Daily Management Review

Gilles Bonnenfant, re-appointed CEO of Eurogroup Consulting, sets ambitions for a global leader in transformation projects


The consulting firm, which has become a key player in major transformation projects, is pursuing its international development by deploying a societal approach to organizational change. Gilles Bonnenfant, who has been re-elected for a third term as head of Eurogroup Consulting, explains how the European essence of the firm and its independence have become over time a differentiating factor in a professional world highly codified by Anglo-Saxon practices.

How is a “transformation project” defined at Eurogroup Consulting? In other words, what is your scope of intervention?

Our task consists in generating transformation. This implies being the designers, instigators, and preparators of those transformations. Above all, Eurogroup Consulting is now recognized as a positive change generator. We are at the balance point between two standpoints: we must simultaneously bring new ideas and have high listening skills. Our scope of action therefore ranges from designing and assessing what must be turned into implementation. In any case, we are just as committed to those who call for transformation as to those who undergo the transformation, be it in the private or public sphere. 

Gilles Bonnenfant, CEO of Eurogroup Consulting
Gilles Bonnenfant, CEO of Eurogroup Consulting

You are now confirmed as the head of Eurogroup Consulting after 6 years as CEO. What do you draw from your first terms, and what are the new strategic directions you wish to set for Eurogroup Consulting?

The main element that I can draw from thirty years of experience could be summarized by “nothing is impossible”, though with varying degrees of energy and investment. Globally, I have observed that the world of consulting is changing incomparably faster than it did a decade ago. In six years, I have undergone more transformation projects than in the 24 previous years. Approximately every two years, we must adapt to novelties which occur within the needs of the customer relationship. Moreover, new generations of consultants are evolving and expect different types of interventions and roles from the firms which hire them. 

Today, Eurogroup Consulting’s standing is extremely strong. The firm has managed to adapt to - or even anticipate - all the changes that we have experienced, be they digital, innovation or recruitment. 
In terms of strategic interventions, we always rely on certain fundamentals which are very robust, independently of evolution. But we combine them with other elements, such as international innovation, attractivity, talent management, and the impact that we have on our clients. 
The digital revolution was a real game-changer. Deadlines are now shorter than ever. In relation to team management, project design, client transformation, and developing our teams, everything has gotten faster. We must therefore be agile and responsive.

Eurogroup Consulting is the only large organization consulting firm which is essentially European. What is your value proposition and your distinctive skill set in this global market, which is dominated by Anglo-Saxon companies?

Within the consulting world, we indeed care about developing and implementing a European type of consulting. We want to build it the way Europe is built, which is to say a passport to cultures, skills, points of view and interpersonal relations which take into account everyone’s differences. The Anglo-Saxon world has a more structured approach whereas a European firm “adds”, in the true sense of the word, and unifies. We do not align ourselves on a method, a product or a principle. We stand today within a logic of cultures, federations and unions.

Eurogroup Consulting has become today the largest firm, in size and history, with 36 years in existence. We are also the first firm in terms of partnerships, where the firm belongs to its operational partners. We were also innovators in the creation of a network which was initially European, and then became international. For us, an intercultural firm has a desire to lead a positive transformation with those who launch it and those who experience it, while taking into account the perception, acceptance and commitment of the people involved. The global market being extremely codified, we consider that we should unify various codes, rather than neutralize them to obtain a single product.

What are the key factors to a successful transformation project?

First and foremost, the people involved must be persuaded to partake in the transformation and go along with it. We consider the top-down approach to have its limits; a transformation project must, above all, rally support. The time factor is also paramount, at least as much as the notions of target and impact. Finally, the notion of leadership, which is to say the person or entity carrying the transformation project, is crucial. 

Moreover, detecting and integrating weaknesses is as important as aligning strengths, in order to make the transformation positive, long-lasting and anchored. On projects such as staff downsizing or redundancy plans, we see to it, for the resources and the structure, that the designed plan not only yield immediate return but also mid-term benefits. The successful transformation projects are those which carry a strong vision, both understood and shared, with true commitment to this vision. The trajectories, however, can be flexible and adapt to local conditions. Changing a structure overnight can no longer be considered: transformation is a process, designed and implemented around a vision, which must be shared and understood to be long-lasting. This implies additional substantial explanation and clarification upstream, to rally support.

The core of your craft can, in the end, be considered engineering organizational change, at the crossroads between the human and digital worlds… How do you adapt your HR strategy to the demands of the profession?

Our HR strategy adapts to the evolutions of our profession and of the resources which we will rely on in the future. It is therefore not fixed, but evolving. We must be able to recruit, motivate and retain profiles which are completely different from one another. To carry our projects, we need generalists, sector-based consultants, but also specialists and highly technical profiles. Beyond the design phase of our projects, our added value is precisely based on our capacity to amalgamate these various talents and create synergies for the benefit of our clients. Here again, the idea isn’t to apply a method, but to build the technical and human tool for each specific case which will enable us to solve the client’s problem. 

This necessary addition of talents has an impact on our clients and our HR strategy: we focus more and more on resources rather than planning. This dynamics transfers concretely into our recruitment process. We are the main sponsor for the Orchestre de Paris, and invite our candidates to an orchestra performance. Their personality, their listening capacity, their sense of interest enables us to detect talents which match this independence of mind. Beyond the technical or academic aspects, we seek passionate and committed personalities, with an appreciation of relationship management, and therefore empathy. But one of the main criteria is boldness. We have an employer’s brand based on “free spirits” and “unleash your creativity”; we therefore expect our consultants to have this entrepreneurial spirit, and we leave them the leeway necessary for their potential to blossom. For instance, we encourage intrapreneurship. 

Eurogroup Consulting stresses the necessity of “organizational and managerial innovation”, which is implemented through numerous events, or even sponsorship programs. Does this mean the firm also sees itself as an idea laboratory?

We are indeed a lab, for various subjects. Our work with the Paris Orchestra and our sponsorship is linked to our consultants and our entire customer ecosystem. We have also created a managerial innovation laboratory with our clients. We have shared, with other partners, the creation of the ESSEC Business School Chair on Managerial Innovation and Operational Excellence. We were also the first consulting firm to have organized a “hackathon”, five years ago. During this event, we invited hackers, clients, suppliers and explained what we were doing, seeking to learn how we could make progress. On these specific subjects, we decided to call ourselves into question so as to improve, and we still benefit from it five years later. Even if the notion of an idea lab is little known, we abide by it fully. It is even an attraction factor for our clients, as well as for our consultants. 

Moreover, we have a think tank called the “Eurogroup Consulting Observatoire”, which regularly publishes the works of its contributors: sociologists, economists, but also our consultants, on current topics. We feed off this ecosystem and French tech. We have also developed our start-up accelerator around themes which we hold dear at heart: mobilization, commitment and management and staff loyalty. 

Does being an independent consulting firm, essentially European, and moreover with European roots, bear significant importance in the eyes of your clients and your staff?

If we consider Europe under the angle of its philosophy and its spirit, it is above all a concoction. Our conception of our profession sticks to this idea, and this of course matters to our clients. Our European origins positioned us very early to promote European companies expanding overseas. Studying our clients, we have numerous examples of French groups which have become private international groups, but have State-owned origins. This is true in the automobile sector, and in energy, telecommunications… We therefore possess this extremely rare double-sided experience: coaching companies during their transition from the public to the private sector is truly a French and European specificity. 

Our independence enables us to practice our trade and strengthen our network. Our freedom to invest in accordance with our strategic choices is also a virtue in the eyes of our clients.