Interview: siblings behind consultancy Alba Partners on returning to their Scottish roots with new Edinburgh HQ
The business was launched in 2021 by Scottish siblings and ex-Accenture consultants Richard and Carol Jacobs, and they agree that their experience of becoming colleagues as well as family members has been a successful move.
“A lot of people thought we must be mad working together. It's worked out well so far – it could have gone one way or the other, and luckily it's gone the right way,” says Richard. Carol and fellow MD at the firm echoes this, adding: “I think having someone you know so well, and trust so well to work with, just really helps accelerate the business and helps us make decisions quickly.”
The business, which describes itself as a talent-focused transformation specialist, started out in London, initially focused on the financial services sector, which in the UK produces economic output of £278 billion, according to the 2023 annual review of UK financial services by the City of London Corporation and HM Treasury.
Alba Partners a year later expanded to the United Arab Emirates, where Carol is based. To date it has worked with smaller public sector organisations and firms up to blue-chip giants, and many in between. “Now we're at the point where we're ready to expand our offering, we've got good solid client bases in both jurisdictions,” he says, Richard adding that a major role for Alba Partners is helping an organisation tackle a difficult problem with no obvious solution initially. “Figuring out what to do, and then helping a client deliver it, that's where we really come to life.”
The business is now establishing its headquarters in Edinburgh, where he will be “leading the charge” as of the start of 2024. “We've always had the ambition to work in Scotland – we picked the Alba name for that reason,” he adds – while his sister cheers the Scottish expansion as a “hugely exciting moment” for Alba Partners.
It aims to hire more than 20 consultants over the next 18 months, as it seeks to become “the go-to change and transformation partner for the private and public sectors in Scotland”, and it is keen tap into what it sees as a strong local talent pool and roll out its learning programme locally.
The workforce boost will complement its 40-plus staff across offices in the Middle East, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and London, where it has just relocated to 33 Cannon Street in the City, and where much of its work has been regulatory-driven.
And it now has the “world-class” Scottish financial services and energy industries, mainly concentrated in Edinburgh and Aberdeen respectively, as well as the public sector, in its crosshairs. “We want to be able to service all three of those fantastic sectors back in our home country,” says Richard, who notes
Helping drive this growth on the ground is Scottish financial services veteran Graeme Jones, who has been hired to chair Alba Partners. His previous roles include chairing ‘s Scottish business tycoon Jim McColl’s Alba Bank, holding the CEO reins at Scottish Financial Enterprise (SFE), in a role now held by Sandy Begbie, and senior posts at Experian, Aviva, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Standard Life.
Carol deems Jones “such a great fit” for the business, while Richard compliments his contacts book, boosted from his time at SFE (of which Alba Partners is now a member, and which recently unveiled a strategy to see Scotland’s “powerhouse” finance sector generate more economic and social prosperity) as “second to none”. Jones himself says he is happy to welcome Alba Partners back to Scotland, adding that it “will be a valuable and exciting addition to the professional services marketplace in Scotland, and it is a real statement of intent that they have decided to make Edinburgh their global headquarters”.
And Carol would like to see Alba Partners in Scotland become a well-recognised name in the professional services industry, and a “really credible alternative” to the Big Four accountancy firms for change and transformation.
Her firm’s offering has to date helped firms manage regulatory hurdles, as well as helping transform the core digital platforms and setting up project- and change-management functions within organisations, while she sees it as able to harness its international know-how, and practically apply that into projects in Scotland.
The planned expansion comes amid a Scottish market facing challenges such as continued cost pressures squeezing smaller firms, while the underlying strength of its fintech sector was defended in a report published in July by specialist business advisory firm FRP that showed some signs of stress. Michelle Elliot of the latter organisation said at the time: “While many [fintech businesses] have struggled to grow in the last year and, for many, it’s proving harder to source funding, we can take heart from the resilience that firms are showing in the face of these conditions.”
Carol says of Alba Partners: “We can really support businesses in Scotland to get the most out of their technology by really understanding how to use it, how to apply it to the business context, and then use it to get better results in the business. It’s definitely an area we're very passionate about, and really enjoy working in this space as well.”
The business is self-funded – “that's the plan for the short to medium term” – and for now is focused on organic growth, saying it wouldn’t want to dilute its culture, which could happen if it “doubled in size overnight”. For the time being, its major Scottish expansion means “we're at an important juncture now”.
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