Thursday, October 23, 2014

THE CONSULTANT, PART 2

Wow! Who'd have thought there would be a part 2?  As best I knew things were going very well, and it has been about seven years.  On occasional visits the place looked good, the way a well run place does.  The owner seemed content to playing Mr. Mom and letting the business go along smoothly.

Then a bolt out of the blue.  The young man called me to say he and his brother had been fired a week earlier!  I was totally shocked, but I waited to hear what he had to say.  I was kind of expecting a sordid story of business gone wrong, but that isn't what came out.  It appeared that the final straw was a personal disagreement and that it may have something to do with the owners children coming into the business.  Having worked in the family business myself, and for a number of family businesses I was well aware of the stress that this can cause.  The young man was asking my advice about what he should do, but this close to the actual firing I was reluctant to do much more than just listen, and ask him to keep in touch.

A second shock came about half an hour later, when the owner called too!  He called to tell me what he had done, and he also put it down to a personal disagreement.  I was worried there might have been allegations of business wrong-doing, but neither party suggested that in any way.  He told me that he and father planned on running the business again themselves.  At this point his dad was well into his eighties, and they had struggled working together before the owner had bought out his dad a while back.  So I had real reservations about this, but I just listened. Again I was very reluctant to give any advice under the circumstances.

I visited the business again in the spring.  The owner was very upbeat about what was happening.  He told me his children had rallied around and were now actively engaged in the business.  They looked busy, a lot more people working than I had seen in the past.  I walked around the plant, and could see subtle differences.  This was a seasonal business and it was a late in the season. I was surprised at the amount of unsold inventory on the floor.  Instead of the neat orderly operation I had come to know this looked a little more disheveled.  The owner spoke to me about a production problem they were having, and that they couldn't put their finger on what the problem was.  This caught me by surprise, I was no expert in producing this product, and I could see clearly what the problem was.  This was a highly automated operation.  It was clear that the people now doing the work did not understand the process, and were falling back on their experience doing it manually.  I told him where I though the problem might lie and left it at that.

A couple of months later I spoke to the owner again and he related how it had been the worse season in 30 years, and how the recession had really cut back their sales.  His company had always had the best product on the market, and they had always commanded a premium price too.  I wondered whether the product problem I saw had impacted his sales as well.  I knew that the young man had landed a job with a competitor.  So out of curiosity I gave him a call.  I asked how he was doing at the new job, and whether they had a good season.  Imagine my surprise when he started gushing about how the season had been absolutely incredible!  He said the owner told him it was his best season ever.  He also related how tough it was not being the boss anymore!

Another visit the following season showed me that things had deteriorated even further.  The owner and his dad had a falling out, big surprise there!  The daughter contacted the young man who had been fired and told him that her dad had become increasingly unstable, firing people and changing things constantly.  Sadly it looks like this once hugely successful business is in grave danger of failing completely.

The young man has left the industry completely.  He decided that some of the work I had been training him to do when we worked together in the past was way more interesting for him, and he has persued it.  Good for him, it is really good when you love what you do.

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