Friday, February 3, 2023 Feb 3, 2023
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Business

Five Questions for Earle Steinberg

Steinberg joined Dallas-based Thomas Group in March 2008. Thomas Group is an international, publicly traded professional-services firm specializing in “operational improvements.”
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Thomas Group

1 Even before last year’s economic meltdown, Thomas had been struggling. What was the main problem?

In 2008, we were notified by the Department of the Navy that we had come to the end of two significant contracts, representing more than 70 percent of our revenue. So, we had the experience, metaphorically, of falling off the edge of the table and having to start all over again.

2 How did you go about doing that?
In order to accomplish our goals—survive, recover, and grow—it became clear to me that we had to diversify our client base significantly. So, we set upon a track of aggressive business development in the commercial sector. Our business had been divided about 80 percent government and 20 percent commercial when those contracts came to an end; now I’d say we’re closer to 50/50.
One of the things involved in diversifying our client base was to improve some of our consultant product offerings—to update them by acquiring new technology. Also, we invested in new-product development—some of which has been rolled out successfully, and other pieces of which continue to roll out. The other thing we did was train and re-train our people who were on the bench, so we could get as many of them as possible occupied serving clients.

3 How important are new products—or ideas—in consulting?
All consulting ideas have a finite life. Typically when someone comes up with a great consulting idea, it’s not more than a couple of years before other consulting firms are, first, copying it, and then actually improving it. All these ideas have a life cycle, and when people get good at doing it themselves, the ideas are no longer viable as a strong consulting product, and you have to move on. So continuous new-product development is key.

4 What are you seeing these days in terms of the business climate?
I think the business climate is as stressed as I’ve seen it in the last 30 years. In general there’s fear, there’s a lot of uncertainty about the future, and there’s a pervading sense of caution. The level of business risk-taking in all areas has been significantly diminished, and the focus has turned in many cases inward, toward survival, as opposed to outward, toward customer service.

5 How close is Thomas Group to a turnaround?
We feel like we’ve hit the bottom and we’ve started to bounce up a bit, but we’re not near where we need to be to achieve our full potential. I believe our future is bright, but challenging. Our pipeline is better than it’s ever been, more diverse than it’s ever been, larger in total than it’s ever been—so time will tell. But we are optimistic about our future.