“They would make you laugh if they hadn’t made you cry.”


Management Consultancies love to capture the import of what they do in a single word or phrase.  They hold internal brain crunching sessions to find their way to the real ‘meaning’ of their consulting practice; and then to find the word or phrase that captures it.  Usually it has something to do with the wondrous depth of their analysis.  As with most internally generated ‘buzz words’, they mean more to the Consultants than to their client audience who, of course, were not part of the originating meeting.  Nor is any attempt made to adapt the concept for the listening ear.  Silence and misunderstanding are the usual outcomes, in this case sheer, unbridled amazement if not horror.

This story concerns a consultancy based on the South Coast of the UK.  They too thought their analysis was primus inter pares. Rather like an MRI scan, it revealed all, every detail including the unexpected.  That’s what they did.  They revealed all.  A bit like opening your dressing gown; or your kimono.  That’s it.  We open the client’s kimono for him to reveal all, all he needs to know to fully understand the length and depth of the issues facing him.

I again ran the sales operation for this consultancy.  It was a pleasure because the consultants really did deliver on time the project benefits and more.  On this particular day, we were visiting a small, medical equipment company situated in what are known as the Home Counties near to London.  We thought we were in with a good chance here.  We had already met with the Managing Director and he was interested in what we could do for him.  This meeting was with his Operations Director within whose responsibilities the hoped for project would take place.

We arrived in reception full of hope.  My colleague was a gruff, tough talking Scot, the type you would want to scrap with in the Gorbals. Let’s call him Hugh. He was one of our Directors.

The Operations Director turned out to be a woman.  She spoke aesthetically, sharply and directly.  Middle aged, pale and severe in appearance, the first impression was, if she hadn’t been an Operations Director, she would have been a nun.

The meeting went very well (though I say so myself).  We reprised the ground covered with the Managing Director and identified the areas he felt would benefit from our intervention. We sought her opinion and what she would like to achieve.  We discussed likely cost benefit outcomes and timescales.  She was clearly very interested.  The next step was the next step. How should we bring the programme together? Her thin, lined face was framed in fair, greying hair which accentuated the severe line of her chin and the paleness of her cheekss.  She smiled.  “Tell me” she said, “describe for me in one sentence the essence of what you can do for us?”

This was clearly Hugh’s moment.  He had been silent far longer than he would have chosen.  His face lit up.  He had just the line for her. “We will help you to open your kimono” he said.

For me the pale image of an aging nun standing there, rudely awakened from her slumbers and naked except for her kimono which was open, sprang immediately to the mind’s eye.  But I shall never be able to describe adequately the look on her face. Disbelief was soon replaced by a stoney stare. For her, humour had no part to play in such innuendo, sexual or not…  Clearly the last thing she wanted was to open her kimono publically.  In particular she did not want Hugh’s help to open her kimono.  That was it.  In a nutshell.

I tried desperately to return to the previous ground we had covered, to happier times.  She was just not interested.  The door was closed.

As we took the long road home, Hugh was unrepentant to the end.  Something like “Silly cow.  I wouldn’t have given her one even if she had begged for it”.

Another one for the history books.