The Rise of Independent Talent in the UK and EU

The independent workforce in the UK and EU is growing quickly and becoming stronger than ever with high-end talent turning to fluid work with the desire for autonomy, flexibility, and control. We’ve seen those reasons and more reflected in the responses to our annual Talent Lens survey—the most comprehensive study of workers at the top end of the on-demand talent economy.

Demand trends demonstrate that executives are beginning to understand the benefits that on-demand talent can offer given the attractive economics for project-based work. According to recent Heidrick & Struggles market research, more than 60% of executives surveyed in Europe have used some form of on-demand talent in the past.

To provide a lens into the growing population of independent talent, we’ve profiled three highly skilled, successful professionals in the BTG network to talk about their background and experience with independent consulting.

Spotlight on EU Talent

Photo of Angel Arbizu

Angel Arbizu

Process improvement and digital transformation consultant based in Madrid, Spain

Angel Arbizu gained a global perspective early on when he obtained a scholarship to study abroad in the United States during his undergrad in Spain, then again in Paris, France, for his MBA, and later China with a scholarship to study Business Chinese where he earned his PhD in international marketing. Amidst his educational pursuits, Arbizu was a senior consultant at PwC for six years with extensive project management, change management, systems implementation, and corporate launch experience in the healthcare industry.

Over the course of his career, he has worked with several clients in Western Europe and China to manage data flow requirements, master data management (MDM) initiatives, change management and governance, and system roll-outs. He specializes in global PMO establishment and operations, process design and implementation, and ongoing systems support, and excels at coordinating cross-functionally between end users, business leaders, vendors, and IT.

All these experiences and projects that took place all over the world quenched his thirst for variety, learning, and development, and each choice queued him up to be a perfect fit for independent consultancy. The true catalyst for the official shift to working independently came from a colleague from PwC who started a boutique and saw Arbizu as “the link or the bridge” for European clients. He did this for two years before going totally solo and finding BTG.

Arbizu notes that he chose to become an independent consultant so he could choose projects and clients himself rather than being locked into a traditional full-time role. He emphasizes the importance of adding value. Project-based work is wholly based on deliverables and priorities so independents like Arbizu know their efforts are adding value to the client and company because they can see the results.

“At the end of the day, we’re definitely going to deliver… [which is why] they should just try us,” Arbizu said.

Photo of Frederick Bagnall

Frederick Bagnall

Strategy consultant with a focus on strategic transformations through organic and inorganic growth based in Madrid, Spain

Fred Bagnall is a former Ernst & Young consultant with over eight years of PMO, project, and program management experience with a focus on strategic transformations through organic and inorganic growth in various industries including pharma, financial services, PE, and the public sector.

While he’s relatively new to independent consulting (having started in April 2022), Bagnall feels that this path allows for limitless growth. “Working as an independent consultant, your circle, or the people that you choose to interact with, can be as small or as large as you like,” he said. “As an independent consultant you directly benefit from expanding your network and can influence the type of clients and people you work with.”

Additional to that, Bagnall cites flexibility as a key reason he chose to become an independent consultant, both in scheduling flexibility and how and where he works. He said that the ability to meet with different people, build their trust and gain their confidence while working on valuable projects is a win-win, coupled with the limitless networking and professional growth opportunities.

He also theorized that his experience working in niche areas like post-merger integrations, separations, and large-scale transformations gives him a unique insight into the challenges his clients are likely to face, since a typical client will only go through a few transformations in their lifespan, if any. That background gives him the ability to anticipate challenges and act accordingly when they arise—having likely experienced them on projects prior.

On-demand talent like Bagnall are well equipped to work in positions that require impartiality and confidentiality, such as on transactions and transformation projects. “[It’s] the perfect use case for independent consultants as they are exactly that, independent,” he said. Independents provide unique perspectives untainted by internal politics or individual career ambitions. According to Bagnall, if a client actively pursues those perspectives, it can also bring interesting and challenging work to the consultant.

