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Charting business strategies through collaboration

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Acumen Strategy Consultants (acumen.com.ph) has been helping in the transformation of companies among the Philippines’ Top 100 and multinationals in the last 22 years.

Acumen’s consultancy services are customized and data-driven

“I am not afraid of asking tough questions.”

This is one of the guiding principles of Pauline Fermin, President & Chief Executive Officer of Acumen Strategy Consultants, which has been a trusted advisor of companies among the Philippines’ Top 100 and multinationals over the last 22 years. 

What it means, Ms. Fermin said in an online roundtable discussion, is addressing the elephant in the room when corporate leaders sit down to assess their operations and organization in order to map out a new or renewed direction.

The business evaluation and the consequent tough questions, she stressed, are always anchored on data and other observable factors.

“What we bring is objectivity… because when leaders in a company have to make a certain decision, there are a lot of biases, perhaps history, paradigms that they have that stop them from really stepping back and thinking about what the right long term plan is for them,” said Ms. Fermin, who also heads Acumen’s Corporate Strategy Practice.

Having clear goals and a strategic plan to achieve those targets have become more crucial now than ever as industries and businesses — whether big, medium or small — are constantly challenged by a variety of disruptions, both good and bad, such as technological innovations, regulatory changes, geopolitical developments, and even natural threats like the global climate crisis. 

Tom Valderrama, Client Director at Acumen, recalls how he dished out the “candid truth” to the CEO of one of Acumen’s largest clients regarding what he saw as likely problems in putting the firm’s strategic plan into action. 

“So I brought it up to the CEO and I just said, ‘Our teams worked well together to deliver a solid strategic plan, but we’ve uncovered significant operational gaps during the process that need to be addressed.” said Mr. Valderrama who, before joining Acumen, worked in the telecommunications industry in the Philippines and abroad for two decades, with the last 12 years in various C-level executive positions.

He said a more common consulting engagement would have simply ended with drawing up the company’s strategic plan. But he took it further — a demonstration of Acumen’s commitment to delivering relevant, value-adding, and actionable plans. 

TAILORED 

Acumen Vice-President Tonton Mapa said their consultancy process starts with gaining a deep understanding of the client’s business needs, followed by tailored strategies that address those specific requirements.

“It’s very customized for the client, starting with what their business needs are,” said Mr. Mapa, who leads the Capability Building Practice, which involves training programs under Acumen’s Business Insights Academy™ and Marketing Leaders’ Academy™. 

Benjie Jimenez, Program Director for Business Analysis, said Acumen’s process and outputs are always operative, measurable, and firmly rooted in data.

“We have a framework where we customize and connect all of the metrics that our client monitors,” Mr. Jimenez said.

This framework and the data-driven insights that come out from the evaluation process provides Acumen’s client companies a clear and solid foundation for making crucial business choices.

“We filter what the client really needs to look at – the critical drivers or success factors – that they must assess and consider before making decisions,” Ms. Fermin said, noting how easily businesses can get carried away by what’s trendy in the market and new developments in their industry. 

She narrates how a previous client, one that was a market leader in its product category, enthusiastically expanded their line to a point of having thousands of brands and SKUs (stock keeping unit), many of which later ended up unsold.

“Without the discipline of zeroing in on who you truly are, what your business model is, what your strategies are, it’s so easy to get swayed by all of the latest and greatest that’s happening globally,” she said.

Mr. Valderrama, going back to the telecommunications sector as another example, noted how Acumen’s planning frameworks and methodologies help simplify and provide clarity to players in an industry driven by swift technological evolutions. 

“Particularly in industries with that type of rapid change from 2G to 3G to 4G to 5G, it’s really important to be grounded in fundamentals… it all goes back to fundamentals like what is the value proposition of each technology and how does it support the unique selling proposition of your business?” he said.

COLLABORATION

Acumen’s approach also involves close collaboration with clients.  

Acumen respects the expertise of their clients, said Zinnia Rivera, another Client Director who was president of a multinational company’s Philippine operations as well as a subsidiary of one of the biggest local restaurant conglomerates prior to joining Acumen.

“We don’t impose anything on them, and we don’t want to act as if we know more than them,” Ms. Rivera said. “Being the best in their field is their role. Ours is to make them think about their situations better through the frameworks, processes and tools that we bring in.” 

This emphasis on meeting clients on an equal level is key to that collaboration.

Barbara Young, Vice-President for the Commercial Strategy Practice, said they make sure that clients never feel that the Acumen consulting team thinks they are more knowledgeable on everything.

“We want to meet them at their pain points, and we want to rise up together with them,” Ms. Young said. 

Acumen’s president also emphasized that they take great pride in having a 100% Filipino team of consultants and affiliates who bring with them years of experience in the local, regional and global corporate sectors.

