• Bio: Nicola Davis has been a Management Consultant for the last 15 years and is now one of the Founding Directors of N2 (squared) Consulting based in the Midlands.
  • Role: Founding Director
  • Location: Midlands

Nicola Davis

Originally I started off life wanting to be a barrister, the years of study followed by a pupilage soon changed my thinking on that! So by the time university loomed and I still didn’t have a clear picture of my future, taking a more generic degree seemed the most sensible option. On that basis I graduated in 1994 from Leeds Metropolitan University with a 2.1 in Business Information Management.

As I still did not have a clear idea of what I wanted to be I decided to look for an interesting job that constantly changed – at least then I would not be stuck with something that later turned out not to suit me. I originally started life as a graduate associate for Leeds Met University, working on a European funded project with a local textile company to do some process re-engineering work. Whilst I didn’t stay long with this company, it did help confirm that management consultancy was what I really wanted to do.

Working in a small firm

From here I applied, without success, to a number of larger consultancies. However I did see an advertisement for business consultants at a small, boutique consultancy in Nottingham. I did not meet any of the criteria within the advertisement but decided to apply anyway. I actually started off the letter recognising that very fact! Fortunately for me the Managing Director (MD) was so impressed by my letter and proactive approach that he decided to interview me and offered me the job anyway.

I quickly rose through the ranks with this consultancy, ending up with a team of ten consultants and responsibility for the education sector three years later. The firm only employed 20 people so managing 50% of it at 25 years old was quite a feat. As much as I loved my time with this small consultancy (which later became part of the Tribal Consulting Group), after five years I decided it was time to move on and experience a larger firm.

Moving on up

It took me a while to find the right firm to move to, I have always trusted my gut instinct when meeting new firms and insisted on further meetings following the interviews to make sure there are common values amongst the people I would ultimately be working with. In the end it took 18 months to find the right firm and it was a medium-sized consultancy based in London specialising in performance management but looking to widen its service offering. That was a real attraction for me as I, amongst others, would be responsible for setting up and selling the new services. And so I joined this forward-thinking and fast growing consultancy.

The next step – a large firm

I stayed with this medium-sized consultancy for the next two years. Unfortunately their ambitions were not to be realised. I effectively become a ‘contractor’ only earning a salary when I was on fee earning work. At 27 I felt too young and inexperienced to be operating within this environment and wanted more financial and organisational stability. I started to look around for a new job and for the first time used an agency. Within one week I had several interviews lined up, the first of which was with Deloitte Consulting (this later became part of Deloitte).

Following my interview with Deloitte I was offered a post. I wasn’t sure about joining mainly because of its size and more complex range of consulting services – both of which were new to me. I spent some time with a few people from Deloitte, who had interviewed me originally, to help me decide whether we had common values. I liked the people I met and on that basis accepted an offer with Deloitte.

I spent the next five years working for Deloitte and truly enjoyed my time there. Personal development was rapid, the work incredibly diverse, opportunities constantly available to you and a great bunch of people to work with – many of my good friendships now were formed during my time at Deloitte.

There was a period, which was somewhat difficult when the consulting market (and general economy) was in decline. Even so this was a good learning experience and really drove home to me the importance of doing the right thing for your client and delivering value to them.

Starting N2 Consulting

After five years with Deloitte I started to think longer term. The larger consulting model often works on the partner principal, whereby you work to become a partner and share in the equity of the firm. I decided not to pursue this option, mainly a lifestyle choice. By this point I was 32 and had lived in hotels or company flats for the past 12 years. I wanted to be able to settle in one place and cut down on the travel and long hours. I also wanted to think about a family and achieving more of a work/life balance. Last but not least I wanted more autonomy over the type of consulting work I did and the business model I worked within. I actually left Deloitte in May 2005 and delayed setting up N2 Consulting until September 2005.

When I left Deloitte I had an outline idea for the company but no real detail of what or how I was going to make the company work. I took the summer off to write the business case and terms of reference for the business. The experience with Deloitte gave me the capability, network and confidence to set up my own company and of course the CV to go back into mainstream consulting should the need arise.

The last four years has been hard work but incredibly fulfilling. My business partner (also my husband!) joined N2 in November 2005 and since then we have gone from strength to strength. We have a number of associates (including PR, design and legal advisors), we work with some fantastic clients and employ three people – two consultants and an executive PA.  We are looking to employ another two to three consultants in this financial year alone.

In 2007/8 year I also won the Nottinghamshire Business Ventures Woman Entrepreneur of the Year award – a great boost to me and the business. We only have ourselves to answer to and can really be innovative in our approach, as we are not constrained by a large organisational structure. However, we do live with risks – not having any client work effectively means no cash for the business and therefore no salary for us. Our reputation is key and we need to balance the time we spend earning money against the time we spend setting up the next lot of opportunities for the company. Even so, being a director of a consultancy firm is definitely the job for me.

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