And compared to traditional hires, consultants can gain unique insights into the minds of clients, their business, their problems. “I often find myself acting as a sounding board for my clients on topics they may not feel comfortable discussing with internal employees,” Bagnall said.

Incorporating independent consultant support with talent like Fred Bagnall can enable organizations to benefit from an outside point of view.

Photo of Romano Kroemer

Romano Kroemer

Accomplished leader in Pharma R&D with experience in research and development projects, strategy and operations, as well as data and digitalization programs based in Paris, France

Romano Kroemer is motivated by fast-paced, challenging environments, as well as the flexibility and diversity in projects. For Kroemer, going independent wasn’t so much a “start” of a new endeavor as it was a continuation of what he was doing before – pursuing projects, transforming the sector he has been working in, and innovating to drive results and growth.

As the former Head of Structure, Design & Informatics at a global healthcare company as well as an accomplished leader in the pharmaceutical space, Kroemer has extensive experience in digitalization, data science, scientific computing, data management, operations and business performance, and strategy implementation. Earning his PhD in chemistry led him to the pharmaceutical industry with focus on research, strategic operations, and data science. After touching so many areas of interest and enjoying the inherent variety of work, the natural progression was for Kroemer to transition to independent consulting full-time.

Project-based professionals are goal oriented and driven – “You have a very concrete, a very well-defined mission, and you are really dedicated to that mission,” Kroemer said, vouching for the “hit the ground running through thorough preparation” mentality of independent consultants as a salve for any client hesitancy. “On that mission, then you have this opportunity to make key contributions when it really counts. In many cases these consultancy projects are time bound; there are very stringent objectives associated with them … you are focused on that. You are not sidetracked by administrative tasks or supervising people on your team.”

Highly learned professionals like Romano Kroemer–who possess the ability to go deep across a variety of fields and make the connections between them–have the insights necessary to be a driving force for change amidst uncertainty.

Advice from the inside

For clients looking to get ahead in the competitive landscape or those contemplating joining the indie ranks, sometimes the best advice comes from people in the field. Here are some best practices from these experts in addition to a few tried and true tips from BTG.

For clients:

  • Try ODT and see – you’ll likely find that they’re exactly what you’re looking for in terms of skills, expertise, and cost.
  • Evaluate how willing the team or the manager is to accept outside input as you determine how to best tackle your initiatives.
  • Ask yourself how realistic the scale or the timeframe is of the change you’re trying to facilitate.
  • Define the mission. Identify opportunities and explore where a consultant’s skills can support your initiatives as you better understand when to engage on-demand talent.
  • Maintain a collaborative environment where new perspectives are valued rather than excluded, dismissed, or feared.
  • Recognize that a majority of independent workers are independent by choice, especially when talking about high-end talent.
  • Don’t write off candidates as “too senior” for your consideration. These professionals are motivated and emboldened by the nitty-gritty, hands-on nature of independent work and are more than able to hit the ground running to get the work done.

For talent:

  • Really think about the differences between the corporate world and independent consulting. Not only can you choose projects, but you can choose clients and managers that you click with as you’re prospecting.
  • Remember that it’s up to you to decide where you want to go and what your professional progression looks like.
  • Be open and honest about what you look for in your work. Being an independent consultant requires skills, expertise, and experience, but it also requires self-motivation to drive projects to successful completion.
  • If you’re deliberating whether independent consulting is the right path for you, do some market research to find out if there’s a good market for your experience and expertise and whether clients in that space have a culture of engaging with external support or not.
  • Be mindful and prepared for fluctuations in workload and income.
  • Be prepared to ask informed questions to show that you’ve done your research, you’re paying attention, and you’re a good listener.
  • Be humble.

The European labor market is evolving and expanding

Be among the innovative leaders and top companies that have a leg up on the competition thanks to on-demand talent in Europe; engage right-fit, highly skilled independent consultants on your latest initiatives and pressing priorities.

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