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Tue 10 Aug 2010 11:47 AM

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Consulting in times of challenges

Alex Andarakis of Andarakis Advisory Services talks consultancy, brands and challenges that lie ahead.

Consulting in times of challenges
Consulting in times of challenges


Alex Andarakis, founder & managing director of independent management consultancy and advisory company, Andarakis Advisory Services talks about his new ventures, brands and beliefs, and what it takes to venture out on your own in these challenging times.

Q. After 24 years in the corporate world, where you have held senior roles with Unilever, Aujan Industries, Emaar Properties, Omniyat and most recently Al Islami Foods, what compelled you to venture out on your own in these challenging times?


A. I have always said and believed that the day I wake up in the morning, and do not have the appetite and motivation to run to work, I need to stop and rethink what I am doing, and then go out and find something else to fill that void in my life.


I have struggled with this feeling ever since I left Emaar Properties in 2008, and after thoroughly enjoying what was a hectic, challenging and highly successful period at Emaar Properties, I have just not been able to find the spark, which makes me want to run to the office each and every day.


I thrive in an environment and business where the challenges are real, and what better environment to test myself than in building my own business during these challenging times. After more than 18 years in the region, I believe I have the width and depth of skills and capabilities in the areas where I have chosen to focus to make a significant contribution to many of the companies, brands and individuals who I hold in great esteem. I am now running to work again, and testing myself in these challenging times.


Q. So tell us about your new venture?


A. Andarakis Advisory Services is an independent management consultancy and advisory company, focused on corporate and brand strategy development and implementation, with specialization on sales and marketing, communication, and internal and external stakeholder engagement programs.


I am focused on providing an experienced resource contribution to companies, brands and individuals as a mentor, helping to facilitate the process of identifying insights which start the development of the template for strategy exploration, then help identify the key elements within companies, brands and individuals which define their unique DNA, to help create the belief system required to build followers. With the vision of Localization, the role of mentors will become important, to work alongside the great young talent coming through within the region, helping them fast track their skills and capabilities in real time situations.


Q. You recently had an article published about the art of believing, how does Andarakis Advisory Services approach this subject?


A. The most difficult question ever posed to me was “What is the definition of a brand?”, asked to me by someone at the Food Marketing Forum in 2006. As a seasoned Marketing professional, I was stumped for an answer, which I felt did justice to the question. So that started a quest for my exploration of a better answer next time I am asked a similar question.


Pouring through the bookshop at Heathrow airport, I found a book, which caught my attention called ‘Primal Branding’ by Patrick Scanlon. The next 7 hours were a blur as I turned page after page on what I felt was the best management book I have ever read, which not only provided me with the answer to ‘What is a Brand?’, but what are the key drivers in establishing and/or evolving a good brand into a great brand.


Brands are belief systems, and belief systems attract and build followers. These followers have the opportunity to become long - standing customers if the stimulus presented to them contains meaning, and has identifiable components such as icons, language, tonality, visuals, and rituals.


Identifying and building belief systems in corporations, brands and individuals is what I have identified as the mission for Andarakis Advisory Services. However, the real test stands in the implementation of the strategy and belief system, and the key measurement criterion we track our performances against.


Q. An interesting opinion, but have you had the chance to go back and review some of the leading corporations or brands that you have managed and applied this belief philosophy to there strategy and performance?


A. Yes, the first place I started to review was the companies and brands that I have worked on, and the results were interesting. Let me start with Lipton Yellow Label, the leading tea based beverage brand in the region and one of the top brands worldwide. Across the region I managed, North Africa, Middle East, Turkey and Russia, the vision was to build a powerhouse brand for the youth generation. With coffee making massive inroads into what has traditionally been a tea culture, Lipton needed to engage with the youth market, or stand losing their believers to the many supermarket coffee brands and to the rapidly emerging out of home coffee franchises.


