Friday, April 17, 2009

I’ll perfume your pig if you perfume mine: My 11-month stint as a Management Consultant

Executive Summary
Management consulting is a scam. It is a scam because people who have worked in a company for most of their lives occasionally suffer a brain cramp and decide that someone who has never worked in their company has the ability and experience to tell them how to run their bazillion-dollar business.

Now this might be somewhat understandable if the following was true:

Bring up Powerpoint Slide #1:

• The person being asked for advice a.k.a the consultant has some relevant experience

I have an undergraduate degree in Liberal Arts, an M.A. in History and half of a Ph.D. in Genocide Studies. I have worked as a secretary for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Manitoba and have dressed up as a HeartSmart chicken. I have never paid some pseudo academic program a metric ton of cash to obtain a pseudo academic degree from a pseudo academic institution named after some business guy with a small penis who obviously felt that this inadequacy could be compensated by donating his name to a building.

Yet, despite this completely devoid of any relavant business background, several CEOs and CIOs and various other Cs willingly paid me $1500 a day to help them fix their business problems.

Is it just me or is that insane?

Given my 100% billability rate, I gather it’s just me.

On my first day on the job, I am given a 200 page document known as an SLA.

Bring up Powerpoint Slide #2:

An SLA is NOT one of the following:
• The Salvation Liberation Army of the country formerly known as Rhodesia
• Sexy Lingerie Apparel
• Stupid Lying Asshole

Bring up Powerpoint Slide #3:

An SLA is a:


Bring up Powerpoint Slide #4:

A Service Level Agreement is:

• A legally binding document between Company A and Company B whereby Company B does work for Company A
• A legally binding document that spells out the type of work that Company B must do for Company A and how that work must be done
• A legally binding document that contains merits and demerits should Company B succeed or fail in doing work for Company A

Let’s say Company B is a prostitute and Company A is her client. Prior to engaging in business, they call in a management consultant to help them draft the terms of their business.

Bring up Powerpoint Slide #5:

Service Level Agreement for engaging in consensual sex for money

Parties to the Agreement:
A: William Goldburger
B: Suzy Sonshine

Section A: Foreplay
Company B will perform oral sex on Company A twice a week at 6:13pm.
Merit: If oral sex results in orgasm within 5 minutes, Company B will receive an extra $5 plus the weekly special Blizzard from Dairy Queen.
Demerit: If oral sex results in an orgasm beyond 5 minutes or not at all, Company B will be deducted $5 and will not receive the weekly special Blizzard from Dairy Queen.

This example would have cost you about $500. Oh, and did I mentioned that was in US dollars?

So there I am reading my lil ole SLA and as I peruse through it, I notice that in some sections, sentences were missing. Important sentences that had to with merits and demerits. Confused, I waited patiently outside the door of one of the Directors who, in my naivite, was the supposed go-to-guy on this engagement-as they call it in the biz. He was e-mailing one client in Argentina and talking to another in Des Moines.

“Umm…can I ask a question?
”Yeah sure…but can you make it quick. I have a flight to catch in an hour.”
“You have a flight to catch…but I thought we were going to work on this project. I think the client wanted to meet early next week…”
“Oh don’t worry about it…I’ll talk to you about it remotely.”
“What do you mean…remotely …I thought “we” were going to work on this together?”
“Well we are…I’m going to talk to you about it, you’re going to talk to the clients, and then you’ll do the work, and I’ll check it. Then you’ll meet with the client.”
“What work are we doing for them exactly…I just got this document with some sentences missing…”
“Oh…didn’t I tell you…that’s the work we’re doing?”
“What is the work we are doing?”
He looked up from his e-mail.
“We are filling in the blanks for them.”
“Why don’t they fill in the blanks for themselves?”
“Because they want to have someone to blame in case something goes wrong?”
“So they’re going to blame me…” I was beyond confounded. My stomach was exiting the premises but I somehow found the clarity to ask the following.”
“Let me get this straight. I am responsible for filling in the blanks for this agreement—the terms of which I don’t understand—and responsible for communicating with the client whom I’ve never met and the person on whose head blame will drop should I screw up…Have I understood you correctly?
“Don’t worry…I’ll call you from Manilla.”

By Thursday, I had not heard from him. But the clients called every day wanting a “progress update.” I made stuff up. I had to. They set a meeting for Monday at 10:00. I e-mailed my Director frantically. Friday at 5:00, he called to say that we would have a conference call on Sunday night at 10:00pm.

Sunday night used to be a time when my husband and I hung out and watched The Simpsons followed by The X-files. We did not work on Sunday nights.

My weekend is ruined before it starts. I’m so stressed over this conference call. I call my sister who has a degree in computer science at 9:00 to do a crash course in technology. She tells me it’s hopeless. I have smoked a pack of cigarettes in the course of half a day and haven’t eaten since Friday. All this for $62,000 dollars a year.

The phone call consists of two Directors talking about perfuming pigs, low hanging fruit and quadrants. I keep interrupting to ask about merits and demerits. I am ignored. Finally, at about 12:00, my husband passes me an Ensure protein shake so I don’t pass out. I mention that we have a meeting tomorrow at 10:00 that I am supposed to be running but I don’t know what we are meeting about. All I know is that someone is coming in from California and he is expecting answers to questions that I don’t have.

