Journey of a Lifetime
I have been a part of Kenway Consulting for eight and a half years of our ten-year journey. With my joining, we went from a company of one to a company of two. I can clearly remember my Dad saying, “You are going to do what?” when I told him that I was moving from my current consulting company of over 100,000 employees to join Kenway. I knew there was some risk, but something told me that Kenway would be special, and I would regret NOT taking the journey. I recently read that the success rate of a small company surviving for ten years is 35%. As I read on, I found several top ten reason lists for why small companies do not survive. I could not help but think of the top ten reasons why Kenway is part of the 35% that have succeeded.
In 2008, Kenway Consulting documented its set of Guiding Principles. These guiding principles serve as our foundation for decision making in complex situations. They are not simply words that are written on paper, but we live them and ensure that they are reviewed, discussed, and used each day on our internal and client projects. With the adherence to these principles, we ensure that we are doing what is right, rather than simply what our clients want at the moment. It means we treat all who we encounter (employees, clients, prospects, partners, and recruits) uniquely, that we ethically focus on the means to success, and embrace whatever the outcome.
One of the key reasons cited for small business failure is too much investment in fixed assets. Kenway elected early on to be a virtual company with no formal office space. This allowed for minimal fixed operating expenses, which allowed us to keep our rates much lower than our larger competitors. Each year we asked ourselves, “Is this the year we enter into leased office space? Are we losing credibility with our clients or potential employees by not having a physical office?” We quickly realized the right answer was no, and continue to pass the value along to our clients.
Great Location / Market
It did not hurt that Kenway Consulting was founded in Chicago as opposed to somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Chicago’s opportunities are endless and have allowed us to provide our services across a large spectrum of industries.
Uniqueness of Model
In the beginning, Kenway primarily provided resources in increments of one. As we started to grow, we felt we could do more for our clients and transformed our business into a consulting services model. Today, we provide clients with the right skills (i.e. the who) at the right time (i.e. the when) in the right volume (i.e. the how much) for the right duration (i.e. the how long), resulting in the best possible solution for the lowest cost.
Tortoise and the Hare
Another key failure of many small companies is overly rapid growth. Our CEO often talks of the fable The Tortoise and the Hare in reference to our growth. While we have grown in terms of employees and revenue every year, that growth has been slow and steady. We only say, “Yes,” to work in which we know we can succeed, and we only hire employees that we feel will be successful in our culture and model. Kenway could have grown more rapidly, but had we elected to do so, we likely would not be part of that 35% that survived.
It goes without saying that we would not be where we are without our clients. Kenway has been lucky enough to work with great companies: small, medium, and large. Old and new, we are proud of the relationships we have built and the guidance we have been able to provide.
It also goes without saying that a company’s greatest asset is its employees. In our case, this is no exception. As we started growing, we hired people we already knew, people with whom we worked and wanted to again, and who were extremely good at what they did. Of course, hiring people we knew only worked for so long. As we moved onto interviewing people that we did not know, we were extremely conservative in who we hired to ensure the integrity of our brand and quality of our services stayed consistent.
Employee Contribution to Internal Work
Above and beyond their client work, each employee at Kenway Consulting contributes time to the internal work it takes to run Kenway. This includes Business Development, Marketing, Training, Human Resources, Finance, Relationship Management, and much more. This methodology started simply because as a company of 2, 3, 4, and 5 employees, we had no other choice. It has continued because of the tremendous value our employees’ ideas bring to Kenway’s strategic vision, and the invaluable experience it provides our employees in what it takes to run a business.
One of Kenway’s guiding principles is to never rest on our laurels. We are constantly looking at what we should start, stop, and continue doing as a company. Each year, we get together as a company for two all day meetings, and each month we break into smaller groups for two hours to brainstorm on new ideas that will improve us as an organization. The focus of these sessions is widespread covering our employees, clients, and new growth.
Focus on the Means
A common phrase is “The End Justifies the Means.” We believe the opposite, “The Means Justify the End.” We believe that focusing solely on the outcome of a situation can often incentivize people to do things in a less than optimal way, or for the wrong reason. As long as we are proud of the means we took, then we believe the ultimate outcome is the right one.
Going back to my decision eight and a half years ago to join Kenway, I now realize that I was already focusing on the means even back then. Whether I succeeded or failed, I knew my part in this new company would teach me more than I could ever have learned by staying in my situation at the time. That idea could not have proven to be truer. Not only did I strengthen my consulting skills and broaden my client, industry, and technical experiences, but I also learned how to build a business. I was able to help build our brand and learn the ins and outs of internal operations such as HR, Marketing, and Finance. Most importantly, I was, and still am, able to help set the strategy and vision of this company.