Back in the 1980's a generation of young MBA's were unleashed on the corporate world and turned it on its ear. These "whiz kids" slashed costs wherever possible, particularly in training programs, mentoring, and reduced administrative personnel. Although their tactics did indeed save money in the short run, they created long-term headaches down the road, such as creating morale problems which lead to a disconnect between workers and their employers, which ultimately lead to outsourcing many jobs overseas. Quality in manufactured goods and services also suffered as a result of less training. Whereas employees had previously been empowered to overcome problems under a spirit of teamwork, managers began to closely supervise workers which today is commonly referred to as "micromanagement." The point is, the whiz kids of the day made a name for themselves simply by implementing short term changes which were highly visible on the next quarterly P&L statement. Although they could show short-term benefits rather quickly, their bean counter approach had devastating long-term effects on many businesses which haunted companies for years.
Today, a new generation of whiz kids have emerged in corporate America who are again charged with turning things around in their companies. Basically, management is hoping to groom their next generation of managers by allowing these "phenoms" to shake things up. Whoever is successful moves up the corporate ladder in much the same way as Donald Trump's "The Apprentice." Realizing they have only a limited time to make a difference, such as six months before they have to move on to their next assignment, they tend to slash costs as opposed to nurturing something new, and God help anyone who gets in their way.
Case in point, I have a friend who for several years has been a supplier to a local division of a Fortune 500 company. Over the years he has developed an excellent relationship with the company who trusts him in terms of securing quality industrial supplies for their manufacturing floor at affordable prices. My friend's company devloped a reputation for going above and beyond the call of duty to serve his client and keep the Fortune 500 division happy. It wasn't cutthroat pricing that sustained the relationship, but competitive pricing coupled with excellent service and prompt delivery. Frankly, this was a classic example of a win-win relationship between two companies where everyone was satisfied until four whiz kids came to town and tried to make a name for themselves.
The company had allotted a sizable sum of money to refurbish the plant. Understandably, my friend's company wanted to bid on a portion of it. A detailed proposal was prepared and submitted by my friend who was told by his inside contacts that his bid looked to be the best. Regrettably, my friend's proposal was rejected by the whiz kids, not because it wasn't competitively priced, not because he couldn't deliver on time, and not because he was quoting inferior materials. Instead, the whiz kids explained to him that his company had won more than its fair share of bids with their company and, consequently, another vendor would be selected. This of course did not sit well with my friend, nor his inside contacts who knew the proposal was the best. Regardless, the whiz kids were bent on getting a lower bid thereby demonstrating their ability to cut costs regardless of whatever feathers they ruffled. After all, they knew they would be transferred somewhere to another division in a few months.
My friend was not going to take this rejection sitting down. Consequently, he arranged a meeting with the whiz kids, their superiors, and his inside contacts. During the course of the meeting, my friend provided a chronology of his company's relationship with the division. He enumerated the many projects his company had worked on, what they had saved the client in terms of money and the services they provided on a gratis basis. The testimonies by his inside contacts added to his credibility. Bottom-line, he gave evidence his company had worked in good faith with the division to save them money and provide quality materials to the satisfaction of all concerned. Management thanked my friend for his presentation and years of service, and informed him they would notify him soon of their decision.
One can only speculate as to what happened next. Suffice it to say, the whiz kids were reprimanded for threatening to disrupt a healthy business relationship, and sent packing to their next assignment. Had it not been for my friend's tenacity, not only would his company had lost considerable business, but the Fortune 500 division would have lost a trusted business partner.
The point is, whiz kids walk a dangerous tightrope. They cannot expect to simply come in and slash and burn existing programs and not expect someone to challenge them. True, large companies need to groom the next generation of managers but I question the wisdom of assigning people to such short term assignments where they may make some crippling decisions by mistake. In my friend's case, he took them to task, but there are a lot of people who would not, hence the problems we experienced in the 1980's. Perhaps the biggest problem I have with the whiz kids phenomenon is that it encourages quick and dirty thinking as opposed to long-range planning.
There is nothing wrong with having some young Mustangs running in the herd, they just need to be watched carefully or they'll start a stampede in the wrong direction.
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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