British Airways and J Sainsbury have each made extensive use of consultants. The phrase ‘money down the drain’ comes to mind.
Lynton Barker, chairman of the Management Consultancies Association, insists that my image of consultants is out of date. Firms today are more likely to be paid on a results-basis rather than earning big retainers. Not all consultants are MBAs: everyone seems to offer an MBA course these days, and they have become devalued.
Yes, Barker admits, consultants can be self-important and abrasive. But they can provide valuable input for senior management. It’s not just a case of telling the chief executive what he already knows.
One of my complaints was that any failed executive could set himself up as a consultant. Barker says this only applies to one-man bands. The bursting of the dotcom bubble, and subsequent jobs shakeout, has left only the best working for the bigger firms.
Barker called me in for a briefing on consultants – but can’t claim to speak for everyone. The MCA represents 38,000 consultants. Its members including Accenture and Capgemini. But the big strategy firms – notably McKinsey and Bain & Co – are not members. They see themselves as a cut above the consulting pack.
When asked whether it was interested in joining the MCA, McKinsey is said to have replied: ‘We are not a consultancy. We are “McKinsey”.’ Small wonder that it produced the likes of William Hague.
Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times