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Any.Talk Podcast Episode 1 - The Story of Anywise

Listen to our first episode where Anywise Managing Director Adam Evans talks about what motivated him to start the company and how Anywise has evolved over six years. General Manager Steve Kouloumendas also joined the conversation to discuss why company values are so important.

What characteristics do you need to work at a consulting firm?

During this episode we discussed what traits Adam and Steve look for in a person looking for a consultancy job. These were two key traits:

- Pursuit of excellence in that person’s chosen field

- Commitment to teamwork

Anywise believes that a high performing team will always outdo a single individual.

What company values lie at the heart of Anywise?

Adam Evans discusses on the podcast what the Anywise company values are. The most important ones are:

  • Integrity

  • Agility

  • Empowerment

  • Respect

  • Diversity

Integrity is the most important of all these values because if a person is authentic and true to themselves, then the employer will see that.

Take a listen now:

Got a question or comment you’d like to ask Anywise, send us an email

Podcast Transcript:

Hello, the team at Anywise has created a brand new podcast.

We’re an Australian consulting firm based in Melbourne with a social conscience and like many businesses we’re currently navigating our way through the COVID-19 pandemic.

This podcast isn’t just about us though. It’s about people and projects.

So put up your feet, grab a cup of tea and listen to Any.Talk. A podcast that takes a deep dive into project management, innovation and technology.

You’ll have to indulge us though in this first episode as we explore the story behind Anywise. We would have loved to have recorded this episode in a recording studio but due to lockdown we’ve all been at home, so you’ll have to excuse the audio quality. Enjoy.

My name’s Annie-Mei Forster and I’m the Communications Specialist at Anywise. Today I’m joined by Anywise Managing Director Adam Evans. Good morning, Adam.

Adam: Good morning Annie-Mei, thanks for having me.

Annie-Mei: And also, General Manager Steve Kouloumendas

Steve: Good morning Annie-Mei.

Annie-Mei: So Adam, if I could start with you. It’s been six years since you started Anywise, could you tell us what your motivation was for starting the company?

Adam: Yeah, thanks Annie-Mei. Before starting the company, I’d had a fairly diverse and a number of challenging leadership roles in the army until I retired from that career in 2006. I found myself in corporate Australia. I’d worked for six or seven years in executive roles with lots of money, lots of travel, nice suits, big entertainment allowances and really quite enjoyed the intoxicating environment that presented for some time. But I grew increasingly unsatisfied with just the behaviours that corporations had, the values that they fostered and valued within their staff, particularly at the executive level.

It was a loyalty and service ethos that I had developed and the passion and commitment to loyalty that I had in the army. It also seemed to erode those ideas of decision-making and empowerment which were values that I found so rewarding in the army. So I got increasingly frustrated with the lack of agility, particularly among the larger offshore companies that I was working for. Particularly constrained to boards and corporate processes held in the United States or Europe and I really just got tired of being treated more like a project than a company headquarters in our own right.

So I thought there was a better way.

I left that career behind and started a very small company. At the time I started it there was one person in it. Two if you include the apps director. We focused primarily on providing agility and momentum to large companies but also doing that in an:

  • Ethical

  • Sustainable

  • Purposeful

  • Meaningful way

The rest is somewhat history.

Annie-Mei: Ok great. And Steve, would you agree with Adam when he spoke about the different values that big companies have. Would you say that it was also for those reasons that made you move to a smaller business?

Steve: Thanks Annie-Mei. That’s a really interesting question and it’s a really important one as well. So I started my career with a background in engineering, management and marketing. I moved into an Australian tier-one defence provider which fostered a family environment. It was a large corporation but had family values at its core.

That organisation was then subsequently bought out by an international global organisation and the values started to shift quite slowly but significantly. Month-on-month as the organisation took ownership of that company the values certainly changed, and you could feel an increase in division between the executive staff and the staff actually performing the work. A lot of the organisation, the really good people who were delivering real value to our defence force decided to move away from there.

After that I moved into a number of other large organisations and have always wanted to find better ways to do things and thinking that there’s easier ways to come to the right answers. Small, high performing teams are something that I’ve always sort after and the value since coming to Anywise that we’ve been able to deliver to larger clients, it seems like it’s the right way to do things. We also offer things that physically can’t be done by larger corporations.

Annie-Mei: Ok, and this question is probably for both of you. What kind of traits or characteristics do you look for in a consultant to work at Anywise?

Adam: Thanks for the question, Annie-Mei. That’s an interesting one. So over the last few years like every other company director, I’ve read all the management books. All the inspirational entrepreneurial advice out there says to recruit for attitude and train for experience and skills.

I think that’s too easy. I very much look for people that are experts or at least pursue excellence in their chosen endeavour. But equally able to communicate very effectively and absolutely focused on or see the value of teamwork.

We talk about t-shaped people. That is, a person standing upright with their arms outstretched. Where the upright speaks to their deep technical expertise or experience in a chosen field of endeavour and pursuit of excellence in that endeavour. But arms outstretched around other t-shaped people encouraging them to bring their whole selves to work so the team can achieve much more than would otherwise.

So a long way of answering it I guess is:

  • Pursuit of excellence in whatever they’ve chosen to do and

  • Absolute, tireless and relentless commitment to teamwork

What about you Steve?

Steve: Yeah, another good question and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head Adam. So pursuit of excellence, that certainly has to be balanced with attitude, right? We talk about all the leading management books out there talking about attitude over competence. I think that’s certainly relevant. I tend to want to have my cake and eat it too. So I’d say it’s both. You can’t go for one or the other. A good attitude without a core knowledge set and pursuit in that stream. I don’t think they can be in isolation.

