Top critical review
83 people found this helpful
Movie-style, Superficial Consulting Exposé
on March 13, 2000
`Dangerous Company' offers a glimpse of the sometimes limited substance behind the stellar hype and fees of the elite US consulting powerhouses. Unfortunately, the author's repetitive, colloquial, movie-script style (and lack of technical and management knowledge about the projects described) reduces the faith in the validity of their message, and makes it more difficult to learn anything of substance.
The book presents a range of representative cases of unrelated consulting engagements including:
* AT&T's $500 million (US) consulting spending spree with McKinsey, Monitor, and Andersen Consulting featuring- a lack of defined goals, AT &T buying whatever hype/philosophy available at time, inept AT&T managers not asking right questions, and not following through with the (occasional) worthy recommendation.
* Figgie International's $75 million (US) adventure towards bankruptcy in World Class Manufacturing (WCM) with Boston Consulting Group, Deloitte & Touche, Andersen Consulting and Price Waterhouse- where despite consultants writing a book on WCM, they didn't know what it meant (nor did the author's of this book- clue- read 1980s books by Wheelwright, Wild, Voss or Slack to find out!). These assignments featured- consultant-driven agendaless meeting mania, multi-million CNCs ordered without reference to Figgie's manufacturing/design staff, and MBAs/generalist consultants on assignments that required industrial/manufacturing specialists.
* Andersen Consulting's rapid growth through technological job-cutting assignments (some successful like Harley-Davidson) and technology-exemplars, and occasional resultant lawsuits for failure to deliver (e.g. O'Neal Steel, and UOP).
* Sears learning curve with consultants through failure and then success- McKinsey charging megabucks for basic use of decision trees for strategy and Boston-Matrix-like market analysis; honesty of AT Kearney (described as rare in consulting); and new consultant hiring guidelines (e.g. defined project goals, demonstrated skills, commitment, and intangible feel good).
* Boston Consulting Group's growth into healthcare via assignments with Deere & Co and Boeringer Mannheim- innovations including the statistically unproven Boston Matrix for market analysis (as often used blindly instead of with detailed analysis), and diabetes disease management.
* Gemini Consulting organizational transformation process at Cigna and Montgomery County General- tweaking the 12 corporate change processes (achieve mobilization, create the vision, build a measurement system, construct an economic model, align the physical infrastructure, redesign the work architecture, achieve market focus, invent new businesses, change the rules through IT, create a reward structure, build individual learning, and develop the organization) by Gemini's "4 Rs"- reframing corporate direction, restructuring , revitalizing, and renewing people.
* Bain & Co's extremely close relationship with Guinness PLC during it's takeover of Distillers leading to lawsuits against Bain, and prison sentences for the clients due to evidence presented by Bain. Bain's strength at data gathering, and weaknesses at interpretation & implementation are described.
* McKinsey's network, and focus on access to the ear of CEOs (often ex-McKinsey consultants) , and consultants with boldness, character, and intellectual vigor and a tendency to be honest with clients.
Based on these cases, it finishes with a proposed hiring checklist for successful engagements: 1. Define goals 2. Consider hiring an MBA directly (or an industrial engineer for someone with deeper technological AND business skills) full-time rather than pay expensive consulting fees 3. Demand consultants with relevant expertise 4. Demand specific rather than open-ended contracts 5. Retain control of assignment 6. If unhappy with progress, demand rectifying action 7. Insist on bespoke rather than generic assignments; if buying from a book-methodology ask for the author to be on project 8. Value employees and keep morale high 9. Critically monitor consulting engagement progress 10. Only use consulting to address critical problems/ bottlenecks.
Other points presented include:
* The lack of standards for consultant ethics despite existence of professional organizations (e.g. CMA, IOD, IAM, IEEE, RSA, IEE etc..).
* The marketing approach of consulting- newsletter/journal publishing, trade papers in the popular generalist Harvard Business Review, CEO conferences, publications of new-fad business books, "think tanks", press releases of successful projects, and out-of-court settlements for lawsuits.
* The partners, project managers, and consultants pyramid of fees and staff encourages the use of many young (arrogant) MBAs on assignments to maximize consultancy profitability.
* James O Mckinsey, the "father" of US consulting stating in the 1930's that `businesses do not need action-men but scientific planners' (ironic that today most consultants are charismatic action-people rather than knowledgeable expert analysts).
Strengths of `Dangerous Company' are that it is a genuinely easy-to-read book, presenting business and historical context for the US consulting industry, and offering a good selection of representative cases.
Weaknesses include: the repetitive, colloquial, cliché-ridden, movie-script style; long length of book for content; needs a list of defined of acronyms; authors demonstrate clear lack of knowledge about subject matter; superficiality of supposed "analysis"; 50%+ of book could be better communicated through charts, illustrations, tables or sidebars (but perhaps that would be too much like the MBA/Consulting presentation-style for the authors?); and the US-bias in a much larger global industry and marketplace
Overall, despite the weaknesses, recommended reading for consultants, clients and interested parties particularly for balance against business-fad consultancy books. `Dangerous Company' also offers between-the-lines guidance for those wanting to start-up a (better) consulting firm.