Celebrating Our First Decade as a Mission-Driven Business

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Celebrating Our First Decade | Research Consulting

Research Consulting celebrates the landmark of its tenth anniversary this March. In this article, we ask founder and Managing Director Rob Johnson and Director Dan King to reflect on the first decade and look forward to what the future has in store.

What are your reflections on the early days of the business?

Rob Johnson

“It was very much a hand-to-mouth existence when I started the company, and I certainly didn’t have a 10-year plan. I felt there was a need for a consultancy that understood research and could serve different actors within the research ecosystem, but beyond that it was a case of me figuring it out as I went along.

“Those early days were based on a ‘small is beautiful’ concept and there is a risk of losing our values or compromising on quality as we grow, so we have always tried to ensure we do not get too big too quickly. It’s important to me that we retain our independence and continue to attract staff who are passionate about what they do. I am keen to ensure that the mission is just as important in the next ten years as it was first in the first decade.

“Research Consulting’s growth trajectory has seen us spend about two to three years in a start-up/establishment phase, a similar amount of time experiencing rapid growth, then a few years in relative stability, during which in the pandemic we consolidated and looked to build a platform for the next stage. The business is now growing again, we have 11 employees and an increasing client list, and we are nicely positioned to embark on the next phase in our strategy.

“I can reflect back on many things which have pleased me since launching the business. In the beginning I was doing everything, working late into the night very often completing reports, and since then we have been steadily able to recruit to and consistently expand the team. It has been rewarding to bring good people into the business and see them develop and make a difference themselves. We’ve already moved offices five times in the last decade and I am sure one day soon we will run out of spare chairs once again, so we are already looking at how our accommodation can continue to grow with us.”

Dan King

“I joined just after Research Consulting had reached its fifth anniversary. I had first met Rob (Johnson) while working at the University of Nottingham in the Research and Innovation Services department. I knew he had left the university in 2013 to set up Research Consulting but I lost track of how things were progressing for him and company. A colleague at Warwick, where I used to work, left to set up her own consultancy and this stuck with me as a future career option. In late 2017 I was in a director role at Nottingham Trent University and I noticed, and re-tweeted, a post from Rob looking for a new senior role for the company. A few minutes after that, I dropped him an email and the rest flowed from there. When I joined, there was a small core team at the time including Andrea (Chiarelli), now a senior consultant, and with my arrival we doubled the leadership capacity to take on projects. In the subsequent five years we have recruited more people, added capacity, knowledge and experience, and the business has grown substantially.

“I have enjoyed the variety and intellectual challenge that comes with working at Research Consulting. I like the process of working out how we would tackle the issues clients share with us, and coming up with insights and recommendations that the client can take forward.”

How have the company’s values played a part in the development of the business over these years?

Rob Johnson

“When I set up the business, I knew it was for a purpose aside from purely profit-making, that it was a mission-driven business. I wanted Research Consulting to deliver work that makes a difference, with the drive and focus of a commercial undertaking. Our mission is to improve the effectiveness and impact of research and scholarly communication and that is underpinned by a set of values in the way we work. These values are not just statements in a strategy document but they are approaches truly embedded in our ethos and working practices. We seek to provide work of the highest quality, delivered with integrity, that clients and partners can trust, while being active participants in the communities we serve. I feel when I reflect on our first ten years, this mission and these values have been integral to our success – they give us an identity and a sense of purpose and pride.”

Dan King

“We have recruited individuals to the team who share our mindset of working with values such as trust and integrity and we have offered numerous placement opportunities. As a business we have gained from the expertise and insights from all who have worked with us.”

How critical has a teamwork approach been in the growth of the business?

Rob Johnson

“We are where are now due to a fantastic collective effort from my whole team and the work that all current and former colleagues have put in over the years. It has been driven by many different people, all of whom have wanted to make a difference, have believed in the value of their work and have enjoyed working with the communities that we engage with. Our team members are people who are curious and want to make the world a better place, and that makes for a special combination. It results in our clients being happy with the work produced and that means the company does well, and we can continue to grow. We are very grateful to all our clients who have supported us over the years, particularly those who came in during the early years when we did not necessarily have a track record. Many of those early clients are still with us today.”

Dan King

“We have worked with so many good people who have come into the business, as graduates or as people with experience from elsewhere, and they have been integral to us delivering on our commitment to quality. In a commercial setting, they have succeeded in responding to client requirements, working in accordance with our values, and I think that is quite a strong environment for people to develop in.”

And what next for the following 5/10 years?

Rob Johnson

“As for the future, we have a set of long-term objectives which emphasise how we wish to grow the business and related activities while retaining the culture and values that we hold dear. We want to see how we can give our employees more of a voice in the future direction of the business, and our long-term plan is to transition the business into an employee-ownership model. I have not put a timeframe on this but there are certain key milestones in terms of number of employees and turnover that would need to be achieved in order to make that transition possible. It has been a very interesting and enjoyable experience to date and I am looking forward to the next 10 years to see how the business develops and where it takes us.”

Dan King

“In looking at the future, we will want to continue to develop and build the capability and capacity within the company, and we would like to see current employees becoming our future leaders to continue the progress being made. To date, we have been a very nimble and agile business, we make decisions quickly and if something has value we will pursue it, and I would like to see that characteristic of the business retained in the future. It has been a very enjoyable time with Research Consulting – our tenth anniversary gives us the opportunity to reflect on what has been achieved so far and now to build on those strong foundations.”

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