“Don’t worry. We’ll talk at 9:00. Meet me at the coffee shop at the Royal York and we’ll go over it.”
“What is ‘it’?”
“Don’t worry.”

I don’t sleep. I get up the next morning and go to the coffee shop. I am presented with a Powerpoint Presentation consisting of 30 slides.

“Just present this to them.”
“What is this?”
“It’s the merits and demerits for the SLA’s”.
“You need 30 pages for this?”
“Not exactly….see, we have to tell them who we are, then we give them the answers.”

I have never given a Powerpoint presentation. We used to make fun of them; rolling our eyes whenever someone put them on an overhead: Moron Technology, I believed we called it. And here I was, about to deliver one to a bunch of techies and business men.

Oh joy, Oh bliss.

The first slide was a little backgrounder on the Company.
As was the second slide.
The third slide.
And the fourth.

When the fifth slide appeared, the business man who had flown first class from California shouted: “I did not come here from L.A. to hear about motherhood and apple pie.”

I looked at the slide. There was nothing about motherhood and apple pie. I rubbed my eyes. Maybe there was something on the screen I couldn’t see. Maybe I was so sleep deprived, I was hallucinating. Or maybe, motherhood and apple pie, like perfuming the pig, was code. From Mr. L.A.’s tone, I gathered that “motherhood” and “apple pie” meant information that was not relevant. I quickly summarized the motherhood and apple pie and moved on.

To make the information seem weighty, the Directors had taken the five paragraphs with the five blanks and devoted one slide to each paragraph. They first wrote the paragraph with the blank and then directly below, rewrote the paragraph with the blank filled in and in bold:

Company B will perform oral sex on Company A twice a week at 6:13pm.
Merit: If oral sex results in orgasm within 5 minutes, Company B will recieve ______________
Demerit: If oral sex results in an orgasm beyond 5 minutes or not at all, Company B will be deducted __________________

Company B will perform oral sex on Company A twice a week at 6:13pm.
Merit: If oral sex results in orgasm within 5 minutes, Company B will receive an extra $5 plus the weekly special Blizzard from Dairy Queen.
Demerit: If oral sex results in an orgasm beyond 5 minutes or not at all, Company B will be deducted $5 and will not receive the weekly special Blizzard from Dairy Queen.

I let the information sink in and then proceeded to turn off the presentation. All of the sudden:

“So Miss whateveryourname is, how did you arrive at these numbers?”

Ummmmmmmmmmmm….huh. I don’t remember going over that at our midnight meeting. Think Fast, Think Fast, Think Fast. It’s no use. I don’t know how we came up with those numbers. I don’t know what they mean. I don’t care what they mean.
But before I can happily burst into tears, leave the business office, take off my business clothes, and start singing Jimmy Crack Corn, the two Directors stand up in unison, take off their suit jackets, in unison, push in their chairs, in unison, and begin walking around opposite sides of the table-their rights hands cupping their chins in serious thought pose.

They looked like something out of the Muppet Show. Truly they did. And after one of the Directors responded to the question, they sounded like something out of the Muppet Show.

“Well, you see….” and then turned into the Swedish Chef.

And the second Director added: “I might also suggest that you”…and then he turned into the teacher from Peanuts.

After a few minutes, all assembled seemed in agreement-to what, I don’t know but that was clearly irrelevant since by this time, I might as well have been invisible.

After the clients’ thanked us profusely, we left the office tower and headed out to the subway. As I proceeded to get off at my stop, one of the Directors looked at me and said: “Told you not to worry…we always get the job done.”

I muttered under my breath: “But what was the job?”

My next engagement as a management consultant involved learning forensic accounting driving from Toronto to London, Ontario at 11:30pm for a meeting at 8:00 with a large insurance company.

Forensic accounting, for those of you non-eggheads out there, occurs when an accountant runs diagnostics on another accountant’s work on a company’s balance sheet. Such talent usually involves some aptitude in math, maybe even a university degree in something appropriate, like I don’t know, maybe accounting…maybe even actuarial math. I quit math in Grade 12 and never looked back. Until this trip to London.

“Natalie,” the Director said, “it’s like this: ‘It is verboten for the IT department to go over 1 cent in their IT spending.’
“What happens if they do?”
“They don’t.”

“Here, take a look at their budgets from the last few years.”
“Its kind of dark in here…I’m not sure I can read it.”
“Oh…here…use the car lighter to read it.”
So, I took the lighter from him and began to look at the budgets. Look is probably not totally accurate…more like scanned in between trying not to burn my fingers off.
Predictably, they were in the red but not by much.“Big whoop” was my non-MBA comment.
“Natalie…please don’t say ‘Big Whoop’ in front of the client. They are going to spend most of the day tomorrow showing us problems in their budget and we need to tell them how to reduce their deficit to zero.”
“And how are we going to do that?”
“Oh…its easy…we’re going to tell them to perfume the pig.”

