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"The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"

 
#1 "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
12/04/2010 11:26

Tony Restell (Top-Consultant.com)

I just came across this piece - "<a href=http://tech.mit.edu/V130/N18/dubai.html target=_blank>The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell</a>"

I can't validate the story, but in all my time in consulting I can genuinely say I never encountered anything like this. Sure not every project had a successful outcome or would have represented great ROI for the client; but I always felt like we were working on potentially value-adding assignments and could speak our minds and challenge our clients' thinking.

Can anyone else relate to the type of consulting portrayed in this article? Is it maybe Dubai-specific? Is my view of the consulting industry just too rosy?!

Tony Restell

Top-Consultant.com

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#2 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
12/04/2010 12:34

tb to Tony Restell (Top-Consultant.com) (#1)

I suspect the project was no different to ones that you have worked on Tony just that the writer has misunderstood the role of consulting.

Firstly consulting is about facilitation not about making decisions. Often consultants are brought in to provide justification for a decision that has already been taken. At the very least the problem to be solved is full of assumptions that are not in scope to be challenged e.g. "how do we enter this market" presumes that you want to. As a consultant one generally has to accept at least some starting point.

Secondly whilst the client can always be challenged this depends more on influencing skills than better analysis. There is a lot of skill in choosing which issues to challenge and which to drop. In reality, unless you are an entrepreneur or dictator this is the game being played.

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#3 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
12/04/2010 14:19

Heh to tb (#2)

"Firstly consulting is about facilitation not about making decisions. Often consultants are brought in to provide justification for a decision that has already been taken."

What utter, utter tosh.

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#4 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
12/04/2010 14:30

Forum Fan to deleted (#0)

Heh, it would be helpful if you could explain exactly what it is that you are disagreeing with so people can understand and contribute.

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#5 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
12/04/2010 15:11

Smell the Java to Tony Restell (Top-Consultant.com) (#1)

I'm sorry Tony, you didn't realise that this is how most consultancy engagements work? People sold as experts when they know nothing relevant to the specific situation. Check Solutions only acceptable to partners when they reinforce the client's flawed world view. Check. Career suicide to speak up? Check. Consultants who are focussed on their own selfish rewards? Check.

This is what 90% of real world "top consultancy" is like.

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#6 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
12/04/2010 15:55

Tony Restell to Smell the Java (#5)

I hope you are wrong 'Smell the Java'. I'm not naive about consulting - the "we all know this happens" anecdotes aren't alien to me. But this article is suggesting consulting firms consistently destroy wealth and peddle arguments that client data couldn't possibly support if properly assessed.

That doesn't sit easily with me and surely would amount to negligence (rather than just greed) on the part of consulting firms which would open them up to all sorts of claims.

It's one thing to say that what clients get and what they were promised are two different things; quite another to say that the consulting proposition is rotten to its core...

Tony Restell

Top-Consultant.com

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#7 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
12/04/2010 16:56

Smell the Java to Tony Restell (#6)

Tony,

I would be interested to hear what other say before responding further.

I'm surprised by the firm involved, but it is perhaps telling that it was a small and relatively new office involved. The pressure is often on to sell anything and everything based on global capabilities, not in country expertise.

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#8 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
12/04/2010 17:58

anon to deleted (#0)

doesn't surprise me in the slightest. anyone who has worked for MBBB knows what goes on behind the scenes. I particularly liked the author's comments on the causes of burnout and how even a hardened MIT grad may not be able to hack it

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#9 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
12/04/2010 19:31

tb to Tony Restell (#6)

Well if you take the view (as I do) that consultancy is about facilitation then the responsibility of the consultant is to produce good analysis, present this clearly to the client, and to enable them to consider all the options.

If the consultant does this and the client makes poor decisions; or has already decided on a poor course of action.......well any destruction of wealth is by the client not the consultant.

You can only lead the horse to water. If he does not want to drink well......that is really down to the horse.

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#10 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
12/04/2010 21:22

Disappointed to tb (#9)

'anon' - did you actually read the specific cases of forging figures and manipulating numbers to look attractive to the client? How do you justify your 'facilitation' concept of consulting when you deliberately do so with dubious statistics and yet expect the client to be liable for any decisions arising therefrom? I think there is an issue of integrity and greed here. Apart from the use of gun, a duboius consultant is really no different from a bank robber!

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#11 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
12/04/2010 21:26

Disappointed to Disappointed (#10)

Sorry 'anon', the last post was meant for 'tb'

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#12 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
12/04/2010 22:01

Just A Thought to Disappointed (#11)

One looong read but OP appears to be talking about his experiences with his so called firm (and not consulting in general) although OP might be trying to generalise it.....

