Saturday, January 8, 2011

Consulting is no child’s play

OPTIMISTICALLY CAUTIOUS
By ERROL OH

 

YEAR Four pupil Gerald Khoo (not his real name) hopes to be a consultant one day. His mother, Patricia Teng (not her real name either), says: “Gerald is not your average 10-year-old boy. He's always been precocious, especially when it comes to anything about business and finance. He has problems mixing well with other kids since he had started talking. He operates on a different wavelength and it frustrates him that they don't treat profits as a priority.

“Playtime is particularly difficult for him. When joining the others to play house when he was younger, he insisted on being a property developer. Then, they would quarrel over the home prices.

“He got excited when the girls started a session of masak-masak. But it always ended in tears because he had volunteered to be a restaurant owner and had got angry when the other kids had refused to pay for the food'. I remember that time when somebody suggested a game of hide-and-seek. I still laugh when I think about it. (And indeed, she cackles for a good two minutes.) This was what he said: Okay, I'll be the accountant. Who'll be the auditor?'”

The boy's father, Khoo Liang Huat (for the last time, not his real name), maintains that his son's deep interest in business and finance comes naturally, and that the parents have not at all steered him in that direction. When asked about the couple's occupations, the elder Khoo refuses to offer any information other than that his job “has something to do with shares” and that his wife “handles the money side of it.”

“For the longest time, Gerald's ambition was to be the CEO of a listed company. When he gets back from school, he won't ask what's for lunch. Instead, he'll check the stock market index at the mid-day break. He calls a family reunion dinner an AGM. When his little sister was born, to him it was a bonus issue. And his school has complained that he kept pestering the teachers for quarterly report cards,” says the father.

“But recently, he told us that he had changed his mind. His ambition now is to be a consultant. When we asked why, he said he was convinced that a consultant's work got the best rewards. He added that he shouldn't say more about it because he didn't want too many people to know about how great it was to be a consultant. Neither did he tell us what sort of consultancy work he was interested in.”

StarBizWeek was unable to interview Gerald because, according to his parents, he now spends his free time pitching for consultancy contracts. In addition, he prefers to keep a low profile so as not to spook potential clients.

Fortunately, last week, Gerald's class was assigned to write an essay titled “My Dream Job”. Courtesy of the Khoos, below is his effort (bear in mind that this is a boy whose bedtime reading includes Fortune, The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times, and whose favourite Astro channels are Bloomberg and CNBC):

My Dream Job
By Gerald Khoo
When I grow up, I want to be a consultant, just any type of consultant. I have Googled the subject, and I know there are hundreds of jokes and quotes about consultants, questioning the usefulness of the consultants' advice and services. I found on the Web this popular definition of a consultant. I have changed it a little to follow the school rules on appropriate language, and here is my version: Someone who knows 101 ways to make out, but cannot get a date.

And then there is this guy, Norman Ralph Augustine, an American aerospace businessman who obviously isn't very fond of consultants. According to him, when you ask consultants what is two and two, they will respond with “What do you have in mind?” He was also quoted as saying this: “Hiring consultants to conduct studies can be an excellent means of turning problems into gold, your problems into their gold.” Ha, ha, very funny, Mr Augustine.

Perhaps, he and the other critics are right. I am sure the consultants are not always right and maybe, they are not always as good as they claim to be. But boy, do consultants get paid well. It's almost as if all you need to do to get a big sum of money is to call yourself a consultant, or go along with it when others call you a consultant. In some cases, you don't even have to do any real consulting work.

Those who say there are limited opportunities in Malaysia have clearly never charged consultancy fees. For example, last month, when the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged Paris-based telecommunications company Alcatel-Lucent SA with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by paying bribes to foreign government officials to illicitly win business, it was alleged that an Alcatel company paid two Malaysian consultants US$700,000 for market research several years ago.

“However, the work product these consultants prepared could not justify the size of Alcatel Standard's payments. In fact, Malaysian Consultant A and Malaysian Consultant B did not appear to render any legitimate services to Alcatel Malaysia in connection with these payments,” said the SEC in a complaint submitted to a Florida court on Dec 27.

Just before that, Sime Darby Bhd had announced civil suits against ex-CEO Datuk Seri Ahmad Zubir Murshid and a few others for huge losses incurred in relation to four engineering projects. After reading the company's two statements of claim, I have no doubt that my dream is to work in the consulting line. One of the documents contends that there have been wrongful appointment of consultants. On one project, seven consultants were paid a total of RM102mil.

Sime Darby says there were “no objective grounds” for appointing six of these consultants, claiming that none of the six added value to the services that the Sime Darby group could offer to the securing and proper implementation of the project.

I can't think of an easier way to earn big bucks than to be a consultant. Can you?
When he was 10, deputy executive editor Errol Oh (yup, that's his real name) wanted to be a zoo-keeper. He still thinks it's not too late. On some Sundays, you can see him at Zoo Negara, looking wistfully at the animals.

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