Rhonda Curliss and Victoria Firth make up the two halves of Grey Lemon, a business strategy consultancy based in London.
With more than 30 years’ combined business and commercial strategy experience in Director, Board and C-suite positions for a range of international businesses, Rhonda and Victoria certainly know a thing or two about business transformation.
"We will become your greatest advocates and your most critical friend. We pinpoint the areas of opportunity within your business and provide the tools and training you need to align your people, processes and positioning to these opportunities."
Amongst other business types, Grey Lemon offers unique insight into the management and development of A&D businesses, so we were keen to learn more…
Firstly, can you please introduce us to Grey Lemon?
V: "Grey Lemon is a business strategy consultancy. We work with any organisation that needs to move, grow, shift, or change - whether that is related to managing leadership transition, supercharging the business for growth or helping companies to get clearer on their vision and purpose.
"The thing that makes us particularly good at this is that we have, for the last 15+ years, been in roles of Director level, Board and MD positions helping businesses internationally. I’ve been in Australia, South-East Asia and across Europe, and Rhonda has worked all over South-East Asia, Australia, North America and Europe. Both of us have helped numerous businesses align key elements within their organisation to reach any goal they set out to achieve."
R: "The main difference between us and a traditional management consultant is that they will often just hand their clients a standard plan or a business model to follow, whereas everything we do for our clients is genuinely bespoke. Not only do we devise a strategy that is specific to our clients’ needs, the pivotal point is that we stay working with them to support them implement and embed these changes. This is where we generate real, tangible results for the organisations we work with.”
V: "Whilst we predominantly focus on clients in the built environment as that has been the core focus of both our careers, we also have a wide range of clients and charities that we support outside of this arena, such as the Youth Sports Trust. So our skillset is not confined to one industry or subject."
R: "The fundamental thing for us to get clear on with a client is their vision – what they exist to achieve. If you don’t know why you exist as an organisation, and you would be very surprised by the number of organisations that don’t have clarity of this, it makes it very difficult to achieve their goals, which might impact things like brand, culture, talent attraction and retention and turnover.
"Our mantra is Evolution is Revolution. Our clients know their businesses, we help them see the grey areas which can impact their success, we mitigate these potential threats and build upon their strengths, then we empower them with the tools and the confidence to succeed, so that they can maintain a sustainable and thriving business once we step away from the business too."
How did your previous roles lead you to where you are now?
R: "Our backgrounds are slightly different. My first foray into the property and construction industry was with a start-up urban regeneration focused property developer, after this, I briefly went to work for main contractor, then onto an international architect and interior design practice.
"From there I moved to an Australian structural and civil engineer, repositioning them in the MENA region before returning to the architects practice as a global Principal leading business and commercial strategy. In addition, I led the repositioning of their international offices seeing a 300% growth in the two locations I focused on. I also took on the role of Managing Director of their Los Angeles office in tandem with the global position.
"In 2017 I was hired by a project management and cost consultancy who were a Dublin-based, global organisation striving to get a foothold in the UK market. Initially hired as a Director, my brief was to grow the UK business, which was achieved with over 300% growth during my tenure. In addition to this role, I was also promoted to Chief Marketing Officer where I had oversight of global business and commercial strategy. In short, I have held some big, transformational roles for large scale global organisations.
"I had my son in 2019 which led me to reassess what I wanted to do and the impact I wanted to have in the world. I felt strongly that I could affect larger, more positive change for organisations working externally as a strategic advisor rather than internally dealing with the hierarchy and often, politics. It was actually while I was on maternity leave that we had the idea to establish Grey Lemon - it was the best decision, proven by the excellent, tangible results we have already generated for our clients so far."
V: "I was educated in the UK and moved to Australia on graduation in 2008. There, I cut my teeth in executive recruitment for the built environment, which is where I developed my skills in team development and ensuring the right people were in the right roles – both in terms of their skills and expertise, but also in cultural and organisational fit.
"I then moved into marketing, communications and PR, having clients across different industries ranging from mining, oil and gas to architecture and construction. This is where I started to see that, in some businesses, things weren't joining up internally, particularly in terms of having a clear business strategy to provide a guiding framework for all subsequent commercial activity.
"I then moved in-house to an Australian-based global architecture practice, initially leading their global communications programme, before moving to their UK office to help realign the business strategy for EMEA to be more effective in this market.
“Over four years, we saw the UK studio double in size and win multiple awards. However, the realities of driving organisational change from the inside – especially from a location outside of the head office - became extremely challenging.
"Similarly to Rhonda I also felt I could be more effective as a consultant and this is when Grey Lemon was born.”
Do you wish Grey Lemon's services were something that was available to you in your previous roles in the industry?
R: "Having transformed multiple businesses globally, I know how challenging it is to affect change internally, it’s taken me three years in each major role to generate the big changes I have led. So absolutely, I would have loved a consultant to come in to empower the organisations to have clarity of vision and support them to create a clear strategy, tool kit and training to achieve it."
V: "I couldn’t agree more, born out of our experiences and frustrations of trying to facilitate change from the inside, we set up Grey Lemon, to make this process easier for individuals and teams working in-house.
"Where we see real connection with our clients is when they come to us with a challenge like “we're not converting work” or “our people are not very happy” or “I think we need to re-brand” and because of our experience we can ask two or three very pertinent questions to get to the real cause of the issues and start building towards a solution."
What impact have you seen the pandemic have on the sector and the businesses that you work with?
R: "I think it’s made people more open to change. Whereas before they might have been sailing along, perhaps on a slow decline, when the pandemic hit it sped things up, so it became more critical that change happened strategically, but also quickly.”
V: "On the same note I would say the pandemic has accelerated conversations by about five years. Organisations that have survived by simply doing the same thing the same way repeatedly were forced to think differently about every aspect of their operation. It did also make a lot of established processes irrelevant, while some things that were maybe undervalued, most notably employee satisfaction and wellbeing, became a lot more important.
"I think it has shifted business leaders' understanding of what it is to grow a business in a really meaningful way."
What are you working on at the moment?
R: "Since we launched just over a year and a half ago, we have worked with 15 companies on projects where we have helped to reposition, restructure and supercharge them. This has enabled them to win new work, move into new markets, boost profit and empower their people and attract and retain talent. Two of the organisations we have worked with have seen growth of over 60% since engaging with us."
V: "We are also involved in supporting charities within our sector. One of the projects is the People’s Pavilion, which is an initiative by Beyond the Box Consultants who specialise in social value and how we implement that in the built environment – they are excellent. A group of young people from across the seven boroughs of East London took part in a competition where they got to design and build their own outdoor space. It was all about up-skilling young people and giving them access to an industry that they may not otherwise have gained access to.
"We were involved from start to finish; helping to grow the original concept and to bring it more to life by supporting the promotion of it. We took what we learnt from it to show the industry that things like this can be done, and that we, as a sector, can engage with communities. We are very passionate about that.
"Another initiative we are on the committee of is the Property Marketing Awards (PMA) which is a not-for-profit event, organised annually by the Chartered Surveyors’ Company, a City of London livery company.
"The proceeds raised by the PMA are distributed by the Company’s Charitable Trust, to support a range of education and training projects. These projects provide life changing opportunities which would otherwise not exist, and which enhance diversity in the real estate industry.
"At Grey Lemon, we are committed to making real, tangible change for those we work with directly and the industry as a whole."