Monday, January 14, 2019

Working for a Narcissist (or What Have I Done?)

Not all bosses are great. Not all are good. Some are downright bad. This is a hard lesson I've been learning recently, having taken a job under an egomaniac narcissist that makes the guy in the White House look sane.

A few months ago, I accepted a new position with a smaller firm in my industry. Overall it's been a great move, since I'm able to do whatever I want all day long, which usually means making a big impact for my clients and getting lots of work done. I was already pretty well-known in my industry (thus the clever nom de guerre here) but now I'm able to really get my (real) name out there.

When I started at my new firm, I was thrilled to be given the leeway to take time to fly to conferences, present my work, and reap admiration far and wide. Hell, they even let me reschedule billable business and sales calls so I could fly to Vegas!

But then I noticed something off developing. The Big Boss started coming with me. And not just attending - he would stand at the side of the stage, then wrangle his way onto the panel, or jump into my conversations. This guy is nobody in my field, apart from a business manager, but here he was stepping in to introduce himself.

And not just give his name, either. "I'm this guy's big boss," he would say. "I took a big risk taking on a rock star like this, but I think you can see it paying off!" Nothing wrong, I suppose, but for the tone. Increasingly every conversation was about how smart he was and how well the firm was doing.

I started feeling like the ballplayer signed to a big contract to draw attention rather than to score points. And I guess I was.

It all came to a head recently on a trip to New York. The Big Boss emailed me, "pack your things for three days in the Big Apple!" Yeah that's how he talks. There was one hilarious element to the trip that I'll blog later, but this is about what happened when we landed.

So we cab it to Wall Street and go to the first Big Meeting. Big Boss introduces me as "my new guy, maybe you've heard of him" and we chat. But my alarm bells were ringing.

First issue: We're at Starbucks, not the 61st floor.

Second issue: We have no agenda, and this guy isn't a buyer.

Third issue: We don't discuss anything of importance.

Yeah, it's one of those meetings. Followed by six more that Tuesday. Followed by drinks (not steak) at the Bull and Bear with some old college roommate or something. Then another day of the same thing, but with less meetings. Then like two more coffees on Thursday before our flight home.

This wasn't a sales call. It wasn't even a business meeting. It was a metaphorical hand job for a narcissist showing off his new trophy.


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

United Air Lines: Five Lines, Two Lines, No Lines?

Although all airlines suck, you still have to pick one. So I picked United. I fly a lot so they pretend to treat me well (as long as it doesn't cost them anything).

All I really want is the "stealth luxury" of being left as un-molested as possible at the airport. That's why United 1K's like me board first and pick window seats: Get on, slide over, and leave me alone!

But then there is the question of boarding lines. How can United get us on the plane without having to stand among ... people?

A few years back, United implemented a five-line system, where each boarding pass had a numbered boarding group and a corresponding numbered lane at the gate. This took up a lot of room, but the hope was that it would avoid the scrum known as "boarding a plane in France".

Sadly, this did not work out as well as people like me hoped. Apparently people are too stupid to look at the big, bold, boxed number on their boarding pass and stand in the corresponding line. And these lines tended to spill out across the terminal, blocking annoying-electric-carts and business-people-with-somewhere-to-go with equal efficiency.

United's five-group system annoyed me for another reason: Group 1 was simply too big. Everyone in first, plus everyone with 1K or platinum status, is a lot of people. Add in the can't-read folks and those that thought the "priority boarding" benefit of the MileagePlus Explorer card meant Group 1, and I'm stuck in line trying not to breathe in the fumes of your tuna sandwich.

So now United has a new two-lane system. Lane 1 starts with Group 1 but then becomes "people in higher groups who missed their group being called". Lane 2 is every other group in order. And it kind of works, too, apart from the whole matching-the-numbers issue.

But the best part is pre-boarding for 1K's. Yeah that's right suckers, I can get on with the families full of baby strollers and military dudes with duffel bags!

Now if only they could figure out how to treat paid First Class passengers with some kind of decency.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

When the Open Office is Closing In

Everyone has seen an "open plan office" setup. A bunch of my clients had them, especially Out West. I actually liked the look, minus the dogs and yoga balls, but I hadn't really worked in one until now.

In an open office, everyone can smell your food or be offended by your body odor. Everyone can see what your high school buddies post on Facebook and wonder if you're like that too. Everyone literally notices when you get up to get a snack or go to the can.

So no one gets anything done. I spend literally hours a day looking around to see who else is peeking over my shoulder. I got a convex mirror for my monitor as swag and actually taped it to my monitor. Logo and all. I know, right?

One of the guys in the office eats a lot of fish and chili. Sometimes he eats them together. I swear. Go to the "cafe" if you're going to do that! And then there's Ms. Vegan who always has to cast side-eye at the cheese on my sandwich or my god damn gummy bears. I guess I should go to the cage too.

