First impressions

So after many hints, nudges and threats from our editor-in-chief, I am excited to put the proverbial pen-to-paper for my inaugural blog here at RIG.

They say that first impressions are important and, for me, it was that first impression that RIG made on me that set me on the path to joining the firm.  Having come across the firm at an event on strategy for start-ups (one which I was ultimately unable to attend), I was greatly impressed by their value proposition; shared risk model (a rarity among advisory firms) and their track record of positively impacting their clients’ businesses. Furthermore, with a focus on strategy and execution, an approach to managing risk, and a hands-on approach to working with their clients, they addressed some of the flaws that I had experienced advising major corporates.

In my experience, corporate clients are inherently risk averse when it comes to implementing new strategies, adopting new business models, or commercialising new technologies. Big companies are rarely built with the ability to innovate and to address evolving macro needs as it implies sacrificing today’s revenue/profit – with management measured and rewarded on the past, not the future, there is no motivation to be bold and daring. But here was a firm working to enable those entrepreneurs who were striving to address major global needs, who had high growth potential, to do so in a de-risked manner all the while linking its success to that of its clients. I wanted to be a part of this.

The client that I am currently supporting is a perfect example of how RIG delivers value and helps its clients to have a positive impact on the world. Our client has developed a world’s best disruptive technology in the wind turbine market that works where competitors cannot, and which enlarges the addressable market by many multiples. The key for this client is to develop distribution and revenue models that enhance their competitive positioning and makes it even more difficult for prospective competitors to enter their space. Working hand-in-hand with our client’s management team, we are helping to devise and implement these final two elements of their business model. A very exciting challenge with immense responsibility.

Investing in your time

One of my internship tasks was to speak to a client’s investors and find out who they know that might be interested in that client’s services. The great thing about talking to investors is that they are keen to help out, as they have a financial interest in the development of the company. The difficulty is that they don’t have a lot of time. This is my advice for making the most of both their willingness as well as their precious time:

1.       See them face to face

Although often difficult to attain, if you can arrange a meeting in person this clears a space in their diary that (usually) won’t be shuffled around. I’ve sat down to speak on the phone at least three times with one investor, and every time it’s had to be moved at the last minute. Seeing them in person guarantees you’ll see them, and you’ll get so much more out of it than any other kind of contact.

2.       Set your scene

Surroundings set the scene for a meeting, literally. For this kind of meeting, it was important for it to be light-hearted, so meeting in a casual place helped.  I met with one investor in a cool, quirky restaurant in Shoreditch with excellent chips. Another I met at a café in Mayfair at 11 in the morning, and while I waited I had the pleasure of watching a man wearing a dapper suit sitting alone smoking a cigar alongside his espresso.

3.       Prepare well

It makes such a difference to have done lots of research beforehand and arrive with plenty of ideas to guide them towards your goals. They want to help, and any lifelines you can throw them are welcomed. I raided their LinkedIn profiles in advance and came up with a long list of potential contacts that they could instantly eliminate or accept. This also got their cogs whirring for other similar contacts to the ones I had chosen. Similarly useful was a list of current clients, which helped investors to get a better idea of who I was looking for and further jogged their memory.

4.       Interested and interesting

I also took the opportunity to find out what they’re all about. Many of them are involved in pretty exciting projects, and finding out more about them not only gives you something fun and easy-going to chat about, but also gives you a better picture of how their network could fit with the company. Likewise, they took a friendly interest in me and my work, which takes the edge off the professional agenda.

5.       Get to the point

Be clear about what it is that you’re looking for. No need to bark orders at them, but they appreciate explicit instructions. In fact, many of them started the conversation with direct orders for me to give them direct orders.

They haven’t got oodles of time, but they want to help. Be straightforward and friendly. If all goes well, then both sides will leave happy.

By Leonie Nicks, Summer 2014 Intern

Excelling in Google

I took up an internship with RIG because I didn’t want to spend the summer slouched over a computer with the highlight of my days being the discovery of a new shortcut on Excel.

Thankfully, I now love Excel so it’s all good.

Kidding. I do use Excel, but only in healthy doses. Far from slouching, I’ve actually spent a fair amount of time travelling around. I’ve perfected the Londoner pavement dodge on the way to a client’s office, and had tea with investors in city spots from Mayfair to Shoreditch.

The work so far has been delightfully engaging, which, judging by the greyish montage of menial tasks my friends have painted of their internships, is a rare find in the city. For example, one of my projects is about standards compliances services. One might not expect such services to inspire, but working out who wants them and how they want them is a lesson in law, geography, and creativity.

It’s also a lesson in Google. Something I have discovered at RIG is that Google holds more answers than you’d think, if you know how to find them. Would you like to know how many ISO 14001 certificates there are in the Middle East? Probably not, but it’s there (not very many, by the way). If not the answer, then at least contact details for someone who can tell you the answer.

