An Interview with Calvert Markham

We recently caught up with Calvert Markham, Director of the Centre for Management Consulting Excellence, set up by the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants, of which he was a founder and is a Past Master.

Calvert is a management consultant concentrating on the performance development of consultants and practices. He founded Elevation Learning Ltd which specialises in this area in 1989, which has trained thousands of consultants from hundreds of organisations around the world. He is also the author of several books on management consultancy.

He is a Visiting Fellow in the practice of management consultancy at Cass Business School in City University, lecturing there and at other business schools. He is a Fellow of the UK Institute of Consulting of which he was President in 2004, and was for many years a Vice Chairman of the International Council of Management Consulting Institutes, chairing the Professional Standards Committee overseeing global standards in management consultancy.


Briefly outline your career to date.

After graduating with a degree in physics I was employed by ICI where I worked as a process control engineer, production manager and finally as a marketing manager. While at ICI I took a Diploma in Management Studies using this to move to PA Consulting where I began my consulting career 45 years ago, starting in production consultancy but then joining the newly-formed HR consulting team. From there I joined a medium sized accountancy firm to set up their HR consultancy practice, leaving them in 1987 to set up my own business which delivered training in consultancy skills. Since then it has delivered training to thousands of consultants around the world.

In parallel with my paid work I have over the years taken on many pro-bono roles. This has included being President of the Institute of Management Consultants and a Vice Chairman of the International Council of Management Consulting Institutes. I also helped set up the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants, a livery company in the City of London, and served as their second Master. More recently I have also helped set up the Centre for Management Consulting Excellence. Along the way I have also published a few books on management consulting.


What has been the highlight of your career?

This probably has to be when I set up my own business. It had a transformational effect on my life, and I really enjoyed the work I was doing and the people I met through the business. I set it up to be a lifestyle business, taking one of the objectives from PA Consulting, which was to have fun as well as serving clients.


How has the world of management consulting changed – what have been the biggest shifts you have seen during your career?

There have been many shifts and changes in management consulting over the years. Probably the most notable one has to be the number of people employed in the industry. My consulting career started in what was then a relatively large consulting firm but there were fewer than 100 consultants in the whole UK organisation. Nowadays, larger firms employ hundreds if not thousands of consultants; as client organisations have become leaner they have outsourced a lot more of their work, looking outside for specific expertise and experience.


Secondly, since the advent of the internet the way we access and find out information has changed. Before we used to have what I call ‘knowledge arbitrage’, where consultants had the advantage of knowing something that the client didn’t. This information is now more readily available on the internet – and of course through much wider management and business education. Now it is less about what you know but how you can use that knowledge and experience to make a difference to the client.


How can management consultancies remain agile when the landscape is continually evolving when, for example, technology is constantly changing and impacting the way in which we work?

New management consulting firms starting up have a certain buccaneering, gung-ho approach where the world is their oyster and their employees have a certain sense of freedom to be able to come up with outside-the-box solutions without following a strict process. People join because of that fresh perspective and agility. However, when these businesses reach around 50 consultants they need processes and a certain amount of discipline to be introduced, and that’s when organisations can lose that buccaneering spirit. From an organisational standpoint, they need their consultants to be ‘conforming individualists’, following the rules and processes in the firm but who are also entrepreneurial and original for their clients. Not many of those around!

So perhaps the answer is always to have small business units.


You are Director of the Centre for Management Consulting which is sponsored by the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants. Tell us a little about the work they are involved with?

A look around at the management consulting landscape shows that there is no learned society or organisation that links the entire industry together from practitioners to academics. We wanted to create something which brings all parts of the industry together. The Centre has therefore been set up to capture and promote knowledge and practice in the world of management consulting and show what the impact of research when implemented can have on an organisation. We do this through:

  • Events – we host seminars, dinners and lectures throughout the year on various topics and research reports
  • Projects – conduct research into topics of interest and value to the management consulting community
  • Services – we host roundtables on specific industry challenges inviting both academics and practitioners to our panels to give their views
  • Knowledge bank – we provide a connection to different sources of information for management consultants


Sheffield Haworth and the CMCE recently collaborated together on a research report looking into the skills that Management Consultants would need in the lead up to 2030 with cyber and AI coming out on top. Did you agree with the findings? What types of new skills do you think management consultants need to remain relevant in today’s environment?

I wasn’t surprised by the findings in the report at all. The report highlighted the technical demands on organisations in the future and the specialist skills needed from consultants to support them. The perennial skill required will be how to apply specialist knowledge to good effect within a client environment in turbulent times.


Do you think there will be a place for large management consultancies in the years to come or do you think that the use of independent consultants will become a more attractive solution for businesses?

I think there will continue to be a need for the larger management consulting firms. If you are a global organisation looking to implement global change then you are going to need a global consulting firm to be able to do that if you are going for a one-stop-shop solution. Large consulting firms should have the people and skills in place across the regions where change needs to happen.

But independent specialist consultants will likewise be in demand, both in their own right and as sub-contractors to larger consulting firms. In this latter case they are needed to bridge shortfalls in knowhow or capacity.


What do you think will be the biggest challenges for management consultants in another 20 years from now?

I think as AI and Big Data become even more prevalent and algorithms developed to make use of these, there will be an even greater need for human interpretation. It’s great that we are developing the technology to be able to collect a lot of data sets at once, but it will still require someone with experience and wisdom to interpret them.


Later in the year you are hosting the CMCE Research Awards. What do these awards symbolise and celebrate?

These awards support the Centre’s goal to promulgate academic research valuable to management consultants. The aim is to demonstrate the benefits and impacts that academic research can have on organisations.

We’ve given a lot of thought to the areas in which we might offer awards and this year we are looking at categories as follows:

  • Technology and consulting (which resonates with the research mentioned earlier)
  • The changing role of the consultant concerning both timeless skills and new methodologies
  • Client-consultant relationships: Issues around governance, trust, integrity, social responsibility and ethics and the implications of these for consultancy


What has been the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Never send an email last thing at night if it’s provocative. I do my best to restrain myself, leaving it in my drafts to come back to in the morning by which time last night’s fury will have abated and I can be a little more balanced!


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