Carlson Thought Leadership in Finance & Technology

Carlson's Expansion into the U.K. - A Q&A with Steven Fox

November 6, 2018 / by Lauren Strohmeier

A Q&A with Steven FoxCarlson Management Consulting (Carlson) brings its world-class financial solutions and services to organizations throughout the United Kingdom (U.K.) and Europe with its recent expansion into the U.K.

Ethan Carlson, Founder and CEO of Carlson, announced, “We’ve had a long-standing interest in becoming an international organization and the U.K. is a great place for our initial foray. We have several clients here as well as strong relationships with partners.”

Steven Fox, U.K. Solutions Director, shares how he will help Carlson’s clients enhance financial performance, make data-driven decisions, collaboratively plan, and achieve finance transformation through our financial solutions and services.

Can you share your background as a consultant?

I’ll share some personal information, because that’s certainly shaped who I am. I was born in England and moved to South Africa when I was six years old. I attended school in South Africa, as well, graduating from University of the Witwatersrand with a Bachelor of Commerce degree.

I then went to work at Touche Ross, one of the largest accounting firms in South Africa. After a stint there, I moved to the coal mining industry. That’s when I met my wife. I was in the finance department and she was in the training department. This was South Africa during the 1980s, so apartheid was very much alive and well and we were both frustrated by the political situation and our inability to influence change. We decided to move back to England in 1989.

In England, I worked across a variety of industries. Specifically, I’ve served in the utilities, import, and export sectors, as well as for a Conglomerate that operated in hotels, agriculture, motor vehicles, hotels, and manufacturing. In addition, I worked for Danone in the food industry.

My experiences as a Group Reporting Manager greatly influenced my career. When I joined, the organization had three separate stock exchange listings and it took about ten weeks to produce management reports. So, I worked with a consultant to implement Hyperion and reduced the reporting time to 7-10 days, which was impressive in those days. 

The consultant, whom I had worked with on the project, then asked if I’d like to join his own organization that specializes in financial close management and consolidation solutions. So, I joined Concentric Solutions as a Consultant, helping clients with complex consolidations. As the role evolved, I became a Business Analyst, helping with software choices and becoming an expert in managing requirements and design processes for enterprise clients. I would host workshops, develop requirements for large projects, and collaborate with developers to create designs. I had some notable clients, including Honeywell, Melrose, and Taylor Wimpey Homes.

As the Cloud began to emerge in the U.K. market, I discovered Adaptive Insights (Adaptive) and became highly interested in its solutions. An opportunity then presented itself to move to Miagen, an Adaptive Insights practice based in Dublin. At Miagen, I gained thorough knowledge in the use of Adaptive. I also felt an ambition to develop a practice in the U.K.

When I became aware that Founder and CEO of Carlson Management Consulting, Ethan Carlson, was interested in building an Adaptive Insights practice in the U.K., we started talking and now here I am - new on the ground and very excited for the opportunity.

 Can you describe your approach to client engagement and how you deliver a successful project?

I begin by understanding why the client is considering a specific solution. It’s essential to discover what the client hopes to achieve and the issues they’re facing. For example, during the Scope for Requirements phase, I ask the client thorough questions about their vision. It’s all about having a conversation.

Specifically, I say, “Let’s get to the bottom of the real issues, what you’re hoping to achieve, and what problems you want to resolve.” I like to ask the question multiple times in different ways to get a good understanding of their goals. Then, I take a leap into the future and ask, “In a perfect world, where would you like to be? What is it you’d love to see at the end of all this?”

When creating a plan of action, I consider, ‘Now, what’s the gap and how do we bridge that gap? How do we, as a consultancy, pull all the elements together to get the client to where they want to be?’

After we create a design, we keep the client involved and informed through regular meetings, reviews, and touchpoints. Especially in data management and reporting, it’s important to involve the client, so they feel like they’re owning their project.

 What are the key benefits your clients in the U.K. can expect?

Five years ago, organizations were slow to adopt cloud solutions in the U.K. They’d say, “There’s no way we’re going to allow anything other than on-premise solutions.” Coupled with that, the idea of a cloud-based ERP or CPM solution was almost unheard of. Then, we gradually began to make inroads and the Cloud is nearly the default choice now.

What caused this shift? I believe that social media was one catalyst. People started to see that in their day-to-day lives, they were using cloud-based solutions. Also, when the plug was pulled on Windows 2003, many organizations began to see the value in SaaS solutions like Microsoft 365.

