Tag Archives: consultant

Boo to Banksters

10 Jun

Bankster: what a great Portmanteau word which succinctly communicates everything that’s rotten with our current financial system.

Bowler hat The first time I laid eyes on the City of London, it was the early 80s and everyone wore bowler hats.  Fast forward to the late 80s, when I started working there for real, and double breasted suits with red braces were the fashion of the day.  I confess, I couldn’t get into one of those suits – immortalized by 1930s Chicago – fast enough, although red braces were a step too far.  The City was pure madness, fueled by a mixture of greed, never ending bonuses, drugs, champagne, fast cars and loose women.  Sadly for me, I didn’t live that lifestyle, I simply helped support it with IT systems and software – anything to make stocks and futures move faster.  Looking back, it’s probably a good job I wasn’t a trader, as I’d either be dead or else hulking around a collection of knackered organs, bludgeoned into failure through massive overindulgence.

Michael Douglas as Gordon ‘Greed is Good’ Gecko in the movie Wall St epitomized the world of finance in that period of time; more recently the role of monied bad boy was reprized by Leonard Di Caprio in the movie Wolf of Wall St.  Both films portray the period as one massive hedonistic binge, which resonates with my experiences.  We all knew there were some bad people working the system, but they were our bad people, people who’d fought their way up from the bottom, displacing the Old Boys in their bowler hats.  It was all one big splurge of harmless fun.

GerkinSomewhere along the route that all changed.  Once the bankers in their bowler hats had been thoroughly displaced, the financialization of everything began in earnest.  Our people, with their wide boy attitudes and disregard for regulations paved the way for an influx of used car salesmen and outright crooks, who in turn begat bigger crooks.  Under their tutelage, finance became a massive part of the economy, the search forever on for ways to make ever bigger profits.  It should come as no surprise to discover that once the real crooks found their way in, they clamored for looser regulations.  When government employed useful tax inspectors, the financiers offered them more money to change sides.  The bought the regulators; they employed rocket scientists to create financial mechanisms that no-one but other rocket scientists can understand.  The party went from a few mates and a few beers, to neighborhood riot, advertised on Facebook.  Instead of stopping it when called, the police joined in and the party got larger still.

And here we are today.

Johnnie-WalkerIf you follow the financial news you’ll see fines for LIBOR rigging, fines for rigging the currency market, all shrouded in a culture of denial.  It was one bad apple, guv – honest.  The truth is, the banksters moved in and slowly but surely they captured every market and bought off the opposition.  They hypnotized government, then bought them off too.  Rigging markets is like you and your teenage mates drinking a bit of your dad’s scotch when he’s out.  To hide the crime you top the bottle up with water.  You get away with it, so you do it again and again, until it becomes impossible to stop.  Soon, the scotch is all gone.  So you fill the bottle with cold tea and hide it at the back of the booze cabinet.  Then you start on the gin and vodka.  Pretty soon the entire booze cabinet is colored water.  Next you spend all your time thinking up ways to keep your dad out. In the end, you leave home and when the crime is discovered, blame it all on your baby brother.  I know he’s only 5 dad, but hell can he drink!

I propose that the international crime syndicate that captured our financial system operates as a secret society, thoroughly ingrained in the City of London and Wall Street.  Ferret, the hero of The Ferret Files belongs to said organization and knows many of their secrets.  As we’ve previously established, he’s a charming consultant who works in the City and thanks to insider trading has become very wealthy.  Now he’s bored and wants to follow his childhood dream of becoming a detective.  However, his friends are having none of it and unless he starts earning again quickly, he’ll soon discover how his superiors deal with foot soldiers who they deem are no longer of any use.

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Hurrah for Consultants

1 Jun

Firstly, in order to remove any confusion, the consultants referred to in the title of this piece are of the Management variety, and not their more respectable surgical cousins.  I’m sure they both share many characteristics – that’s what the comments section is for.

