A.T. Kearney is a leading global management consulting firm that focuses on strategic and operational issues facing businesses, governments and institutions across the globe. The firm is regularly ranked in Consulting Magazine’s annual list of the “Best Firms to Work For”. The firm opened its Ethiopian office – as a hub for East Africa – last year and has been engaged in several projects. It recently launched a series of lectures for Addis Ababa University students, aiming to develop indigenous talent . Capital’s Eskedar Kifle sat down with the A.T. Kearney senior leadership team represented by Dr.Mirko Warschun, Emanuele Savona and Matthias Rucker to talk about the firm’s lecture program at the Addis Ababa University and other contributions they are making.
Capital: Tell us about A.T. Kearney
Mirko Warschun: A.T. Kearney is one of the top consulting firms in the world. It was established in 1926 and is present in more than 40 countries with 3,500 consultants globally and we have a very strong presence in Africa, especially in the Eastern region. We are present in Ethiopia with a full time team on multiple top projects in different sectors.
Capital: When did you open your office in Ethiopia and why did you decide to open here?
Mirko Warschun: We established our firm here legally last year. We think Ethiopia and especially Addis Ababa is one of the clear business hubs in Africa. It is well located, growing and well embedded into the region.
Capital: There are other international consulting firms that are here and more are coming. Did you take their presence as a validating reason to open an office?
Mirko Warschun: What we observe here is that, sure, there are others that are active, sometimes they come here for a project and they very soon disappear again. They don’t necessary stay here for a long time and they are not necessarily investing in activities or have teams on the ground or connect with local businesses and communities. A.T. Kearney’s strategy in Africa is not opportunistic, but rather apro-active strategic choice to respond to increasing demands for strategy and operational solutions by government, multinationals companies, NGOs, and of course local companies.
On the other hand, here A.T. Kearney, in partnership with the Addis Ababa University, we set up a program which is a pro bono project, transferring our global and local expertise to the students.
Capital: What kind of projects are you interested in consulting?
Mirko Warschun: Generally as a global consulting firm, we are serving multiple sectors. And as you can imagine Ethiopia is well developing in different areas, from retail, wholesale distribution to industries, financial institutions to the telecom sector. Different sectors are currently in Ethiopia that are under significant development and we will be happy to make our contribution. Our potential contribution ranges from strategic advises, e.g. market entry studies, due diligence, to operations, e.g. review of supply chain and procurement footprint or up to implementation support.
Hence, we are supporting the development wherever best it is suited. We are engaged with the private sector as well as public institutions and NGO’s.
Capital: Like you have mentioned earlier, you have set up a program in partnership with Addis Ababa University, explain what that really is.
Mirko Warschun: All of us here and our teams are giving lectures on highly relevant topics for the country. It was kicked off on Tuesday February 25th 2014 with a group of students that are around 50 which are all MBA or Phd students. Through this initiative we want to give back to the country and society.
Capital: Explain to us in more detail what the topic of the lecture consists of.
Mirko Warschun: Yes, we started with the global trends to set common ground for all the participants and ourselves as strategies are always being developed in a certain context and its underlying opportunities, and constraints. In this regard, Not just what is happening today but looking forward into the future as well. For 2025 we asked what are the key global trends, what happens around the world and what implications does it have for Ethiopia and the region as a whole. So, that the students can learn from it, share their view and can have open and reflective discussions. The whole series is based on the narrative to provide students an understanding on what will happen in the future and how to develop strategic means to address the opportunities and challenges alike in Ethiopia.
Capital: What kind of feedback have you gotten from the students so far?
Emanuele Savona: The students appreciated the lecture because they understand it is a good opportunity to go beyond the common academic studies into more applied sciences. Consquently, they appreciated learning about the different trends that are seen globally because they will inevitably affect how Ethiopia will develop.
It is also useful for us because hearing about their, Ethiopian point of view helps us to better understand how Ethiopia perceives the changes that are happening around the world and how the changes are relevant to countries like Ethiopia.
Capital: What exactly is the main aim of the program?
Emanuele Savona: For the students, I believe it is a way for them to open up their minds and understand how the world is changing, that is one objective. The other one is that we will have specialist lectures that will focus on specific topics and aim at developing specific expertise, skills and methodologies. For example, some of the lectures will focus on understanding the key drivers are for retail development or about how to structure and develop strategies.
So there are some content lectures where the students can learn about a specific topic and there are also lectures where they can understand the methodologies and how to structure strategies and how to solve problems. The lecture series will close with a case study, in which students are required to apply their learnings on a real A.T. Kearney project example. For this purpose, will bring a set of Ethiopian leaders to provide feedback to the participants and evaluate the performance of the student teams.
Matthias Rucker: We have been in the country for a while now we understand well some of the challenges. One of the topics we will be talking about is ‘winning in fresh’ which focuses on fresh agriculture.
We see there are challenges in the agricultural sector not only on farm productivity but also when it comes to produce transportation. For fruits and vegetables for example, there are no cold chains in the country. So we have a perspective on this in terms of how to build it and how to develop it.
That is the kind of perspective we share with the students because when they leave the university they will have responsible jobs and will take leadership positions which they will be able to use these perspectives directly.
Capital: What are the kinds of challenges a firm like yours faces when operating in Ethiopia?
Mirko Warschun: Getting the right talent and getting the right people engaged ideally also hiring as soon as possible some people with a national background are things we want to do that are challenging. We want to bring expertise on board, developing the private sector, developing future businesses, and contribute to the high growth rate Ethiopia is seeing already.
For this purpose we are bringing in global and African talent, which is why we have experts from Dubai, experts from other African countries, from Italy, western Europe, that are contributing in projects as well as during the course of our pro-bone community engagement activities. Throughout all of our activities, we are trying to transfer knowledge and nurture capacity building, while achieving tangible high impact results, and also learn from them what might be the best solutions for progress in the country.
Capital: What are some of the opportunities in the country for A.T. Kearney?
Mirko Warschun: Without a doubt, Africa is the fastest growing region in the world and it is the continent of the future. Sure there are other growing regions that are already well established for example in Asia and Latin America but Africa has the right capabilities and recourses to be one of the future growth regions. Looking forward to 85 years from now, every third person living on this planet will be from Africa. So, no region will grow as quickly as this continent and for sure Ethiopia and Addis Ababa as the HQ for the African Union well established and is the second most populated nation in Africa is a good destination for a global firm like us.
Matthias Rucker: One of our current project is in retail and wholesale, which touches a broad range of topics that are relevant for the Ethiopian people, such as food affordability and security. In this context, we will very soon publish our African retail development index which will basically look at all African countries and comparing the readiness for retail business. Ethiopia has been placed on the top 10 list in the index, clearly underlying the vast opportunities that this country has to offer.