‘Our leadership is not afraid to open new offices in downturns’

Sunday, April 19, 2009 at 11:59pm
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Doug Condidorio says the Obama administration's emphasis on health care IT is validating North Highland's work on 'frictionless health care.' Photo by Jude Ferrara/The City Paper

Doug Condidorio is vice president at the 40-person Nashville office of Atlanta-based consulting firm North Highland, at which he specializes in business development, customer strategy and marketing.

Prior to joining the company in 1999, Condidorio served as national director of business development at Arthur Andersen LLP. Recently, <i>City Paper</i> news correspondent William Williams and Condidorio discussed issues related to the consulting industry.

With a challenged economy, how is North Highland maintaining, adding and assisting clients?

Our main focus is to assist our clients in identifying opportunities to grow market share and reduce cost during the downturn. Our team continues to grow and advance our health care practice (close to 70 percent of the Nashville office members focus on health care), which of course is central to servicing the Nashville base of companies. We just hired a strategic person for our health care group.

Our frictionless health care model, which helps clients make the transition to a digital-based system, is gaining traction as most organizations look for operational efficiency as one way to deal with the increasing cost of health care. The new administration’s emphasis on health care technology has made our group’s work in defining a digital version of the health care value chain more relevant than ever.

And our strategic growth services line is helping clients establish a process for defining their value to the marketplace and strategies to double that value every 18 to 24 months.

You also serve clients in the insurance and music sectors and at any given time have roughly 35 accounts. Any 2009 goals or strategies for growing that number of accounts?

Our Nashville leadership team foresaw the downturn coming during the summer of 2008 and made the appropriate changes needed to capture market share in Middle Tennessee. Our strategy is pretty simple: to continue to hire the best consulting talent available while guaranteeing each and every project we deliver. We will continue to develop service areas that promote cost-reduction, seamless integration and revenue generation for the community.

Three services that are gaining significant traction are targeted cost-reduction services, product-development acceleration and shared services for the larger organizations. Health care will drive our market strategy in the Nashville area since we are surrounded by such a heavy presence of strategic health care companies.

Business Tennessee magazine in 2007 and 2008 ranked North Highland No. 1 in its size category on its list of the state’s “Top Employers.” Your voluntary turnover mark in 2007 in the local office was only 4.5 percent — very low by the standards of the consulting industry.

This retention statistic represents the quality of life our employees have enjoyed since joining North Highland. Our innovative no-travel policy has received a great deal of publicity in a number of consulting trade magazines. Our longstanding clients have commented on the fact that a local consultant, who works Monday through Friday without traveling in from another city is actually more productive than the tired “road warrior.”

What is North Highland’s business philosophy? For example, I understand the company is 100 percent employee-owned.

Our philosophy is really about maintaining a progressive company culture where team members own their lives and own their careers as well as owning the company. We believe that, with 100 percent of the employees acting as owners, we can quickly create alignment with North Highland’s overall business strategy, creating a very powerful driver in this new economy.

The employee-owned model has helped us grow exponentially, as we’ve opened two new offices in California during the downturn. We’re still growing and released some exciting news (in late March) with our first office now officially open in China.

North Highland’s Nashville office opened 10 years ago this year. What have been some successes, and in what areas are improvements needed?

Over time, our team has made a transition from being a pure process and technology project office to a true, value-added management consulting company. It is exciting to observe our North Highland consultants as they make a positive impact not only on our clients, but on our clients’ clients. The growth of our state government practice has been exciting to watch and our movement into a number of the larger global organizations is both challenging and rewarding.

As far as improving, the creation of additional products and services is extremely labor-intensive and we are constantly talking about how our team can improve its approach to this. This is another area where it’s absolutely imperative that you have talented, motivated people.

Fortunately, North Highland is extremely selective in the way we recruit, and although it improves the quality of our hires, it may take a bit longer than the industry average. As I say that, I am reminded of one piece of advice that has served us well over the years: Hire very slowly and fire very quickly.

North Highland has no offices in cities located directly north of Nashville. How does that impact your office?

Your observation is correct, and one would think this would allow us opportunities to grow into Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois down the road. We have navigated through an organic growth strategy that consists of our being very proactive as our clients pull us into additional cities.

Our corporate leadership team is not afraid to actually open new offices during the economic downturns. This allows us to quickly take advantage of additional opportunities when economic waters begin to rise, as was the case back in 2001. This strategy has paid handsome dividends for our company over the last few years.