I’ve spent many years working in corporates and the echelons of government, both as a consultant and an employer of consultants, so when I say that the chief characteristic of a great consultant is the ability to charm your pants off, you better believe it.  You know you’ve met a mediocre or poor consultant when at the end of a meeting you still have your pants fastened firmly around your waist.  The great consultant leaves with two pairs of trousers, and you’re so befuddled you don’t even realise until you get home that you rode the tube in socks and underwear.

smileWith great charm comes a great smile.  It’s that smile that acts as an anchor to the feelings you had during the first ever meeting with your new consultant chum, so much so that as soon as you see them, you take your own pants off and hand them over, along with your jacket and wallet.  With a wink, the great consultant hands you back your tube pass.  The mediocre consultant, meanwhile, is still trying to figure out how the hell the really good guy has a different suit for every day of the month.

Great consultants need great hair.  This is more a guideline than a rule, as it’s possible to make it as a baldie, but here’s the inside rip: you have to have a really nice shaped head.  One consultant pal of mine had lost a lot of hair, and if he let it grow even for a couple of days, he became invisible in a crowd.  Shaved right down, he had the IT factor in bunches.  His trick was not so much the collecting of pants, as the collecting of bras and frillies, although truth be told he was so smooth, he undoubtedly had a wardrobe full of client’s pants too.

A great consultant dresses the part.  Not over-the-top $10,000 suits like you find in banking circles, all that does is serve to alienate them from the average client .  A great consultant working in media dresses down, wearing smart casual.  The same great consultant working in advertising wears a nice fashionable suit.  The great consultant working in banking comes home with three of four $10,000 suits on their first day in the job, setting them up for the remainder of the week.

Finally, like all consultants, a great consultant speaks a proprietary language comprised of grandiose, highfaluting technical and business terms that sound utterly believable when they purr them out, but somehow manage to turn into utter twaddle when you try to repeat them in the lunch queue.  The ability to utter choice phrases as though your very pants depend on them is a confidence thing, something the mediocre consultant can’t grasp and mere mortals swoon over.

tubeI can’t claim to be a great consultant myself, on the grounds that I’m still buying my own trousers after twenty years.  But I am good at giving solid advice.  FYI – the type of advice not to give is: ‘your dress will look great on me’, even if it’s the truth.  During one charm offensive I did once swap clothes with a female client in an office with the shutters down, but that led to all sorts of horrible complications when she left to get coffee and didn’t come back for an hour.  She went on to join a top consultancy by the way, and still has my suit to this day.  I call her occasionally and ask for it back.  She tells me to pop over, which I tried the once.  Kindly, she let me keep my tube pass.

Anyway, the point of this article is to say hurrah for consultants.  Love them or hate them, the world would be a much more boring place without them.  So much so, that I’ve taken all the great consultants I’ve ever met and rolled them up into one character called Ferret.  A wayward consultant who’s great at his job but is gagging to become a detective.  Let’s call him a detecting consultant.  He has a wardrobe full of pants and a collection of frillies.  Nothing can possibly go wrong for him.  That is, until the day he loses his charm…

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Spooky Ferret

28 Jan

Here’s the final Ferret illustration, for now, from my good pal Richard Argent over at Argent Art.

Spooky Ferret

When I set out to write, I wanted to create the novel I’d been waiting 40 odd years to read.  At some point, I figured, someone would combine the paranormal, an extinct Nazi drugs program, City of London banksters and financial malfeasance into a coherent story.  But no.  Still waiting.  Lob in a healthy dose of humor, some consultant doublespeak and several years of my own experiences working for the Government on programmes I can’t talk about, and you’ve got the Ferret Files.

Ultimately, I’m no different to anyone else.  If I want to read this story, then you do too.  And you will.  Very soon…

A Bit of Friday Fun

23 Jan

It’s been a while since I finished the first draft of the Ferret Files and started on the second.  To be honest, I really had no idea how long it might take, having not written a full length novel before.  In the background, I’ve been working with my good pal Richard Argent over at Argent Art to put some Ferret visuals together (Richard is a very talented artist, please check his other stuff out).  Firstly, I have a funky new Avatar which I’m very pleased with:

Ferret in London

Ferret in London

 

I should point out that Ferret the Detecting Consultant is a real person, not a cartoon character.  He runs a detective agency, this is his logo and it’s what appears on his business cards.  Very kindly, he’s agreed to lend it to me, to help promote his story.

