What is the main difference between market makers and market takers? Tangible value.
Apple, the prime example of a market maker, consistently creates products that consumers never imagined they needed. From inventing digital music and the iPod in 2001 to launching the iPhone in 2007 to imagining a new way to experience television with AppleTV, the company has innovated to provide a value so high that people are willing to give up a week’s salary to buy an Apple product. Having created immense loyalty among its customer and employee base, Apple is a force to be reckoned with.
The market takers, on the other hand, don’t necessarily create value on their own. They exchange it, or extract it, and after a while, fizzle out. Anyone can make a quick buck, but making something people want to pay real money for is only sustainable when you’re creating tangible value. Think about how crypto is being treated today: There is a lot of trading going on, but is anything of real value being built yet?
My point? If there’s a consistent lesson we’ve learned during the 20 years of building West Monroe, this is it: Building what matters is the secret to building something that succeeds. What matters is derived from a customer's or employee’s level of willingness to engage with you. When you build something that matters, it has substance and sustainability. It also has resiliency and scalability, containing enough value that people want to either buy from it or work for it.
This year, as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of our growing firm we’re reflecting on our own purpose—and the impact we’ve made with clients, employees, the market, and our communities. We’re also spending a lot of time thinking about what we haven’t built yet—and the impact we intend to create over the next few years and beyond.
As CEO, I’m often asked about the “secrets” to West Monroe’s success. Here are a few of them:
Systems designed with “skin in the game.” Many organizations are owned by a few select individuals that founded it, or a few primary investors, or they’re public. The modern enterprise is one that shares risk and reward more broadly. When you share the upside and downside of a company’s efforts—both with clients and employees—you show them you’re a true partner and you’re in this journey together. Over the years, we’ve embraced different levels of employee ownership and have engaged clients through shared risk-reward partnerships. The punchline: They work.
Work that makes an actual difference. Turn down work that doesn’t fit your purpose. At West Monroe, we don’t do compliance, check-the-box projects, or staff augmentation work that makes people feel like a cog in the wheel. We work on projects that move the needle for our clients, because growth is a part of our purpose and the type of work we find that creates the most value for our clients and the highest fulfillment for our people. In this way, it almost matters as much what you don’t do as what you choose to do, a philosophy we’ve embraced throughout our history.
A high degree of transparency that builds scale. A lot of companies have a leadership “club” that consists of people in the know. The problem is, when new people reach that club, they don’t know what’s going on...because they were never privy to the information before. A high degree of transparency has been essential to our firm when promoting leaders; if we want them to possess any level of strategic understanding by the time they get to leadership, we need to offer as much transparency as possible around decision-making, strategy, and how the business is run. This is one of the ways we’ve achieved scale faster.
A constant reorientation—and reinvention. As consultants, we constantly reorient around the issues that matter most to our clients. If we kept performing and selling work that mattered five years ago, or 10 years ago, we’d be out of business. Reorienting around what the market needs next is key to growth and durability as a company. The ability to see past today—and what people will be drawn to in the future—is a big part of building and delivering what matters.
A one-for-all and all-for-one orientation. Something that has been very intentional about West Monroe from the beginning is the absence of a class system. This is not a place where management consultants work on strategy and pass things over the fence to technologists and product engineers. It’s a place where everyone has an equal seat at the table, everyone is incentivized the same, and held to the same standards. We’re proud to have built a place where all disciplines are included and respected, and it has created a camaraderie and culture that’s hard to replicate.
Building what matters isn’t easy work. It takes a company with grit and goodness in its soul. It’s also challenging and never ending, yet there is a thrill to never settling. It’s what drives each of us at West Monroe every day to achieve great things.
As I reflect on what we’ve built over the last 20 years, and as we recommit to a very bright future, I can’t help but think about the most surprising part of West Monroe’s success: the scale. As one of the original co-founders of the firm, I’m inspired by the number of people who have believed and bought into what we imagined one night, in a bar, as friends. And it reminds me that when you build what matters, people will most definitely come.