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14 December, 2015 - 13:56 By Judith Gaskell

Cambridge Consultants continues to command top dollar from global innovators

Alan Richardson

There can’t be many areas of people’s lives that Cambridge Consultants hasn’t touched.

Among hundreds of other things the product development and technology consultants have helped create are the machine that made the first round teabag, over the counter pregnancy tests and technology found in most mobile phones. Yet for CEO Alan Richardson the biggest innovation of all is the business it’s in.

“The provision for fee for service, product development and technology consulting didn’t exist before 1960 and it’s now a hundreds of million pounds industry in the Cambridge area with us and a few notable others,” says Richardson. 

The company was originally formed 50 years ago “to put the brains of Cambridge at the disposal of British industry.” It’s now a 530-person business with a presence in Cambridge, Boston, Delhi and Singapore. 

Richardson (above) says: “It is still about great people but it’s also about great facilities, intellectual property that supports what we do, the processes that enable us to do it very quickly and helping our clients get to market fast with innovations that drive their business.

“Whereas they were brains for hire 50 years ago it’s now more about choosing what they do. The pace of the world today is that you can’t just solve problems for first principals quickly enough to meet that market need – so you have to pre-invest in the things that you decide you want to be in.” Medical, wireless, industrial, consumer, defence and energy are what they have decided to be in.

The brains also offer their services beyond British industry with 70 per cent of work now coming from overseas, reaching as far as Japan, Australia, Korea and China.

Richardson says: “Our biggest markets and still fastest growing are the US and the UK. The market is global and the companies that use consultancies like Cambridge Consultants are looking for those that offer the best capabilities to solve their problem. They don’t really care whether you are next door or not.”

Over the years the brains at Cambridge Consultants have spun out into 20 different startups, four of which – including Bluetooth innovator CSR (recently sold to Qualcomm for $2.5 billion), and Domino (recently bought by Brother for over £1bn), have become £billion capitalisation companies. “There are only 15 £billion companies formed out of the Cambridge cluster, so that is a pretty remarkable proportion of them,” says Richardson.

Cambridge Consultants has grown by about 70 per cent over the past few years by revenue and people. “We’ve gone from 300 to 480 in Cambridge (they’ve had to hire a hangar at Duxford for this year’s Christmas party), 25 to 55 in Boston and zero to five in Asia,” says Richardson.

He attributes this growth to an increase in the demand for its services and the company’s own ambition to succeed. “We have a lot of ambitious people who are out there doing their thing and we provide an environment in which they can do that thing successfully. Most of our people want to do bigger and more exciting projects and we want to offer the capability to do that.”

To cope with the growth the company has greatly extended its facilities at Cambridge Science Park and dealt with the challenge of integrating 300 new people into the business “while making the the staff feel the same sense of belonging they did when we were a smaller organisation.”

It’s something that is obviously working. The company was Cambridge employee of the year in 2013 and featured in the Sunday Times’ 100 Best Companies to Work For for the past two years.

“These things are all about building the recruitment brand and we have a great story for qualified people. Cambridge is a very attractive place to come and work although there are challenges with transport and housing,” says Richardson.

This has had an impact on its increased investment in the US and plans to expand Singapore, currently a sales office, to a full lab by 2020 are in the pipeline. By that time there should also be an operation on the West Coast of the US. “US based clients are about 50 per cent of our business and that is going to continue because 80 per cent of the world’s innovative companies are in the US,” explains Richardson.

As to the future he sees plenty of opportunity. “The whole communications and digital revolution is broadly affecting all industries. Medical devices for example are all now devices that can communicate. Drug delivery is our single biggest practice and that has grown by 300 per cent in the last five years driven by the communications revolution.”

He also sees emerging markets as a growth area. “These are becoming more significant economies and their needs can also become drivers for the way things work over here.”

Another big change from the ‘brains for hire’ days is the convergence of design and technology, Richardson believes.

“Historically we were a hard technology business and we have deliberately been adding design over the years, which culminated this year in the Red Dot Design Award that we won this year for the KiCoPen smart insulin pen concept.”

It seems like the brains of a continuously evolving and influential Cambridge Consultants will be affecting even more aspects of our lives for many years to come.

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