Over the next few days I’ll publish some of Richard’s other Ferret illustrations – they’re very good.  He’s currently working on a half dozen sketches, drawn in his usual style, as illustrations for the finished novel.  I can’t wait to see key scenes of London, populated with my characters, it’s going to rock big time.

The Morality of Super Powers

25 Jan

Super Powers – wah hay!

Here’s a question for you: if you had a super power that allowed you to influence the outcome of situations in your favor, without other people knowing, would you do so?

Secondly, if you had the opportunity to use your power to create a personal fortune, with the intention of having a good time, would you still do so?

This is the central dilemma facing the hero in the Ferret Files.  He’s let me know in no uncertain terms that he doesn’t want to give up the booze & cocaine lifestyle…

I look forward to reading your replies

A Carry on with Camels

27 Dec

As a Christmas bonus, here is one of my older pieces that originally ran in a Reed Publications magazine some years ago.  Enjoy!

Occasionally you run into an IT manager, who for some reason unbeknown to anyone other than themselves, a deft salesman and perhaps a nosy waiter has bought a right old donkey of a system, which, no matter how hard it’s pushed will ever perform the service for which it was intended. Even if we were to allow a bit of leeway, like the odd millennium or two, the donkey would still be a donkey: long eared, lonely and unhappy, but available for long summers on Blackpool sea-front, in return for lodgings and a bale of hay a week.

DonkeyQuite often, the manager in question leaves before his donkey is discovered. Or, as in my last equine experience, the company folds due to one donkey mouth too many to feed. This leaves said manager none the wiser as to his mistake and ready to install donkey #2, the ‘Son of Donk’, come the next job. It’s sort of sad for donkeys without aspirations, especially when they’re both bought and sold as something they’re obviously not.

But enough of donkeys. We’ve all seen one before now. A donkey is a donkey, game, set and match; end of story. I’m not here to moralise about Ee-haws, but rather to relate the tale of the project manager who was sold a camel, in order to fulfil what seemed like a perfectly reasonable requirement at the time, but which when put under scrutiny later, left many people scratching their heads in dismay.

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“You should see what they’re ordering to support the new Fabbo billing system. Oodles of hardware and more bits besides,” one of my colleagues confided. “I even saw a camel on the spec sheet. Is that some kind of super-duper UNIX box or what?”

“No, a First World War biplane,” I replied sarcastically, ”as in Sopworth. One propeller, no humps.”

Colleague number two looked up from his desk. “I think you’ll find that it’s actually a real camel – one hump, no propeller. I was in the strategy meeting yesterday, when they decided to buy it as a value added option.”

“No, you jest! What do we know about camels?” my first colleague asked suspiciously.

“Sod all and then less.” I wasn’t really in the mood for a joke. “You two will just have to go on a camel intensive training course, probably in Saudi,” I added. And then as an afterthought, “Fortunately, they don’t let unqualified contractors anywhere near new kit, which means that I’m as safe as houses.”

Which was a perfectly reasonable mistake to make, given my relative camel naiveté. It’s a shame I didn’t manage to keep my mouth shut later, when the technical director collared me down the pub and asked me if I’d ever ridden a camel. Thinking the whole camel thing to be one huge joke at my expense, I was non too guarded in my reply.

“Of course I have. Rode for Britain once, in a race around the Pyramids,” I replied, failing to add that there were only two of us racing and the other party was so smashed on palm wine that he fell off within twenty yards of the start, thus presenting me with an automatic win.

“That’s good,” he replied. “It means I’ll only need to book someone on a mucking out course. Congratulations!” he offered me his hand. “By the way – you’re now officially on Camel Team as the riding consultant.”

Have you ever felt as though you’re ‘it’, in a game of career tag? I did, at that moment in time. In accord with my new found astonishment, my jaw began to do press-ups. “So it’s true then? We’re really getting a camel?”

“Yes, several actually. Management have already approved the budget. It’s all part and parcel of the new Fabbo billing system. I’m not sure exactly what the camels do yet, but rest assured they’ll become an important part of the architecture. We’re building systems for the future here, for years down the line. We might not see any immediate benefit, but it’s there.”

