THERE are few things a successful business likes less than change, but change is sometimes the only way to survive. This is the view of George Shaheen, the managing partner and chief executive officer of Andersen Consulting. Mr Shaheen said Andersen Consulting must be ready for change. 'We must have enough pride in Andersen Consulting to have the courage to change it,' he told analysts and journalists in New York. It was this attitude that helped create Andersen Consulting in 1988. Since then, the company's revenues have grown more than 600 per cent, from just over US$1 billion in 1988 to $6.6 billion last year. It employs 53,000 people in 46 countries, and Andersen will be hiring 15,000 people worldwide this year. 'When we established Andersen Consulting as a distinct business in the late 1980s, we set out to create an organisation like no other. This meant that we had to undergo dramatic change to rewrite the rules of our industry and establish a new measure for success,' Mr Shaheen said. Andersen's success has not been without criticism. Some market observers claim Andersen sometimes approaches problems mechanistically and with little sensitivity to local needs. Whereas 'out-of-box solutions' might work in North America, or even Europe, they do not work in Asia. One observer, Robin Sears, a vice-president at Korn/Ferry, the world's leading executive search company, is well aware of Andersen's record. 'There is nobody more aggressive and dynamic in their response to shifting market conditions,' he said. Sensitivity to Asian needs is something that many successful American and European companies could learn. 'The criticism of Andersen by a number of competitors and clients is that their business model has been imported from America without thinking about Asian circumstances, in particular in respect to cost. They have an expectation of the size of projects which is often unrealistic,' Mr Sears said. Most of Asia is only just learning to deal with consultants, and many Asian companies are reluctant to spend large sums of money on what they perceive to be of questionable value. But the global managing partner for human resources, Carol Meyer, seems to understand the value of people and the relationships they create. 'Getting the right people to the right client with the right skills is what it is all about,' she said. Andersen hopes that, by forming long-term partnerships, it can bring its expertise to its clients' needs. The global managing partner in charge of global markets, Jack Wilson, said this was one of the most important aspects to Andersen's way of doing business. 'We see many of our clients forming business alliances with us not just for a single project but for an extended period of time,' he said. 'No one has the luxury of creating a five-year plan. Things are changing too quickly.' One of Andersen's most recent success stories was US retailer Best Buy. Today, Best Buy is an US$8 billion company with 280 retail outlets. In April last year, its stock was worth US$10. Last week, it was at US$71.50. Modelling figures quite strongly in Andersen's approach to business problems. If you can create the proper model that will help identify where the problems will likely occur, you are well on your way to solving them. One of Andersen Consulting's most spectacular successes has been with Harley-Davidson Motorcycle, based in Milwaukee. In the 1980s, Harley-Davidson was in trouble. The Japanese had almost killed it with their modern bikes and business model. Andersen stepped in and Harley-Davidson is now considered a great success, and it cannot keep up with demand. Thomas Arenburg is Andersen's global managing partner for automotive industrial equipment and now handles the Harley-Davidson account. In typical fashion, Andersen put together its business and technical skills to try and help the ailing motor bike company. 'We found there were 650 dealers throughout the US who were trying to contact a handful of experts in Milwaukee,' he said. With Andersen's help, Harley-Davidson now has its own intranet, a private version of the Internet that only its dealers can access. The network now makes it far easier for dealers to ask questions, get answers and even find parts for customers. 'We hope to redefine the standard for customer support,' Mr Arenburg said. Mr Shaheen said it was time for Andersen to move ahead yet again to build the consulting firm of the future. With Asia becoming increasingly important - Mr Shaheen said he was not in the least worried about the recent problems, 'things will pick up soon', he said - the big winner may well be the one who can adjust the fastest to a non-American way of doing business. Andersen set the standard once. Perhaps it can do it again.