Cue discovery #2 – I’ve spent a surprising amount of time making calls. Not just sitting in on calls or carrying out ones that have been set up for me, but finding the person to call, arranging it and talking to them myself. Might not sound like much, but as an intern I didn’t expect to have so much independence.

Finally, if not Google or phone-a-friend, then there’s always the final lifeline – Ask the Audience. Of course, it doesn’t need to be the last resort. Their expertise and readiness to help makes asking fellow colleagues at RIG both easy and highly valuable.

My first month and a half has raced past and exceeded all expectations. Before I know it I’ll be plunged back into student land, armed with advanced Google skills and great telephone etiquette, looking back fondly on my time.

By Leonie Nicks, Summer 2014 Intern

A real internship: no tea here

In the world of RIG there is technology, and then there’s business. Putting the two together is what has made RIG so successful – they provide the business acumen, the years of commercial experience, and the spark of entrepreneurial nous, while the client provides the science and the product. I entered RIG as an intern very much from the science side of the tracks, and half expected to spend most of my time making tea for all the real consultants.

Two years into my degree, I could tell you a lot about molecular bonding models and quantum mechanics, but would have been struck dumb if asked to provide any practical information on anything at all, for example explaining how you actually add value to a business (as indeed I was, on more than one occasion!). The learning curve was inevitably going to be steep.

Three weeks in and I think the worst of the gradient is behind me. I’ve spent my time mostly in the office, compiling market reports on all manner of industries (ever heard of steel tyre cord? No, me neither, and yet apparently it’s an extremely lucrative market) for our existing clients as well as researching potential client acquisitions. As a side project I’ve been compiling a Client Relationship Mechanism for a particular one of our companies so that we can better realise their full value and not let any business opportunities fall by the wayside.

It’s not all laptop work though – on my second day I visited a client out in Horsham and somehow survived an intense meeting concerning all manner of things from ultrasonic waveguides and electromagnetics to oil pipelines and corrosion mechanisms, only to be informed at the end of the session that I was being tasked with providing a strategic report aimed at changing the whole trajectory of their business.

So much for making tea for eight weeks.

By Oliver Jackson, Summer 2014 Intern

It's a love thing

Having recently joined RIG, I can already proclaim that I love my job.

RIG’s raison d’être (or at least a high-minded version of it) is to discover new technologies that could in some way, big or small, change the world for the better, and to ensure that they find markets and realise their potential.

My contribution to all this is to work with engineering technology in energy and natural resources – an industry where small improvements can lead to enormous benefits. Although I’ve been in oil and gas for the last nine years, experiencing the industry from this perspective brings with it a multi-dimensional learning curve that is unlikely ever to become less steep on account of the diversity of industry technical challenges and the ingenuity of those finding the solutions.

The technology into which I’m currently sinking my teeth is a method of adjusting the surface properties of metals to optimise their performance in specific environments. Its impact is already being felt as the thermal tolerance properties it confers onto titanium are enabling a satellite to orbit the sun without risk of heat induced failure; and on paper at least could allow a jet to travel at Mach 24, meaning that one need never be more than a few hours away from anywhere else on Earth (depending on queues at security). Working out all of its applications in energy is an excitement and a privilege, not unlike the job.

Making the leap from 'the other place'

Starting any job is a learning process but RIG’s learning curve is steeper than most. I’m two weeks in and I’ve already learnt who in the company I trust behind the wheel of a car, a distressing amount about the company’s fantasy football league, and maybe one or two things about consulting.

I’m Helen, the most recent hire. I’m twenty four, graduated from what’s known in the office as ‘the other place’ (most people just call it Oxford) and this is my first foray into consulting. My first day in the office was spent in a client meeting and all signs point to that being an entirely normal occurrence.

I’ve been working on KAMs, three month plans, sales targeting, gap analysis, ERP market analysis, and half a dozen other things that are in my to-do folder, waving at me forlornly. I’ve also been taking advantage of a wide array of skills: from Facebook stalking to excel macros to google maps (my navigational ability is dire without a handy little program telling me where to go).

I’ve spent a few days in Ireland, attended who-knows how many meetings, and presented our findings to a client with only the minor hiccup of forgetting how precisely to say the word ‘envision’. It’s a fast-paced, sink-or-swim environment – and so far, I’m loving it.

Recruitment Matters

I am flying to Geneva to interview a potential hire. It will take a day and it could be regarded as a time extravagance. But I don’t think so. Recruitment is the most important arbiter of company culture. The more senior the hire, the more this is true. Few activities are more important yet too often, too little time is found for an activity that is a significant determinant of the level of success a firm can achieve.  I would put my money on saying that the greater the investment in hiring practices, the greater the return. Skimping, rushing, or failing to work out best practice for your organisation is a false economy. Your organisation is who you hire.

