When Stan Zets retired from his role as chief executive officer of consulting group Expense Reduction Analysts (ERA) in 2008, he quickly found himself considering his future. In only seven years he had grown ERA to more than 25 countries, deploying more than 700 partners, but once he retired there seemed to be something missing in his life.
“I’d spent my life flying from country to country and so I took a year off but I felt unfulfilled”
That’s when Stan decided he needed to look at people in similar situations to the one he was currently facing.
“At that time, I was in my mid-50s with plenty of years ahead; however I was looking at how to remain relevant for 20 or 30 years going forward. “
“This is a new age. Statistically, we are living longer, so I thought that it would be good to find like-minded people and create a collegiate environment where we would have a broad-based consultancy that would deploy individuals of C-level or senior professional status, all of whom would have more than 20 years of practical experience.”
At this point, Stan, who is a Chartered Accountant by profession, was introduced to Alan Kaplan.
Alan holds a PhD in marketing, and the two developed a business strategy for a new consultancy called Optivance 360.
“Optivance promotes optimal, sustainable solutions, and 360 refers to the 360 degree, holistic approach we take,” Stan says. “It’s very important to be able to get a comprehensive understanding of the organisation and its needs. To be able to do that, you need people with both experience and backgrounds in a lot of different types of areas so that the assessment and evaluation of client needs can be properly undertaken.”
“That’s how we see ourselves, as a group of highly skilled and experienced individuals from different backgrounds that work together in a collegiate environment, and we leverage our skills to attain optimal outcomes for clients.”
As Stan notes, the two men offer complementary skills which, combined with extensive experience, enables them to view and analyse a business from all angles. With the combined experience of all their members, Optivance 360 offers far more than just textbook advice.
“Alan is very creative, and an excellent communicator,” Stan says. “He combines academic theory and practical reality with a creative perspective. Conversely, I am heavily focused on risk and risk management. When we compare our respective vision and opinions on a matter, we actually look for the most optimal and sustainable solution. We don’t compete with one another. We actually influence one another. We are opposites, like yin and yang.”
This is particularly important, as many businesses are so involved in their own industry or operations that they can’t review their strategy honestly or holistically. In Stan’s experience, many businesses miss growth opportunities because they focus on areas that they believe are important, but fail to know and address the most crucial needs of their target market.
“So often, businesses are not properly focused on their strategy and planning. Even when they actually get to that point, the ability to implement becomes a key issue. These are businesses that often lack key resources, such as insufficient capital, or skills.”
In this sense, Optivance 360 is very much focused on growth opportunities, and actively involved in three key areas, i.e. financial strategy and management, branding and marketing solutions and franchising solutions.
In addition to Stan and Alan, the experience and skills of Irvin Gordon (CA) and Alan Branch (LLB and respected franchise expert) add considerable expertise to the team’s financial management, franchise and legal capabilities, respectively, and add immense value to its clients.
Asked about his company’s most memorable achievements, assisting Qantas Loyalty to model and monetise its Aquire program, and successfully introducing Driving Miss Daisy into the United Kingdom, are two outcomes that engender considerable pride in Stan.
Stan says that he prefers to refer to Optivance 360 as a “resultancy” rather than a consultancy.
“A consultant is a theorist; a person that identifies a set of needs, and uses a combination of theory and experience in coming up with a solution, but seldom implement the solution. The ‘resultant’ terminology that we’ve coined is somebody that gives advice, and actually implements it. We work in a long-term environment. The idea, therefore, is to garner the individual skills of people and bring them together to provide holistic and sustainable outcomes.”
For each prospective assignment, Optivance 360 engages at least two partners to assess and strategise. It is an extensive process, but one that clearly benefits clients. Optivance360 often holds workshops to draw out issues and gain a better understanding of the culture and needs of the business.
With clients across the SME, large business and franchise models, the approach is naturally very different – but that is where the years of experience at Optivance 360 come to the fore.
“Different business groups often have dissimilar agendas,” Stan explains. “Stakeholders are very distinctive, and the process of making decisions can be profoundly different. One needs to take into account the culture of the organisation and the diversity of all relevant parties.
“For example, a franchise is a business model with a good deal of regulation and governance that surrounds it, but there are two very different propositions. You have a franchisor and you have a franchisee. Being a franchisor is the business of recruiting excellent franchisees, and providing them with the requisite training and support to run a successful franchise. That means that the franchise business model, brand management, communications and quality control are all central to the successful outcomes of both the franchisee and franchisor.”
“The franchisee, more often than not, is a small business, restricted by rules. They benefit from the successful brand or product process, so the personality of the franchisor and franchisee are fundamentally different. There is usually more complexity for an advisory service in the franchise environment.”
With such a variety of clients and industries, it is easy to see the benefit of Stan and Alan’s philosophy towards experienced executives. Stan says that the two of them set out to “provide a permanent environment for senior executives and professionals to hang their hats on without any risk of being asked to leave other than failing a professional peer review”, and in doing so has attracted exceptional talent and experience.
This approach also brings a mature mindset towards business and a desire to do more than just “make money”. Optivance 360 has undertaken a lot of work that addresses social responsibility; ensuring that they leave a legacy of social good, and providing avenues for businesses that want to make a difference to the community.
One such example is Imagine Foundation, the brainchild of Ivan Schwartz, which will remain a key focus for Optivance 360 into the future.
“Imagine Foundation provides an alternative fundraising platform alongside philanthropy and corporate sponsorship,” Stan says. “It introduces sustainable fundraising streams that do not detract or divert from traditional charitable sources. The foundation acts as a conduit, administering fundraising on behalf of participating community organisations.
“Its mission is to automate cause-related marketing in partnership with commercial enterprises and in so doing address an identifiable social need, utilising legacy points balances as the fuel. It also provides a growing list of corporate partners with an end to end customer retention and a growth platform able to deliver sustainable value to its host organisation, as well as to the communities in which they operate.”
Imagine Foundation’s strategic commercial alliance with peer-to peer crowdfunding provider, EverydayHero, places it in a powerful position to deliver retention programs for its clients and at the same time deliver a tailored corporate social platform using pointsforpurpose™ as the primary cause for points redemption.
The aim is for Imagine Foundation is to raise more than $100 million a year for charitable causes – an extraordinary effort with great social implications.
For an organisation of Optivance 360’s capabilities, it is refreshing to see such an initiative remain a key focus, and says great things about its founders. It is yet another example of Optivance360’s holistic approach to business – a cornerstone of their own operations – and a great reflection of what can be done when you harness experience and skill.