Who we are
The Strategy Exchange helps organisations to identify, build, defend and realise their intrinsic value. Our client list includes corporate groups such as Saga in the UK, Kuoni in Switzerland and AOT in Australia; financial investors such as Maj Invest in Denmark and NorthEdge in the UK; and exciting, entrepreneurial SMEs such as ecommerce provider Inventive IT, construction consultancy Walker Sime, niche insurer Ripe Thinking and US-based deluxe travel provider AHI International.Our directors are James Jennings and Chris Bentley. James and Chris have decades of experience as board-level strategy professionals, corporate advisors, line managers and non-executive directors.
In the years we have worked together, Chris and James have impacted our efforts in innumerable ways. We have gained experienced partners with a wealth of knowledge who provide valuable advice and serve as a strong sounding board for the management team.
Joseph W. Small, CEO, AHI International
Although we offer a diverse range of interventions, our approach is based on a straightforward principle: helping our clients to maximise the value of their enterprise. We aim to deliver value at many times the level of our fee.
Our philosophy echoes Kōnosuke Matsushita (松下 幸之助): “If we cannot make a profit, that means we are committing a sort of crime against society. We take society’s capital, we take their people, we take their materials, yet without a good profit, we are using precious resources that could be better used elsewhere”.
What we do
Most of our interventions are bespoke – designed to tackle a specific issue standing between a business and its destiny. These are just some examples of our range of initiatives and capabilities. They don’t necessarily represent the full spread of interventions with each client, some of which have a relationship with us spanning several years.
TUI Group asked us to take a look at their chain of language schools, branded Experience English. We conducted a rapid but comprehensive review, looking at scale and scope, capacity and volumes, group linkages, brand, distribution, marketing, differentiation, condition and facilities. Concluding that both TUI and the schools themselves were likely to benefit from a change of ownership, we subsequently helped TUIs M&A team to prepare and execute a successful divestment.
Non Executive Director
For Walker Sime it was a logical step to appoint us to their board, enabling us to guide and mentor the senior management team in their quest to be more effective, to upgrade their governance processes and to drive their strategy. We’ve been able to support the team through a prolonged and rapid period of business growth.
Two wonderful businessmen with charisma, charm and brains! Their role as non executive Directors has assisted in changing our senior management team into a very proficient Board of Directors. Their guidance and mentoring has enabled us to focus on key issues of business performance.
Strategy is at least as much about knowing what not to do as what to do. With AHI International for example it was about diagnosing their unique strength in servicing membership and affiliation-based cultural institutions. This gave them the clarity and confidence to pursue new but related opportunities successfully, leaving the tempting but cut-throat world of B2C operating to others. To quote Jack Welch, “If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete”. Sounds simple, but many organisations struggle to see the wood for the trees when it comes to diagnosing their own strategic position.
We and the team now share a vision for the company that builds off of our strengths and have realized opportunities that were not previously on our radar.
Appraisal and due diligence
In the last four years we’ve conducted over a dozen appraisals of sectors and assets, mainly for financial sponsors. For NorthEdge Capital for example, we provided deep insight into ITC, which they subsequently successfully acquired, and helped them manoeuvre their way around due diligence issues. For Maj Invest in Denmark we provided extensive analysis of the German and UK markets and competitive environments for Aclass, analysed the business model in detail and benchmarked it against their competitor set.
The Strategy Exchange provided us with deep insight into ITC and its competitive environment, which helped North Edge to build a compelling investment case and strengthened our sector-specific credibility with the management team, in turn helping to give us a strong competitive advantage throughout the bidding process.
Hands On Strategy: execution
We like to stick around and help make strategic change happen. For Walker Sime for example we’ve put in place a balanced scorecard system and are active on the board. For AHI we use a strategy map framework and a new governance structure, and provide constant, ongoing guidance. In both cases we get paid if the value of the business goes up.
Working with James and Chris has been transformational for our business.
Succession planning and management development
Vital to building long term enterprise value. For AHI for example we helped to put in place a target organisation design, analyse their pools of talent (and gaps) and build an individual development programme enabling them to build strength in depth and to radically reduce dependence on the owner-management group.
Another key benefit of our relationship has been the focus on Succession Planning. At their suggestion, we have created an Executive Committee of key team members from all aspects of our operation who meet on a monthly basis. This committee also serves as a training ground for future senior managers. We are supplementing these meetings with individual developmental plans for each manager to prepare them for higher level responsibilities down the road.
For Zurich-based Kuoni Group we were tasked with providing a pool of corporate scenarios to enable senior management to think about the future configuration of the group – what sectors and geographies should they commit to, and what should they exit. We came up with 20 distinct scenarios, complete with strategic logic, driving assumptions, questions and issues, based on granular consideration of competitive positioning, market shares, return on invested capital, macro-environmental themes, sector and sub-sector attractiveness, business model strength, fit, portfolio issues, core strengths and capabilities, agility, linkages and value chain overlaps, strategic themes, policy issues, stakeholder considerations, culture, capital considerations, corporate positioning, visible and contingent opportunities and threats, innovation and technology. Kuoni subsequently made radical changes to the shape of the group, and were ultimately able to realise an an agreed sale to EQT for $1.4bn.
For AHI we conducted a granular review of customer segments and value drivers, and a highly detailed activity mapping exercise, tying in the operational processes, systems and human resources of the businesses to its value proposition and customer imperatives. The result was an integrated and unified strategic direction touching every activity in the business.
As a first step, Chris and James collected copious amounts of information about all aspects of the company, including financial, procedural, client, competitor and performance. They met with key managers and teams. They developed a picture of our culture and traditions…Chris and James have assisted in helping through the process of aligning our systems and procedures with our goals.
Enterprise growth can put a strain on existing governance processes and resources. We helped Walker Sime to implement an effective new top management structure, improve their reporting and financial management processes, and put in place a strategically focused KPI dashboard, as well as planning for further upgrade to the organisation design over the short and medium term.
We now have excellent management reporting and governance, invaluable financial information, KPI’s and clear vision of our goals and business strategy.
We have decades of experience of corporate acquisitions and sales, as well as joint ventures and strategic investments. For Inventive IT, the sale of the business was the culmination of a relationship that encompassed many of the capabilities we’ve showcased above, but which was always focused on building and realising exceptional equity value.
TSE added value to the business that went far beyond the sale process.
…and so on
Every intervention is unique. We’ve covered some examples above, but we can also evidence successful initiatives in digital strategy, cross-border work, business valuation and investment appraisal, planning and financial modelling, leadership, culture, integration management, turnaround and restructuring, entrepreneurship and startup, and corporate finance.
I have worked with James and Chris for over 20 years…I would rate them as the most informed industry experts I know, coupled with a keen understanding of deal dynamics and subsequent value creation through operational change.
Dean Street Advisors