A Business Leader’s Reflection on Independence

This Fourth of July, I reflected on the word “independence” and what it means in business—particularly in the world of consulting. Words like “choice” and “autonomy” quickly came to mind, and as I reflected on these powerful words my thoughts narrowed to one question – why do our clients choose to work with an independent, employee owned firm? Here are the answers that came to mind:

Quality. Employees of independent firms—particularly one that is employee-owned—are highly motivated to deliver great work. I’ve experienced this first hand since beginning as an intern and as I moved into leadership at Cambridge Systematics for over the past 25 years. Our employees have a personal stake in making sure our clients receive high quality services; it’s a source of professional and personal pride. Being employee owned means there is meaningful ownership in the results we help our clients achieve. The firm’s brand leverages the independent yet intertwined personal brands of all the staff, and vice versa.

Continuity. Put simply, doing great work leads to the strong financial results that enable firms to remain independent—creating a high value cycle between quality and sound financials. And employee ownership requires a formal structure for ownership succession over time. Why does this matter to the clients? Because financial strength and seamless ownership transitions lead to the continuity in service, quality and staffing that can be lost with the many privately held firms that are subsumed in acquisitions or mergers, or simply close because they lack an effective long-term strategy. I know from experience that continuity of services builds trust, and that a firm’s independent firm can be the foundation for this.

Focus. Just like any company, we seek growth and profitability. But that’s not our mission—it’s a measure of how well we execute on our mission. What drives us each day is our focused commitment to engage deeply with our clients so we can deliver solutions tailored to their needs. As an independent firm, we can chart this course, taking steps primarily to best serve the interests of our clients. Publicly traded firms must, first and foremost, generate maximum short term profitability for their shareholders. This is not the goal for many independent firms or the mindset of their employees. We can strike a balance that ensures we bring innovative approaches to clients targeted to clients’ needs while generating good financial results and making investments in the business. And we attract and retain employee-owners for whom this mindset feels second-nature.

So, why do clients choose to work with independent, employee owned firms? In short, independent, employee owned firms bring unique value to clients. Clients gain not only a contract for a scope of work, but a committed partner. Our financials are strong because our work is strong. Our work is strong because our employees bring focused commitment every day. Our employees are committed because their investment in client success truly is personal.