When tech consultancy Mantel Group announced it was opening new remote work hubs on Magnetic Island, Queensland and in Queenstown, New Zealand, it almost seemed too good to be true.
However, this is just a realisation of the vision founder Con Mouzouris had when he first formed the start-up in 2017, imagining a collection of individual brands driven by principles, ethos and culture before profits.
Now, four years on and several brand creations later, the Mantel Group is entering its next phase, building new brands organically and creating a new work environment whereby geography is not a factor.
“Our initial strategy and planning activities that happened in 2017 were centred around the concept of a house of brands strategy,” Mouzouris said in an interview with ARN.
“And the challenge we raised to ourselves was, how do we build a unique large Australian company that can stand the test of time, but do it in a way where it feels like a small start-up with every value proposition we have."
“So the very essence of this house of brands strategy is to have clear value propositions on how we get to market each brand and do it in a way where we have a very clear focus and understanding of the client wants and needs.”
Operating under the principles of 'love what you do, be awesome at it and communicate directly,' Mantel Group remains largely privately owned, alongside a growing number of team members who are minority shareholders.
Underpinning the company's growth since 2017 has been the founding and development of a number of individual brands: these originally included DigIO -- a digital development and delivery company; artificial intelligence house Eliiza; and Google Cloud specialist Kasna.
These are now joined by CMD Solutions, a Sydney-based cloud and automation consulting firm with expertise in Amazon Web Services (AWS), which Mantel acquired in 2019. And now more recently, it has established three more brands: Pretzel Lab, Azenix and Cuusoo.
What Mouzouris describes as “responsible acquisitions” have been a focal point of growing Mantel Group, with the emphasis on “responsible” rather than just acquisitions.
“It's extremely important to us that when we do acquire a business, it is built on people,” he said. “So, we know when we acquire a business, we acquire brains within those organisations. So, it's in our own interest to find the right ways to help those individuals and their brains to grow and develop as part of that acquisition strategy.”
Bringing on a new company is always tricky territory, with the entity acquired often becoming a shadow of its former self once consolidation is completed. Part of that is when the original team members and leaders leave.
"Because we know what we're acquiring, the directors of those companies know exactly what we’re trying to achieve in our job in management,” he said.
"If we get that right, then people stay attached. Hopefully, retention rates remain as low as possible. Across our business, our retention, even during COVID has been extremely positive and less than 10 per cent turnover, which is an awesome achievement for us.”
Naturally, there are challenges to operating a collective of self-contained brands, all with their own profit-and-loss sheet. One is efficiency and the other is rivalry and politics between entities. On the first point, Mouzouris acknowledges that there is added complexity compared to a holding company whereby everything is under one consolidated P&L.
"To be honest, the overhead of running separate P&Ls and structures has a minimal impact on the overall cost of doing business,” he said. “Our focus has always been making sure that we build great teams that have very clear value propositions in the market. If we want to get that right, you need to have a portfolio of brands that allow our customers the choice and best service of those disciplines on the market.”
In terms of minimising competitiveness between brands, the answer is simple: no individual or brand gets rewarded with a sales commission.
“We didn’t want an incentive structure that's going to move our focus away from what the customer value proposition is and why we're working on a client. So in Mantel Group, we are aligned around common objectives and the clients' common objectives.”
Although Mouzouris was keen to stress there were rewards in place for team players who go above and beyond in their work, the main goal behind hiring is to find talent that will be more aligned to principles than simply chasing sales targets.
Looking ahead into the rest of 2021, Mouzouris is now keen to accelerate the company’s growth both along the east coast of Australia and New Zealand. It will also be focused on ramping up growth of its new brands and offering in design, Microsoft Azure and Databricks.
“I think if we can get another acquisition or two down over the next 12 to 18 months, that puts us in a really good position. We'll take a stock check at the end of this year and go ahead and look at what our next five-year evolution will look like around that pathway to growth.”