Archive for March, 2012

Muppets Unite

“Were you popular in school Dad?”, my daughter asked me recently.   

“Not really”, I told her.  “I had a group of friends I hung out with and that was good enough for me.” 

My oldest is getting to the age where things like being popular are starting to be topics of conversation amongst her friends.  One of the things I continually impress upon her is to make sure she chooses a friend based on that person’s inherent qualities rather than how many people seem to like that person.   

It’s a common trap that we fall into as humans.  We follow the herd, we do what others are doing, we want to be seen as being “with it.”

Sadly, it’s a phenomenon that carries into the corporate world as well.   

Goldman Sachs.  The firm many hopeful MBAs strive to work for.  The crème de la crème of the financial world.  In other words, the most popular girl on Wall St.   

According to Greg Smith, a recently resigned Executive Director at Goldman Sachs, the firm apparently has the same feelings toward its clients that the popular girls at school have toward the less popular.   

In Mr. Smith’s New York Times Editorial titled, “Why I am leaving Goldman Sachs” he has this to say: 

It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail. 

Muppets?  A fitting name for the clients that provide your revenue?  Not to mention the part about ripping them off.   

Sadly my friends I am not shocked.   

“Not shocked by one of the biggest and best known institutions referring to their customers as muppets and apparently not putting their interests first!  You sir, have no shame.”, charges the peanut gallery.   

No we are not shocked at all.  It’s actually a very common occurrence amongst organizations that succumb to the complacency of their own success.   

Let’s be candid, to advance in money and power within a large organization requires a person to fulfill various internal requirements.   

This phenomenon is sometimes called “Face to the CEO/Partner and backside to the client.”  Some large organizations often make the mistake of judging their people by such metrics as billable hours, professional certifications acquired, etc. that have little to do with helping the client/customer.   

If this behavior is allowed to continue it usually results in the outright derision towards clients that Mr. Smith describes above.  Those that have experienced the indifference of these misguided organizations are familiar with the answers to the following simple questions: 

  • Can you really say that you, as the client, are the firm’s number one priority?
  • When working with the senior manager or junior partner are you, the client, “his reason for being” or does he have other priorities and incentives he is concerned with?
  • If he had to choose between submitting a better metric to the senior partner or making your business better, which would he choose?
  • When they go back to the office are they discussing how they can better serve you or are they bragging about how they just bagged another sale or another slew of billable hours from the “muppet?” 

We all know the answers here.  All too often, the client is simply a tool to advance the career of the firm’s employees.  

Its comical that business school students study and observe the fact that time and time again, smaller firms are much more dynamic, attentive, responsive and much more honest with their clients.   

Quite simply, you the client, ARE their reason for being.  There are few internal metrics to track, no detached senior partner demanding adherence to internal targets and everyone in the firm has a personal stake in your success.   

But back to the travails of pre middle school.   

“So Dad, basically what you are saying is that it’s better to have someone as a friend  that really knows and cares about me?” 

“If you can find someone like that..hold onto them”, I replied softly.  


Have a great week,  


Michael Bechara, CPA

Managing Director

Granite Consulting Group Inc.



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Are You A Corporate Zombie – Part 2

3.  Worshiping the false idol of Information Technology  

Technology has improved our lives in many ways.  When taken to an extreme this important cost benefit advantages not only disappears but comes back to bite us.  Web apps, VPN connections and virtual machines all can make our lives easier and more connected for sure, it’s when every problem has to have a technical solution become the problem.    

If your IT department is investing months to automate a manual process that takes 10 minutes a week… If after 45 minutes on the phone with the helpdesk they tell you to reboot… might be a zombie.   

4.  Risk Management as process without a point  

At its core business is about risk.  Any hardnosed businessman is always analyzing the upside and the downside of any course of action.  Modern management techniques and fads have unfortunately led to Risk Management as a process without a point.   

Mindless zombies are cataloging, tabulating and scoring risks without a decision point in sight.  When asked what they are doing they may frantically stammer, “I’m …I’m…saving the company!” 

