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Callum Donnelly

Callum Donnelly on ahead of the curve consulting

By Callum Donnelly

Managing Director, Etch Group

Callum Donnelly began the year by taking the helm at Etch UK; a radical digital transformation business that is creatively challenging the traditional concepts of consultancy.

The strategic thinker is now steering the organisation into a remote-first future. Taking an avant-garde approach in using a bespoke ecosystem of augmented teams to deliver a multifaceted blend of digital expertise.

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Etch Group is a radical consultancy, trailblazing new ways of doing things. How do you do things differently?

It's very much in our DNA and in the culture that we promote in the business. The way we're structured is quite radical. We believe in the power of small autonomous teams, and we encourage an entrepreneurial mindset within the Group. We split the business down into small teams, each running as independent and complementary businesses. Of course there’s lots of overlap but we find the focus stimulates growth and enables us to meet the needs of our clients more effectively. Our ways of working have always been quite radical; we're always trying to challenge the status quo, do things differently, faster, smarter, whilst providing exceptional value. We very much try to live by the principles of radical management.

Etch UK is a powerful ecosystem of digital experts; can you tell us about the Etch concept, Big Radical, and how you work with partners?

We made a conscious decision over the last couple of years to draw no distinction between permanent employees and partners/contractors and this year we will deliver roughly 50% of our revenue via people not permanently employed by the business. We've always had a really talented ecosystem of partners and contractors that we've blended with the incredible employed staff we have to form really great teams. It's a powerful combination but when we're not working with the contractors, it becomes difficult to keep the talent pool together.

This year, HMRC finally brought in new IR35 regulations which are hitting the contract market pretty hard. Our research shows that 46% of contractors are considering jumping back into employment as a result.

So with this on the horizon, we started developing Big Radical as we were convinced there must be a better way. Big Radical is a new operating system for the self-employed and a genuine legal partnership. The aim is to leverage collective intelligence and by working together in true partnership, grow faster together.

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"Customer experience has always been important but we’re now in an experience renaissance and the businesses that will win will be the ones that obsess over their customers and the delivery of exceptional experiences."

You’ve worked with some incredible companies, are there some client relationships that you are particularly proud of?

I think our best work is with highly complex businesses and in sectors that wouldn’t immediately be seen by others to be exciting. However, for us if there’s a desire from the client to grow, and an openness to change, that’s super exciting!

The brands that we have been alongside and grown with since the start of their journey, are really exciting too. There are a couple locally; we’ve worked with the Pig Hotel Group since the very beginning, and also Quilter who were previously Old Mutual Wealth. We’re particularly proud of our relationship with those businesses and the way we work with the people in those businesses.

Aside from those you have worked with, which brands do you most admire in their ethos and approach?

Disruptive brands that have changed the rules like Monzo and Starling in the financial services sector, and brands like Tesla and Uber that have basically created a new category by rethinking the rules. I think it will be interesting to see if they can retain that challenger mindset and approach as they grow.

What topical insights can you give us into your niche areas of expertise?

We’re seeing the rise of purpose as being really important for the businesses that we’re dealing with. People are questioning what journey they’re on and why, and if the company that they work for aligns with their values and purpose.

The talent marketplace is changing because location is no longer important in hiring and IR35 has hit the contractor market. There’s an abundance of opportunities for people at the moment, but it’s a big opportunity for companies too if they get it right!

Ecosystems are becoming ever more important. Rather than businesses trying to create a full-service offering, ecosystems built on genuine partnership and mutual benefit can be super powerful. In our industry, we see it as a key way to build a credible alternative to the large consultancies because we haven’t got the resources to challenge them head on, but by building an ecosystem of specialists, we’re able to offer a compelling alternative that is built on pace, speed and ultimately rapid time to value.

Customer experience has always been important but we’re now in an experience renaissance and the businesses that will win will be the ones that obsess over their customers and the delivery of exceptional experiences.

"We believe in the power of small autonomous teams, and we encourage that entrepreneurial mindset within the Group."

Managing Director, Etch Group

How is Etch playing a role in nurturing the next generation of digital talent?

The Etch Academy offers internships. We’ve partnered with the local universities and beyond to offer roles to graduates across disciplines including design, development, strategy, and client services. It’s been a great opportunity for not only the graduates but also for our people to mentor. Bringing in focused and ambitious people who want to learn is a big passion of ours, and very much part of our strategy going forward.

Can you tell us about the Etch charitable initiative The Wildman Fund?

The Wildman Fund was set up in the name of our co-founder’s brother, who sadly passed away a few years ago. There is a fundamental belief within Etch of giving back to society. The Wildman Fund is the way in which we do that, both as a percentage of our profits, and through helping charities through our digital services.

What aphorisms resonate with you for the Etch team, and for you personally?

In Etch we have a big belief in loving what you do; it’s hugely important to us. Our annual review process is called Do You Love What You Do?; it’s about making sure that people are in an environment and a role where they can thrive.

For me personally, from a strategy background, I have an obsession with simplifying things, and so the line that I try to live by is: if you can’t explain it simply, you probably don’t understand it well enough. I think there’s a lot of over-complication in our industry, and it doesn’t need to be there.