Ander Ojandu of CIVITTA tells us how they innovate internally through nurturing their “challenger” business model continuously.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ander Ojandu: Thank you, my family is doing OK. Covid has touched us only indirectly, making life more complicated, especially during these times when schools and kindergartens have been closed. Both parents working full-time (even more because of Covid) and taking care of the children at the same time is quite a challenge!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded CIVITTA.
Ander Ojandu: I am one of CIVITTA’s founders, a challenger consulting company as we know it today that was formed 10 years ago through an alliance of consulting firms in the Baltics. I was the founder of one of these three companies, one of the most successful Estonian businesses in the consulting sector.
I have been in the consulting business now for more than 20 years — started after my graduation from the university. For the first few years, I was an in-house consultant in public sector organizations, later worked as a freelancer, and starting from 2004, I have been building my own company. Until then, I also combined my work with the life of a half-professional sportsman career.
How does CIVITTA innovate?
Ander Ojandu: Because of our origin in small countries (we started our business in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), we believe that restrictions help to innovate — you are forced to find alternatives. Because of it, we innovate internally through nurturing our “challenger” business model continuously.
We believe in being in close contact with the market and interpreting the systematic inflow of information. The foundation example of this approach is our business model. Years ago, we noticed that in small countries, it’s not easy to access competitive and high-quality management consulting services: local companies are too small to offer everything clients need, while international companies are either hard to access, either lacking a local presence or asking for higher prices to cover their high overhead costs. We understood the restrictions, and it gave us the understanding that our business model should be really lean, effective, international, and partner-centric to solve the above-mentioned problems our clients had.
We also believe in execution — you actually have to do things to innovate. If we decide to invest in something, then we put all our efforts into executing it on time and getting real results.
Externally, we support innovation through our financing and corporate innovation teams that offer support to the start-up ecosystem.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Ander Ojandu: Fortunately, the pandemic didn’t affect our financial results natively — due to our lean business model, we were more ready to change and took proactive measures in due time. Like described previously, we believe in restrictions and challenges. We are experienced in working in restrictive environments, and because of it, the year 2020 was even better than previous years in terms of financial results.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Ander Ojandu: At the beginning of the pandemic, when the uncertainty was very high, we reduced our staff. . In hindsight, with the information we had at the moment, it was the right decision — however, considering how things evolved, we are getting back to the headcount we had pre-pandemic in order to properly serve all our clients and continue our growth.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Ander Ojandu: We went through a big shift: from intense traveling and almost always working with our clients face to face, we moved everything online. We use the Google environment — Gmail, Chat, Hangouts, and depending on the client, Zoom, and Teams. In projects, our consultants also use other tools like Miro or Mural.
We were positively surprised to notice that not only we managed to keep clients satisfied, but our efficiency in project delivery also stayed the same or even increased.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Ander Ojandu: Yes, we did — in several countries, we used local government grants or programs at the beginning of the pandemic to support our business when the situation was full of uncertainty.
Your final thoughts?
Ander Ojandu: This past year has been one with a lot of lessons — both business-related and personal ones. We look forward to the world slowly recovering from this to seeing our colleagues and clients face to face and to welcome the type of challenges we enjoy.
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