Humans understand what objectives they need to achieve, what’s threatening the objectives and how to overcome the obstacles.   

5.  Politics takes over the company   

All organizations have internal politics.  It’s simply unavoidable.  At its heart politics is about the organization’s decision making process.  Who makes the decisions, who ignores them and how they are carried out.  Some internal jockeying can be positive as it can ensure that ideas are vetted and not blindly implemented.   

Human companies keep a lid on internal politics and do not let them get out of control.  A zombie company’s management perpetually schemes on how to do one another in, a terrible quarter at a key business unit is cause for celebration at the other units and company parties are occasions to goad the competing managers into making fools of themselves.   

The business is but a secondary concern.   

I stopped playing football after my freshman year, maybe it was not for me or perhaps it was tiring to watch Harry’s sickly smile as he ran up the middle repeatedly.  Come to think of it..Harry would have made a great zombie CEO……



Have a great week,




Michael Bechara, CPA

Managing Director
Granite Consulting Group Inc.





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Are You a Corporate Zombie? Part One

I was never star athlete or anything but I did play my share of school sports.  A long time ago I was on the freshman football team in high school.  Truth be told I was a little too skinny but I could run fast so they started me at the split end position.   

As we practiced our plays during the week I remember this one kid that had some sort of logic blocking enzyme or something in his system.  I can’t remember his name for the life of me so let’s just call him Harry.  Harry was the Running Back.   

To tell the story properly a little vignette would help: 

“Right Eye 9 sweep on 2″ called the Quarterback as we all stood freezing in the huddle.  It was a simple play that called for the Running Back to receive the handoff and run around the defense on the right side of the field.    

Lining up next to the Offensive Tackle, he and I both shook our heads knowing what was to come.  The Center snapped the ball and Harry took the handoff from the Quarterback and ran straight up the middle of the field, unprotected, right into the crushing defense.   

He got mauled.   

For whatever reason, whichever play was called, Harry would run the ball straight up the middle…and get creamed.   

When questioned by the coach the conversation would go something like this: 

Coach:          Did you understand the play?

Harry:           Yea

Coach:          Do you know that you are making us lose?

Harry:           Yea

Coach:          And you realize you are getting crushed by running the ball up the middle when the play doesn’t call for it?

Harry:           Yea

Coach:          Then why do you keep doing it?!

Harry:           I like it 


Simply put….Harry was a zombie.   

Zombies have taken over pop culture.  There are websites that have pretty much gone mainstream that detail how to protect yourself against zombie attacks and others that describe how zombies could scientifically be created and continue to exist.   

The supernatural aside there is also another definition for the word zombie.  It refers to the mindless devotion to failed ideas, apathy to world around us and a general state of “non thinking.” 

In our work, we run into zombies from time to time.  These are otherwise good people, that for whatever reason, fall into Harry’s way of thinking.   

Here are 5 ways to identify if you might be a Corporate Zombie: 

1.  If your business process does not produce the product, service or information you require yet you doggedly enforce compliance with it.   

Albert Einstein once said doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.  The delicate chemistry of people, processes and systems has to continually be reformulated to attain high performance results.   

A zombie insists on dogmatic adherence to a process that worked 10 years ago, the human says, “Umm..maybe we should improve things?” 

2.  If your Human Resources function continually demotivates people.   

HR has the heavy responsibility for creating compensation structures, work environments and many corporate policies.  In fact I’ve heard it said more than once that HR manages the “assets” of a corporation i.e. its people.   

Making the right business decisions should drive the compensation structure and corporate policies not the other way around.  If you’re passing up business opportunities because your employees are not incented to take advantage of them …If you assign employees to be on “workplace improvement” committees that add 45% to their workload….you might be a zombie. 

We could go on and on..but join us next week for the completion of our discussion of the corporate supernatural!


Have a great week,


Michael Bechara, CPA


Managing Director


Granite Consulting Group Inc.



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