Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: Dangerous Company: The Consulting Powerhouses and the Businesses They Save and Ruin
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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.
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on June 30, 2002
James O'Shea and Charles Madigan have written an exceptionally informative text. Not only is it packed with well researched material, its gripping narrative style makes it very exciting to read as well.
This book contains material that should be regarded as essential reading for all serious-minded professional managers. It is the ultimate thinking manager's book, filled with compelling case evidence of managerial indecision (and how to avoid it). It is arguably the best business book to be published between 1980 and 2000.
Most negative reviews of this book suggest that it is either unbalanced, biased, or too superficial in its coverage of the management consultancy industry. Such claims should be accepted with caution, predominantly because they appear to be written by the very consultants whose feathers the book has obviously ruffled. Several of the chapters contain case studies that are anything but superficial.
Ultimately the book shouldn't be taken as a modern-day Spanish Inquisition targeting consultants and their methods (although it is, in parts, a damaging exposure of management consulting's darker side). Instead, Dangerous Company's most salient message is really directed towards inept managers (at all organisational levels) who all too readily seek to mask their own ineptitude by relying on expert advice that they are often incapable of comprehending. The gripping Chapter 2 on "Figgie International" is the best example of this. It can be read as a stand-alone case analysis of strategic confusion, and is perhaps the book's most revealing segment. It's narrative style is particularly compelling.
The book's underlying message (which is perhaps being missed by those who are quick to criticise the text) is that highly paid senior executives who readily abrogate their managerial responsibilities by blindly placing faith in the advice of external experts, are the "real dangers" to their companies. The authors make this clear in the final pages of their book, where they provide a checklist of 10 rules to follow when engaging management consultants. Rule 5 is "never give up control."
The concluding lines of "Dangerous Company" are perhaps the most revealing of all: "Good advice depends upon the shrewdness of the person who seeks it." In the final analysis, the authors are not suggesting that managers shouldn't use consultants. They're merely suggesting that managers seek advice wisely rather than blindly.
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on November 11, 2001
James O'Shea and Charles Madigan have written an exceptionally informative text. Not only is it packed with well researched material, it is very exciting to read as well.
This book contains material that should be regarded as essential reading for all serious-minded professional managers. It is the ultimate thinking manager's book, filled with compelling case evidence of managerial indecision (and how to avoid it). It is arguably the best business book to be published between 1980 and 2000.
Most negative reviews of this book suggest that it is either unbalanced, biased, or too superficial in its coverage of the management consultancy industry. Such claims should be accepted with caution, predominantly because they appear to be written by the very consultants whose feathers the book has obviously ruffled.
Ultimately this book shouldn't be taken as a modern-day Spanish Inquisition targeting consultants and their methods (although it is, in parts, a damaging exposure of management consulting's darker side). Instead, Dangerous Company's most salient message is really directed towards inept managers (at all organisational levels) who seek to mask their own ineptitude by relying on expert advice that they are often incapable of comprehending. Chapter 2 on "Figgie International" is the best example of this. This chapter can be read as a stand-alone case-analysis of strategic confusion, and is perhaps the book's most revealing segment.
The book's underlying message (and this is obviously being missed by those who all too readily criticise the text) is that highly paid senior executives who readily abrogate their managerial responsibilities by blindly placing faith in the advice of external experts, are the "real dangers" to their companies. O'Shea & Madigan make this clear in the final pages of their book, where they provide a checklist of 10 rules to follow when engaging management consultants. Rule 5 is "never give up control".
The concluding lines of "Dangerous Company" are perhaps the most revealing of all: "Good advice depends upon the shrewdness of the (person) who seeks it." In the final analysis, the authors are not suggesting that managers shouldn't use consultants, they're merely suggesting that managers seek advice wisely rather than blindly.
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on April 27, 1998
In negotiations with a number of consulting firms, there is a ticklish area between getting the first deliverable and evaluating whether the contract should be renewed. Was the information valuable, useful, and acquired at a competitive price, and does it yield a competitive advantage?
I have found it useful to challenge consulting paradigms, because the way they think is a function of the universe as they see it. When the response to the challenge is, "Oh, I hold a patent," or, "This is how McKinsey did it," flags go up. This book helped validate some of my concerns about how consultants work, and, as an ex-consultant, I do note that the only employees who get trained CONSTANTLY--by experience--are consultants. Their knowledge is their bread-and-butter. I began refusing to deal with "green" consultants and account representatives from suppliers because I hate training their new employees. It's enough to train the people who make the commitment to show up, rain or shine, without needing overtime.
The best use of a consultant is when you have to make yourself and others comfortable with a bet-the-ranch recommendation. What's the cost of "not" doing something? If you manage the relationship well enough to get the consultant to say other than what you want to hear, you may get the kind of analysis that helps you to think "out of the box."
Otherwise, you should check your accounting practices: what's your ROI on consultants vs. employees?
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on February 5, 2007
This book gives you a good idea of the history of some of the major consulting firms in the 1980s through the early 1990s. It also gives you a little background history going further back in the century, esp. on McKinsey. You can tell this is definitely a journalistic outsider's account of management consulting; it does not give you the "feel" for what it is like to be a consultant the same way "House of Lies" or Consulting Demons" does; therefore, it is of less use to MBAs interested in exploring consulting as a possible career option. It is nonetheless useful for providing a little more knowledge about the management consulting environment of the 1980s and early 1990s.

