The River at Thirty
March 5, 2021 in Culture, FMP's 30th Anniversary, Leadership & Influence, The Consulting Experience
By Tim Barnhart
As we celebrate FMP’s 30th Anniversary, we’re sharing a number of different blog posts that reflect on our work, culture, and history. In this special post, Tim Barnhart, the founder of FMP, shares his perspective on FMP, past and present.
I live in the Shenandoah Valley, with its beautiful, meandering river. Several decades ago, I studied philosophy. When I began to pull my thoughts together about FMP at 30, I recalled Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, who is most noted for having said:
“No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
FMP, of course, is like Heraclitus’ river. Now, when I return to FMP, I see something very different than the FMP of 30 years ago. But I also see something unchanged, very much like what I remember back in 1991 when there were three of us.
The birth of FMP was a gradual, evolutionary process. At first, we simply wanted an environment where we could take on projects we liked, with clients who wanted to do something important to make their organizations better. That was the extent of it.
That approach carried us for ten years. But by the ten-year mark, the FMP river had changed. There were 10-15 of us by then, we had a dozen or so long-term clients, and, most importantly, we had confidence in ourselves. We knew we were good.
Before the ten-year mark, our focus was 100% on our clients, with almost no attention on ourselves as an organization. After the ten-year mark, we became more introspective, more attuned to understanding who we were, how we could grow and develop, how we could excel at everything we did. We were becoming a real organization.
It was around the ten-year mark that many of FMP’s current leaders came on board. We had an extremely dedicated group of people at that point, talented people of course, but more importantly people who believed in themselves and FMP, and were determined to make us the very best at what we did. It was a great moment for FMP.
The next ten-fifteen years were a whirlwind of change – new clients, new types of contracts, new people, new relationships. It was great fun. I became so proud of FMP, as it grew beyond my direct control into a self-sustaining, rushing river with a life of its own.
One of the things I preached from day one was customer service. But from my current perspective, I don’t think customer service is quite the right term. I think what we were really going for was a strong vertical. Back then, most of our competitors were very good at the horizontal – they knew HR, OD, ISD, IT etc. But they didn’t seem to know our particular customer base – the Federal government. What we tried to do was to be experts in the Federal government. We wanted to do great things along that horizontal, but our real value add was to make sure those things on the horizontal worked perfectly in the vertical world of our Federal government clients. Not easily done, but that was our holy grail.
I’ve been largely absent from FMP since 2014. From my new perspective today, it’s obvious that FMP is not the same organization it was in 2014 when I left it. But FMP is blessed with very strong elements of continuity. Our leadership team has been at FMP almost as long as I was. They are true FMPers, dedicated above all to FMP’s growth and excellence.
The culture at FMP is extremely strong – it keeps the river in its banks. In the next 30 years, FMP could change dramatically in relatively shallow ways. In other words, it could develop entirely new skill sets, take on entirely new verticals, and triple in size. But I will be very surprised if I come back in 30 years and find those cultural banks eroded. The shared values at FMP are among the strongest I’ve ever seen.
Since leaving FMP, Kerry (my wife and co-founder of FMP) and I have renovated two commercial buildings on historic Main Street in Front Royal, VA and recruited a dozen businesses to lease space in those buildings. We also own a brew pub – Front Royal Brewing Company (which is now distributing beer in Northern Virginia – check it out!). Front Royal Brewing employs almost 50 people. Our workforce brings skills, attitudes, goals, and life experiences that are quite different from FMP’s workforce. But another key lesson I’ve learned is that the human capital principles and techniques we spent our lives promoting at FMP actually make a difference, even in a brewpub. People are always the greatest asset in any organization, and people always respond to the same things – high expectations, respect, support and trust, concrete rewards, clarity and honesty.
Now most of my time is spent on my farm with 3 horses, 2 dogs, and 3 cats. There is definitely more to life than work and more to work than a professional career. But the ride I took on the FMP river was one of the most thrilling and satisfying things I’ve ever done. I would love to do it again, but as Heraclitus pointed out, the river is different and I’m different.
Best of luck to FMP for the next 30 years. I can’t wait to read the blogs you’ll have to write after the ride that awaits you.
After years of working in government as a personnel management professional, Tim Barnhart founded Federal Management Partners in 1991, with the goal of building an HR consulting firm that could fill a missing space in the management consulting marketplace: transforming the highly regulated business of Federal Human Resources Management into a strategic asset for Federal Agencies. Tim left FMP to explore new adventures in 2014, but still serves as Chairman on FMP’s Board of Directors.