Will Bachman 00:01
Hello and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional Unleashed is produced by Umbrex. And I’m your host, Will Bachman. I am so excited to be here today with Alec had not he is the managing partner at Vici partners. Alec, welcome to the show.
Alec Hudnut 00:20
Thank you, well, nice to be here.
Will Bachman 00:22
So like VG partners is a boutique firm, but boy, it has a big reputation. And you do some amazing work. It’s a relatively new, unique model, you do two to four really big projects per year. Tell us a little bit about your model. you’ve explained it to me in the past, and I’ve heard about it from other folks, but just sort of how do you explain it to people that haven’t heard it before?
Alec Hudnut 00:47
Sure. So Vici partners focuses exclusively on earnings growth work, as well as some of the pre due diligence work that’s required for some of our PE clients before they buy a company. And we have historically improved our clients operating income within two years, by between 25% and 100%. And we won’t take on a client unless we think we’re going to end up in that zone. And that’s what allows us to compete with the larger consulting firms who also offer this type of service. When clients sign up with Vici partners, they are very, very highly likely to end up within that range. And in addition to that significant improvement to operating income, we also begin to change the culture or reinforce the culture to a company culture that is more aligned with continuous improvement. And our very best clients not only get a massive improvement to earnings through working with us, but they get the tools and the processes so that they can do continuous improvement on their own in the future and continue to you know, redo in a smaller format, the earnings growth work that we do, but on their own
Will Bachman 02:17
as Nicolas Nassim to leave would say you have skin in the game, tell me a little bit about your your fee model, which very much puts your fees at risk.
Alec Hudnut 02:30
So we do, we do charge a modest retainer for our work, because we want our clients to make a financial commitment to the project. Because their financial commitment, time commitment, resource commitment to the project is in many ways one of the great determinants of the success of the project. And so having a modest retainer allows us to at least check, check that box. But most of our fee is earned based on the ideas that are implemented. And CLI clients pay us one of two ways. They either pay us when the ideas are decided upon over a period of time, or they pay us when the ideas are actually fully implemented, and the cash is received. And so we we basically our from the very beginning, only focused in on ideas that that we know can be implemented that are low risk, that can be done quickly, and that have broad consensus among the management team as well as the folks that are going to be implemented. So very implementation oriented. Our firm is different than most consulting firms, and that we’re only senior people. We do not believe in a leverage model. So everybody that works on our projects, has either been a CEO or an executive in a big company or a partner or senior person in a consulting firm. And we find that people who have run businesses or been in businesses in an executive level, are better able to look listen and feel in an organization and find the places where there’s cost reduction or revenue enhancement opportunity.
Will Bachman 04:13
Now, setting aside for a moment, the due diligence type of work you do for your main bread and butter type of earnings improvement type project. I understand you have a fairly standardized process you go through could you could you walk us through that process?
Alec Hudnut 04:28
We do. We have 100 days sprint process. And there are four phases to that. The first is surfacing the ideas. The second is figuring out which subset we’re going to focus on. The third phase is building the business cases and building the consensus around the ideas for decision and then getting those ideas greenlit and the fourth phase is is designing the implementation plans with the correct operating metrics and financial metrics and To work plans for each idea, and that’s our sprint phase. And then, you know, depending upon the client, the client size, we work anywhere from clients to smallest 50 million in revenue all the way up to 100 billion and plus in revenue. For some of our smaller clients, we might support them for six to nine months after the project to ensure that the initiatives get implemented on time and on budget. And for bigger clients, we could support them for as long as two years to implement a several 100 initiative, portfolio of earnings improvement ideas.
Will Bachman 05:38
Talk to me a little bit about this first piece of the 100 day sprint the surfacing phase. Can you dive into that a little bit more detailed level? What does that look like? What are the activities you’re doing?