Oh, boy. Squirm as I might, I couldn’t change the technical director’s mind and get him to take his riding cap back. There aren’t many times I can think of when a contractor has been given the opportunity to train in a useless skill for free. Normally you have to pay good money for useless training. But nevertheless, this was about to be one of those instances when your real skill set increases whilst the experience you admit to on your CV decreases. Camel husbandry was not about to become one of my marketable assets. Goodness, no. Admit to something so specific and before you know it you’ve become so specialised that you’ll never get a job doing anything but.

Leapfrog

By now you should be asking yourself ‘Why exactly does an IT department need a camel?’

The answer is simple: because everyone else is still only thinking of buying one. Get in there first and you’re leading edge, lighting the way. Anything else is middle of the paper, or god forbid if you’re really out of date trailing edge, which just won’t do when you’re an IT Vice President boasting to your IT Vice President mates about how good and solid your IT strategy is. And therein lies your business justification, signed and sealed. Leading edge is cool, trailing edge isn’t.

“The installation of the Fabbo billing system at this point in time will allow the Company to leapfrog the opposition and take significant strides into uncharted territory.” said the IT VP at the departmental monthly brief some days later. “We’ll be the envy of every other IT department in the industry, as we become the first Company in the UK to implement this new and exciting technology. Camel Team are go! The eyes of the industry are upon us.”

All of which gave me no option for quitting straight away. There was however, one important decision which nobody had yet made. As with LAN technology (Token ring or Ethernet dear chap?), there are two different options available. Two types of camel to choose from. Do we go for Dromedary or Bactrian? One hump or two? It seems that the ISO committee haven’t finished beating each other up yet, so there’s a bit of a risk involved. There’s only a 50% chance that whoever makes the choice will get the standard right. Careers are made and broken on decisions like this. Which is it to be?

name_in_lights_banner“As I’m not fully briefed on the technology and it’s still very new, I’ll let Camel Team make that choice,” said the technical director. “Of course, I shall take the glory if you get it right. My name will be in lights forever. Should you, ‘erm, choose unwisely, I doubt you’ll ever manage to get gainful employment again. Any of you.”

I made a mental note not to extend my contract once it expired and then got stuck into the business at hand, namely the specification of a camel standard. As I became more involved in the camel scenario, it became apparent that all was not quite what it seemed.

Pin the Tail

A salesman from the Blue Star company had persuaded the project manager in charge of specifying the new Fabbo billing system that it was in the Company’s interests to purchase an additional camel module for each of the new Systems boxes. That’s three camels in Head Office for the pilot system and one per remote site once the system begins to roll out proper. The project manager, who was a busy man with far too many golf meetings for far too few days in the week duly signed the initial order and then passed the responsibility for evaluation onto the technical director.

As the technical director was an unassuming sort of chap who was relatively new to the job and none too technical, he saw the job he’d inherited primarily as one of ‘installation dynamics’. In fact, he decided that as the project manager knew absolutely what he was doing without question (the project manager is God after all; his experience is unimpeachable, his vision unpollutable; he’s also costing the Company a small French Chateau a day, so everything he says must be right), there was actually no need for any kind of evaluation to take place. The IT Vice President had said the Fabbo new billing system is leading edge, which means that the camels must also be leading edge by dint of association. Therefore they’re extremely important and must be treated accordingly. What was originally only an add-on option had sneaked in the back door as a definite purchase and there was no going back on it.

My sarcastic comments were responsible for securing me the job of camel jockey, ready and raring to go. Which in turn made me the only recognised camel expert on site. Suddenly, I found I was not only responsible for riding – my knowledge had somehow elevated me to the status of ‘camel guru’ overnight, which in turn secured me the job of recommending which camel we invested in. And finally, as an afterthought I was also lumbered with the job of housing the wee humpy beasties when they arrived and making sure that no health and safety regulations were breached in the process.

Knowing the futility of trying to extricate myself from the whole mess, I decided I might as well ring around a few suppliers and get a feel for which type of camel to go for. It wasn’t easy, as both had their merits and pitfalls and the more people I talked to, the more the water became muddied. In the end, I stuck my finger in the air and pinned the tail on the Dromedary, which ate slightly less, and therefore left less residue.