An important thing to keep in mind is that despite the title the authors do not take a uniformly negative stance against management consulting. Instead, they discuss what can go wrong and how to prevent those things, while ensuring consultants add value.

Overall, it is a useful book, but I would go with "House of Lies" or "Consulting Demons" as interesting introductions to management consulting from a critical perspective.
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on May 4, 2012
Dangerous Company is one of these "consultants-are-bad-for-your-company's-health" books that became popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The authors describe various consulting houses and a bunch of failed projects that made it to the public. While well-written (as expected from two experienced authors and writers), the book pales compared to other books dealing with the consulting industry. If you want to learn about the growth of the consulting industry, "Lords of Strategy", for instance offers a much more in-depth look at the Why and How the industry has grown to what it is today.

Do consultants make mistakes? Absolutely. Are some companies or individuals greedy? Absolutely....but is either of this really news? Every successful industry has the occasional failure on an institutional or personal level. Still, the authors make one real important point, that indeed executives sometimes overlook: whenever you bring in external professionals to your company, you are responsible to ensure they do what you want them to do. You need to manage them, or else. It is indeed Caveat Emptor, but "buyer beware" is always true, in every business dealing. You better know what you buy and how to manage / use it.
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on May 18, 1999
This book provided a good inside view insider several large consulting firms. Another good resource I found was the "VaultReports.com Guide to the Top Management Consulting Firms" which had detailed insider profiles of the top firms w/ some hilarous (and disturbing) employee quotes!
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on July 17, 2006
This is an interesting book that provides a critique on the powerful consulting firms. The authors reveal some major failures by the powerful consulting houses. The enormous power and influence that some of the major consulting firms exercise is revealed and some staggering sums of money going into hundreds of millions that some companies paid to the major consultants and at the end of it all, the companies went into liquidation. The debacles are balanced by some remarkable turnarounds spearheaded by the same consultants.

This is a must read for organizations that wish to engage consultants. Top managers would benefit from the various tips on how to effectively manage the relationship with consultants, and how they can protect their companies from consultants who keep running the clock with no tangible work being accomplished. It gives the client useful tips on how they can demand value from the consultants. It is also very useful reading for consultants as they have the opportunity to read critical voices on some shortcomings of their profession. This should assist them in coming up with better solutions to clients' problems. Students who wish to enter the profession will benefit a lot from learning about both successful and failed consulting engagements that would prepare them for the challenges of the profession.

The authors raise some questions and concerns that are often expressed that indeed consultants are people hired by companies to justify some drastic and unpopular measures rather than being agents of change, which they prefer to consider themselves. On the other hand, when criticizing consultants, we may forget that the role of consultants includes giving advice to change or improve a situation but they do not have direct control over the implementation.

The book is an insightful and interesting read for all the stakeholders of the consultancy business that is recommended.
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on December 23, 1997
Dangerous Company is a novel about consulting companies and the businesses they save and ruin. James O'Shea and Charles Madigan investigate nine incidents where businesses hired consulting companies to improve their profits. They base their research on sources within the consulting firms, interviews with key clients, and access to now-sealed court records. Some incidents are success stories and some incidents are failure stories, but overall, the authors describe how consulting companies work, what they are after, and how a business should manage a consulting group if one comes to work for your company. The novel is written in a very easy prose style. Most of Dangerous Company reads like a novel. At the end of some chapters were tips on what to look out for when dealing with a consulting company. For example, O'Shea and Madigan list ten guidelines to use when considering whether to hire consultants and how to manage them.

I would recommend Dangerous Company to anyone who is thinking of hiring a consulting company and to those who work for consulting companies. Those thinking of hiring a consulting company or those who work for consulting companies would benefit from the mistakes and lessons learned from some of the incidents described in the novel and from the techniques used in success stories. Dangerous Company is an excellent description of the powerful world of consulting companies and the businesses they save and ruin.
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on September 30, 1997
I found the book to be quite interesting regarding some of the key consulting giants in the industry. In some instances, however, it can be viewed as deserved. The authors took what they probably felt were issues which would create controversy and feedback (good or bad) and ran with it for awhile satisfying the reading palate of many a consultant and consulting client alike. Yes... there were issues raised that needed to be raised and some red flag areas addressed in the consulting industry that definetly needed to be stated. It's an industry run by a few big boys that need to be shaken and spanked a little... guess they just got a bit too big for their silk pants. Thank you James O'Shea and Charles Madigan for opening the eyes of many readers and quenching the thirst for what many people are interested in knowing much more about regarding these consulting superpowers. I understand these firms do a lot of good, too... it's not all bad news, but I didn't realize they could goof on such a massive scale either! As a senior level manager, my colleagues and I now know which firms we will or will not be signing with. I have not only recommended the book to my associates, but I have given a number of copies away as gifts, as well. We need more like this!!!
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