Alec Hudnut 05:52
Well, our philosophy is that if you focus on the ideas that already exists inside of the company, that they’re much more likely to be successfully implemented. And that, in many companies, it’s hard for somebody on the frontlines to get the CFO to sign off on green lighting an idea. And so our philosophy is that, oftentimes, many of the answers and much of the opportunity for earnings growth lie inside of the company. And so we run a structured process where we are interviewing managers and executives and doing frontline brainstorming, and, you know, participating in for half a day or a day, you know, all the major jobs in the company, and we’re out there listening. And, you know, if you look at the end of a project, in terms of the ideas that were greenlit and are successfully implemented, typically 75% plus of those ideas actually come from the company. So they’re, it’s, you know, it would be an idea that somebody had two or three times, but they’ve never really had a vehicle to get that idea listened to and decided on. And we provide that. And so we’re giving voice to the frontline and middle managers. And we’re also, you know, working with the executives, and showing them the value of listening to those frontline and mid level manager folks, and getting the frontline and mid level managers to talk in a way that the executives can actually decide on an idea. When I was the CEO, I always had an open door, and people would come in, and they would usually state a complaint. I can’t necessarily do anything with a complaint. But if somebody structures the complaint, as you know, here’s the situation. Here’s the complicating factor. Here’s the resolution I propose, here’s how much you have to invest. Here’s the benefit. Here are the five other people I talked to who I know you would come talk to Mr. CEO before greenlighting it. And this is what they said, then as the CEO, it’s much easier to make the decision. So we’re teaching the frontline that they do have agency, they have voice in the company. And we’re also teaching the executives to structure those ideas or initiatives that are raised in a way so that they can decide quickly. And it’s the combination of working with with all parts of the company, both in giving the voice and giving a structured way to make decisions that really adds the value.
Will Bachman 08:32
We’ve been talking about ideas so far. Let’s make that more specific and more tactical. Could you kind of go through some of the typical categories of ideas, and maybe give us some sanitized examples to help, you know, help make this more specific. So I can understand like, what exactly types of ideas are you talking about?
Alec Hudnut 08:58
Sure, well, we work across the entire company at once, unless it’s a very, very large company. In which case, we’ll work in significant divisions of that company, but typically not across a $50 billion company all at once. About 25% of our ideas end up being revenue or margin related and 75% end up being cost related. One of my favorite ideas was at a large insurance company. And we were conducting a brainstorming session in one of the mail rooms. And one of the guys said, Gee, we sent seem to be sending out a lot more mail than we used to. And I said, Well, you know, how much mail are you sending out? He said, I don’t know, a lot more. I said, Okay, well let’s, let’s work together to try and quantify that. It took us because it was a very large company $50 billion plus it took us about six weeks to actually figure out how much money they were spending on mail. And it was surprising the number was a quarter billion dollars on physical mail per year, this isn’t the age of the internet, right or much could be distributed electronically. And the reason such a large amount was being spent is that that mail budget was not centralized. It was a part of marketing budgets, or different operations budgets all across the company. And so when we sat down with the CFO and said, you know, looks like you guys are spending a quarter billion dollars on physical mail, he almost fell out of his chair. And, you know, we did not focus on reducing in the first, in the first cut at this, on the whole 250, we just focused on the nine and a half million dollars of mail that they were sending to themselves via FedEx every year. And the root cause there was several policies and legal and several policies in HR that required rapid dissemination of information to either contractors or new employees. And so we had to sit down with the general counsel and with the head of HR, and really understand these policies and see if we could come up with an alternative. And then coming up with the alternative, and in providing them additional resources to implement the alternative ways of doing that they were willing to give up sending documents via FedEx to either new employees or contractors, and we were able to save that nine and a half. And that, that one idea, funded, you know, funded our full fee for the project. So it was, that was, that was a fun one. And it came from the guy in the mailroom. And you know, when he would write up in the elevator now with the CFO, the CFO knew, knew who he was, you know, hey, you’re the guy who saved me nine and a half million dollars. So it was a great way to, to give voice to the frontlines and to give an easy, quick win to the CFO.
Will Bachman 11:52
Yeah, I hope he got a Christmas bonus. That’s pretty good. hope so too.
