Graduates at Kepler, according to Senior Manager Edward Mottley, get two things they might not always find as easily working elsewhere in consulting: exposure to business leaders, and detailed insight into the financial workings and strategies of companies.
Kepler concentrates on advising on executive remuneration - how incentives for senior employees are structured. It's an issue that's central to any business because, in order to achieve its strategic and financial objectives, it must make sure that its leaders are set the right goals and motivated to achieve them.
Edward has been at Kepler for seven and half years. He joined the firm straight after graduating, having been attracted to this "small and ambitious firm" because of its desire for the two or three graduates it recruits each year to develop quickly along with the business. "The one thing I didn't want was to be sat on a structured two to three-year graduate scheme," he says. Kepler has doubled in size since Edward joined, taking its headcount up to around 20 employees, and he's progressed into a senior position.
"Much of our work is supporting the remuneration committees of publicly listed companies, these are groups of non-executive directors who decide the structure of pay for the company's management team, including how much to pay," says Edward. "We bring together data from across the market, analyse it and draw conclusions. We don't set pay levels or structures ourselves, but support the committee through its deliberations." Consultants at the firm also advise on setting targets, tracking performance, and producing materials explaining pay and bonus structures to staff.
Across industries and continents
The fact that Kepler advises many different kinds of businesses keeps the work varied: "Our clients," says Edward, "range from companies in the FT30 right down to small privately-held ones, and in all kinds of sectors - banking, manufacturing, retailing, aerospace and defence, and mining. I'm probably working with eight to ten companies, across multiple sectors, at any one time."
The breadth of the firm's client list allows consultants here to compare organisations right across the business world. "We have wide knowledge," says Edward, and explains that the way remuneration is structured can vary considerably and is often tailored to the features of a particular industry.
"In mining, there is often significant upfront investment in a project which might have a 15-year life cycle, so executive incentives tend to be focused on longer-term performance." Remuneration for executives in retail, by contrast, is usually more focused on the shorter term, such as sales performance. And while executives' achievements in retail are usually measured in absolute terms, such as percentage growth in like for like sales, in mining they'll often be assessed through comparisons with competitor companies because price volatility in the markets where mined commodities are sold makes absolute figures less reliable indicators of management's own performance.
The international nature of Kepler's clients means that its consultants also gain experience in a range of geographical markets. For example, Edward explains, many UK-based companies have significant operations in the US, where philosophies on pay are different: long-term equity awards are often solely dependent on the share price of their company. In the UK meanwhile, incentive payouts tend to be determined by a number of additional performance indicators, such as profit and relative share price performance.
An exciting time
Graduates joining Kepler can expect to progress quickly: "We are a meritocracy that aims to hire the brightest and best," says Edward, "so we recognise the people we hire will be highly ambitious and we want to keep them engaged. Here you can progress at your own pace. Those likely to fare well at Kepler," he adds, "will be intellectually curious and proactive, with a good eye for detail."
Executive pay has become more and more high-profile since Edward joined Kepler as a graduate himself and the subject now hits the headlines on a regular basis, which means it is "an exciting time to be in the field". But, he adds, incentivising employees will always be key in the business world so there will be continued demand for expert advice and assistance on the complexities of doing so.
Meet a recent graduate at Kepler
Alexandra Ryzak joined Kepler Associates in autumn 2012 after graduating from the University of Oxford, where she studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics
Why did you choose to join Kepler?
Remuneration consulting is connected to some of the microeconomic topics I enjoyed studying at university, particularly how business owners approach the motivation of their employees. By joining Kepler I hoped to apply what I had learnt to the business world and to find out more about the inner workings of businesses - how they structure their internal processes to achieve their goals. It's all about making your resources work as effectively as possible and I felt human resources, as some of the most complicated, would be some of the most interesting.
What was the application process like?
I sent off my CV, had a phone interview, then did a maths test and a written test, where I had to write a short report making recommendations on a proposed remuneration package. Then I came to the office for an assessment day, which involved a discussion-based task and two interviews, one with our managing director.
What kind of work do you do?
I've been involved in all kinds of different projects. As a new graduate, I'm closely involved in research and data analysis. At the moment, I'm working on producing updates for a number of companies on how their business has been performing in the past year and how this may translate into payouts under their reward schemes in the future.
What have you enjoyed working on most since joining Kepler?
My favourite project so far concerned a client who wanted to know how the pay package of their below board-level executives compared to the rest of the market. The data collection process was interesting because there is much less disclosure for these roles than for board-level ones. I have since been involved in developing a new database for use on such projects in the future. I enjoyed working on the project from the beginning and feeling that I'd made a contribution to the company.
How do you find working life at Kepler?
I like being at a small company - over the past few months I've worked with everyone here, and there is a great sense of being part of a larger team. We tend to eat lunch together and go out for drinks on a Friday evening if we're not too busy. The company also organises a ski trip - this March we're all going to Courchevel!
How do you see your future at Kepler?
I'm aiming to develop the skills to move from being an associate to advising clients directly. I'm working on increasing my responsibility for and ownership of projects, so that I'm able to develop them myself from beginning to end.