“The most common issue we find is that even businesses that seem to be well aware of the dynamics and trends within their markets and industry don’t develop and implement effective plans to proactively respond to these emerging trends and capitalize on them as business opportunities,” according to Seshadri Guha. Guha, Aditya (Eddie) Nath, and Amit Gupta are managing partners of CGN & Associates, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. In their positions, the managing partners address topics such as the keys to success for corporations; how to continue to attract, train, and retain the best talent; and how to quantify the experiences, education, and other intellectual intangibles required to provide exceptional counsel to their clients.
CGN, which employs more than 75 people in the tri-county area and more than 150 worldwide, doesn’t provide its clients with a temporary fix to one problem. Instead, they provide a systematic and comprehensive understanding of the entire organization and the development of a plausible plan to fundamentally improve lines of communication, processes, and other underlying drivers that run throughout a business. CGN’s methodology has been applied to companies both large and small and across all industries.
Tell us about your backgrounds, education, families, etc.
Guha: In some ways, the three of us come from similar backgrounds, but our experiences are somewhat varied. All three of us received our undergraduate degrees in engineering and our advanced degrees in the United States. We’ve all been working in a consulting role for Fortune 500 companies for the last 15-plus years. I received my Bachelors degree from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Chennai and have an MS in engineering sciences from Iowa State University. I’m an alumnus of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
Nath: I received my Bachelors degree in engineering from IIT-Roorkee and my Masters degree from the University of Michigan. I also completed an executive management program from the Kellogg School.
Gupta: I have a Bachelors degree in aerospace engineering from IIT-Kanpur and an MBA/PhD from Indiana University in operations and information systems.
How did your backgrounds prepare you for running this company?
Guha: Our basic training and business experience combined has given us the insight to analyze complex business issues and develop innovative solutions. Our exposure to a broad range of client situations and industries also has allowed us to develop critical insight into challenges faced by our clients and to recognize the unifying drivers and themes.
Nath: We all have an entrepreneurial attitude with a drive to create new approaches to solve complex real-world problems. We’re able to analytically approach complex business problems and bring focus and discipline to our client. Over the years, we’ve been very lucky to build a highly motivated team around us. They’ve brought us specialized expertise and given us the strength to grow and flourish.
Tell about the beginnings of CGN: why you wanted to start your own company, how you spun it off from an engineering company, etc.
Nath: CGN was the creation of the three founding partners, supported by some of our key clients and friends. In 1992 to 1993, we foresaw the explosion of the technology-enabled services sector. We decided the next wave of business value would be created around the delivery of services. Given this background, it seemed like the proper time to put together the techno-business puzzle that could directly help business.
Guha: Our previous employer (AAC) wanted to stay focused on engineering, while we saw the opportunity to create tremendous value for our clients and ourselves by combining our engineering, technology, and business backgrounds into a broader set of offerings. Our efforts were to take emerging technologies such as wireless, the Internet, GPS, and data management and incorporate them into the business processes of our customers, thereby increasing their efficiency and enhancing their capabilities. In those early days, we saw immediate value in bringing a process- and technology-based approach to solving business problems and coined the phrase “creating competitive advantage thru technology.” The message gave us a successful entrance into several corporate clients.
How does CGN provide value to its clients? What niche does CGN fill that perhaps other companies don’t?
Nath: Today, all of our solutions are centered on providing clients with three key elements: the ability to respond, the agility to innovate, and the insight to lead. We begin by focusing on our client’s strategies, finding ways to improve their operational processes, and then helping them execute. Our methodologies consistently examine their organizational process and architecture for key levers that affect cost, quality, and yield. So every engagement we lead results in quantifiable results in these areas.
Gupta: We’re also unique in that we tend to apply advanced modeling and simulation techniques to complex business situations, thereby generating insights that aren’t obvious through the use of traditional techniques. In short, we work with organizations to translate their road maps into realities.
We hear a lot about CGN’s “holistic” approach. What does that mean for companies?
Guha: CGN recognizes that most organizations are complex; they have a multitude of moving parts, both outside and within, that affect their performance. Their performance can’t be fully understood by looking at individual pieces, but only by looking at the relationships between the pieces. In many cases, the cause-effect relationships between these parts aren’t immediate; there are significant delays. As a result, we often find that many of the “fixes” used in management that seemingly produce short-term relief end up being counterproductive. At CGN, our methodologies identify these underlying drivers within the business and then develop strategies that not only have short-term impact, but also accrue long-term benefits. This helps our clients achieve both substantial and sustainable results.
Nath: In addition, our approach is inclusive. We work with and train the client’s teams on our approach and methodology, and we bring together process, execution, and technology capabilities to our solutions. Holistic also means we get it done and not just provide paper deliverables. We apply these holistic approaches to a broad range of problems ranging from process reengineering and large-scale project management to dealing with global supply-chain problems. Our holistic approach has become a true differentiator for us, and it represents tremendous value to our clients.
What’s the number one reason a company calls CGN in to consult?
Gupta: Most organizations that work with us have a good understanding of their issues, and they’ve typically worked at improving their performance internally. Often, these companies reach a point where their efforts begin to stall, and they either need an outside point of view or they lack an effective execution framework. That’s where we fit in.
Guha: To many of our clients, we bring new ways of thinking about old problems and identify key drivers that can take them to their next-level breakthrough. CGN also helps customers with specialized expertise, as well as planning and implementation of complex or global initiatives.
