Nov 6, 2023
Will Bachman talks to Ammad Ahmad, founder and managing director of Atheneum, a top global expert network that works with management consulting firms and provides access to niche industry experts, and offers research as a service (RaaS).
These experts have spent 20-25 years in a particular function or industry and can provide tacit knowledge and insights from industries. They help clients understand challenges when implementing AI-related solutions in healthcare, due diligence cases, or when a PE firm is looking to make an investment.
Atheneum has about 11 offices across the world, ranging from San Francisco to Tokyo, with roughly 500-600 SDEs around the world, and they offer one-to-one expert calls, surveys, quantitative surveys, and reports. The majority of their business comes from the expert session side, where many clients want to meet the experts in person.
Ammad started the firm in 2010 after working as a management consultant in Washington, DC. As a management consultant, a large part of his work was research and sourcing expert networks, and vetting the experts. When he moved to Germany, he contacted former colleagues from the consulting arena and suggested setting up a firm to help consulting firms access the industry experts they needed with the primary research required for each project.
Founding and Scaling Atheneum
Ammad and his co-founder Mathias set up in an incubator where they had access to laptops and interns and were able to get down to business. By week two they had secured projects from their old consulting firms. Every week they were getting requests for experts in Europe or the emerging markets. As time went on, word of mouth spread and they earned more and more clients. Today, Atheneum works with all of the top 10 management consulting firms, many private equity and corporates, and pharmaceutical companies.
Atheneum’s core focus areas include healthcare, with offices in New York, San Francisco, Santiago, Berlin, London, Lahore, Pakistan, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Korea. When they were setting up their firm, they found that there was a lack of insight and intelligence into many of those ex-U.S. markets. They recruit experts in the local language. They custom recruit on many projects. This allows them to better screen for quality and match experts for clients, and the expert database themselves are fresh and engaged, and meet requests in new markets. When COVID hit they were inundated with requests for experts which enabled them to differentiate and scale.
Managing Client Relations
Ammad discusses the importance of staying ahead of client needs and staying informed about their needs. He suggests that independent consultants should stay in front of clients and work hard to understand their needs and provide them with good solutions.
He shares his thoughts on staying agile in solutions and products and on top of clients’ needs. He believes that staying ahead of client needs and keeping them informed of possible problems and solutions they may face is crucial for a successful go-to-market plan. This can be achieved through thought leadership pieces, informal meetings, or casual notes about industry trends. This helps the firm be perceived as knowledgeable, has the network and relationships that can offer support, and willing to go the extra mile.
Using AI in Sourcing Experts
Ammad believes it’s too early to tell how AI can help companies and expert networks, but he does mention that Ai can help provide better quality matches to clients, to ensure the expert is who they say they are, and perform better screening. AI can also be used internally to find the best experts in their network by using semantic search and searching through a broad array of research resources on a larger scale that allows the firm to build a larger network. Ammad’s firm provides interview training to many clients, guiding them on how to conduct expert interviews, what to look for, and how to gather and triangulate data. He emphasizes the importance of researching the individual and providing guidance on the types of queries that may come up during a conversation. He discusses the increasing trend in questions and trends in different industries, such as AI in healthcare, ESG, and broad use cases of AI in industries such as automotive. He mentions that, over the last decade, corporates have started utilizing external resources for short-term project needs. This shift is driven by the need to innovate across various industries and seek external insight and information.
Managerial and Leadership Skills
When it comes to managerial and leadership skills, Ammad emphasizes the importance of understanding people's motivations and incentivizing them correctly. He believes that providing context and transparency around decision-making is crucial for helping moving people together within the firm. In his morning routine, Ammad wakes up early and takes advantage of the quiet and head space to organize his thoughts and think about what he has to do. He spends time observing the world outside his window, which provides context and puts things into perspective. It’s a time to reflect on what he is doing and how to move forward. He also disconnects from Outlook, which allows him to focus on tasks and research. This practice helps him stay focused and avoid distractions.
01:52 Expert network and consulting firm Athenian Partners
03:11 Growing a consulting firm, go-to-market strategies, and client retention
11:18 AI's impact on expert networks and internal use of AI for better matches
15:14 Expert networks, interviewing, and industry trends
21:02 Leadership, productivity, and decision-making with Athenian CEO
Unleashed is produced by Umbrex, which has a mission of connecting independent management consultants with one another, creating opportunities for members to meet, build relationships, and share lessons learned. Learn more at www.umbrex.com.