Ethos gearing to be world-class consultant


BY B.K. SIDHU

BOUTIQUE consultancy Ethos Consulting Sdn Bhd has an impressive list of jobs undertaken although the company has chosen to remain low profile until it got into the much-talked about key performance index (KPI) project for Government-linked companies (GLCs). 

Ethos is one of the two consulting firms advising the Government on guidelines and strategy for the implementation of KPIs.  

The other is Binafikir Sdn Bhd, a company formerly owned by Azman Mokhtar, now the CEO of Khazanah Nasional Bhd. 

Ethos may not be of the scale or magnitude of competitors such as McKinsey & Company Inc or even the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), but it believes it has the experience and expertise to undertake the job. 

The company places high value on critical thinking, rigorous analysis and intellectual curiosity. 

Dr Liew Boon-Horng

It aims to benchmark itself against the best in the industry and to be a world-class firm in the field of management and strategic consultancy. 

“The methodology that we employ will give more rigor to the issues at hand for our clients,” Ethos managing principal and co-founder Dr Liew Boon-Horng told StarBiz in an interview. 

“To us, we must dive deep into the problem, analyse it and come up with a practical solution. Our clients believe in good rigorous consulting work,’’ he said. 

Boon, as he is usually called, believes the opportunities are aplenty out there; be it in organisational restructuring, focus on strategy, operational excellence to even training workshops for clients. 

He also sees the need for Ethos to be a counsellor for the next generation of CEOs in view of the Government’s move to introduce a high performance work culture. 

Ethos also wants to assist Malaysian companies that were keen to go beyond the country's shores.  

For foreign companies that want to invest in Malaysia, Boon believes Ethos understands the local conditions better to be able to advise foreigners accordingly. 

He is open to private equity type of ventures and in turnaround cases where work had been done, the fees could be converted into equity, also known as “sweat equity’’. 

But there are many challenges too. Malaysians are not used to paying for advice, and that is something Ethos has to contend with. This is despite the fact that Ethos is an alternative to international firms that have fat fee structures. 

The other challenge was that many smaller consultancy companies, which Boon referred as wannabes, were willing to undercut in pricing to get jobs and thus spoiling the market.  

But he is not unduly concerned for he believes quality work will prevail. 

Who are its competitors? Boon says it is difficult to define although companies such as McKinsey, BCG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, Deloitte-Touche and Ernst & Young would fit the bill. “We are positioning ourselves in the middle. In terms of strategy, we are close to the model that McKinsey adopts. But our strength lies in our people who are able to provide specialised and individual perspective, analysis and assessment of a situation. We have relatively a young team,’’ Boon said. 

For now, it has 10 consultants but Boon expects that to increase to about 25 to 30 in two years and that is the time when it would go into the regional markets. “For now we need to build a base here,’’ Boon added. 

Although the market is abuzz with talks that it represents Booz Allen Hamilton, an international consulting firm, Boon said that was not the case. 

“Booz Allen is our partner. Since we do work in a variety of industries and having to keep tap of the changing dynamics is time consuming and requires resources, a linkage gives us the international perspective at the press of a button. 

“With a partner, we are able to tap into their expertise and research, which is essentially a plus point for us,’’ Boon explains. 

It is currently into some big and small jobs for several clients but due to confidentiality, is not able to disclose them. “Our work is very diverse and interesting. We also do not focus in just one area,’’ Boon added. 

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