Alec Hudnut 11:56
We we encourage, encourage our clients to share the success of the project with the folks who, who came up with the the ideas that ended up being greenlit and successfully implemented
Will Bachman 12:08
within that 75%. That’s in the cost bucket? Are there some major categories or types of ideas that you tend to see, kind of over and over again, and like, I love the mailroom idea, are there other ones that you could share, like typical things that you often see it companies,
Alec Hudnut 12:26
probably every single client, we see ideas about reducing expenditures in it. So typically, let’s, let’s say we have a software company. Typically, there are a lot of projects in development that are being greenlit. And the, you know, head of revenue, or the head of marketing and the head of tech have a $15 million budget a year to spend on new features or new product lines, and they just go ahead and spend that money. Well, that’s not really the right way to run the company, what you want to do is look at each initiative, and understand the ROI of each initiative, whether it’s a new feature, or a big maintenance fix, or a new product line, and make sure that each initiative that’s being greenlit in tech is either substantially reducing costs, or improving revenue. And the litmus test for us is, after doing that business case, is the person who runs sales willing to sign up for more quota. And if she is not, then the idea shouldn’t be approved. And similarly, if the idea is showing a cost reduction, the person who owns those resources that are going to be reduced because of the new, you know, the new technical implementation of a new feature or new process, the person who owns those resources, who’s saying we’re going to be able to save money, they need to reduce those resources from their budget before the idea gets approved. And when you create those two litmus tests, which is, hey, if this is revenue related, you got to sign up for more quota. And if this is cost related, you got to sign up now for when you’re going to reduce those resources. And I’m going to take them out of your budget and the next budget cycle. When you create those two bars, which are pretty high, you end up canceling about 25, sometimes 50% of all the technology initiatives, and either taking that money to the to the bank in terms of improved earnings or reinvesting it in ideas where somebody is willing to send sign up for increased revenue or decrease costs and putting more resources against those initiatives to get them done faster. So we almost always find real value in doing a simple business case analysis of every single IT project that has been greenlit and you know, everybody tries to hide things around regulatory requirements or maintenance requirements and when you really unpick them and look into detail like on the regulatory side, show me the regulation where this says this is required, show me the conversation with the regulator that says you had to do this now. And when you really push into it, an awful lot of times, projects, which are being positioned as required are not actually required.
Will Bachman 15:20
Beyond it, what other types of kind of categories Do you see over and over again,
Alec Hudnut 15:27
we usually see a lot of spans and layers related ideas. So, you know, one part of the organization might have, you know, way too many layers or not enough spans. So, you know, one part of the organization might have 10 layers, and in each, you know, in each layer, there are only three direct reports, whereas another part of the organization might only have five layers, with eight direct reports. And that that gives us a framework for sitting down with the, the part of the organization, which has a lot of levels in it, and also not a lot of span of control. And ask them why, why is it so different than other parts of the company. And in doing that, you usually find layers that can be eliminated. And as you eliminate layers, you’re increasing the number of people that report to an individual, and that results in a more efficient company. Another area is just around product proliferation, or brand proliferation. Sometimes, particularly companies that have acquired a lot of businesses will hold on to a lot of brands, you know, they acquired the company, because they have a strong position in the market, and they have a good brand. And, you know, if you do that for three to five years, you end up with 40 brands and a billion dollar company, well, probably too many brands, for a billion dollar company to support your $100 billion company, no problem. But you want to have a streamlined set of brands, so that you can go to market in a more logical way that you can invest your marketing money in a more in a more thoughtful way, and a fewer number of brands. And so another place where we often find cost savings is doing an analysis of all the product lines and all the brands and understanding the profitability, understanding the growth of each of them. And where brands are unprofitable with low growth, think about getting rid of them. Because it’s that simplification of the business, which is so important to unlocking the growth of the business.
Will Bachman 17:40
Can you think of we talked about common common areas, Can you think of any sort of like surprising or unique ideas that just seemed totally out of left field to you, but then they they came maybe from the front lines that ended up being really successful ideas that maybe the executives never would have thought of.
Alec Hudnut 18:02
One of my favorite ideas is was from a large medical products distribution company, and they they had their customer support, primarily offshore. And they had a very low cost per, per incident, because they were in the Philippines in India. But the customers weren’t particularly satisfied. And the first call resolution wasn’t as high as they would want. And the churn was pretty high on the accounts that had a lot of customer service required. And so they came up with a radical idea of getting rid of most of their customer support offshore, and bringing it back into the branches, which was on paper going to be much higher costs. And the result was customer service got a lot better. People were being serviced by people in their local communities, who, you know, had the same accent, or maybe they ran into them at Walmart. And, you know, they, they, they people from the community, supporting people from the community. And as a result, first call resolution improved. And churn improved as well. So clients were less likely to leave and go to other places because they felt felt well supported if and so that was a case where the company had to take a leap of faith and make an investment. That was a big investment. And the result was only earned over time, but the result was significant. And that company was able to go public, you know, in the past couple of months for about a billion dollar valuation. And part of it was the decrease costs and the increased revenue growth coming from that one big idea. And it’s counterintuitive, right? Because most people are pushing Customer Support offshore.