Do your clients typically hire you for a finite period to fix one problem or do they typically work with you on an ongoing basis?
Nath: Most clients start working with us around specific problems or issues. Once they see our value and capability, we get invited back for other issues they run into. We bring a breadth of experience across multiple problems. The impact of our services is focused, but our relationships are long term.
What are some common issues you come across in the businesses you work with—and what are their solutions?
Gupta: The most common issue we find is that even businesses that seem to be well aware of the dynamics and trends within their markets and industry—like the China factor, health care costs, globalization, shortened product life cycles, etc.—don’t develop and implement effective plans to proactively respond to these emerging trends and capitalize on them as business opportunities. Instead, most of their time and effort is expended on putting out fires and reactively dealing with crisis. This not only erodes their competitive edge, but it adds unwanted cost and stress to their business.
Guha: Secondly, we find businesses often structure themselves into a box and inadvertently create barriers for change. In an attempt to be efficient and effective around what they know today, they erect walls that eventually limit their potential. They don’t consciously create flexibility in their structure and processes to respond to unexpected changes. They indirectly limit their agility. Agility isn’t only key to survival; it’s critical for cashing in on opportunities. This will be especially critical for companies as they enter the uncharted territories in global markets.
How has CGN grown over the past decade? How do you foresee it evolving in the next decade?
Nath: We’ve evolved over time in response to the changing needs of our clients, and we continue to focus on delivering superior value to them. The early years of CGN focused primarily on technology and processes for large Fortune 100 companies across multiple disciplines such as engineering, product development, and manufacturing. In the last three to five years, we’ve expanded our capabilities into improving operational processes and managing execution on a global basis. We’ve also been successful in building our own global footprint.
Gupta: Looking ahead, businesses will need to operate efficiently on a global scale. A successful organization won’t be able to just rely on reducing costs and removing inefficiencies. They must do this, but they must also be able to manage suppliers and people and support their customers globally. With geographically disbursed activities and the accompanying complexities and uncertainties, CGN’s services will become truly invaluable.
Guha: Over the next five to 10 years, we see CGN becoming a global consulting company specializing in helping our clients improve the effectiveness and efficiencies of their operations worldwide. We also see CGN becoming an industry leader in execution management and a preferred choice for execution of global market strategies for the manufacturing sector. We envision CGN specializing in at least two more industry verticals—likely, financial services and health care.
What’s the one piece of advice you would offer to your clients?
Nath: Think globally, act locally. Business is about making money today and making money tomorrow. To be truly effective, you must take a long-term perspective and understand the fundamental drivers of your business and the structure of your markets. Then, use that information to design and develop efficient and effective changes today that will provide long-term sustainable benefits that will keep the organization competitive well into the future.
Does the fact that your personal backgrounds are international give you an edge in helping clients deal with an international marketplace?
Gupta: Absolutely. Two of the three founding partners are originally from India, while the third is from Hong Kong. We’ve been in the U.S. for more than 20 years. Our U.S. business experience and combined knowledge of Asian markets makes us an effective bridge for the next wave. We’re able to handle multiple cultures and know how to leverage these distinctions. In addition, we have many relationships and networks around the world. With the tremendous growth in globalization of suppliers and markets, we’re very well positioned to help our clients take advantage of global sourcing and marketing opportunities.
Your company could be located anywhere in the world. Why do you continue to make Peoria its home?
Guha: Peoria is great place to be. It embodies our Midwestern values and is a great place to raise a family. Peoria has a lower cost of doing business and is in the center of the locations of some of our best clients.
Nath: Our company was founded on expertise and continues to depend on the ability to access the best talent. We’re able to attract people from all over the country—even all around the world.
Gupta: We initially located ourselves in Peoria to utilize the proximity to urban areas such as St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Chicago. Bradley and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have both proven to provide a good supply of highly talented resources.
Tell about the recent Society of Technical Communications, STC, award your company received.
Guha: The ability to communicate within an organization is critical, especially as company operations become geographically disbursed. Within CGN, we’ve incorporated real-time communication strategies into several of our solution methods that we use to help our clients succeed. CGN has focused efforts on analyzing the communication architecture within different organizations and helping to improve them. The STC award has been an opportunity for us to showcase the importance of communication within our framework, and, in doing so, help our clients improve their internal communications.
You have an impressive and diverse benefits package for your employees. Have you found that’s money well spent?
Nath: Our benefits package is an investment in our employees—our most important asset. Our clients get what we pay for. If we want to be the best in the consulting business, we have to attract the best and compensate them competitively. Our people put in a lot of time and effort to propel the CGN reputation, and it’s our way of thanking them for their efforts.
Is there anything we haven’t addressed that you would like to?
Nath: Flexibility and agility are just two of the many factors a company must have if they wish to grow and sustain their success, and we’re no exception. CGN has evolved over time in response to the changing needs of our clients and our mission to deliver superior value to them.
Guha: And yet, in many ways, we’ve stayed within our knitting. We continue to focus on helping our clients solve complex business problems and develop practical solutions that improve their bottom line.
Gupta: Over the years, CGN has developed a truly unique culture. We also embody the concept of strength in diversity. It gives us an edge when it comes to free-thinking, innovation, problem solving, solutions delivery, and team building. IBI
Photo courtesy of Dennis Slape.