At 65 Gary Brooks is considered the “grand old man” of US consulting.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, a product of the depression years, Brooks left the city with a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to return 33 years later to set up a local office for his consulting practice, Allomet Partners. He is national chair of the Institute of Management Consultants (US) and was a founding member of the Turnaround Management Association (TMA). When he is not travelling or meeting community and organisational responsibilities, Brooks skis, plays tennis and works on the family’s mountain-lakeside retreat. He has a special interest in the “human condition,” the need to understand human behaviour, organisational dynamics and decision processes.
What is your current position?
I am chairman and chief executive officer of Allomet Partners, a 10-person consulting firm with primary offices in New York, Atlanta, Georgia, Chicago and satellite offices elsewhere. As a co-founder (in January 1985) of the firm, my primary responsibilities have always been new business development, the strategic direction of the practice and managing the quality of our output, an increasing challenge as the market becomes more complex and clients become more demanding. Our referrals come from those people who may be at risk in a troubled company, particularly lenders, directors, investors and their legal advisors. We also work with or on behalf of debtors or creditors in a bankruptcy.
What did you do before you were a consultant?
My corporate career started with the General Electric Company where I served as a process engineer. After military service I was employed by the Eastman Kodak Company as an industrial engineer and later as a commercial development manager. I continued as a corporate migrant, moving to a troubled small company located in suburban New York to serve as vice president – operations.
After a successful restructuring of this enterprise, I opened a solo consulting practice and began providing services to underperforming companies, most of which were experiencing severe financial problems.
The recession of 1968-1970 complicated my objectives for this new venture and I joined the New York staff of Technomic Consultants, a Chicago-based international firm specialising in technological forecasting, market research and strategic planning. After serving as manager of Technomic’s New York office, I was asked to become vice president and division executive for the troubled technical products division of the Scott Paper Company, a client of the firm.
In 1976, I returned to consulting with a focus on assisting under-performing, middle market companies in the New England region from a base in Hartford, Connecticut. Allomet Partners was founded in 1985 with one of the ex-partners of the Hartford firm.
Why did you move into consultancy?
Most of my closest friends became medical doctors. I was certainly influenced by their direction only to find in college that biology and anatomy were distasteful subjects. I changed direction, majored in biochemical engineering and industrial management and decided to become a business doctor and establish a professional practice when the time was right. I believed that a dozen years of experience with very well managed major companies prepared me well to service others. In fact, my learning had just begun.
How did you acquire your consulting skills?
My ability to define problems and propose appropriate solutions to them is the result of a sound engineering education. Experience and continuing education, particularly in subject areas outside of one’s area of specialisation, enhance the ability to consider a broad range of problems. These are technical competencies, many of which are also “text book” responses. The key skills of top consultants relate to an understanding of and a sensitivity to people.
How long have you been a CMC?
Since 1981. This accreditation, my licence as a professional engineer and becoming a Certified Turnaround Professional have all been important factors in achieving a competitive advantage. Referral sources and clients respond to this differentiation; competitors without similar credentials are finding it increasingly difficult to qualify.
What were the decisive points in your career?
There have been several: superb professors who ensured the development of sound analytical skills; during my corporate career, managers with the patience to help me over rough spots, the concern to motivate me to listen and learn, and the savvy to emphasise the total spectrum of professional responsibility. Many years ago I made a presentation in mid-February to the staff of a major prospect. The senior executive inquired why I wanted his business so much that I was willing to come to Maine in the middle of a blizzard. Since that date, we have enjoyed a continuing flow of work from many people in that region.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
I am able to digest large amounts of data and identify quickly the primary problems while gaining the early confidence of my clients’ staff which yields major contributions from them during the fact-finding process.
As for weaknesses, I am impatient with people who fail to make use of their talents and intellect and intolerant of those who “have all the answers” and refuse to consider the opinions or proposals of others.
Who has had the greatest influence on your career?
I would be remiss if I did not recognise the role that my wife and family played in permitting my involvement in the consulting profession. They bore the pain of my extensive travel, emotional highs and lows, and frustrations with clients. It certainly helped, particularly at the beginning of my consulting efforts, to enjoy the financial stability derived from my wife’s own successful career.
What has been your greatest professional challenge?
In family businesses, particularly in smaller communities, the ego of the entrepreneur who has successfully built a business, is a pillar of the community and whose sense of self and quality of life are based upon the continued success of the enterprise, bruises easily. Failure or personal weakness is perceived if a third party must be called to help resolve business related problems. Overcoming that barrier to entry while keeping the ego intact is our constant challenge.
What are your career plans?
Continuing to build Allomet Partners will consume my energy for the remainder of my active career. My next goal is to establish an international presence, utilising our skills and experience to aid companies in less developed economies such as Eastern Europe and the Indian subcontinent.
How do you keep your skills up to date?
Reading, workshops and teaching are part of my professional development effort. I listen to others with unique skills, tools and techniques and then test them as possible answers to client problems. I have not yet met anyone who could not teach me something new and useful.
What would you say to anyone considering a career in management consultancy?
While for me there would be no other choice, most of the people I talk to are ill-equipped to assume the financial risk and professional challenge involved in running a small practice. An easier road for many, both emotionally and intellectually, is to become employed by larger, more stable organisations within which career risk is less and the boat doesn’t rock so much.