Talent spotting and assessment is part of my job. It is one I enjoy thinking about. While there are occasions when we must hire, in general my approach is always to be on the lookout for talent. That means meeting a lot of people and hiring very few. If your organisation is harder to get into than Oxbridge then you are on the right track. At RIG, my hiring judgements are a mix between ‘facts’ and ‘feeling’ (which is judgement distilled from experience). I will hire a ‘junior’ quickly with feeling predominating. The more senior the hire, the more I bias the ‘facts’. Yet first encounters are essentially impression interviews. My goal is to get a sense of whether I want to proceed or not. IQ is very rarely an issue. Everyone who interviews at RIG is bright. I frequently half-joke that, in terms of IQ, that I am the dimmest person in the firm. In my mind, this is not a self-deprecating comment.  I take seriously the notion that if you want to build an A-team, always see yourself as a B looking to hire an A. IQ, of course, is just one dimension of intelligence. It has been argued that having a high IQ and relatively lower EQ is a defining characteristic of successful technology entrepreneurs. In our business, however, EQ is a form of intelligence that is as important, if not more important, than IQ. What our clients lack, we must have in spades.

When I am not entirely sure about my first impressions or I feel that my own prejudices are in danger of colouring my judgement, I will ask one or two of my partners to speak to the candidate.  There is no set agenda; I simply want their impression. While all of our partners are very different characters who will naturally look for different things, there is always a remarkable common sense of whether or not someone will fit.  I cannot recall an occasion when this was not the case.

The second encounter I often hold with one of our younger consultants. I value their opinion. They are closer in age to graduate candidates and will ask questions and arrive at insights that would otherwise pass me by. They are thinking whether they want to have lunch with that person, or be away with them on a three day gig. And, of course, then there is the matter of practice. Interviewing – asking smart and well formulated questions – is a core skill in our game. Never miss an opportunity to practice internally.

I take note of how candidates react to being questioned by one of our younger consultants. Some senior candidates clearly don’t appreciate it. They won’t work at RIG. RIG is flat. Junior consultants are actively encouraged to challenge their seniors. It is intelligent contribution that matters. If you are the best person to lead in a given situation then you lead. Younger candidates sometimes answer the question but refer to me. In this context, eye contact is the communication that matters. If they cut the younger consultant, they will not progress.

Common interview questions are well sign-posted. Candidates have answered them before. While I may admire how an answer is articulated, pre-packaged answers tell me very little. I know that much of the information that the standard sort of questions are designed to elicit will emerge should we progress beyond this stage. So I have two approaches I like to deploy. Often I will go through a case we are working on and ask the candidate what they would do. Or I pick an old case and ask them if we chartered the right course. Some candidates, irrespective of age or whether or not they have a business related degree, feel pressurised and put on the spot thinking that there must be a right answer. Others enjoy the exercise, ask lots of questions, and see it as a problem to be solved. They quite naturally seem to develop and assess a range of options to addressing the challenge. The latter will prevail and progress.

The second approach that I deploy is to inverse the interview and to get the candidate to interview us. I do this for several reasons. First, both parties need to gather data to make an informed decision. Consistent with this, it makes sense to give the candidate an opportunity to ask questions. Second, it drives home the point that selection should be mutual. We choose a candidate; the candidate chooses the firm. This, of course, is the basis of any employment contract though the balance of power between employer and prospective employee may differ greatly. In the competition for top graduates, the balance is pretty evenly weighed. Of course, many firms do not act this way. They proceed in ways that are consistent with their culture. Our approach is no different: it speaks of how we think about things. Third, you often learn more from the questions a person asks than the answers that they give. Given that candidates, most especially newly minted graduates, are generally more conditioned to answer questions, this is a revealing technique.

As our hiring process unfolds we derive data and impressions from a variety of exercise and sources which is then discussed internally. This part of the process cannot be rushed. I must feel there is a fit and know where and with whom the candidate will slot in. I will risk losing a candidate rather than rushing to a decision. Selection is much to do with pattern recognition. When I was younger, the pattern I knew best was my own. The temptation was to hire people like myself. That temptation has long been tempered. I have no doubt that our strength lies in our diversity. It is the dimensions that I question. We all have our strengths, preferences, and weaknesses; people we can spark off and work with effectively. Selection is not simply a matter of the individual. It is the shape and performance of the team that matters. Concocting that special brew is certainly part science, but it is also a creative pursuit and an act of imagination.

Away Days

It’s early. Far too early for some. We are flying to The West Coast. Of Ireland. We are not visiting The Valley but will drop into Tom Collins’ pub in Limerick.

