Insight Middle East and Africa is delighted to speak to Karthik Ramamurthy, Ipsos Business Consulting – Director & Regional Head – Middle East, Africa, India
Karthik, please tell us about your role and primary responsibilities at Ipsos Business Consulting.
My role primarily revolves around developing the consulting offerings of Ipsos and promoting our solutions to existing clients who use our research services and to new clients. The key is educating clients on the merits of fact-based outcomes, which is our unique selling proposition and which is very relevant to emerging markets where reliable data is scarce. The other hat I wear is to continually work on improving offerings in response to evolving client pain points.
Why did you choose to pursue a career in management consulting? Which aspects of it do you enjoy the most?
My previous avatars were in corporate strategy and business development and sales. Both of those areas pigeonholed me in a certain industry vertical and the roles became mundane over a period of time. In contrast, consulting provides me a variety of client issues to solve on a continual basis. There is no one-size-fits-all in consulting — each engagement has a different context and solution. This over a period of time leads to an amazing ability to cross-pollinate ideas across industries, which would never happen if we were working on the industry side. What I enjoy in consulting is the new learning I can look forward to in each of our engagements — the learning simply does not stop (even if we want it to at some point!).
Over the course of your career, you have been advising global clients, including a number of Fortune 500 firms, to globally expand their business. What are some of the most interesting client engagements that you worked on?
Except for a few that I would have personally avoided, each engagement has been a learning experience for me. The beauty of consulting is that there is no one standard — each is unique in its own right. Personally, there was one where we were mandated to study the business of a large IT storage solution provider across the Asia region and recommend a turnaround plan. That engagement provided a very wide view of how distinct the businesses were across the region and how much cultural differences impact business. The heartening part was also that we could handhold the client to implement change and the business did turn around pretty quickly. To me, the success did not lie in recommending some complex changes, but in providing simple, pragmatic recommendations that the business could take onboard and deploy.
Ipsos has a strong global presence with offices in 87 countries and Business Consulting hubs in 20 locations. Can you tell us about services that Ipsos Business Consulting offers to clients in the Middle East? What are some of the latest developments for Ipsos in the region?
Our footprint undoubtedly is our strength. Ipsos pretty much is the leader in the MENA region. Apart from the range of research solutions catering to the complete lifecycle of a product, we offer clients the opportunity to build a layer of strategy around research insights. The key services revolve around growth planning, which would entail sizing of opportunities, value proposition development, competitive intelligence, channel structuring, financial planning, etc. Responding to the current environment, we have also developed the Business Unit Strategy (BUS) suite. This solution specifically caters to evaluating organizational readiness to withstand the current business environment and also offer course correction strategies in line with the new norm. We are extending our offerings to actually handholding clients to deploy their strategy through a Project Management Organization because we see a void between strategy and execution.
What are the unique challenges and opportunities that companies face in the Middle East? What are the most significant changes that currently impact businesses in the region and how can they effectively respond to sustain their competitive advantages?
The challenge is the unanticipated slowdown caused by oil prices, which affected this region the most. So, a plan made in 2014 when oil was hovering above $100 a barrel is no longer sustainable. Organizational changes to cater to the new environment are the key to success. Making this change is against what I call the organizational momentum. But, these are the periods that agile organizations use to revisit their strategy and make it leaner. This is a great opportunity to get ready for the impending growth that would come as oil prices firm up and the economy is spurred by large events like Expo 2020 or World Cup 2022. Imagine what an organization that made the change would look like at that point — it would be powered by both environmental and efficiency driven growth. Effectively, the impact would be double versus what it would be if life now was as always.
What recommendations would you give to companies looking to expand their operations to the Middle East?
Looking beyond the short term, the key focus should be on the favorable demographics because ultimately these drive consumption growth. When I say this, markets like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran stand out. The other key factor is partnerships with organizations that have a strong local understanding. Sometimes the impact of cultural connections on business success is ignored. This possibly would go through in Western or advanced markets, but in this region, it probably is way more important than the technical aspects of the business.
What are the main business trends that you see coming up in the next 5 years?
I see two major trends. Dependence on governments to support economic activity will come down gradually. The other would be diversification beyond the oil economy. The current situation of low oil prices has pretty much accelerated this movement with the government trying to reduce the deficit. This also means private sector activity in sectors beyond oil would be spurred. This would in the long run benefit not only economies but also provide ample opportunity for the local population to engage in a variety of job roles.
What advice would you give to those who aspire to have a successful career in management consulting?
A consultant is nothing but an advisor that a business turns to when they don’t have answers to their business questions. This effectively means that the consultant needs to be up to speed or ahead of the client in thinking. That comes from two major traits: Continual learning through reading, and curiosity. Interestingly enough, both of these are what I like to call the “attitude” of consulting. And it is an uphill task to change an attitude! So, anyone aspiring to become a consultant should look inward and check if they have this as part of their DNA. If yes, they would make a good one!
With over 18 years of experience in business development and strategy, Karthik is a professional with a strong track record of advising multi-national clients for charting out their growth roadmaps. Karthik currently is the Regional Head of Consulting at Ipsos overseeing the practices in Middle-East, Africa and India. He started up the consulting practice for Ipsos in the MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa regions. Prior to this, he was a Program Manager in the Chairman’s Office of Reliance Communications in India. He started his career as an officer in the armed forces.
Karthik holds an MBA from HEC School of Management, Paris and a Masters in Technology from Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.