Good for the computer room, but not so good for the mucking out team, who had been practising hard with anything sloppy that they could lay their hands on. This caused a minor fracas, which resulted in the technical director authorising the purchase of a fourth camel for head office, to keep the muckers happy.

Bummer! I’d spent a week re-designing the computer room and I’d not envisaged any camel expansion plans so early on. The only way to fit the extra camel in would be to extend the computer room by another ten feet and this would take time and money. I had an idea.

“How’s about we rack the camels sideways,” I suggested to the Blue Star Salesman. “That way we can fit four in without a problem.”

“Sorry mate,” he countered, quick as a flash. “Our horizontal camel racks won’t be ready for another six months. Here, what you need is a bigger computer room. Tell you what, I’ll do you a deal. Call my brother – he’s a builder; he’ll do you a nice price. To make it worth your while, there’s a curry and a crate of beer in it for you.”

None too soon, the hidden costs of camel technology were starting to wake from their heady slumber.

Three Legs

Due to the high profile situation, the computer room extension was signed off almost immediately. The salesman’s brother found himself on the end of a deal which was worth a King’s ransom and then some, which didn’t seem to bother him somehow. The building work was finished in near record time for a hefty bonus worth as much as the contract itself and the vertical camel racking installed.

Delivery day dawned. There was much excitement around the department, as the Dromedaries arrived in a big truck. It had been decided in advance by my colleagues that the camel with the lowest serial number would be called ‘Sopworth’, to remind me of the error of my ways during that initial blunder. As if I’d forget. It’s not the sort of mistake that passes you by just like that. Grrr.

The truck parked up and the camels were led in rather hastily by a heavily bearded Camel Specialist, whose payment terms included four FA Cup Final tickets, simply for holding a piece of old rope. Without a sound he extracted payment, checked his tickets to make sure they were genuine, nodded and left rapidly. There was no ‘please’, no ‘thank you’, nothing. Training? Forget it. It was left to Camel team (i.e. me) to take stock of the situation and figure out what was happening.

Camel2“Here,” remarked my first colleague, checking serial numbers. “Sopworth has only got three legs!”

“So he has,” I said embarrassed. “We better check them all thoroughly, to make sure that nothing else is missing.”

I supposed that one faulty camel out of four wasn’t a bad failure rate, although I didn’t really know for definite. I called the supplier anyway, as you do under such circumstances.

“A missing leg? No! You don’t say. I’ve never seen that before in my life. I knew we should have had them in here before sending them out.”

“You mean you didn’t check them first?”

“No mate, we were in a bit of a hurry. They were shipped straight from the Gulf see.”

“So they’ve not been tested at all?”

“Here look, it’s not a problem – you’ve got my word.”

“And the missing leg?”

“Don’t worry about it. The camel will still work fine without it.”

“That’s not the point. It’s damaged.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Look, I’m smack bang out of camels at the moment.”

“So what do you suggest?”

“I’ll send you a new one when the next shipment arrives. Bye.”

Sack Race

The camel thing – that was ages ago now, but it still seems like only yesterday. It was a bit of a nightmare towards the end, when everything became rather too frantic for my liking. I wasn’t sure at one point whether I was competing in a scorpion filled sack race or a marathon over broken glass.

You know, I’d almost forgotten about the incident, until I overheard two people talking on the train the other day.

“My friend has just started working for a new company and guess what?”

“What?”

“They’ve got camels in their computer room.”

“Really? I didn’t think anyone bought any.”

“Not many people did. They were only popular for about two months and then the industry standardised on monitor lizards.”

“Yes, I remember that now. Anyway, these camels. What do they do exactly?”

“To be honest, I haven’t got a clue. My mate says they’re ultra reliable though. They never go wrong. One of the camels has only got three legs and it still works fine. He said he found a spare leg in the store cupboard, but it’s never been taken out of its box. The fitting instructions got lost, apparently.”

“Typical. Were they expensive?”

“I’d say! They were an arm and a you-know-what to purchase, the hump upkeep costs are horrendous and the yearly maintenance, well: I could purchase a luxury cruiser for less.”

“Why did they buy them in the first place then?”

“God only knows. But then who knows why anything happens in this industry? I know I don’t…”

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