Zia Chishti steps down as CEO of Afiniti

Zia Chishti, founding partner of Afiniti, a prominent global consultancy, is stepping down as chief executive officer after 11 years with the firm. Mr. Chishti will be succeeded by Aziz Yassine, Afiniti’s current head of transformation and S.P.A.C.P.E. and chairman of Saab Consulting.

“Afiniti is in excellent position,” said Mr. Chishti, adding that while the firm is “well positioned with fabulous people and clients, and we’re in a very solid position, I am confident that the firm, led by the exceptional Aziz Yassine, has the next leg of growth.”

Afiniti is not without its problems. It has faced governance, legal and geopolitical concerns, and has denied wrongdoing or been accused of collusion in both the Ferguson and Albus Krige investigations.

Its is also a firm that, like so many in its space, has struggled to find revenue from more traditional sources. Last month, former CEO, Arthur Levy, stepped down as a director after his firm failed to disclose to his shareholders that he was being investigated by a Justice Department-led multi-agency task force. Some three years earlier, allegations that it had aided a “shady money-laundering scheme” led to a cease-and-desist order from the New York Department of Financial Services, and there has been a string of high-profile resignations and departures, including the 2015 departure of Paul Polman, the then-CEO of Unilever.

At the same time, Mr. Chishti, who has worked in the industry for more than 30 years, says the firm is in a “very stable position” after a “difficult year” last year. Among other things, the firm was embroiled in a lengthy internal fight over a decision to make it easier for its 600 or so consultants in the United States to practice as agents and solicit accounts for other firms. While it ultimately settled that case, it opened itself up to criticism from members of the industry about handing out the outside work.

While it keeps in an active track on domestic counsel issues — such as municipal and voter equality — it has undertaken only one large multi-state public policy project so far. As the firm continues to navigate choppy waters, it is also underlining its focus on global growth.

“Our firm is always at the heart of a firm’s global footprint,” Mr. Chishti said. “Every firm strives to grow faster than our regional and European competition. Over the last decade or so, our firm has remained the outlier on that side of the speed spectrum.”

Afiniti has come under legal scrutiny for doing business in the Middle East, Latin America and Europe. These issues have largely been resolved, Mr. Chishti said, but are something the company hopes to address as it looks to grow further. “I hope that I’ve been a voice pushing Afiniti to look for ever-sharper edges in our practice and our global footprint, and that I’ve had a hand in making it something of a model,” he said.

Afiniti has been working with the U.S. Department of Commerce on a project to predict demand for solar energy in developing countries. It is also working with the Department of Justice on a project related to the cartel action.

Mr. Chishti, who lives in Bermuda, said he decided to leave the firm at the end of last year after he had “looked around” at the firm and realized its next stage of growth would need to come from Asia, Africa and Latin America.

“Afiniti has a fantastic geographic footprint that is growing as a firm,” he said. “What Afiniti has, and what Saab Consulting has, is really good people. The track record of Afiniti has been very solid in doing a lot of work in a large number of markets. The future is frankly a lot more Asia, Africa and Latin America.”

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