For example, I’ve worked with some of the most brilliant minds who could only work by themselves. They would turn absolutely every potential team member away from them because they just did not want help. They would be very argumentative and create friction and even lead to tears and the like. Stuff like that doesn’t help anyone. Even though the individual may be brilliant in their own field and pursued excellence, they just could not foster a team around them. In today’s age, a high performing team will always outdo a single individual.

Annie-Mei: Ok great. Adam, how would you say that Anywise has evolved since you started it to what it’s become today?

Adam: Yeah, thanks another really interesting question, Annie-Mei. Thank you. I think it hasn’t stopped changing with it. Probably a couple of phases where we’ve grown comfortable with the routine and the behaviours that come from delivering a long project.

When I think back, we started with a couple of people purely focused on mobilising project teams. So taking the time to get the right people ready and prepared onto the right projects at the right time. Essentially targeting those large, bureaucratic corporations that I spoke about earlier. Providing them the momentum to be successful.

We found that by doing so, we’re able to attract and retain very high quality, very collaborative and more agile staff. When people particularly in the capital city environments that we work in were looking for consulting jobs, we found that we were giving them something other than that. Along the way, we’ve developed these tailored employment and supplier engagement models where we empower people right from the very first time we meet with them.

Over the journey, we’ve stitched that into the DNA of the company, so even our contracts reflect that commitment to look after people and to be ethical, transparent and genuinely committed to our team’s wellbeing. We paid staff higher, provided a tailored suite of benefits to treat the individual.

So right at the very beginning, one of the first evolutions was whilst we were still delivering superior outcomes to our clients, we were making sure that we were looking after people. As we grew, we became a little bit more bureaucratic and we invested in processes and systems and more people to help us generate our own momentum and deliver larger projects and take on more risk for our clients. We deliberately invested in suppliers with ideas. So instead of holding all the ideas to ourselves and delivering them all under our company brand, we’ve been able to mentor and spin off other companies.

Five so far. So five over the last six years. Employees or suppliers that have come to us with a good idea which we’ve helped them qualify and spun off. We’ve invested over time to vertically integrate our supply chain.

We invested early in the community with some veteran support initiatives which led to social enterprise being spun out, a riding for recovery initiative for wounded veterans and veterans in general.

In 2018 we took that leap to look how far we can push this social impact idea. We pursued and achieved certification as a B-Corporation.

We have also adopted and fully embraced this agile project delivery model. I talked before about t-shaped people. That’s a deliberate term because it refers to multi-disciplinary themes and we’ve specifically targeted those challenging projects that deliver rewarding work regardless of the scale or duration of the project because core to our approach to provide our staff meaningful work on behalf of clients who value it.

In 2017, we made the decision to diversify our service and our market. And then in 2018 we made deliberate decisions to start taking products to market.

So if I look back, we started as a small consulting company trying to be faster and better. We grew and we grew responsibly but we didn’t constrain that value. In fact, we invested in spinning off products, services and companies as we grew. We’ve diversified our portfolio of products and services and we’ve diversified the market in which we operate. All the while, we’ve increasingly stitched at the DNA of the company to make sure we maintain that balance between profit and purpose.

I think the largest single evolution of the company would have been some years ago now. We found ourselves delivering a multi-year multimillion-dollar project on behalf of a larger corporation. We got to a point on that contract where the knowledge, attitudes, practices and cultures of the two organisations were such that the relationship was becoming prickly and staff were becoming stressed. We were losing ground with some of our other initiatives.

So we made the deliberate decision to say no to that relationship and move away from that business. I think that provided the first of a number of significant pivots, not necessarily away from elements of the market or companies but more towards our core values and towards an ethical company that wears its integrity and demonstrates its integrity through the business decisions that we make.

Annie-Mei: Just on the point that you made there about sticking to the core values, what are Anywise’s core values and what was your reason for saying no to that project based on those core values?

Yeah, thanks Annie-Mei. Values are an interesting one. Over the last three or four years, we’ve implemented a routine where the company aggregates every month for a company update, every quarter for a deeper dive and then every year for a strategic review and forecasting session.

At each one of those stages we’ve advanced with this idea of setting our company values. I initially made the mistake of issuing those company values to people and found while they were broadly right, to get to the core values that drive us and make us happy, all staff make those decisions.

This year is the first time we’ve invested properly instead of the management team coming up with a set of values and testing that with the staff, we’ve flipped that and asked the staff to provide us insights into what drives them. When I say staff, I also mean suppliers. We genuinely don’t make that distinction very often and consistently what has come to the fore over the last six years, in particular in the last three or four months are the values of:

  • Integrity

  • Agility in our business but also in the way we make decisions

  • Empowerment throughout the entire business

  • Respect

  • Diversity not just in gender or ethnography but in thoughts, opinions and all its forms

Now there’s a whole lot of other words that form parts of each of those terms, but they’d be the ones that bubble to the top the most and by far the most central to that is integrity.

If a person is authentic and acting in a way that they believe is truer to them and that is valued by their employer, and their employer and its clients act in the same way, then that entire ecosystem which is half the work-life balance, supports the individual.

And that’s an insight into why we said no to that particular contract. We found ourselves in a relationship which was no longer as mutually beneficial as it could be. We had reason to start to question the manner in which that relationship was moving. It was moving away from one of mutual respect and empowerment and mutual decision making. It was moving into a relationship that was different to that.

That’s the end of the first episode. Join us next time when we discuss how to successfully manage through a crisis. See you next time. I’m Annie-Mei Forster and this is Any.Talk.


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