clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Why a Utah consulting firm wanted to be closer to Salt Lake's homeless shelter, soup kitchen

SALT LAKE CITY — Two years ago, faced with the happy necessity of finding a bigger office space because business, quite frankly, was booming, the Cicero Group made a tactical decision to move from the east side of town to the west side.

Part of the appeal was a vacant warehouse building at 35 N. Rio Grande St. that used to be an Old Navy store and before that an Office Depot — back when The Gateway was catering to retail — and was just waiting for a New Age architect to get his hands on it.

An even bigger part of the appeal was that the homeless shelter and soup kitchen were just down the street.

In a world where the gap between the haves and the have-nots can be as wide as the Mariana Trench, Randy Shumway wanted it to be no more than a quarter-mile.

* * *

Randy Shumway is the reason the Cicero Group exists. He started the management consulting firm not long after graduating from Harvard Business School with an MBA. He worked first in a conventional company setting in San Francisco, answering to somebody else, then found he had a knack for helping organizations grow by giving advice from the outside — and they’d still pay him, and he got to answer to himself.

He brought aboard others who had similar talent and named his consulting company after the Greek statesman-philosopher Cicero, an oracle Shumway admires.

In 2006, the Cicero Group moved from San Francisco to Salt Lake City with 18 employees and rented office space in the post office building. In 2009, with yet more employees, it moved into a bigger space at 515 E. 200 South.

That was the year Shumway went to breakfast and Pamela Atkinson forever changed the way he looked at the homeless.

Shumway was part of a group of business and community leaders who got together for breakfast once a month, people like Kirk Jowers, Natalie Gochnour, Spencer P. Eccles, Clark Ivory and others. They’d sit around, eat omelets, network, and listen to a guest speaker they’d invite for the occasion.

On this particularly morning, the guest speaker was Atkinson, aka Saint Pamela, Salt Lake City’s patron saint of the homeless and downtrodden.

Here’s what Shumway remembers of her speech:

“She looks at us and she says, ‘You know what, I look around this room and I see business leaders and government leaders and I need you each to know you can do more to help our homeless population. And if you’re saying to yourself, “Well, every Christmas I get a truck full of blankets and coats and drop them off at the Road Home,” I want you to know you’re not doing enough.’”

“I sat there feeling a little chastised,” Shumway remembers. “Because that’s exactly what I was doing. Every year I’d say, ‘OK, it’s Christmastime, let’s get the kids, we’ll go to the Army-Navy store, we’ll buy a bunch of blankets and coats, we’ll drop them off at the Road Home and I’ll check that box.’”

Shumway went back to the office and started calling places that serve the homeless to see what more he could do. The St. Vincent’s kitchen — the dining hall that sits adjacent to the Road Home shelter on Rio Grande Street — said it sure would appreciate it if he’d sponsor a breakfast on Saturday mornings several times throughout the year, supplying the food and the people to cook and serve it. He said OK. That was nine years ago. Ever since, the Shumway family and friends have done Saturday breakfast at St. Vincent’s.

The experience kick-started a new kind of involvement with the downtrodden. “Just interacting with brothers and sisters who experienced the vicissitudes of life that I hadn’t, it was life-changing,” Shumway says.

What was good for him and his family, he reasoned, was also good for his company. It wasn’t long before his Cicero Group partner, CEO Trent Kaufman, was doing breakfasts at St. Vincent’s, along with other Cicero employees.

The next step was for the Cicero Group to lend its real expertise: management consulting. Members of the firm began volunteering their services to the Road Home pro bono. They collected and crunched data and did root-cause analysis to determine better ways to manage the operation.

What the management consultant experts did day in, day out for corporations all over the world, they did for their neighbor down the street for free.

On top of that, when the state organized the Rio Grande Initiative in 2017, Shumway volunteered to chair the Dignity of Work task force, overseeing a program designed to help the homeless learn skills that will help them find and keep meaningful jobs.

* * *

You’d be hard-pressed trying to convince Shumway that championing the disenfranchised and moving into their midst — physically and emotionally — hasn’t also been great for business.

“We’re better organizationally because of where we reside geographically,” he says. “If we’re going to help our neighbors, we don’t do it by isolating them, we do it by living among them.

“Morale in the organization is through the roof,” he continues. “Because our employees say, ‘I’m not just improving the economy by helping these companies around the world, I’m also improving society by helping our vulnerable population.’”

He cites data that shows the average attrition rate for consulting companies is 40 percent, while at Cicero it’s a mere 8 percent.

Not only that, the Cicero Group, now with about 300 employees and branch offices in Dallas, Washington, D.C., and Boise, was recently lauded by, an online site that measures such things, as the fifth-best consulting firm to work for — in the world.

There’s something the whole neighborhood can be proud of.