Sozen Leimon: My slimline business that thrives on crisis

Ten years at management consultancy giant gave Sozein Lemon the experience and contacts to go it alone in a start-up consultancy venture. Last year, the company's sales hit £4m.

When Sozen Leimon's husband was contacted by headhunters from a start-up consulting firm, he told them to speak to his wife. "He knew I was looking for a new challenge." After more than a decade at management consultancy giant Accenture, Leimon felt "disconnected". She'd been promoted to partner but felt she was "spending more time managing and raising my profile within the business than doing the job I liked". So she met the start-up consultancy's boss, Claire Arnold. They "hit it off straightaway". Leimon left Accenture in 2001, and within the year the pair had set up Maxxim Consulting.

The firm's modest size gave it some advantages over larger rivals. "We could specialise instead of trying to be all things to all men." Looking for areas where they could help, they targeted small firms that had seen sales rise sharply, but hadn't yet changed the way they were organised to reflect that. Other clients would include established firms "who found that in a changing market, doing what they always did, didn't make them money any more".

They used their contacts to build up a "pool of associates" who would work on a freelance basis when needed. "It's a big advantage because we only hire them when we need them." It also made costs scalable, "which is vital when you are starting out". Their lightweight structure meant start-up costs "only came to a couple of thousand". Their first client was energy group EDF. "It didn't matter that Maxxim had no track record. People knew our individual track records and that helped us win contracts."

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The pair also targeted universities. "We knew changes to higher education funding would force universities to change the way they worked. We also knew they were chronically inefficient." In some cases, departments had more administrative staff than lecturers. Maxxim helped universities "make difficult choices" as they struggled to live within their new budgets.

As the firm grew and hired more staff, the pair put more emphasis on marketing. "The danger is, you get caught up in a project and stop looking for future clients. Then the project finishes and you are left with no work." They began publishing "thought leadership pieces" that outlined their philosophy on corporate organisation. They also hosted breakfasts, where prospective clients could meet satisfied customers. When all else failed they would cold-call companies, picking up leads by scanning the news for companies that, through growth or misfortune, might need to restructure.

Maxxim grew gradually "we have seen competitors grow more quickly but many of them are not here today" and organically. "We didn't feel the need to borrow to boost growth and often joke that we are like two housewives making do with what we've got." By 2005 annual sales reached £1m. They kept growing and were actually boosted by the financial crisis in 2008. "Crises are good for us. They force companies to cut out waste and focus on efficiency." Last year, sales hit £4m. Would they sell? "I'm not sure if we would... but trying to make ourselves an attractive acquisition sets a good benchmark for improving the firm."

James graduated from Keele University with a BA (Hons) in English literature and history, and has a NCTJ certificate in journalism.


After working as a freelance journalist in various Latin American countries, and a spell at ITV, James wrote for Television Business International and covered the European equity markets for the London bureau. 


James has travelled extensively in emerging markets, reporting for international energy magazines such as Oil and Gas Investor, and institutional publications such as the Commonwealth Business Environment Report. 


He is currently the managing editor of LatAm INVESTOR, the UK's only Latin American finance magazine.