

The new Brussels campus – featuring the Centre for Financial Services will be housed in the recently renovated Manhattan Centre in the north end of the city. It’s another step in the process of Vlerick’s move to establish itself as a top tier business school and another part of the school’s rebranding.

The new ‘Centre for Financial Services’ is a combined effort of practical everyday knowledge and advanced education, whose goal is to produce high quality research, teaching, and thought leadership in the world of Finance.  A. T. Kearney has been involved with Vlerick since the beginning, but unlike other Vlerick partners, Kestens had a different vision in mind when it came to supporting the project. He wanted to become ‘the knowledge partner’, so creating a bilateral exchange of experience and forward thought.

A. T. Kearney certainly has the credentials to be the knowledge partner when it comes to talking about finance, having recently completed a major project for the European Union. With the public debt crisis nearly spinning out of control, A. T. Kearney was engaged to assist in creating a solution.  The result was the creation of the European Stability Mechanism, similar in design to the International Monetary Fund, but geared for the member nations whose currency is the Euro. Amazingly, the company beat the projected timeline by some ten months and implemented the process in a mere eight months.  Since then, financing has been provided to countries such as Greece, Spain, Ireland, and Portugal with Greece already seeing a sixteen percent reduction in public deficit to approximately four percent of GDP - a remarkable result.  The creation of this international institution is aiding in stabilizing the currency and returning confidence to the market.

“Vlerick is a great network of people and we wanted to be a part of that,” says Kestens, when asked for the motivation behind his close involvement with the new Brussels campus. “We are opening our network of executives and contacts, and providing content to the debate so that we can demonstrate that the Centre for Financial Services really does provide leadership,” he confirms.

How does a consulting firm such as A. T. Kearney benefit from this knowledge partnership? “Well for us, Vlerick is very important as a recruiting ground. And besides that clients want expert knowledge, they want experience, and they are very savvy as to where to go when they want a certain type of expertise,” replies Kestens.

A.T. Kearney Enjoys Change

This knowledge partnership has recently been seen on the forefront of European economics with the “Policy in Practice” forum.  A. T. Kearney, along with Vlerick, combined efforts with the Centre for European Policy Studies, an independent Brussels-based think tank, in an effort to more fully understand the markets of Europe as they stand today, but also to begin the process of preparing for how those will markets will change over time.

A word from Vlerick

Bjorn Cumps: With A.T. Kearney we have found a partner that embraces change. And change is the only constant in business today. If we look at technology adoption rates over the last 100 years we see that it took the telephone 50 years to reach critical mass, 22 years for the television, 14 years for the PC, 7 years for the Internet and only 2 years for Facebook. Customers are changing faster than ever and so organisations need to become more agile. Given their expertise in financial services, A.T. Kearney is the perfect partner to team up with Vlerick to develop a vision and thought leadership for a sector that is changing dramatically.

A.T. Kearney helps us bring together leaders from the financial services sector to exchange ideas and to challenge their vision on the future. With their international network and deep sector expertise, they are well-equipped to deal with core banking and insurance challenges every day. They help shape policy and strategic vision for the sector. 

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