Today, I believe there’s an opportunity to educate users that there is a better way. When I show Adaptive to people, as well as the art of what’s possible, it’s exciting. I still feel a buzz when clients have a light bulb moment during a demo and they say, “Oh, wow.”

Because the U.K. is still relatively young at adopting cloud solutions, we have an opportunity to influence the way organizations plan and budget. Today, there’s a lot of conversation surrounding active planning. Adaptive can be instrumental in helping organizations become more successful through active planning.

My personal experiences have given me a great perspective that can help my clients. I’ve been that accountant, manager, or finance director trying to get reports out, meet deadlines, rework numbers, retype board reports due to last-minute changes, or disseminate global changes at a micro level.

My empathy allows me to deliver solutions that effectively solve problems, delight people, and give them back their time. Those are the key benefits my clients in the U.K. can expect.

How do you build a case for moving operations to the Cloud?

The first step is to emphasize that the Cloud is a secure and safe environment. It’s also a savvy way to save on security.

The second is to highlight the universal quality of Adaptive. All applicable members in an organization can access it, which fosters enhanced communication across teams. In addition, I give clients peace of mind about version control. They’ll know their information is accurate and supported by up-to-date program features.

The next step is to let clients know they’ll have better visibility into their business. The future becomes more predictable. If they want to expand, they can easily calculate the cost. If they’re going to acquire a new business, they can calculate the cost of rolling out their solutions.

There are also the bottlenecks, concerns, and pain points. You’re able to address those issues with Adaptive. You’ll also benefit from better data integrity, quality, timeliness, and completeness. You have an all-in-one solution that delivers uniform reporting, is easy-to-use, and accessible. Because Adaptive takes care of a lot of the work for you, you can make the most of your time.

Many organizations living in the spreadsheet world become impressed with an integrated business planning solution. They like the attractive reports and dashboards, as well as how they can make simple changes to a model and easily evaluate the impact.

You don’t have to spend a lot of time on tasks. Whereas in the spreadsheet world, it can take days or weeks to perform the same tasks. Everything can be built into your Adaptive Insights model, ready to go.

I believe those capabilities present exciting possibilities for organizations.

What hobbies do you enjoy outside of work?

As you can gather from my background in South Africa, we have family who live across the world. My in-laws live in Cape Town, so we visit there as often as we can. We also visit my brother who lives in Abu Dhabi within the United Arab Emirates. I also have family in Sydney, Australia. We have yet to go to Australia, but it’s on the list.

We also have extended family in the United States, whom we visit as often as possible. Specifically, they live in Tampa Bay, Florida; Washington D.C.; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Cedar Falls, Iowa. Between weddings, graduations, and other festivities, we’re always on the move. Our friends have a holiday home on Dewees Island in Charleston, South Carolina. They’ve given us open use of their home, which is fantastic.

As well, we love road trips. When my family and I travel to new places, we like to immerse ourselves in the cultures and experience the different lifestyles. Last year, we drove from New York to Washington, D.C., and through the Appalachian Mountains to Savannah, Georgia. We enjoy that sort of trip.

My wife, Jenny, runs her own executive search consultancy. Between the two of us, we can be quite busy. We have two daughters. My eldest, Stephanie, is a chemistry graduate and works at a large pharmaceutical company. Alice is studying architectural engineering at university. They’re forging their way in the world, which is exciting.

Hobby-wise, I like dinner parties and cooking on occasion. Sometimes, I’ll barbeque and cook outside. I have an American Brinkmann grill and smoker, which is great for preparing meals.

We like to walk and get outdoors a couple times a week. We live in a little pocket that’s semi-rural overlooking the estuary with the Welsh hills in the background. So, we have lovely views and access to the countryside right from our front door. As well, we’re only about a twenty-five-minute drive from Liverpool and Chester, so we can enjoy the city life.

Finally, I like to play poker once a month with a group of friends. The friends and I have been playing for about 10 years now. It’s a social get-together, and whoever’s hosting cooks dinner. Even though we play for money, it’s only for twenty pounds. The poker is about spending quality time with friends, catching up, drinking a glass of wine, and having a nice dinner. 

Have questions about how Carlson’s financial solutions and services can best transform finance at your U.K.- based organization? Contact us for a discovery call.


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