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Picking up speed – Roger Perowne in conversation with Research Live

Sima Vasa, CEO & Founder of Infinity Squared Ventures interviews our very own, Vin DeRobertis, the CEO of Savanta Americas, on the Data Gurus podcast: Navigating the Data Ecosystem.

Savanta is a rapidly growing name in the industry, but how is it adapting to the post-Covid-19 world? Liam Kay, Deputy Editor at Research Live, asked CEO Roger Perowne about the company’s plans for the future.

The past two years have, to put it mildly, been tough for the research industry. Growing a company during the beginning of a major worldwide pandemic was almost an impossibility after lockdowns removed income, clients and entire ways of working, with 2021 also bringing its fair share of turbulence.

However, lockdowns aside, some parts of the industry have managed to pick up from where they left off in 2019, and expand as the economy recovers from the trauma of 2020. Savanta is one of the firms that has been prominent in 2021, having completed two acquisitions for US market research agency MSI International and youth research specialist YouthSight. The company has also expanded its presence in the US and Canada, with a raft of recruits following Savanta’s purchase of MSI International.

Roger Perowne, chief executive at Savanta, is the man who has led the ship through the stormy waters of 2020. “When it hit, March to July in 2020 our revenues were down 25% and 30%, and didn’t recover right away,” says Perowne. “America was doing well and kept things flowing. With being a bigger company, you can afford to take some losses for a while. No one knew how long this would go on for – whether it was years or months.”

The team, however, kept the show on the road. “We were all a bit at sea, we didn’t know what was coming, and the team pulled in together and were amazing to moving to working from home globally,” Perowne says. “Revenues bounced back – we had an amazing second half of last year, beyond management’s expectations, and clawed back a huge amount of what we had lost in the first half of the year. We did actually eventually grow.”

Perowne says that momentum has continued in 2021, with the company up 25% like-for-like on the previous year. The company is looking towards its next challenges and opportunities, with the current focus on the North American market, expanding both through organic growth and acquisitions. Next stop? Asia, and specifically India. “India is one of the most exciting future nations in the world, working in a new way – not an American way, not a Chinese way, not a European way, but an Indian way,” Perowne adds. “It is very exciting seeing their ideas, thinking and approaching.”

The company has also successfully integrated the companies it has bought, and Perowne credits a hands-off approach to the success in overcoming traditional challenges in merging two separate organisations with sometimes quite different structures and cultures. “Every single acquisition has been a success financially,” he says. “The key to me is don’t make them align to you – don’t make them be like the existing organisation. They are already a good business, and so let them retain their uniqueness, their characteristics and idiosyncrasies. Encourage them to adopt new ideas and thinking, and blend the teams, but don’t say ‘there is a new rule book and you need to do it this way now’. We are buying them because they are doing well – the last thing we want to do is disrupt that.”

Changing times
Perowne says that the research industry has a bright future, but careful thought is needed on how much the industry shifts towards data and social media and away from more traditional forms of research, such as face-to-face qualitative work.

“I think research has gotten a little bit obsessed with new data feeds, with lots of people using a lot of different social media feeds,” he explains. “There is a role for that, but I think it is easy to get ahead of ourselves – the old techniques are still quite valid too.

“Adding new techniques is great, and market research is a much more innovative industry than people realise – it is always listening, learning and wanting to evolve. There is loads more that can be done – blending qual and quant, and qual at scale is interesting. I think it has a really exciting future. It has an exciting present, trying to make sense of the world.”

He also senses that substantial changes to working patterns are here to stay and says that Savanta will be looking to embrace the new working environment. “You can’t have a happy research company if you don’t have a happy team. It used to be about technology – quicker faster better – and now it is all about the right way of looking after your team. That will be the key thing between the companies that do well and the companies that don’t. Are we finding a way to personalise? I think as a team, they have shown a lot of resilience over the past 18 months, and I want that to be repaid in spades.”

Since the pandemic, Savanta has seen employees relocate around the world, from Pontefract in West Yorkshire to Wellington in New Zealand. “These are rare talented people. What’s the difference if we see them once a week or not? As long as they are contributing and happy,” Perowne says.

“This is exciting – this would probably not have happened as fast if it weren’t for the pandemic. There is an opportunity to re-think our approaches to work and to clients. It used to be that I would always be on a plane doing client meetings. It was terrible on everyone – it was not appropriate. Now it is on Zoom. I think we now it allows us to have closer partnerships with our clients, because you can be more integrated in their business. You are always there.”

As a consequence, Savanta is conducting a workplace engagement programme with its 425 staff to see how the organisation should work with its employees in the future. Perowne emphasises that this might mean the office playing a new role in people’s lives. “Maybe one of things we need to be as employers is to be brilliant party organisers,” he states. “Should we now be empowering people to have local social connections because they are no longer getting them at the office? If they are spending three-quarters of their time at home, should we now be subsidising people joining local clubs so that we are encouraging them to have a social life?” Time will tell. For now, Savanta is looking to keep moving forwards, increasing momentum towards future opportunities.


Originally published on 8th December 2021 in Research Live: