Is Consulting Mostly Bogus

I'm currently reading The Management Myth: Management Consulting Past, Present, and Largely Bogus by Matthew Stewart.  I think this book was recommended to me by my fellow blogger Ron Baker.  You can pretty much guess what the book is about.

This book is reminding me of two years in the undergraduate business of the University of Michigan, from where I graduated in 1984.  I clearly remember many of my classmates wanting to go into consulting.  And I kept thinking to myself - what on Earth can these 22 year olds know at this point in their life to go out and consult to big business??  Yet many of them got hired to do that.  Clearly a sign of those times.

Stewart takes great pleasure at poking holes at some of the major figures in consulting history.  I'm about half way through, and he has effectively skewered Fredrick Taylor and Elton Mayo (the latter of whom I had not heard of previously).  In between these skewerings, he writes about his history as a consultant.  Apparently his undergraduate degree in German philosophy was all he needed to get started. 

Stewart also points out how much of consulting just becomes plain bogus (I guess that is why bogus is in the title).  I think many of us know that by now.  Let's put it this way:  I graduated 26 years ago.  I feel exceedingly qualified as a CPA working in our specialties - SEC audits, private company audits, franchisors, broker-dealers and restaurant groups.  But could I go in and consult with one of my restaurant groups?  I could help with their accounting, but that's what I do now. 

I did try to become a consultant to the ready-mixed concrete industry after I completed 4 years as a controller/CFO of a large Detroit based producer.  I knew a lot about the industry - I really understood the back-office transaction flow.  I had attended concrete school - I learned how to do mix designs (hint - it's all algebra and you solve for sand) and performed quality control tests.  I dispatched trucks and loaded trucks.  I went on a delivery and went to several mass pours.  I understood the difference between a dry-batch plant and a central mix plant.  I knew where things were going technology wise. 

But I couldn't really apply it effectively to other companies.  I got some small projects and I was essentially trying to replicate at those companies what I had done at my previous employer.  The projects weren't all that successful, and with hindsight part of is because I was just replicating what I'd done.  On the other hand, one of the projects didn't succeed because the client wasn't willing to change how they did things - the dispatchers would tell the computer that truck 123 was being driven by John Smith and he was delivering a load to a specific job.  Except it was actually Frank Jones and he was on truck 789.  Garbage in, garbage out.  The database I set up worked.

How many times though have we heard of government units spending a gazillion dollars on a consulting project and nothing comes from it (Detroit is especially good at that).  Perhaps they ought to read Stewart's book. 

By the way - if you want to see what I'm reading, consider joining Shelfari.  It is a free service owned by Amazon.  I can keep track of what I want to read, what I'm reading (usually 2 - 3 books at a time) and what I've read.  The aforementioned Ron Baker is on there too.  Especially helpful to track what I've read; a couple of times I've sat down on a plane to read a book and got about 3 pages in and said crap I've read this before.

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Joel M. Ungar, CPA is a lifelong resident of the Detroit area and a graduate of The University of Michigan. He is a principal with Silberstein Ungar, PLLC, a Top 15 auditor of SEC public reporting companies. Joel writes observations on different matters and especially on working with and using LinkedIn. He thinks he has a sense of humor.

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