Where can managers turn for help in navigating the vast sea of data that is available to them in the digital age? And, when they have the right data, how can it be translated into answers that are relevant to their decision-making? Fleur Hicks, award-winning CEO of management consulting firm onefourzero, explains how it’s done.
Good day, Ms Hicks! Thank you for gracing us with your time despite your busy schedule. Let’s start simply. How have you been faring so far in this new year?
Very well, thank you. A new year is always a nice opportunity to embrace a fresh year with fresh energy.
Did you always see yourself having an executive role in management consulting?
No. I studied Sociology (with Philosophy) at university and wanted to be a film director/script writer! My career followed an obscure path from independent film production via TV to multi-platform advertising and then digital consulting. Twenty years after graduating and I’m a shareholder and CEO of a global management consulting firm. Go figure!
Since its foundation in 2015, onefourzero has provided unique insight to private equity, investors and commercial brands through its top-notch digital due diligence. What do you think are the primary advantages of this modern medium compared to traditional consultancy?
I think there are advantages to this approach and they lie not only in the efficiencies gained through the ability to gather and analyse digital and digitised data sets, but also in the robustness of data by volume and objectivity. We don’t discount the old way of doing things (such as surveys and expert opinion) but, rather, use data to form our initial hypotheses and then revert to the old school to add layers/context/human-sense checking.
What is the inspiration behind the name “onefourzero”? Is it a name that holds sentimental value for the team?
Ha ha! That was actually a nod to digital, as it represented the number of characters allowed in a tweet… until about two months after we launched the branding, when Twitter upped the character limit to 280! When we have our own complex in Silicon, Valley we’ll have to name the address 140 Data Street, so that it gains relevance again.
Making commercial sense of digital metrics can be quite intimidating. What are the common problems your clients bring up and how do you address them?
Actually you’ve hit the nail on the head with regard to the daunting nature of data. I think what puts people off initially is that there is so much data available, from so many different sources, that it is difficult to know where to begin. In part, that’s what we are here to resolve: we know what data is needed and where to get it from, to answer common and specific commercial questions. The art actually lies in translating that data into something meaningful and actionable. So we give them comfort that the data maps to their questions, that we will handle everything from aggregation to analysis to compliance, and that the output will be tangibly helpful. The comfort ongoing being our long list of highly reputed funds returning for more.
Was there one engagement or client you had early in your career that made a big impact on you?
Great question! I was always delighted that Bridgepoint had faith in our idea without any real prove-casing and commissioned our work. Innovative thinking remains just that: thought – unless someone is brave enough to trial it. They did. They gave us some great feedback and have been involved in feeding back to us regularly on new product trials. And I’d say they’ve been formative in giving us the confidence to expand ever further. Now, their ex-head of consumer is one of our major shareholders!
You’ve mentioned that with digital data, one can stress-test commercial assumptions and model growth without much commitment to any framework. With the world as your focus group, what kind of problems do you often run into?
Surprisingly few. The reason we look for correlations between live digital data and historical filed commercials is so that we can deliver an as-live view of the market against key competitors. So, with clever AI looking at correlations and causations historically, we can start to map what the future looks like, based on various scenarios. The only issues arise when we don’t have a huge amount of digital proxies to leverage – but that is typically only in very niche industrials sectors. For most verticals and sub-verticals we’ve had a lot of success.
In terms of digital security architecture, many firms adopt a zero-trust approach to protecting their systems. onefourzero’s “Data Dashboard”, its famed one-stop digital dashboard, deals with a massive volume of data daily. How do you assure clients that their sensitive information isn’t at risk of being auctioned off on the black market?
Good question! For a start, it sits within our policy terms not to, so you know that any client data isn’t going to be sold off or reused. But, in terms of security, we uphold the strongest CDPR and CSRB compliance and are fully ICO-licensed. This means that our data storage, transmission and usage systems, policies and protocols are globally approved.
