Former Arthur D. Little CEO McNamara, Taking a Top Post at Cambridge Consultants, Says She’s Gone “Back to the Future”

2/13/09

Pamela McNamara says that her new post at Cambridge Consultants, a technology product design and development firm, is like going “back to the future.” That’s because she once oversaw the firm as CEO of then-fading consulting powerhouse Arthur D. Little, which owned Cambridge Consultants until 2002. Yet her new employer has evolved in the years since its sale.

For one thing, Cambridge Consultants, based in Cambridge, U.K., has since expanded to the Boston area and now keeps its U.S. headquarters in Cambridge, MA. McNamara is a few weeks into her new role as president of the stateside office, charged with establishing the operation in the clean-tech, defense, and wireless industries, building upon the firm’s success in those sectors in Europe.

McNamara has stepped into a leading role at the firm during an economy more depressed than the one she faced while at the helm of Arthur D. Little from 2000 to 2002. Named after the MIT-trained chemist who founded the firm in 1886, ADL was sold while in bankruptcy in 2002 after some of its tech ventures flopped.

What did she learn from her days at Arthur D. Little? “In these down times, first of all, cash is king,” McNamara says. It’s also important “to maintain the bottom line and a clear eye on cash in parallel with having a very proactive dialogue with customers… about what are the greatest challenges that they are facing.”

Cambridge Consultants, which is now a unit of Paris-based tech consultant Altran Technologies, is already an established player in the wireless and med-tech markets and is known for developing proprietary technologies that have been successfully commercialized through several spinoff firms. The firm doesn’t reveal financial data such as how much cash it has in the bank. But McNamara says that the firm has maintained modest growth despite the down economy. The 49-year-old firm makes money primarily through service fees for product development or though licensing fees from big-named partners such as St. Paul, MN-based tech company 3M (NYSE:MMM), which tapped the firm last year for rights to its palm-sized inhaler that delivers powder-based drugs.

Because of the firm’s behind-the-scenes role, many of the technologies it has helped develop are more famous than the firm itself. For example, Cambridge Consultants developed the original wireless technology commercialized by … Next Page »

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