Our brand meaning was to make Lipton younger, our icon was to paint the world yellow, and our rituals were very focused on creating an ‘in home habit through an out of home experience’. All of our advertising was focused on bringing people together, and our language and tonality aimed at ensuring Lipton was a key facilitator to friendship. No piece of Lipton communication had people living or engaging in private serenity, and this was a differentiating factor in what made our brand successful across the region.
At Emaar Properties, our challenge was to transform Emaar from a highly successful UAE property development brand to an emerging International lifestyle brand. As an organization we were fortunate to have our Chairman living and breathing the challenge, and his passion and energy spread right across the company. Our speed of execution was superb, and Emaar built an enviable follower base across the region. The belief system was anchored on a real truth of ‘Emaar Delivers’, our icons were the Burj Khalifa, The Dubai Mall, The Dubai Marina, The Emirates Hills Community, The Arabian Ranches Community, The Downtown Community, The Address Hotel & Residences, The Armani Hotel & Residences, The Raffles Schools, and The Emaar Healthcare Clinics. Founded and delivered in Dubai, with the same model being applied across the region, creating communities and rejuvenating peoples lifestyles across the region. Emaar did not rely on an artist impression to deliver this meaning, it was delivering the dream rather than just asking and providing hope that the dream would be delivered.


Q. What are the challenges that you see over the next 18 months?


A. If you asked me this question 3 years ago, I would have said ‘complacency’. Over the past 18 months, this region has had complacency kicked out of its system, and replaced with the challenge of maintaining peoples motivation, spirit and endeavor. The culling of many jobs, whilst disturbing and unfortunate was a natural outcome across all organizations who had not done enough on their risk management and contingency planning.


The hurdle rate was always going to be difficult. We have always had a transient population made up of expatriates and high levels of short to medium term tourism, and a young and emerging local and regional workforce and companies who raced to ensure they captured value in the boom market. Our workforce had good levels of ‘width’ in terms of experience but not enough in depth to cope with the downturn. At times of leadership we got excessive micro management, and this is what started the rot, which diminished the belief systems amongst both the internal customer and ultimately the external customers.


So the greatest challenge facing us today is the emergence of leadership in organizations. Great leadership creates meaning and ultimately belief amongst their followers, and no matter the challenges facing any organization, brand or individual, once people are motivated, have spirit and endeavor and ultimately believe in what they are doing, success will come. In some companies, it means stepping back, allowing the company to get smaller in terms of revenue and scope of operations, to give the company a chance to regain profitability and stability, win the small battles on a regular basis, gradually re-building the belief system and gaining success.


Q. What are some the projects you are working on today?


A. I have been fortunate to have worked and been exposed to a wide spectrum of industry and geographies, and at the present moment, I have assignments either under contract or under proposal across Fast Moving Consumer Goods, Facilities Management, Real Estate Property Development, Leisure & Entertainment, Retail, Logistics, Sales & Distribution, and Private Equity.


Q. As an independent consultant, how are you managing the workflow?


A. Flexibility and customization of the offering that Andarakis Advisory Services is an edge which I believe is a enabler in being able to successfully deliver against a given assignment. Dependent on the assignment, I engage with specialists in their fields either within the UAE or abroad in a collaborative manner to ensure we service our clients effectively. Managing overhead and cash flow is key, and being able to provide world -class resource and solutions at an affordable price.


I have collaboration agreements in place with other independent organizations and individuals, where we link together in tackling specific assignments. These cover Strategic Training and Facilitation Services, Human Resource Management & Training, Human Resource Recruitment, Audit & Risk Management, Financial Services, Asset Management, Photography, full service Communication Agencies and Media.

Q. So what is the greatest difference from being a client to being an advisor?


A. I know realize just how difficult it is to be a service provider. The customer is managing your time and impacting your expectations, and I am sure with time and the experience curve I will better adapt to this environment. I am an optimist and workaholic and move with speed, and I cannot expect to stamp my management style on the client. This is why I am so excited with this venture, I am learning again, and feel like a fresh graduate again! The mentor becomes a protégée in the field of being an owner – operator!


Alex Andarakis is the founder & managing director of Andarakis Advisory Services ( ). He can be contacted on .


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