It is a relatively rare occurrence for us all to be together. We are crammed into an Aer Lingus jet for our flight across England, Wales, Muir Bhreatan (St George’s Channel), the East Coast of Ireland, and across the interior to the international hub that is Shannon Airport. Go further west and there is nothing but the Atlantic and America beyond that. While I can never sleep on a plane, the ability of others to be asleep before we have taken off never ceases to amuse me. Sameer is collapsed in his window seat as if he had been shot. Ffion is slouched across the aisle in her window seat, the fear of flying banished by sleep. There is a mournful look on her face as if the early morning flight was a crime against young people.

Away days serve many purposes: primarily they are an opportunity to reflect and then to look forward beyond ‘the immediate’ that preoccupies so much of our working lives. In consulting, knowledge-based businesses, there is always added spice to such affairs. ‘The cats’ are out and all efforts at ‘herding’ are lapsed. The arguments will be heated. I measure the general health of the firm by the degree of debate we can sustain while remaining committed to our collective cause. The greater the intensity of the argument, the healthier we are. It is a starkly honest measure of the strength of our culture as a firm.

Gender and the firm

Our firm is not unlike many of its clients: the majority of our employees are male. This has been true since our inception. It is not an issue that has been much discussed internally. Nor is it one that I have discussed with clients and their predominantly male management teams. On both counts I am surely at fault.

I have championed the notion that it is the CEO’s responsibility to make sure that within its means, the company sources the best candidates. I have not been shy in advocating that growth companies should ‘always be hiring’; always be scouting for the ‘best’ talent rather than settling for the three or four candidates caught in the net of a recruiter’s trawl. And here of course is the rub: tech has always been and remains a heavily male enterprise. Recruiters work on the basis of matching a role with previous experience. The more senior the role, the more it seems the pool is loaded on the male side.

If attracting ‘the best’ is to be a serious proposition then the addressing the imbalance between male and female must surely be addressed. Can we claim to be hiring the best when we know that girls are outperforming boys across the board from nursery through to university? Add to this the common assertion that while IQ determines one’s success up to university, EQ will be the greater determinant of success thereafter. On this front, too, it would seem we are prepared to settle for less than the best.

At a senior level, companies need to pursue recruitment strategies that are more akin to internal promotions, where candidates are assessed not on their record of doing a similar job but on performance indicators that they have the talent and aptitude to do the job. The recruiter may well argue that this approach increases risk, but this is merely an argument for the perpetuation of the status quo. On this basis, no founding, first time CEO is qualified for their role or likely to be successful. The paradox here, of course, is that most great technology companies are closely associated with their founders who remained at the helm long after the start-up phase has passed.

It is with less senior hires that there is an opportunity to remake the future, level the playing field, and secure the best of the best. For the first few years at RIG we advertised our annual summer internships on the Cambridge Careers website. For us, internships are a serious business that are used to assess potential entry-level employees. For several years the number of male applicants outweighed the female applicants. We reviewed the language we used to described ourselves and reduced the emphasis on technology. The point, of course, is that to create a balanced pool of applicants takes some thought and design. Our primary commitment is not to employing equal numbers of men or women or to ensuring that the senior levels of the firm are populated by both genders; it is to ensuring that we are always hiring the best of the best.

Sink or Swim: Trial by Acronym

On board the 9.31 train to Horsham for a day with the client, I realise what I’ve gotten myself into. I’ve spent all week trying to get up to scratch with geothermal energy, FPSOs, LNGs, FLNGs, pipelines and platforms. You’d be excused for not understanding what some or any of that means. I’m still getting there myself. And at this particular moment, nervously sipping my orange juice, I’m sure my cover will be blown, and all the PHD engineers will see me for what I am – a second year arts student who has not even acknowledged science since GCSE.

We arrive at the office, and I meet all the tech specialists, the design specialists, the development specialists – a lot of specialists – and almost straightaway we are in the boardroom reviewing the pipeline of projects and clients for the near to medium future. I find myself caught in a deluge of energy firms I have never heard of, and acronyms are bouncing off the walls: EFA; PO; H2S; CAPX; OPX…I realise there are only two ways this is going to go: I either drown, or I swim. So I take notes and stay engaged, and I find myself extracting a lot of value from these meetings. Plus, I get the added bonus of conversation on the volatile oil reserves of my all-time favourite place, Kazakhstan.

Well, I made it to Day 5, so I’d like to think I swam. It’s been an intense week, and I’ve had to learn (or fail) quickly, but I have learned some important lessons that I’ll be taking with me to week 2:

  1. If you don’t know, ask.
  2. Mistakes are a learning experience.
  3. Thorough research pays off.
  4. You have to work quickly and still retain accuracy.
  5. Taking photographs of sleeping co-workers on public transport is fully acceptable.

This is only the end of the first week. I’m still a small fish swimming with the big fish. But I’m pretty sure FNhahe (Finding Nemo had a happy ending)

By Rumbi Makanga, summer 2013 intern