Will Bachman 20:02
Yeah, that’s right. Well,
Alec Hudnut 20:03
this was this was doing the opposite. I fear,
Will Bachman 20:05
I fear for the day that someone forgets this, like five years from now. And then some consultant comes in and says, Oh, we should offshore customer service, save all this money?
Will Bachman 20:18
How do you track these ideas? And when you have an idea and put it into some kind of system? What are all of the different fields or pieces of information about that idea? Like? It is the the sizing of it, or the timing of it, or the resources required or the risks involved with the stakeholders? Like, I’m curious what your kind of idea template looks like.
Alec Hudnut 20:46
So at Viki partners, we have a software tool called on creatively Vici portal. And it’s our idea management tool. And it allows us to input ideas from inception, all the way through to consensus building and approval, and then track the implementation in our first sort of philosophical view on implementation is, implementation actually starts at the inception of the idea. Right, so if you’re really thinking about implementation, you’re thinking about how the ideas sourced, it’s like, with my, my kids who are now adults, if I if I tell them to do something, it’s highly unlikely to get done. But if they come up with something they want to do, and I support them in CO creating the solution, they’re, they’re going to do it. And it’s the same in a company, you know, if the consultants come in and tell you what to do, you’ve got a much lower hit rate in terms of how that gets implemented. And so our implementation starts by sourcing most of the ideas inside of the company, because if somebody comes up with an idea, it becomes their idea, it is their idea from day one. And and some of the pieces we do along the way is, you know, they support us in developing the idea, they present it to their, you know, to their manager, you know, they are sitting there in the room, when their managers presenting it to the executives, when it gets greenlit, it’s their idea, right, they have taken it from inception to approval. And then actually, during the implementation, we have a single idea owner, we map out all of the steps to complete the idea. And each one of those steps has, as an owner, if the owner is different than the than the person who actually owns the idea might be multiple people implementing portions of the idea, every idea has a before and after series of operating metrics, you know, your first call resolution used to be x, you’re trying to get to y. And then financial metrics we track here’s the cost center before, here’s what the cost center should look like afterwards. Here’s the general ledger line item before, here’s what it should look like afterwards. And then it’s the job of the person who’s implementing the idea or implementing the initiative to update in the system on a weekly basis, or more frequently, the status of that particular idea. So how are you doing on the operating metrics, you know, red, yellow, red, yellow, green, and if it’s yellow, or red, what are you going to do to get it back on track. And so the idea owner, the initiative owner, is actively working with the Vici portal tool to keep the project on track. And that allows the PMO at the company to be able to look in at any idea at any time and understand how it’s doing, as well as looking at a part of the company or the company as a whole. And traditionally, if a client has approved $100 million of initiatives, we are getting between 95 and 110 million of that 100 million every single time. So not only are we improving earnings, typically 25 to 100 100%, within a two year period, our client and our clients at the end of the project, when they sign up for a number, they have a very, very high likelihood of of getting that number. between, you know, if they sign up for 100 million, they’re going to get 95 to 110. And that’s because we’re very conservative with the valuation of the ideas. It’s the client that’s evaluating the ideas, not the consultant. We have a you know, thorough review with finance of any ideas that are over a certain dollar value. And idea values are usually pushed down in that process. And so you’ve got a conservative portfolio with a conservative valuation with a rigorous way to track it. And, you know, we’re very experienced in successfully tracking and implementing, you know, hundreds of ideas inside of a portfolio of a continuous improvement project.
Will Bachman 24:54
Yeah, on that note, I’m curious because I know some consultants will stay away. from putting fees at risk, because it’s hard to necessarily track the impact, like, let’s say that you had an idea that was going to increase customer retention, and therefore, better retention is longer customer life and higher customer value. But you might do that one initiative, let’s say, bringing customer service back into the branch. But then you’re if you’re doing other things in series, maybe you’re improving the product, maybe you’re like lowering the price, or you’re doing more marketing or something, you’re doing a bunch of other things that could also be improving the customer experience and customer retention. So how do you sort all that out to quantify the impact, which, you know, is important for the client to just know, but also obviously important, and impacts your fees? How do you go about assigning value to particular initiatives and avoiding double counting, and so forth?