On a lighter note, we also believe congratulations are in order on being given the “CEO of the Year 2021” award by CEO Monthly recently. What was it like hearing the news for the first time and sharing it with the team?
Thanks! Yes, CEO of the Year 2021 in the UK, and also in Europe. Yes it was…surreal, actually. You sit in your little corner of the world quietly trying to make things a bit better and, well, most leadership roles come with little praise, and even less thanks. So it was really nice to be recognised by my peers and the industry. The team were so happy for me, which was absolutely lovely and it was lovely to share the joy. And the champagne!
What would your staff say is your management style?
I imagine they’d probably say that I lead with trusting kindness, nurturing ambition, pioneering focus and a lot of empathy. At least that’s how I try to lead. Staff retention would indicate that they agree, but you never know until you get them drunk in the pub, eh?!
Like many other sectors, M&A consulting could be considered a traditionally male-dominated arena. How would you characterise the current situation in the industry in terms of progress towards achieving an equitable gender balance? Are you optimistic?
I think the current situation is hopeful. There is a lot of work being done by many leaders to attract female talent to the industry, and organisations such as Level 20 (of which I am a member) do a lot to empower those already in the industry. The needle is shifting, faster now than before, which is a good thing. A lot of the voluntary mentoring that I do is centred around empowering women and teens to pursue their career dreams, encouraging them to smash those barriers down – be they perceived or real.
What do you see as the main challenges faced by women today embarking on careers in this industry? What advice would you give them?
I think there are two challenges really: 1) the qualifications needed for graduates tend to have traditionally been STEM subjects that naturally attract more boys and young men, so the entry pool is already skewed; 2) the demands on time can make it very difficult to manage the demands and desires of balancing a family life with a career life. And I think it puts women off, to think that they might ever have to make the career vs family choice. It’s very tough, I’m not going to lie. As a single mum myself, I am the first to admit that you have to be very organised and considered in order to manage it all. But it can be done, trust me.
Bearing in mind the forthcoming International Women’s Day 2022, onefourzero boasts of having a senior team 40 per cent composed of women. Why are you personally passionate about embedding inclusion and belonging into your company culture?
Well, some might argue that 40 per cent is still not population-representative. But it outweighs the approximate 15 per cent representation within our industry and is a great measure if we take into consideration how many women are in work. But in answer to the real question as to why we push for this? Because businesses work better when there is fair representation. That goes for all types of diverse representation. A more dynamic conversation (and in our case, insights and strategy) can be created when there are more people representing differing needs at the table – Board table or otherwise.
Given the unpredictable nature of the global market, what are you most afraid of regarding the future success of your company?
I’d say that the industry itself is growing fast, so I have no doubts there. We are in a good position and we are growing the business and the proposition of a tech-enabled, data-led consulting approach at a great rate. I worry more about what’s happening outside of the industry with regard to inflation and energy price hikes. All businesses will struggle if we have to match astronomical basic-living inflation rates, and most businesses would rather take the hit on margins to keep their staff warm and fed than the alternative. But, happily, that’s not a problem we face currently, so we’ll keep the positive momentum going.
As a CEO, how do you measure success?
Requests to be interviewed by you might be a good measure of success. ? But really, a growing business with happy, engaged staff is the true measure. If people regard onefourzero and its staff highly and in good repute and the staff themselves are proud of their contributions, then I’ve done my job.
Fleur Hicks is a strategic Marketing and Operations professional with over 19 years’ experience managing blue chip digital and broadcast brands with 7 figure commercial success in the B2C and B2B2C sectors. With key experience across web, mobile, TV and print, Fleur has delivered industry-leading marketing and operations analysis strategy at the board level in consultative and client side roles. Fleur joined the company in autumn 2015 and has overseen its growth from a two man consultancy to a world leading Fintech-Consulting hybrid. Fleur is also a member of Level 20 and a mentor with MIgrant Help, encouraging diversity within the finance and technology space.