And open plan offices are silent as the grave. No one is willing to take a call with another person sitting 24 inches from them out in the open. They'd gab all day if there was a felt and steel half-wall there, but they won't even say good-freaking-morning out in the open like that. Someone might spit at you or something!

Cubes suck too, but not as much as I thought. I guess I'll go to Panera to take this call. Who wants some bagged soup?

Monday, November 5, 2018

Small Firms, Big Problems

The first thing you notice when you move to a smaller firm is how much more freedom everyone has. No process, no approvals, no problems, right?

After a while, you start noticing how much more personality everyone has. She does everything but gripes constantly; he does nothing and no one seems to care. I would say that everyone is writing their own job description, but that's not true because no one even has a job description.

It's a free-for-all. If you do something, it becomes your job. If you don't do it, someone else has to pick it up.

You'd think that everyone being slammed with various tasks would lead to them all pushing back when someone doesn't do their work. But no! They're all so worried about losing someone (and thus having even more work piled on) they just suck it up and figure out how to pick up the pieces. Everyone basically just does whatever the hell they want to get by.

This is probably ok for the B and C players out there, since they can just coast by and hope the money never runs out, but it sucks for those of us who actually get shit done. I'm picking up work from Mr. Foot Shuffler (seriously, dude, pick up your damn feet when you walk!), Eeyore (yeah, I get that you're unhappy, thanks for sharing!), Forget-Me-Now (we just talked about this!), and even Ms. In-Charge (isn't it your job to manage these people?)

But still, it was a good move. I was suffocated at The Big Firm and was never going to get ahead with this attitude. I'll probably be running this place by next year. So what's to complain about?

Oh yeah. The clients. But that's a story for a different day.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Tears in the Rain: From Architecture to Marketecture?

I've been a little quiet lately because I've shifted my focus a bit. New firm, new focus. AKA different day, same old shit. It took me a little while to get settled in but now that the polish has worn off my new shoes I'm ready to start complaining again. Are you with me?

So this is my first time around startups instead of big firms. But even so, I think readers of the Crazy Lives will recognize relevance in what's happening here. I'm still consulting, it's just now I'm consulting on marketing to people like me instead of saying no to people marketing to me. Oh what fun!

I feel like I've gone to the dark side sometimes. Other times I feel like it's the smart side. But we're talking business and consulting here, so it's definitely the dumb side all around!

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe" and all that...

Anyway, welcome! Let's explore exploit mock this new world together! You can find me on Twitter, too, as @No_EPO, a reference no one seems to get.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

United Breaks Noses: A Counter-Argument

We've all heard the story by now: United is cruel, because they body-shamed some little girls over their leggings. United is vicious because they beat up some old guy and dragged him off the plane. And American is just as awful because they almost punched a baby and took away his mommy's stroller. Oh, what a world!

Since I fly a lot, my friends and family have been quick to ask my opinion on these issues. Since I fly United, they seem to want me to declare "no mas" and switch to Southwest or something.

They've been surprised by my reaction.

The Facebook class has these bullshit social media sensation stories exactly backwards. Each is a story of a passenger behaving badly and the (admittedly deplorable) treatment they got in return from the beleaguered employees of once-proud businesses brought low by mass consumerism.

Frequent fliers know of, and respect, United's non-revenue passenger dress code. Those girls were flying non-rev and dressed against the code. I only wish United would turn away more of their paying passengers who dress inappropriately to be seen in public! At the very least, the airline should stick to their guns and forbid non-revs to dress like the rest of the animals on the plane.

It's telling that "legging-gate" only happened because another unrelated passenger blew the situation out of proportion with an ill-informed analysis of the situation. While smartphone cameras have brought much illumination to many deplorable situations, this wasn't another black guy getting beaten by police. It was a pair of privileged girls acting inappropriately while flying for free. Boo hoo.

Then there's that guy who was beaten and dragged off a flight. No one deserves to be beaten up by the cops, but there comes a time when we all must obey the rules. It was stupid for United to let everyone board and then ask passengers to give up their seats, but it's completely within the rules. In the grand scheme of things, "miss your flight" is barely even a first-world problem.

Yet this guy persisted, resisted, argued, and fought with the police when they came to get him. What planet are you from? Every day, passengers gripe and moan and complain about how the big, bad airlines treat them. But everyone should know that they must obey the orders of a flight attendant and a cop, at least in as far as those orders are the likes of "get off the plane". This really isn't a United story. It's a cops overreacting story. And that's barely even news these days.

