The Mandarin talks to the partners of a young and vibrant consultancy firm that is taking a fresh approach to the public sector.
In Greek mythology, the goddess Artemis is known as the mistress of the hunt. Swift, agile, independent and strong of character. No better name then for an emerging consultancy with a partnership of four women at the helm who know exactly what they want and how to go after it.
And they also know precisely what they can offer.
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Helena Cain, Mary Souter, Carla Ewin and Renee Dockrill established Artemis Partners in Canberra 18 months ago and can already count the Australian Taxation Office and the departments of Finance, Defence, and Human Services among their clients.
Each partner has years of experience advising the public sector – they all previously worked together for one of the ‘big four’ consultancy firms – and all bring their individual strengths to the table.
“We all worked at PwC, we all knew each other, and we all decided for different reasons we were leaving,” says Helena.
“I wanted more control over what I was doing. I knew there were jobs out there where I knew I could really play to my strengths.
“But we left on very good terms with PwC. We didn’t take any clients with us or anything like that. We attract clients based on relationships. People know who you are and when they know you’re on the market, they want to know what you’re up to. I’ve had 20 years in consultancy. It’s all about relationships.”
For Mary, it was a matter of deciding the next step in her career.
“I reached the point where you look upwards and you have to decide if you want to be a partner in the big firm or not,” she says.
“For me, I think, doing something ex the firm provided an opportunity to have a lot more freedom and have all the levers of design at your own fingertips that you don’t have in the firm. There is a lot of established infrastructure in a big firm that needs to be carried.”
Carla had another journey: “I had to jumped out to contract during the financial crisis in London and during that experience everyone saw there was a different way of doing things,” she says.
“I came back here and re-joined the firm had a great support structure and it was wonderful. But I just realised I wanted to go out and try something new.”
And for Renee: “The balance between what I was getting and what I was giving was different. It was a bit out for me,” she says.
“You have more freedom when you’re independent, and you can do a lot more when there’s more than one person.
“No one here is the boss.”
No boss? Could this approach be the beginnings of a new face of consulting?
“We went and got business coaching when we started because while we knew we wanted to do something different, if we were going to sign up together we definitely wanted to get it right,” Helena says.
“And that was one of the questions that was asked – who’s going to be in charge? Who’s going to be the boss? And we said we don’t want a boss. That’s the old way of working. This is a genuine partnership and we don’t have one boss. We did naturally fall to individual strengths and it’s all complementary.”
Mary adds that on a practical level too, it is the only way the business can operate.
“When you’re having conversations on behalf of a big firm, there are a lot of pieces of the puzzle that you need to have in front of mind,” Mary says.
“Things around which partners own which parts of relationships with different client organisations, and which partners own client relationships with individuals, and what the firm’s strategy in all different ways.
“You have to have all that in mind and you can be quite constrained sometimes with the conversations you’re having in the market. In a smaller firm it’s much more about an open conversation; about what they need and how you can help them. You know how you can add value.”
Artemis Partners has four headquarters – all in Canberra and all home offices.
Team meetings are held regularly, but most are video hook-ups. Client meetings are largely conducted remotely. The current pandemic has enshrined similar practices for many companies, but Artemis was doing it before the coronavirus paid a visit.
“We were helping clients transition into this way of working when COVID hit because we had been doing it for a long time,” Renee says.
“We don’t have the traditional set-up with regards to office structure, but the client is still getting the outcomes.”
Mary points out that even working in one of the big firms, it’s surprising how little they were in their own offices.
“Generally, clients prefer you to be on site with them,” she says. “And now with COVID, there’s a big push towards more remote working.”
Helena gives an example: “With a current client, I’m in meetings online with them two hours a day and have been doing that for while with them now. Haven’t met one single person. They might all be holograms.”
Then, turning to the other partners with a smile: “I hope we don’t get a hologram cheque at the end of this.”
So what does Artemis Partners offer? What is this brand of consultancy?
A browse of their website throws up similar feelgood platitudes you might see on any corporate brochure. We help leaders succeed; We are at our best in complexity; We make a difference; and more.
A deeper dive reveals their services to include change enablement; transformation strategy, delivery and assurance; strategic engagement and communications; organisation alignment; culture and values.
What does that all mean?
“It’s broad,” says Carla.
“But it’s very focussed on the people side of transformation. We cover things like strategic transformation and restructure; operational to governance.
“We do strategic communications. And we work with an organisation’s culture. We’re finding a lot of work in that area at the moment.
“We are finding there is a big need in Canberra with regards to organisation functionality and team management.”
The partners own and operate a second business called Access Alumni, which is a bank of freelance specialist consultants – mostly ex- big four – who they can assign work on their various projects.
While most of those projects are in the public sector and not-for profit realms, the consultancy also has significant private sector business – all four partners having extensive private and public sector experience.
Access Alumni allows Artemis Partners to give their clients what they regard as the best fitting personnel for the tasks at hand.
“It’s a perfect match,” Carla says.
“But the client gets to deal with us from start to finish too. We are there the whole way. We don’t operate in the ‘land and expand’ way. That is, we don’t sign up a client, offload the work to others and try and get more work out of them. That’s just not us.”
And, in these days of consultants filling operational roles at the expense of public service jobs, Artemis has a different approach there too.
“None of us here and no one in our alumni team is interested in the operational process where we do a job for them,” Helena says.
“We have no problem telling a client that this is the work of your executive team. There have been clients we have done work for where it would have been very easy to sell another six-month contract to them that wasn’t needed. But no client is a cash cow to us. That approach goes against our personal values.”
“Our approach is much more around enabling and supporting,” Renee adds.
Mary: “We are very firmly of the opinion that they need to own their decision-making and own their accountability.”
Carla: “We are of the opinion that the public sector needs to retain ownership of its decision-making and its skill.”
So far, this fledgling business is a success story and is getting noticed where it matters (by The Mandarin for one). But the partners describe a “spirit of generosity” in the consulting community that has boosted their endeavours. And “a lot of wonderful people doing wonderful things” that keep them inspired and aiming high.
Respect for colleagues, clients and competitors is an obvious part of their culture and an ingrained modus operandi for this growing consultancy.
In mythology, however, Artemis killed Adonis for his boasting that he was the better hunter.
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