Jessica Fino 10 Jul 2018 05:00pm

Q&A with John Connolly

Today’s announcement that CogitalGroup has bought top 20 firm Wilkins Kennedy means the new firm now has revenues of £500m. With around half of this booked in the UK, it means that less than two years after its inception, the firm is now one of the top 10 firms in the country. economia asked its founder John Connolly what’s next for Cogital

Caption: John Connolly, founder of CogitalGroup

Q. Why did you decide to merge with Wilkins Kennedy (WK) and what will that bring to Cogital?

A. Cogital’s Business is focused on the segment of the market variously described as entrepreneurial, private or family companies often captured as SMEs. We plan to create a large, international, technology-supported business services group providing critical compliance, BPO and related advisory services to this market.

Our model will bring more specialists skills and value add services but local intimacy is vital. So we need offices located across the geographies where we operate. Wilkins Kennedy brings to Cogital two key contributions:

• Over 700 smart people focused almost exclusively on our chosen market segment

• Eighteen offices located across the South East and South of England – an area we identified as being of strategic importance to the group

Q. How long has the process taken?

A. We had our initial discussions in the latter part of last year.

Q. How do you make sure the firms retain their clients and their staff following the mergers? Are there cultural differences you need to work with?

A. A key question. All my experience tells me that when change of this nature takes place most important for clients is continuity of quality service.

Typically the first question a client asks their partner is, “Will you still be handling my account?” The second question is, “Is this good for you personally?” The WK partners will, I believe, answer both questions very positively.

Retaining high quality people in a services business is always the number one priority. The partners of WK will become shareholders in CogitalGroup.

For our broader people group, straightforward clear communication is critical. People want to understand the increased opportunities in a large exciting group like Cogital. Often in talking about culture match easy conclusions are reached too quickly.

What we do know is that Cogital’s obsessive focus on high quality client service and our emphasis on nurturing talent are very much shared by the WK firm.

Q. It has been almost two years since you created Cogital. What was your initial vision?

A. As I previously stated, our vision is to create a large, international, technology supported business services group providing critical compliance. BPO and related advisory services to our chosen market segments.

Q. Can you talk me through your five-year plan? Do you have international plans?

A. [Our five year plan] includes entering the wider European and North America markets…and maybe Asia.

Q. What are the challenges at the moment in the UK market?

A. In all our markets the challenges are around competition for clients and competition for great people. We respect our competitors but we think we have an edge.

Q. Do you see Cogital becoming a rival to the Big Four? Could it soon be "Big Five" instead?

A.Cogital will never be a rival to the Big Four because mostly we are in different markets. The strength of the Big Four is in serving very large global businesses. That is not our market.