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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

CAUGHT IN A CONFLUENCE OF CONSULTANTS

It seemed like I was spending more time in the air, traveling, than I was in the office. It was good to get back to NYC and check up with everyone on the staff. On my return from the west coast, Diane told me that Dun & Bradstreet CEO Charlie Moritz had called. He wanted me to  meet with a group of  consultants from recently retained  Boston-based Bain Consulting.  D&B, a publicly  owned company, wanted a  plan to unify the public presentation of all its properties, divisions and companies. There wanted commonality on all business cards, letterheads and promotional materials.. An appointment was made for me to meet with Bain's people and explain our publishing operations. With 25 publications serving diverse industries, each had its own logo and look, depending on the personality of the art directory. Four suits showed up, each one filled by an MBA, one from Wharton, two from Harvard Business School, and one from Dartmouth's Tuck School.of Business. Not one of them was over 30. The rumor was that D&B had budgeted more than one million dollars to  achieve the coordinated look. After 15 minutes with the  consultants, I had the urge  to tell Charlie that we were spending  money unnecessarily,  but I didn't have the guts.

Three hours later, after attempting to educate and teach them the lessons it took me more than 25 years to learn, I  lied and told them I had a lunch date with a major advertiser and escorted them out of the office. Months later,  following the submission of their reports, I followed some of the new recommendations and  suggestions, but not all of them. Graphic Arts Monthly was what we were selling, not D&B. So we kept our logo the centerpiece of business cards and letterheads, and in smaller type we printed, "Technical Publishing, A Dun & Bradstreet Company."   Corporate  never was able to monitor the suggest changes   and I never heard a word about our not fully implementing them.

About a month later, Technical's president, Jack Abely, called to tell me I had been selected as one of three  publishers to spend a week at a management seminar at the Arden House, located on the Harriman estate, north of  New York City. Today D&B has less than $2 billion in revenues and employs approximately 5000 people, but 30 years ago it was twice as large. I found out later that the four MBAs I had educated had recommended me for the program. To tell the truth, I was sorry I had been so accommodating.  Another week away for the office would require many  hours to catch up when I returned, but I had no recourse. I had to attend. In all,  there were  eight seminars, each lasting five days. Each group had  eight executives attending. In my group were the  presidents of  Moody's, the investment rating firm and Neilsen,s, the company that rated media. Pretty good company I thought.

 There was a team of three consultants from California and their thesis was rather interesting.They began the first day by showing  the movie, "Twelve  'O Clock High", starring Gregory Peck and an ensemble cast. It was released in 1949, and demonstrated how certain officers related to subordinates. It was a great movie and I looked forward to day two. The consultants listed four types of supervisors from dictatorial overseers to  laissez faire managers.. Each was illustrated in the film, which illustrated how different management styles meshed well with the right subordinates. We probably saw bits and pieces of that movie dozens of times.  The conclusion was that there were also four different types of employees who work best when matched with the proper manager. I really bought into the philosophy. My hiring tactics were simple. Hire the right person, show the candidate what to do and let him do his or her job. I told new employees, "Don't be afraid to make a mistake. Just don't make the  same mistake twice."  Over my years with GAM, I only  had to replace one person, other than retiring a couple. As Cal Poly's Dr. Harvey Levenson recently told me, "Stability leads to credibility."

What I didn't know was that one of the consultants had interviewed 20 of the people who reported directly to me. The final day of the seminar the revealed that fact. Each of the interviewees was sworn to secrecy. I was never a manager who looked over an employee's shoulder and luckily,  I never had to. For the most part, staffers liked the fact that I allowed them the latitude of flying on their own. I was given an "A" for my hiring practices. I didn't tell them half the staff was there when I started. I accepted their  accolades without comment. At the end of session, they read statements made by members of my staff. In my mind I associated each comment with a specific person. Only one was not happy with  my laissez faire management style. Only one complained and that story will be told in Friday's blog.