“Many of our senior consultants have that balance of multinational and local experience,” Ms. Fermin said. 

Ms. Rivera added that what they bring to the table is “that general management mindset… a good understanding of the business side and the people side, how to build a business and at the same time, how to build your organization because at the end of the day it’s always these two dancing together.”

Building local capabilities using global standards

Acumen delivers customized training programs on enhancing business assessment skills and marketing excellence.

When Acumen Strategy Consultants deliver a training program under their Capability Building Practice, they do not simply pull out modules from the shelf then conduct the lectures and exercises to a corporate audience they barely know.

“It starts with what the business needs,” said Acumen Vice President Tonton Mapa, who heads the practice. “Each client will have its own unique situation, it’s not one size fits all.” 

The Capability Building Practice, carried out through Acumen’s Business Insights Academy™ and Marketing Leaders’ Academy™, applies a comprehensive and involved process wherein the company’s data and actual business cases are used in the training sessions.

“We work with the client. We make sure that whatever that program is, it’s relevant to the client and is really going to add value, and it’s practical, it’s actionable,” Mr. Mapa said.

Acumen President Pauline Fermin said they consider Capability Building — one of the consulting firm’s four practice areas — the “apple of our eyes” because it is where the company traces its roots and it provides an opportunity to transfer knowledge to local companies.

The other three practice areas are Corporate Strategy, which involves strategic business planning; Commercial Strategy, for mapping out sustainable business growth; and Organization Transformation for calibrating team structure, culture, and leadership approach. 

“We’re passionate about building capabilities through consulting… and helping local companies. That’s why actually most of our clients are not multinationals, they’re local companies,” Ms. Fermin said. “And a lot of the discipline that we have learned from our multinational experience is what we’re now sharing and teaching.” 

Mr. Mapa noted that Acumen’s pool of consultants come from different industries, worked in big local companies and multinationals, and most with C-level experience. 

“We’ve been in different roles, most in marketing, but some in finance and operations, general management, all at different levels and different positions,” he said. “And I think what we’ve picked up from that is the importance of really holding ourselves to a very high standard,” which is what they bring into the training programs.

At the same time, Acumen’s team members do not rest on their laurels. 

Many on the faculty remain engaged in other endeavors, keeping them grounded and in touch with local and international developments in various industries.

Acumen also regularly conducts research, “which is part of making sure that our own organization’s capability remains fresh and remains strong,” according to Mr. Mapa.

“Aside from market research, we have our own learning sessions internally, so that the whole organization keeps abreast of what’s happening,” he added.

It’s a privilege, Mr. Mapa said, to be able to apply Acumen’s collective knowledge and expertise to help transform local companies by sharpening their strategies and building up their organization’s capabilities.

“The ability to bring all of our knowledge and experience to bear, to help companies, Philippine companies, transform themselves, level up, compete better not just here but on the world stage, I think that’s a very important and very meaningful purpose for us.”

Getting a grip on the Philippine market

Acumen’s leadership team and senior consultants bring in C-suite level experience from large local companies and multinationals.

What do Filipino shoppers want? And what are the different consumer portraits that make up the Philippine market? 

Acumen Strategy Consultants got the answers.

“We’re quite big on data,” said Barbara Young, Vice-President for Commercial Strategy Practice, the Acumen business unit that helps companies draw up plans for sustainable revenue and market share growth.

For each engagement, Acumen starts with a discovery phase wherein a dedicated team looks at the client’s entire operations and organization. At this stage, Acumen takes a deep dive into the business — using proven business analysis frameworks, bringing in the expertise of senior consultants who have local and international experience across different industries, and tapping into existing data as well as additional primary market research in most cases. 

“We look at what are the key drivers. And when I say key drivers, what are the pockets or business parts, including consumers, that will affect the performance of the business, the revenue or market share,” Ms. Young said.

Client Director Zinnia Rivera said Acumen uses its understanding of the Philippine market and culture to help companies develop plans and strategies that are relevant, value-adding and actionable. “Our programs are always designed with the proper perspective and context,” she said.

One of Acumen’s major research initiatives on the local market involve the profile, life needs, values and attitudes of the different generations of Filipinos — Gen Z, Gen Y, Gen X and Boomers.

“We have been thought leaders in this space,” said Acumen President & Chief Executive Officer Pauline Fermin.

Acumen’s Growth Accelerator™ service for sustainable commercial success also puts emphasis on being customer-focused with data-backed knowledge of the market base.

“We also teach customer-centricity, or how do you make the organization more customer-centric, because a lot of times companies are just planning based on what they know versus what the customers or consumers want,” Ms. Young said.

It is of equal importance, she said, for clients to understand the Philippine market and for them to be aware and appreciate how consumers actually perceive their brands and business.

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