Wasn't blown away by what was written. After Enron/ the banking scandal..please this is cheese cake. Reality - whilst not the norm what was described does exist in different and more subtle formats in most if not all firms... to tired to give examples and not just in hic!! consulting

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#13 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
12/04/2010 22:10

ZB to Disappointed (#11)

Couple of points:

Incredibly well-articulated and neatly written - are you sure he wrote it himself or he got a professional to write it and embellish it.

I think this sort of behaviour is very rare. Making up numbers has to be done in most cases because the data is not always there. What is odd (and rare) is if perfectly sound data is available and the consultant is told to ignore it and use something else to fit a conclusion.

Everyone knows that clients don't know what they want when they employ consultants. Old hat. Consultant likewise spew out recondite, insipid well-worn jargon in the hope it impresses clients then proceed to do something very plausible and obvious and interview people (or hold client workshops) and then spew out breathtakingly obvious suggestions to the client. Nothing new.

What is a concern amongst client is the quality of people that are going into MC - it's average now. You are much better off going into industry and honing skills and knowledge than to learn such arcane nonsense like Target Operating Model and Process Optimisation and all that other good stuff.

ZB

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#14 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
12/04/2010 22:22

Another former MBBB-er to Tony Restell (Top-Consultant.com) (#1)

I read this article and felt sad. My own experience at an MBBB was very different:

- Whilst I too had quite a fluffy induction, this was speedily remedied by hard-core analysis;

- Re. burnout I felt the opposite. Prior jobs left me jaded after few hours. Here I worked long hours yet felt satisfied for the first/last time in my career;

- We never stole decks – we were smug enough to think we were the best;

- I was actively rewarded if I (respectfully) challenged my seniors (though there were also times to shut up and I learned about those quickly)

- We didn’t force-fit analysis. We might have re-used ‘market analysis’ slides, but never 'solution' slides

- We told at least one client that their plan was dodgy, and another that their management was poor too;

At the risk of becoming suspected/derided/ridiculed I can say that it was the most challenging and exciting time of my career so far. And I too lost that job in the recession! Perhaps what I can say from my limited experience that your team/partner can mean everything...

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#15 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
12/04/2010 22:55

Disappointed to Disappointed (#10)

Sorry 'anon', the last post was meant for 'tb'

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#16 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
13/04/2010 09:28

Evil Consultant to Disappointed (#15)

An interesting article and (for once I'm in agreement with ZB) well-written.

It definitely confirms my prejudices about BCG, who appear to recruit people from a very narrow range of backgrounds and with a very fluffy and non-numerate skillset. I've also seem the kind of behaviours discussed, but not as comprehensively or frequently.

While "justification consulting" seems fairly common, in my experience we always present alternative viewpoints to the client and only once in nearly a decade of consulting work have I ever been asked to make up data (that took some devious squirming and veiled threats to get away with an acceptable performance review and without having broken the letter of the law.)

His point about burnout and its causes is a very good one; although I'm not too certain about the hours being as short as he indicates. There have been many times when I've got fed up with the tedious grind of trying to make sense of hugely disparate data points, or indeed interpolating nonexistent data.

EC

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#17 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
13/04/2010 10:34

tb to Disappointed (#10)

Disappointed,

I read it as adjusting estimates rather than forging numbers. In any business case there can be a wide range of realistic values and a wide range of manager views. Not necessarily immoral to reflect the clients optimism as long as it is reasonable. Many successful business cases have been built on optimism.

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#18 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
13/04/2010 10:43

anon to Evil Consultant (#16)

The author of the article seems very full of himself.

the nda he mentions at the end is common in compromise agreements and the like.

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#19 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
13/04/2010 11:04

anon to anon (#18)

Oh come on, what this guy is saying is essentially the following as I understand it, and shouldn't surprise any seasoned consultant:

1. Stuff gets fudged. Got a client who insists that XYZ is the answer and may terminate your contract if you squabble with him because you think he's wrong? Then fine, we'll help you try and prove XYZ. "Ours is not to question why"

2. The work is boring. Well yeah, that's real life sadly. 99% of your intelligence will not be used. Got a PhD in astrophysics and designing computer models for NASA? Fine. But expect to be producing first grade pie charts for most of your time at a top tier consulting firm. The height of sophistication of your analysis will possibly be talking about "compound annual growth rates" or percentages.

3. Old senior dudes do things you disagree with. Well yeah, that's life sadly. Who knows how these people get into positions of power like that.

4. Training is not much help. Well yeah. It's more a chance to get to know your peers. You know everythign you need to already anyway. They recruited you for your intelligence, not your knowledge.

