A group of consultants from First Manhattan Consulting Group have defected to form their own firm specializing in customer retention and profitability.

The firm, Novation Associates, will be based in New York. The founding managing directors include Seamus McMahon, former executive vice president at First Manhattan, and Richard W. Spitler, James L. Bramlett, and David Kaytes, all former managing vice presidents. Another former managing vice president, Wayne I. Cutler, will be affiliated with the firm. All five left First Manhattan last week.

In a telephone interview, Mr. McMahon said Novation will take an entrepreneurial approach to consulting, working with customers over a number of years and sharply reducing fees in return for a stake in their ventures. It expects to focus initially on financial services companies, traditional and on-line retailers, and telecommunications companies.

James M. McCormick, president of First Manhattan, was not available for comment.

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