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

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 CSR (LON:CSR), the Cambridge, U.K.-based maker of Bluetooth chips for mobile phones and other devices. CSR spun off from Cambridge Consultants in the late 1990s. Cambridge Consultants is also known for launching Alphamosaic, a provider of multimedia processors for mobile devices, which was sold to Irvine, CA-based Broadcom (NASDAQ:BRCM) in a deal valued at more than $120 million in 2004.

The firm’s Boston-area operation, launched in 2005, has not yet had a hit that compares with the commercial successes of the home office. It also is much smaller than the European operation, with 30 or so engineers compared with about 300 employees in the U.K. Yet McNamara says that the Kendall Square office has seen growth in its healthcare business, developing surgical devices, drug-delivery technologies, and wireless diagnostics.

Her background fits well with the focus of the local office. She spent much of her 21 years with Arthur D. Little in health-care consulting. From 2003 to 2008, she served as CEO of CFR, a provider of electronic patient diaries used in clinical trials. She is also on the board of directors at GTC Biotherapeutics (NASDAQ:GTCB), the Framingham, MA-based biotech firm that recently became the first firm to garner FDA approval to sell a therapy derived from milk of bioengineered goats.

McNamara is also a known commodity to the executives at Cambridge Consultants, such as CEO Brian Moon, who she says she has known for about 15 years. In a prepared statement, Moon said: “Under her leadership we look forward to continuing our growth and expanding our business in the North American market.”

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