Ramesh S. Mahalingam, Managing Director - Ideal Management Consultants, at this office in Al Rostamani Tower B.
Ramesh started Ideal Management Consultants (IdealMC), a consulting / advisory company, after acquiring diverse experience as a CFO and in investment banking. The value offering of IdealMC has evolved and morphed over time. Ramesh ‘crafted’ the service offering to the needs of the market. IdealMC now has 10 employees.
What does IdealMC do?
R: IdealMC is an independent consulting and advisory firm. Dubai has had a number of consulting firms that were off-shoots of auditing companies. Very few companies offered consulting and advisory services to the SME sector. I saw a niche, and set up a boutique firm to occupy this space. In due course two things happened: we moved up the ladder to serve mid- to large clients, and we added training to our offerings.
Where was entrepreneurship in you?
R: After becoming a CA at 21, I imagined I would set up my own firm one day. Since then, I worked in diverse business sectors to gain diverse experience – in FMCG, shipping, oil & gas and investment banking. Working with top names in each of these sectors gave me a solid foundation and exposure to global best practices.
Years later, when my father retired after 38 years of service with a single employer, I felt his loss of identity, his feeling of being unemployed and unsought. This made me decide that my “retirement” should be in my hands. This, in a sense, rekindled the thought of entrepreneurship in me.
Your first assignment?
An HR job that came from a large retailer – to advise and implement the HR integration of a mid-sized service company they had just acquired. Our challenge lay in integrating two diverse companies with no commonalities in business or staffing. Since the office was not yet ready, the three of us operated from home and had meetings across the dinner table. Our need to deliver on the assignment was greater than readying the office.
When did you know the company had started?
From the very first assignment. I had an instinct that this would work. Our clients liked what we did, and referred us to others. We built our service offerings assignment by assignment, all based on client requirements. Gradually we saw it fall into three broad verticals: management consulting, advisory and training.
When did you need additional people?
We started off as a team of three, all of us highly driven to create a name for the firm. My initial concerns were “as a small firm would we be able to hire more such committed talent?”
Fortunately, we were able to find intelligent, talented and highly dedicated people relatively quickly, within the first few months.
Was it a cost issue?
Set up costs were not big. Around AED 350k got us the license, office space, visas, and furniture. The challenge was to manage the cash flows till we received our first payment.
While I had envisaged the firm to focus on finance and cost management, our first assignment was in the HR area! Since then we have undertaken several HR assignment for diverse clients. Another unexpected green pasture was training which we entered into in response to a client’s request.
Any challenges in recruiting?
On average we hired a person every month after our first assignment till we reached 10.
I believe that every team member is an entrepreneur and stakeholder in the firm – an ‘emptreneur’. Our HR policy is designed to reward each person for business originated and mandates delivered.
Have you been recruiting from the beginning?
Recruitment is an ongoing exercise since I believe in getting the right people on board when they are available. We have been recruiting right through the recession in the belief that assignments would follow. Fortunately they have.
Any tense moments?
Yes, every time we send out a proposal and the client is close to decision-making. It’s a positive tension. Most of our clients have been good with paying for services provided, sparing us from unproductive stress.
You are a little uncomfortable soliciting business. How did you overcome this?
I don’t think I have overcome it! Rather than soliciting business, we try to promote ourselves as a firm, hoping our work speaks for itself. We love referrals – and have landed several assignments in this manner.
Is this your customer acquisition strategy?
Our primary strategy is to let our work speak for itself; and to follow it up with a thorough conversion process. Our proposals are detailed and comprehensive. They inspire confidence in our ability to execute.
Why do clients choose you? Is it a balance of quality and price? Or they want a boutique guy to do the work - specialization? Or they feel that big guys don’t pay attention?
I think it is because clients like our “solutions” approach; our commitment to the “spirit” of the assignment and the passion we exhibit shows in our work. We want to be the best regarded consulting firm.
My exposure to multiple industries and the diverse roles I fulfilled in my career makes it possible for me to advise clients with practical solutions. Clients see our Directors engaging actively on each assignment and feel they are getting their money’s worth while hiring us.
How did you select this niche?
We work with a mix of small, medium and large clients. In some cases they gave us relatively low-risk work to see how we performed; before we were able to get strategic assignments from them.
Your customer focus changed?
For us every assignment is significant. The diversity of clients and the range of assignments have constantly tested our team’s versatility. We now have a critical mass of delivered work to be able to confidently take on larger assignments.
How did you evolve pricing for your services?
We learnt along the way. We now have a scientific system wherein we estimate the time required by each resource level to complete an assignment and price the work accordingly. We also have a set of tools that help us track our performance, time and cost for each team member.
What worries you today?
How to keep up the reputation built thus far. How to make that favorable first impression each time we engage with the client.
Would you walk away from a job or a company?
Yes. We have done that when we are not comfortable with the declared intent of the client. Integrity is all important to us.
How long does it take you to win a job?
Between 2 days and 9 months.
Have you changed as a person?
Yes, the buck stops with me - I now have to think of all possibilities and consequences before making a decision, whereas earlier the parameters were limited and defined. The plus side is that from being a functionary operating within specific limits, I now have a lot more latitude.
I now have the added responsibility of signing my own paycheck and approving my own leave application!
Did you have to unlearn something?
It’s been re-learning rather than unlearning. No stereotypes, no rigidities. If I have to meet a client at 11 at night I do it.
Manoj Nakra, currently with Apparel group, is a mentor to DubaiSME members.