Beware of Fortune 500 consultants

In 1982, my $20+ million employer STSC was acquired by the over $2+ billion Continental Telecom (ConTel). Post-acquisition, I was invited to join ConTel’s technical committee. As part of our charter, we reviewed the results of a major study of ConTel’s MRP system.

ConTel had commission a six-figure study by one of the most respected big consulting companies. I had the opportunity to listen as they reported their findings. They had a handful of slides which boiled down to:

Look at us, we are really, really good consultants.

Ya got trouble, my friend, right here,
I say, trouble right here in ConTel. (What an insight! Why else was the consulting firm hired to come up with a solution?)

Their proposed solution was simple. Spend an additional seven figures to hire the consultants to come up with an actual solution.

Six figures. Six slides. Zero content. But the Senior ConTel executives appeared pleased by the report and signed up for the next stage. (I supposed that’s how things worked in big companies.)

When we started Myrna Associates in 1991, I was invited to make presentations to groups of CEOs. One of my consulting colleagues told me that a consultant should never provide solutions. “Keep telling them why they have a problem that requires them to buy your services.”

What a waste of time! Life’s too short. (After my consulting colleagues’ presentation, a CEO was heard to say: “There’s 45 minutes I’ll never get back.” That consultant was never invited back.)

I have little patience for traditional consultants who won’t talk about how they are going to solve a problem without being paid anything up front. And, too often they don’t even solve the problem even after being paid.

I also have little patience for politicians who spend all their time repeating that we have a problem without explaining how to solve it unless you elect/reelect them. And, too often, just like many consulting firms, don’t even solve the problem after you’ve elected/reelected them.

I skip over potential vendors that aren’t willing to share useful insights. When I’m looking for a vendor partner, it’s hard to establish trust with someone who only focuses on what’s in it for them.

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