There’s that phrase again.
Perfume the Pig.
What pig? What perfume? Eau de Cochon? Chanel #Piggy?
Maybe I’ve never heard of it because pigs aren’t kosher.
Don’t pigs smell bad? Maybe we should perfume them. Maybe this is actually a great idea.

“Not to sound stupid or anything, but what does Perfume the Pig mean exactly?

He stopped the car suddenly. Very suddenly. And then moved off to the side of the road.
He turned to me.

“What do you mean? Are you trying to tell me that you don’t know what Perfuming the Pig means?”
“Can you name all three of the Operation Reinhard death camps?”
“Whose Reinhard?”
“You know.. Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler’s go-to-guy for helping to arrange the murder of a few million of my people. The Holocaust—maybe you’ve heard of it?”
“Whatever…now look Natalie…tomorrow we have to go in front of clients from all over Canada who want us to direct them on how to get their budget down to zero…our advice will be to tell them to perfume the how pray tell are we going to advise them of that strategy if you don’t know what it is?”
“So tell me what it means.”
“I can’t believe you don’t know this…really, I can’t believe it. What did they teach you down there at that fancy schmany all-girls university?
“How to organize orgies every Tuesday night.”
“OK…now listen..and listen closely. Perfuming the Pig means that you upgrade your computer systems and technologies so that they are functional but you don’t go out and make major purchases.”
“Oh that makes sense…so you just do some el cheapo improvements but no mega buys.”
“Correct…but please don’t use words like “el cheapo” and “mega”—we need to be professional, they are paying a lot of money for our advice.”
This coming from a man who talks about putting cologne on pork.
“Anyhoo…we are going to listen to them make their presentations, knowing what our answer is going to be, and then we will make our presentation.”
“But do we have a presentation to make?”
“Oh, of course, we will just tweak one of the ones we have used before…it’s all about re-using our materials…cookie cutting if you will.”
“So, why bother listening to their presentations if we already know the advice we are going to give them?”
“Because that is how we make money. We put on a bit of a show to let them think that we’ve done a lot of work—get it?”
Oh man do I ever. This is the best scam I have ever heard of. Really, this is the best scam.
“So then why do we all work so hard?”
“We don’t work hard…we just look like we’re working hard…don’t you get it?
Yes Yes…I totally get it. This is so great. Wow. Scam, scam, scam.

We flew all over Canada interviewing all of these senior staff to get their perspective on their problem. We charged the client for our airfare, our hotel, our time, our meals. And boy did I work. I took notes at meetings, summarized interviews, and even asked a question or two. All this for an answer we already knew.

At our last meeting, we put up a slide with a picture of a pig and what looked like a perfume atomizer. It actually looked more like a bong but that was just my opinion. My Director had brought along another Director to make the client feel more important. And again, after I did my little slide show lingering on my little sow slide, they both got up at the same time, and at the same time, they pushed in their chairs, and at the same time, they started walking, in different directions, around the table, one hand cupped under their chin.

I felt like I was watching the final dance sequence from Cats.

Just so you know, at the end of the day, they opted not to perfume the pig, instead they opted to pick the low hanging fruit.

I spent the rest of the godforsaken year writing strategic plans for hospitals having neither a clue about strategic plans nor about hospitals. My mother, one of the pioneers of women in Information Technology, with over 25 years experience, was mildly shocked at what I was doing. Unconscionable, I believe was the word she used.

I lost 10 lbs, started smoking a pack a day, drank scotch and water for breakfast and basically was very close to being divorced by the age of 32. Then I paid a shrink a few hundred bucks to hear her tell me that I had to quit.

I know the cardinal sin in writing is telling and not showing but I have to tell you this. The CEO’s, and CIO’s, and C3PO’s all knew I didn’t know what I was doing. They knew this because I had a permanently stunned expression on my face. Yet knowing this, they still paid my fees, still let me see their highly confidential documents, and still let me waste their time.

This kills me.

Speaking of killing, my last engagement as a management consultant involved interviewing Coroners across the country on how they maintain data records for victims of car accidents. I had to fly to Ottawa for a presentation of our results by another consultant en route to a meeting in Vancouver later than afternoon. The consultant doing the presentation, for reasons that I am still unclear about, delivered a presentation not on our results but on data management computer systems. The client, however, sat through the presentation, thanked us for our work, and now that consultant is a Director.

Go figure.

I went to Europe for three weeks on a vacation. After about 48 hours in Prague, I decided I was going to quit. The morning I came back, the Vice-President called me into his office.

“You know, Natalie, sometimes when people go away on vacation, they have the time to really think about what they are doing with their lives…”
“You are so damn right…I am outta here!!!

I left that afternoon. I decided to walk home—about a 2 ½ hour trip. Just before I started walking down Yonge St., I lit a smoke, inhaled about half of it, and then threw it still lit, at my old office.
Then finally, the rich sounds of Gloria Gaynor ‘s “I Will Survive entered my audio memory, and I marched home looking at all the Staff Wanted signs on the bookstores on my way.

1 comment:

  1. Natalie - you are a hoot! I remember this time in your life. But something good came of it.... you told me you'll never be stressed speaking to C-suite types ever again b/c you became an expert at BS.