Professional services firms have created their niche in business by being there when a firm most needs them.
But a business may not even recognize when it needs a consulting firm.
“A lot of times they don’t,” said Aaron Fulkerson, president and COO of Gabbard & Co. “Part of my mission is kind of holding the mirror up or showing some organizations that they need some help or admit to themselves that what they are doing isn’t working.”
In many cases, a firm’s leadership will be so involved in day-to-day work that it doesn’t realize there are options available to give it a hand over the hump.
“Sometimes it never occurs to them that there is somebody out there who can help them accomplish their objectives,” Fulkerson said.
He said it is rare that a discussion with a firm ends without both sides realizing there is a chance to work together.
“Our offerings are broad enough, yet we have enough subject matter expertise that we can help,” he said. “There are times when I think to myself that they don’t need me, but most of the time, there are ways that we can help.”
Learning the needs of potential clients and making them aware of the services available is key to the success of a professional services firm.
“Our business is based on relationships with clients,” said Ross Mesquita, Dallas-based regional managing director for the Central Texas and Oklahoma division of Resources Global Professionals. “Even in a time when the economy is challenging and those clients may not be buying the level of professional services from us that they have in the past, that doesn’t change where our focus is, which is developing those relationships, understanding the pains and challenges that they are facing and being there when we are needed.”
“We really just want to help our clients achieve whatever their goals are for whatever initiative they have set for themselves,” said Brenda Berry, managing director of the Tulsa offices of Resources Global, 320 S. Boston Ave., Suite 1801. “We want to help them over their hurdles.”
If a project is perfectly planned, a firm may never need the help of a professional services firm.
“But that is often not the case,” Berry said. “In order to meet timelines and to deliver levels of expertise that they may not want to hire full-time, we can come in on a short-time basis and do whatever they need done, transfer the knowledge and leave them to move forward with their plan.”
Born of Accounting
With a market capitalization of about $1 billion and more than 3,700 professionals employed in 66 countries and 87 offices worldwide, Resources Global is a true global consulting services firm.
Founded in 1996 as a part of Big Four firm Deloitte & Touche and spun off in a management buyout in 1998, the firm went public in 1999.
Irvine, Calif.-based Resources Global moved into the Tulsa market when Oklahoma was identified as a complementary market for the offices in Dallas, Houston and Chicago.
“This is a big oil and gas market and also manufacturing, and that all fit,” Berry said.
Berry had experience with Deloitte & Touche, where she had made partner before moving to Oklahoma about five years ago. While working for Tulsa-based Hogan & Slovacek, Berry learned Resources Global was moving into Tulsa, and she opened office two years ago.
It’s not unusual for a professional service firm to have its roots in accounting.
Eleven years ago, Oklahoma City-based Gabbard & Co. was started as a CPA firm by founder Brian Gabbard.
As clients began looking for other types of services from the firm and that work began to dominate the company, Gabbard rebranded the firm as a management consulting business, Fulkerson said.
Gabbard opened the Tulsa and Houston offices in mid-2008 with the arrival of Fulkerson, a Tulsa native who had spent 15 years on the East Coast, most of it working for Right Management Consultants Inc.
Operating out of the North Miami area, Fulkerson ran the Florida/Caribbean region for the Philadelphia-based consulting firm, which has more than 300 offices in 35 countries.
“There are a lot of Fortune 100 companies headquartered there,” he said. “I cut my teeth on the highest level of organizations in the U.S. I grew up inside that environment.”
Fulkerson, who lives in Bristow, splits his time between the Oklahoma City and Tulsa offices at 20 E. Fifth St., Suite 410.
The Resources Advantage
In the competitive world of professional services, Resources Global has two differentiating factors that set it apart, Berry said.
“Number one, we only hire experienced people,” she said. “We don’t even interview people with less than 10 years experience, and across North America, on average, they have 18 years of experience. With that comes a much flatter organization. There are all kinds of support systems that we don’t need because our people are so experienced, which allows our price point to be about 40 percent less than the name brand firms.”
In the Tulsa market, Resource Global’s target market is companies from $75 to $100 million in revenue all the way up to the largest firms in Oklahoma, Berry said.
“Our sweet spot as a firm is serving Fortune 500 companies,” she said. “But we wouldn’t be coming to Tulsa or Oklahoma if we were only going to serve those companies, so we are actively looking to build relationships in the middle market.”
With service areas including accounting and finance, information management, human resources, supply chain, legal and regulatory and risk management and internal audit, Resources Global has seen some doors opened by the down economy.
“Historically, some clients would just go to the name brand consulting firms for help,” Mesquita said. “But in this environment, where every dollar is scrutinized more than ever, that has given us the opportunity to compete for business that 18 months ago may have automatically gone elsewhere. We have been able to compete for that business, and we have won our fair share.”
A Unique Boutique
For a consultant who worked with some of the biggest firms based on the East Coast, Fulkerson was pleased to find a company with the strength of Gabbard & Co. based in Oklahoma.
Gabbard & Co. specializes in two major practice areas: operational effectiveness and people practices.
“The first practice area is kind of a nod to our earlier days as financially focused firm,” Fulkerson said. “We have solutions that help organizations find ways to run more efficiently.”
In the people practices area their “basic mission is to help leaders become more effective leaders,” he said.
The combination of those services gives Gabbard a step-up, he said.
“We have two major buckets,” he said. “The first bucket is the growing company. This is any company that is big enough to have big company problems but small enough that they haven’t solved them yet. That is a sweet spot for us because we are experts in change.”
“We also do business with the largest organizations in Oklahoma,” he said. “There I think we are more of a role player.”
Gabbard’s focus allows the firm to provide a financial bottom line impact for the people services it provides, and people dynamics for the financial and efficiency work.
“We have what I would call the soft side of business through our people practices, but we also have this financial horsepower,” he said. “From a regional, boutique firm standpoint, that is a big competitive differentiator for us.”