Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Guardian takes a dislike to consultants

A number of articles in the Guardian these last weeks leave me pretty convinced. The Guardian has taken a dislike to consultants.

First there were a series of articles in which deep concern was expressed at the increasing role of consultants in the thinking of Number 10 and - horror of horrors - the appointment of some ex-McKinsey advisers into key government roles. The appointees are likely to drive through radical changes in the management and measurement of government departments, to push for efficiency gains and the adoption of online approaches to streamline departments.

Most organisations I know would love to hire as employees a team of ex-McKinsey consultants. Bring all that expertise in house, have the ability to push through more initiatives internally without the need for calling in consultants - and be in a position of strength when negotiating with consultancies for those engagements that are still deemed necessary. Most FTSE firms are trying to hire lots of ex-consultants, yet because this is happening in the public sector it is labelled as scandalous. Ridiculous.

This was followed up in the last days by another article in which the Observer / Guardian Unlimited tore shreds out of consultants for their unethical practices and client scams. This was all based on the rantings to be found within David Craig's recent book about how consultants rip off their clients. I've already submitted a letter of complaint to the Editor, copied below. If you'd like to do the same simply email: politics.editor@guardianunlimited.co.uk

I write in response to Nick Cohen's article "Natural born billers" in which the majority of management consultants are made out to be charlatans and common thieves. I am concerned by the ease with which the author David Craig has been able to persuade mainstream media to tout his views of the consulting industry. We are, after all, talking about a chap who has a book to sell here.

I am a former management consultant myself and now work in the recruitment sector. Both sectors have a few rotten eggs - as does any sector where there's significant money to be made or lost - but the vast majority of professionals are going about their business in an honest and upright manner and delivering huge value to clients both in the public and private sectors.

If we look at the Enron scandal and how the reputations of Andersen employees were tarnished worldwide, we see how easily the media can fan the flames of isolated incidents and turn them into widely held beliefs and prejudices. In the case of Enron it was accountants worldwide that were dragged through the wringer and whose integrity was questioned; by promoting this book's premise you are taking consulting in the same direction on the basis of what can only be described as very limited testimony.

As you are undoubtedly aware, repeat business in the consulting industry is absolutely key and I would put it to you that any professional that succeeds in doing business with FTSE clients year after year is clearly doing a great many things right. Most consulting firms generate the majority of their revenues from repeat clients - which must result either from the success of the engagements or be down to gross negligence on the part of most FTSE Directors. Are you seriously suggesting the majority of FTSE Directors simply have the wool pulled over their eyes and pay up year after year? I thought not.

Finding examples of bad practice is easy in any industry, but portraying these practices as industry norms is doing both your readers and the country a gross disservice. I trust you will strike a more balanced view in your future commentaries

Yours faithfully

Tony Restell
Company Director
Switchboard: +44 (0)207 667 6880

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