Tuesday, 6 December 2011

However much we may dislike politicians, they still beat management consultants

Last Thursday night I stepped briefly through the looking glass into the world of the super-rich. They really are different from you and me.

Over dinner, my host explained how he needed an income of at least £20 million a year (before tax, which he sportingly pays, unlike so many of his peers) to maintain his houses, yacht, staff and overall standard of living. Since he is a billionaire this should not present too much of a challenge, even at current interest rates.

Then a multi-millionaire fellow guest mused that he could happily give up almost every aspect of his lifestyle tomorrow, without regrets. Only one thing would be a real wrench to lose: private flights.

Having hitched one or two lifts on private jets over the years I can confirm that avoiding the hell of public airports is indeed a deep joy, though personally I find the economical alternative of never flying anywhere equally acceptable.

Did I feel resentful of the wealth of these two men? Far from it. The richer is an entrepreneur who started life with no advantages at all. He turned a simple idea and a capacity for hard graft into a huge fortune, creating many jobs along the way. Even the most ardent campaigners against excessive pay seem willing to make an exception for those who build great businesses from scratch.

The other is the chief executive of a public company, but a notably successful one that has rewarded its shareholders well over the years. He also charmed me by revealing that one of his small pleasures is allowing his PA to put through calls from the heads of management consultancies, who invariably introduce themselves with a well-worn spiel about the matchless expertise their organisation can offer.

“Really,” he replies disarmingly. “Are you experts in all those things? What a remarkable coincidence. So are we!”

And then he quietly replaces the receiver.

I warm to this approach because, to me, the single most annoying thing about the massive inflation in executive salaries in recent years has not been the way it has been organised through cabals of “independent non-executive directors” who are actually all members of the same self-interested club. No, it is the way so many business leaders seem unwilling to make their own decisions, even though that is surely precisely what they are being paid so generously to do.

Instead they call in management consultants to outline the options and advise on the optimum course of action. In my experience this will either be a blinding statement of the obvious or a recommendation that the application of only a few moments’ clear thought will show to be laughably and dangerously wrong.

And all for a mere seven figure fee. No wonder that management consultants are so widely derided as people who borrow your watch to tell you the time, then walk off with it in their pocket.

This may seem rich coming from one who scratches a living as a consultant himself, and in a field (public relations) which most honest practitioners will admit is principally about the liberal application of common sense.

All I can say in my defence is that at least I have never been greedy, or seriously damaged the prospects of my clients. So far.

As for my super-rich pals, there is clearly no need to worry about them as a private jet will always be on hand to whisk them off to some more tolerant part of the world if Britain turns seriously resentful, as it may well do as the screw on general living standards tightens in the years ahead.

Our politicians are only brave enough to hint that there might be a temporary blip in the upward march of prosperity, not that the good times are gone for ever. But if they told us the truth and we rose up against them, what would be the alternative? Technocrats. Or, to put it another way, experts. Management consultants.

If it ever comes to that, the top National Lottery prize should surely not be cash, but a place on the last private jet to leave the country.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

1 comment:

Nicola said...

My local community-owned village shop is struggling. The problem is blindingly obvious - overheads exceed sales; the village prefers to shop at Tesco. A management consultant with no micro-retail experience has volunteered to analyse the accounts and present his finding. As my partner said today, the three most useless things in life are: the runway behind your plane; an umbrella on a yacht and a management consultant...