George Hanson, Clayton Consulting
Last month, I blogged about how to find a business consultant. This month, I want to further the conversation and talk about the world of consulting. In my own experience, business consulting is broad and varied. Sometimes consultants must learn about a subject area they know very little about in a short period of time in order to get a job done. I wanted to talk to a consultant that could give me the lowdown on what it is really like to be a consultant. I was lucky enough to meet George Hanson, partner with Clayton Consulting (located in Nanaimo, BC), who was happy to meet with me and answer all of my burning questions about the consulting world. I knew George was going to be a wealth of information, because he also happens to be the President of the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance (VIEA), an organization that helps facilitate business opportunities for island communities, First Nations, local businesses, and other key stakeholders.
Based on his company’s website, I knew George was a seasoned professional; so, I wasn’t surprised when he told me he had been working in the business world for the past 40 years. What was surprising was how he ended up there.
When I asked him what he studied in university, George said he had an undergraduate degree in fine arts, and a graduate degree in developmental psychology. This was not the answer I was expecting. George went on to explain that a critical factor in business success is being able to accurately identify your core competencies. He said that early in his career he spent many years as an artistic director for stage productions and events and quickly learned that one of his core competencies was being able to lead diverse people in time sensitive projects to achieve desired outcomes. He further explained that his psychology degree gave him a new understanding in facilitating people and group dynamics, which was based in the belief that organizations were simply extensions of the people within them. This led him to develop sophisticated facilitation skills for complex, time-sensitive projects. To help him make the transition into consulting, George said he studied with some of the top facilitators in North America. To further his business skills, George also became a Chartered Professional in Human Resources (CPHR), which required him to take a series of courses and to demonstrate his experience in order to qualify for their certification program.
I asked George how he first started attracting clients. He said that initially he responded to requests for proposals and networked a lot. He said he also made sure his friends and associates knew that he was shifting careers and moving into consulting. George said the real key to finding work was making your clients happy and when they are satisfied with your work they give you referrals for other clients. He says that most of his company’s work is now from referrals and existing clientele.
When asked about the projects he is most proud of, George cited a couple of examples. The first example was working with a commercial laboratory, where George worked with staff to analyze their production cycle and processes to reduce costs and turn around times. He said he enjoyed the challenge of working with a cross-functional team made up of executives, engineers, supervisors and line workers to document their production, but also to troubleshoot and come up with cost saving solutions. George’s company also worked on the revitalization of the City of Nanaimo’s downtown core between 2001 and until 2008. When they started, he said that property owners had a tough time leasing their property as downtown area was seen as undesirable real estate. In fact, the mere thought of living downtown was laughed at. When the project was completed, the city had hundreds of millions of dollars in investment in the area, including both residential and commercial tenancies and a greatly reduced vacancy rate. In addition to George’s consulting work, he also serves as president and manages the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance (VIEA), which is no small undertaking as the organization plays a key role in attracting investment to the Island.
George has managed VIEA since 2011 and under his leadership it has grown in its capacity and in its relevance. VIEA holds an annual summit, which attracts approximately 600 delegates. The organization also puts out an annual economic report for the Island. Moreover, VIEA works on a full range of priority projects. VIEA was instrumental in bringing the Aboriginal Business Match (ABM) program to Vancouver Island. ABM matches First Nation communities with companies that want to invest on Vancouver Island. VIEA has also been busy developing business cases for the valued-added wood manufacturing industry and recently hosted a wood-industry conference where the business cases were handed out to delegates to seed ideas for greater potential and wealth creation in that industry. VIEA also launched an island marketing campaign, called “Island Good” to promote Vancouver Island-produced food products. George and VIEA are also working with local universities to retain graduates on the island, as many graduates were leaving to find jobs elsewhere. They are also in the process of having Vancouver Island designated as a ‘foreign trade zone’ to improve global awareness of Vancouver Island and attract attention and investment. George says, “Market research showed that Vancouver Island is well known as a great place to visit and a great place to retire, but companies did not think of it as a place for investment. If we encourage development in certain industries and marketing the existence of those industries here, we can increase the percentage of investment from foreign investors.” VIEA is also working on a poverty reduction strategy for the island with local municipalities, universities/colleges and businesses, which is a proactive approach rather relying on federal and provincial agencies to tackle the problem.
Needless to say, George is very busy person. What I liked about our interview was his commitment to creating a healthy community and fostering business on Vancouver Island, and his candor in sharing his business and education journey with me.
George Hanson can be reached at:
Address: 198 Garner Crescent
Tel: (250) 741-8184
Written by: Koren Bear