5. CV's get fudged and re-worded to suit an assignment. Well yeah, that's called Marketing!!!

6. Burnout is inevitable. It's not the hours, but the work load being greater than the motivation to do work. I guess that's what happens when you have A1 PhD and MBA types doing stuff that is below their level.

7. Projects are often poorly defined. Well yeah, part of our role is to help them find a way through. That's half of the work. We don't just get told do XYZ, we have to use our initiative.

I can't comment on BCG specifically but nothing in here surprises me as it's all pretty common within top tier consulting in my opinion.

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#20 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
14/04/2010 00:42

Jetlag to anon (#19)

It's not that complicated, as a consultant you have a professional obligation (IMHO) to always tell the truth.. it's depressing to hear all the justifications of the grey areas, white lies etc... no excuses - telling the truth is probably the biggest part of our professional 'duty'.

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#21 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
14/04/2010 08:05

anon to Jetlag (#20)

Hmm. I'm not convinced that it's up to the consultant to decide what is the "truth".

Forecasts and predictions of the future are usually just opinion. You can usually spin facts in any direction you like, to support whatever case you want to make.

It's the client who has to decide what analysis he is convinced by and wants to base his decisions on.

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#22 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
14/04/2010 11:23

someguy to anon (#21)

Storm in a teacup here.

If you read all four parts, the picture becomes clearer. The author ultimately pins the blame on the decline and collapse of Dubai on the cultural superiority complex (and naivety) of the Emiratis. In fact in the very first paragraph of the last part:

"It is tempting to blame consultants and their ilk for the troubles that Dubai faces today. Surely, if my experience was at all typical, Western consulting firms are derelict in their duty as advisers to the United Arab Emirates. But I would argue that consultants are a product of their surroundings, not the other way around. Prior to the recent meltdown, which had commentators everywhere wondering if Dubai would destroy the fragile recovery that the banking sector has eked out, Boston Consulting Group’s top brass was extolling the virtues of the Middle East and the stability it would provide to the world’s financial markets. And why not? Every recommendation that encourages more expenditures by clients offers up greater opportunity for future cases. If Dubai’s companies lack the internal resources or motivation to poke the conclusions made by their rented consultants, if they reward optimism and penalize pessimism, they should not be surprised when they receive cheery, but flimsy advice."

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#23 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
15/04/2010 12:54

Mr Cool to someguy (#22)

"Every recommendation that encourages more expenditures by clients offers up greater opportunity for future cases. If Dubai’s companies lack the internal resources or motivation to poke the conclusions made by their rented consultants, if they reward optimism and penalize pessimism, they should not be surprised when they receive cheery, but flimsy advice."

Take out the word Dubai and replace with "client" and you have yourself an excellent, succinct and accurate summary of consultancy in the middle of ANY bubble (dubai, dot.com, consumer credit, whatever).

Mid dot.com I challenged a senior investemnt banker as to what exactly the business model of his new online bonds business was and he said "don't worry, we'll get lots of users, then sell them Gucci shoes".

He then paid my firm 1.8M to build a site that he sold a year later for 100K.

Which consultant would have turned down that 1.8M?

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#24 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
15/04/2010 13:47

anon to Mr Cool (#23)

your firm, or the firm you worked for?

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#25 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
15/04/2010 16:31

Mr Cool to anon (#24)

Sadly the firm I worked for.

Not sure if that alters that question of who could honestly say they would turn it down though?

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#26 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
15/04/2010 16:45

Mr Cool to Mr Cool (#25)

…and if anyone doubts that the MC industry is self-serving then I can only assume they are too young to remember Enron. Arthur Anderson turned a blind eye to accountancy fraud in order to defend large fees from both audit, but also MC activity. It may be that AA were the only firm to be caught, but it is interesting that almost all the larger MC firms were then required to take defensive action to avoid a similar fate, suggesting there was at least a theoretical risk that it might happen to them.

There is no MC firm in the world that has not at some time gone along with a client idea that they did not agree with, rather than turn off the revenue tap. Some firms may turn down a start-up with a duff idea because there is no long term revenue and the failure may reflect badly on the MC firm, but if Richard Branson offered a billion quid in fees for a 100 page strategy documents for a corner shop on Saturn, there is no MC firm in the land that would turn the job down.

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#27 RE: "The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell"
27/04/2013 11:29

dtang to Mr Cool (#26)

Though it was a bit melodramatic, I wasn't surprised w/ what the article had to say.

In many cases, the recommendation/conclusion is already pre-determined prior to receiving any data to analyze. After all, you can take the same data, slice it a bit differently, adjust the assumptions a tad, and draw almost any conclusion you want. This doesn't mean the recommendation isn't a rational and good one.

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