Originally created 04/03/00

Author pulls stylish narrative from career



Have you ever looked around your workplace and thought to yourself, this place would make a great novel? And, God willing, someday when I make my fortune I'm going to ditch this place and write that novel?

Most of us have had that fantasy, but former consultant Lewis Pinault has actually done it. Oh, in order to justify the $26 price tag he's dressed it up as nonfiction by ending each chapter with "Consulting Demonology Tracts," summing up the key themes and messages of each chapter. But from the heavy use of pseudonyms to protect -- well, pretty much everybody, actually -- to the chapter written almost entirely in dialogue, there's not much doubt in my mind: Mr. Pinault has made himself the hero of his own novel.

The book covers Mr. Pinault's 10 years in consulting. Though he boasts a hard science background in space and ocean exploration, his high comfort level with Japanese culture wins him a place at Boston Consulting Group doing cowboy consulting -- making up consulting cases out of imagination and adrenalin.

Bet you never thought there was high drama in what kind of tape goes on a disposable diaper, did you? Well, there is, and Mr. Pinault was there for the showdown. Oh, sure, there's some corner-cutting and untruth-telling in the process, but it just reminds Mr. Pinault of his frat days -- good prankish fun.

Not so when he moves to the Gemini Consulting Group and becomes a facilitator for star consulting guru C.K. Pralahad's change management theory, a sadomasochistic process of destroying the corporate ego and rebuilding the managerial structure from the wreckage. It's a process Mr. Pinault finds easily misused:

"Change management would become an able disguise for the worst of the re-engineering process, becoming a ready means of asserting control in otherwise futile situations, a way to mask dictatorial, dehumanizing decisions and programs in the practice of a dark emotional psychology, and at its worst a sinister mechanism for surfacing the unfaithful through peer pressure stress. To me it began to shed stark light on the freedoms lost when entering the corporate workplace, the very antithesis of democracy, where workers are held in thrall, away from family, and stripped of any sense of personal self or privacy, where total commitment is the absolute norm."

(English major alert: the above passage consists of two, and only two, sentences. Mr. Pinault is a devotee of the run-on sentence, and while most of the sentences are interesting, stylistically it grates at the nerves after awhile.)

It's around this time that the whole process, abetted by the offstage implosion of his first marriage, starts to arouse Mr. Pinault's latent social conscience. The book opens with a vignette of Mr. Pinault conducting a job interview with an attractive but ... oh, I don't know: venal? borderline sociopathic? ... female candidate, to whom he tries to broach some doubts about the scruples of the consulting industry. It's his version of the "Things we think but do not say" scene from Jerry Maguire.

From there he begins to become conscious of the self-destructive, burn-bright-and-flame-out fast personality type that's drawn into consulting and the toll the business takes on his coworkers' lives. This chapter's demonology tract is a fun look at consulting personality types, great for any exec getting a cold call to use while not listening to the pitch. (Cold calls are a major innovation of United Research, which pioneered the telemarketing approach: if you call 300 potential clients a day, and only 1 percent of those takes the bait ...)

For you business readers of the female persuasion out there, a word of warning. This book is in many ways the literary equivalent of the guy movie with the car chases and explosions. The story is extremely heavy on the testosterone, and from the subtle harassment vibe in that first job interview vignette to scenes portraying wives as bloodsucking villainesses, there's a visible strain of misogyny here. If you didn't enjoy the hard partying yuppie circuit of the 1980s, you might pass on this for a more staid look at the consulting business.

Mergers, cross-pollination of consulting philosophies and the industry's rising profile have more to do with driving Mr. Pinault back to hard science than his conscience does, and it is worth noting that he did make that fortune before burning his bridges with this book. But his 10 years in the business does make a good yarn, and he spins it with a good bit of style.

Reach Suzanne R. Stone at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.


"The book covers Mr. Pinault's 10 years in consulting. Though he boasts a hard science background in space and ocean exploration, his high comfort level with Japanese culture wins him a place at Boston Consulting Group doing cowboy consulting -- making up consulting cases out of imagination and adrenalin."

-- Suzanne R. Stone, in reviewing CONSULTING DEMONS: Inside the Unscrupulous World of Global Corporate Consulting by Lewis Pinault