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Dangerous Company: The Consulting Powerhouses and the Businesses They Save and Ruin

1 rating: 3.0
A book by James O'Shea

As the millennium approaches, management consultants have become ubiquitous--and extremely powerful. Often using secretive methods and usually drawing huge fees, they regularly make decisions that might affect thousands of people and cost billions of … see full wiki

Tags: Books
Author: James O'Shea
Publisher: Diane Pub Co
1 review about Dangerous Company: The Consulting Powerhouses...

Thinking Inside The Box

  • Jan 2, 2009
Rating:
+3
If there's a lesson to be learned from "Dangerous Company", it's that no consultant, however highly touted, is an adequate substitute for a company's own game plan for change. Consultants provide the recipes, but it's up to CEOs and staff to do the cooking.

In this 1997 book, Chicago Tribune staffers James O'Shea and Charles Madigan analyze several then-recent consulting assignments taken on by the largest consultancies active in the United States: Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Co., Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), Gemini (now Capgemini), and the godfather of modern business consulting, McKinsey & Company. Dated, often dry, "Dangerous Company" still manages to give a fair sense of what consulting is about, and how its various philosophies are put in practice by industry leaders.

The subtitle of this book, "The Consulting Powerhouses and the Businesses They Save and Ruin" is a bit of publishing hyperbole, as the cases described by O'Shea and Madigan are seldom so extreme as that. I suppose marketing business books is uphill enough with a subtitle that reads "The Consulting Powerhouses and the Businesses They Save, Ruin, or Leave Much The Same as They Found It."

While there's a strong skepticism about the value of consulting in the book, it's not uniformly negative. For every story like the one about how Bain got themselves in the middle of a British bribery scandal, there's others regarding how Gemini affected necessary change at a local hospital, or how Boston Consulting oversaw a new health protocol for helping asthma victims.

The most memorable chapter on the negative side, regarding several consultancies and their experience with the decidedly top-down nepotistic leadership of Figgie International, is subtitled "How Consultants Ran Amok", but from the absorbing blow-by-blow description it's clear no consultant, however pure of heart, could have exacted needed change, since that basically required the CEO to resign.

Can consultants cost more than they are worth? Absolutely, the authors say, but not primarily because they are amoral chiselers. They write: "McKinsey will send very smart people to work hard to produce whatever a client wants. If that is a blue-covered report intended to sit on a shelf somewhere forever, then the client can rest assured it will be the best blue-covered report he ever ignored."

The issue of consultants as advocates of job cuts disguised as change is examined at length, as is a tendency toward arrogance and cost overruns. Again, this is not brought up as a black mark against the profession as much as a kind of business reality to be watched for.

The authors conclude by recommending management retains the right degree of control over those they hire to consult them. As an executive at the pharmaceutical leader Biogen notes, consultants need boundaries in order to be most effective.

While not a good account of the nuts-and-bolts aspect of consulting (I recommend the soul-searching if glib "Consulting Demons" for that), "Dangerous Company" is a solid, sober-sided examination of a business sector that has only grown by leaps and bounds since its publication more than a decade ago.

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