By Gabe House
Lothar Soliwon wasn’t prepared to idly watch time pass by when he retired from the state of Illinois a couple years ago. The former marketing manager decided to utilize his extensive experience working with companies and municipalities – both large and small – by opening an international consulting firm.
And with that, Springfield began playing host a little more than a year ago to ZG Worldwide. ZG stands for Zukunft Group, the “zukunft” meaning “future” in German.
“ZG Worldwide is a wide-spectrum, specialized business-development company that has major components in media and health care,” said Soliwon, a German-born citizen who was raised in Springfield. “What’s unique is our international component. We have people in Shanghai, Vancouver, Buenos Aires … and we also have people in China.”
Soliwon was quick to point out, though, that a number of his 35 associates are located in Illinois as well. ZG Worldwide works on the local, national and international levels, so the varied assortment of associates – and their myriad skillsets – is necessary when one looks at the many consulting areas ZG offers services in. A quick glance at the firm’s informational brochure lists everything from individualized weight-loss consulting all the way up to architectural consulting for new business ventures. To call it a wide array would be an understatement.
“We welcome inquiries, and we’ll give free initial consultations if someone is interested,” Soliwon said. “If they have special needs, maybe we can fulfill them; we have so much. We have a human capital strategic management person, we have someone who specializes in improving fire and police departments … we have bits and pieces for all sorts of different things.”
ZG Worldwide charges a five-percent commission for its consulting role in bringing clients and associates together. Soliwon said that in his experience most commission fees begin at 10 percent, particularly in large, multinational consulting firms. Project pricing is ultimately determined by ZG’s associates, who are encouraged to price in accordance with local rates.
“(The associates) have a good feel for business conditions in their country,” Soliwon said. “I don’t have a feel for what skills are going for in Argentina, for example, but we encourage them to be reasonable.”
Soliwon credits several factors for ZG Worldwide’s ability to offer such competitive fees. Location, of course, is the primary one. Being based in Springfield has certain advantages.
“Skyscrapers in downtown Chicago command a lot of money for office space,” Soliwon said.
Also, leaps in telecommunications technology have made international business a simpler affair. And, Soliwon said, ZG further reduces cost by having its stable of international associates.
“The beauty of this … if you want to send someone to China, the costs add up quickly,” Soliwon said. “For a $60,000 project, thousands of additional dollars in travel costs can be a deal-breaker. Why not just figure out if the person already in China can do this work for you? It’s the name of the game.”
ZG Worldwide, in Soliwon’s words, tries to keep things simple and streamlined. Many of its associates don’t have brick and mortar offices. They cover multiple states (or countries, in the case of international associates), and they often work for other consulting firms at the same time, so they have a network of connections.
“We have a lot of contacts who would be available on an ad hoc basis for a project,” Soliwon said. “What’s good about us is that for larger projects, we can build teams easily across various disciplines. Some projects just require knowledge that our other people don’t have, and we don’t expect people to be jacks of all trades.”
Of course, this subcontracting kind of approach could lead to potential issues. Soliwon, though, says he trusts ZG associates when they need to bring in help. Also, some of the responsibility ultimately falls on the clients themselves to properly vet those whom they may hire.
“In a way, we’re putting some of the onus on the client,” Soliwon explained. “We encourage them to ask a lot of questions, because it doesn’t cost anything to have a dialogue. We want them to feel entirely comfortable.”
Although ZG Worldwide has been operating for more than a year, Soliwon said it’s been a challenge thus far to get the word out about the burgeoning business. There’s been a great deal of interest, he said, but building a client base in the consulting world can be a long-term challenge.
Soliwon does have a timetable, however, for when he expects things to take off for ZG Worldwide.
“My goal is about three years to really build momentum, but I’m pleased so far, because this is a new company,” Soliwon said. “I feel very fortunate that I found something to do that is fun, and it’s something I’m interested in. Eventually, I want to actually have a brick and mortar facility in Springfield somewhere, perhaps downtown, once we really get the momentum going.”
Gabe House can be reached at email@example.com.