Alec Hudnut 25:58
Well, customer retention and churn is one of the hardest areas to measure. So we typically don’t see or don’t get a lot of ideas approved in that category for exactly what you just mentioned, well, which is there. There are too many root causes for why you made that better. And it’s impossible to measure them all. But our our our litmus test is pretty simple. Is the client willing to change the budget? Right, so are they willing, let’s say it’s a cost reduction idea, are they willing to take those six people out four months from now, once the once the process change has been made, and if they’re willing to do that, then you can measure it very precisely, process change has been made. The six people have been let go. Therefore, the savings has been achieved. And we tend to shy away from things that are really hard to measure. And I think, you know, most great executives do that as well, because it just gets lost in the fluff. Yeah. And, you know, customer churn is very important. But typically the clients have approved that have approved customer churn initiatives. There, they’re 10 or 12. factors that are closely measured that together, you know, improve overall customer churn by 10%. And so they’re being measured on the portfolio of ideas, not a single idea.
Will Bachman 27:29
Gotcha. Talk to me about the structure of your firm, about your partner’s about other employees about just how you how you run the talent side of your firm.
Alec Hudnut 27:44
So we have offices in London, New York, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake City. And one of our partners, pre COVID also spends a lot of time in. In Tokyo. We have a small group of partners, we have about four dozen consultants that we’ve worked with on a regular basis over a large number of years, anywhere between one and 10 projects each. And we instead of making them employees, we like keeping them as consultants, because then they get out in the market and learn from other clients and learn from other situations and become better in terms of how they they serve us. Also, it allows us to pick from that group, the folks that are most appropriate for the client that we’re getting ready to serve. On top of that we have a procurement and supply chain network of about 200 contractors who we’ve worked with on an awful for the past couple of decades. And we will we will dip into that network for the category expertise that we need. For example, one of our clients was a avionics client. And they were negotiating the purchase of satellite time. satellite is really an oligopoly. There’s just a few players. And so we really needed somebody who has a distinct specialist in that one of the folks in our network had done the procurement for Boeing for that for satellite time. And he knew all the players and knew what the good prices were. So bringing him in for six weeks on the project, that’s just to renegotiate that piece was incredibly valuable to the client. We also try in every project to integrate a new person into the team. And we look for people who’ve been partners in consulting firms or executives inside of companies or CEOs at companies, people, typically with, you know, 20 plus years of experience, and we like to pry out new folks, because that improves our network of people that we can that we can trust and that helps us to scale as Vici partners.
Will Bachman 29:56
Yeah, I think I heard that you Try to have one new consultant on every project is a just an ongoing practice.
Alec Hudnut 30:05
We do absolutely right. And we always learn something new from the new folks. And they have fun too, because we, we spend more time with them at the front of the project, really training them up on what we do. So that they’re up to speed on our idea management process. We in our 100 day sprint, we have a very systematized way of doing it. Each week, there are a series of deliverables and a series of activities. We run a similar playbook across all of our clients with the exception of somebody who’s in a turnaround where we will accelerate that to faster than 100 days. But but the steps remain quite similar.
Will Bachman 30:47
So could you tell us just a little bit more about the software that you develop to track ideas, and you know, do clients continue to use that, like, after the six after the sprint, I mean, as they’re implementing it is that the kind of ongoing management system that they use?
Alec Hudnut 31:04
Sure, well, again, it’s called Vici. portal. And it’s an idea management tool from the inception of the idea to tracking it to full implementation. And so typically, our clients are using the software for 234 years. Sometimes they just keep using it as they launched their own their own version of a Vici project. One of our larger historical clients, Bank of America, who found a ton of savings, over $8 billion worth of savings using our process, they use the process internally, every year, and they’ve been doing so for over a decade. And they find it’s a really good way when the CFO says, gee, you got to find another $15 million in your group, for the next budget cycle they use are, you know, if they use the process to find that extra 15 million bucks. And that so the software is this is a SaaS model, it’s got a lot of security around it. And it is in the sprint fray phase, it has all of the data that you would need to build a good idea to build the business case on an idea. If you can imagine, you know, remember back when you worked at a big company, or even a medium sized company, the hardest part is getting the data. You know, it’s not like Business School, where somebody gives you the case was easy to solve the problem with somebody gives you the case, the problem is finding the data that makes the case. And so what we do in our Vici portal tool, is we have all of the financial and HR and personnel and vendor and contracting information in our Vici portal database. Obviously, we you know, we mask people’s names and salary numbers, we only put information in salary bands, etc, so that all their confidential information is protected. But that allows you if you have a good idea, you know, let’s say your ideas, I want to I want to improve the first call resolution rate from 70% to 80%. You can then go look at how many people are working on, you know, first call resolution, you know how many people are in the customer service center. And if you had a 10% improvement in first call resolution, how many fewer calls you need to do. And then you can look at how many calls the average person does, and figure out how many people could be eliminated or redeployed into higher value added cross selling customer service activities. So that one of the big challenges than idea development is do you actually have the data. And so the Vici portal tool, makes sure that all the data is in one place. So when somebody has an idea, the first place they can go to is the portal and see if there’s the information in the portal that would allow them to quickly construct a business case and then go sit with us or their manager and say, Hey, I had this idea. Looks like we got to invest about 100 grand, and we’re going to earn a million dollars a year, you want me to keep working on it, I’d like to keep working on it. So that’s a really important part of our software, making sure that it has all of the building blocks for building an idea. And then we do it in a templatized way. So that every business case comes out the same. There’s no PowerPoint. One of the great fears from people presenting initiatives to say a CFO or CEO is that they have to do a 40 page PowerPoint and one of the great fears of the CEO is they have to sit there and listen. You know it’s a waste of time. But if you can get the key points in a three to five pager, and and over time the organization builds it’s it’s, you know, ideas for decision in this in a single template. Id It makes it much easier for the CEO and CFO to decide. So if you’re CEO, and you can understand the idea in plain English, it’s stated in two or three sentences, what the idea is going to do, what’s the problem? How’s it going to solve it, then you see that the list risks are listed out and how they can be mitigated. You see, who’s been spoken to about this idea in the executive team and what they said and why they support it, and how they wanted the idea to be modified. And then you can look at the basic math in terms of how much is invested? And what’s the benefit? And how certain is the benefit? And when will the benefit start, if you had all that information on one page, or three pages, you could make the decision. And, and one of the key weapons in a company is how well it makes decisions. You know, people talk a lot about, you know, you got to have a good strategy. You got to have good people, you got to have systems. Yes, those are all very important things, you’ve got to have good product you’ve got to have good brand. Well we find in companies is one of the key determinants of whether the company is going to be successful is how well it decides how well it makes decisions. And so what we’re doing on the continuous improvement side is we’re trying to make it easy for executives to decide on ideas that are continuous improvement ideas.
Will Bachman 36:28
Fantastic. So Alec, if folks wanted to learn more about VG partners, or connect with you a follow up on anything that we talked about today, where would you point them online? Sure,
Alec Hudnut 36:40
they can go to Vici partners comm they’re also welcome to email me directly at a Hudnut that’s a H, mu d, and UT at Vici partners.com. Or you can connect with me on LinkedIn at Alec, Elysee Hudnut, HQ, D, and UT. We’re always interested in folks who might want to work with us. We’re even more interested in organizations that you are working at or know who might be interested in doing a project with us. And we’re generous on our referral fees for for people who, who bring us business.
Will Bachman 37:20
So listeners make a note of that if you have a project and is looking for some operational improvement in their, their operating margins. You know where to go. Alex, thanks so much for joining and listeners, if you are inclined to give this show a five star review on iTunes. That’d be so greatly appreciated. It does help people discover the show and just makes me feel awesome when I see those. So thank you for that. And again, if you go to Umbrex comm and click on the Unleashed tab you can sign up for the weekly email for this show, where you’ll get quick notes on all the episodes that we’ve released and occasionally some bonus material. Alec, thanks so much for joining today’s is really awesome hearing about what Viki partners does.
Alec Hudnut 38:05
You’re welcome. Well, I enjoyed the conversation.