Finally, I turn to the flight attendant who almost punched a baby while grabbing the stroller his mommy was bringing onboard the plane. Here's the thing: You can't bring a stroller on a plane. The gate agents inform people with strollers of this fact. There's a big pile of strollers off the plane right before you get on.

And he didn't punch a baby. He didn't even come close. If I had a dollar for every time I was almost punched I'd have a few, but yet I (amazingly) remain un-punched to this day. And yet American suspended the poor schlub anyway!

In all three cases, "do-gooders with phones" thought the best way to deal with a situation they didn't understand was to film it and share it. This is the real story: Everyone wants to be part of a social media sensation instead of stepping in to defuse a situation or even learn the basic facts.

And the airlines? They're just big horrible companies with poor customer service. Which we already knew.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Do Big 4 consultants have deep tech skill(s)?

I thought you all might enjoy reading this piece by Keith Townsend: Do Big 4 consultants have deep tech skill?

"In the end, the value of hiring a Big 4 management consultant is that you get a broad range of knowledge and the capability to answer tough business questions. A good adviser will help you ask the right questions and guide you to partners that can help create and implement detailed execution. I would not hire a Big 4 to deliver the technical portion of a project. I’d wouldn’t hesitate to engage them to help provide some rigor and oversight but not manage the actual execution."
It's always fun to hear what an ex-Big 4 consultant thinks of his old life. It's also fun to see him dance around what he really wants to say.

So are you saying I'll help you "ask the right questions" or "answer tough business questions?" I imagine it's going to be one of those two.

And as for hiring me to implement, I'm sorry, but I'm a consultant. We don't actually do what we propose.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Gold is the New Silver: How American Airlines is like Trojan and Starbucks

So American Airlines (née US Airways) just announced their 2015 elite program, and the travel bloggers are starting to exhale. It's not awful unless you flew more than 75k but less than 100k miles last year...

What strikes me about their new system is the elite levels: Gold, Platinum, and Executive Platinum. No Silver; you get Gold for only 25,000 miles flown. I guess they want their (in)frequent fliers to feel like those special folks over at United and Delta even though they had to fly 50,000 miles to get Gold!

This is such a fantastic consultant-like move, isn't it? Name the lowest "elite" level "Gold" and your frequent fliers will feel like they've accomplished something! They can wave their badge at those Unitards and Deltoids and say "see, I'm Gold too!"

And it's so Starbucks, so Trojan. There's no longer a "small"; there's just Great, Awesome, and Executive Awesome! At least there's no Blue...

Friday, May 30, 2014

What Business Travelers Want Most From Loyalty Programs: Stealthy Luxury

I guess I sounded like a dick in my last post, torching “manufactured spend” and other stupidity while offering a rich white-guy toast. But I’m not going to backpedal. I’ve tasted the cocktail and I like it.

We’ve already established that airlines, hotels and the like really want people like me to expense our way through their wares. But they’ve had mixed success doing it, since they continue to pander to the wrong clientele with signing bonuses and airport terminal credit card hawkers.

So let’s talk about what paying business travelers like me really want.

More than anything else, we want stealthy luxury. The real 1% spends their own money and relishes luxury brands, but consultants like us still have expense accounts and client oversight. We need options that look mainstream but give secret benefits.

That’s why we like Uber, after all. It’s a first-class experience that fits our expense accounts!

Here are some examples of what I mean:
  • National Car Rental’s Emerald Club Executive level lets you choose virtually any car on the lot after reserving a midsize Corolla. This is what I’m talking about! I can request a National reservation from any admin or travel department yet roll in a real car. Don’t see what you want on the Executive Aisle? National has always let me pick anything within sight!
  • United offers Premier 1K and Global Services fliers instant upgrades on M-Class economy tickets at booking. These aren’t cheap and it’s just about impossible to finagle one from a wary travel agent, but if the client lets me book my own reservation online I always go this route. 
  • Most airlines allow ranking frequent fliers to upgrade using certificates (once literal “stickers”) to get out of the coach seat your company’s rules require.
  • TSA Pre-Check was fantastic when it was just us high-status frequent fliers, but it’s been diluted by that damn iPad app the TSA uses now.
  • Most hotels offer status-based floors and lounges, but they rarely keep the riffraff out in practice.
  • Credit cards like the American Express Platinum offer airport lounge access regardless of ticket class. But this benefit is rapidly evaporating.
There are many more stealth upgrades, but all share a common theme: Book a mainstream thing and get a nicer thing.

I’d love to see this practice spread throughout the business economy. Here are some ideas:
  • Hotels should offer programs to “walk” elite guests to nicer properties. My company could book me into the Courtyard but the chain could let me stay at the Marriott instead, just like a first class upgrade on a flight.
  • Car rental companies should offer post-reservation but pre-arrival upgrades and should pick me up and drop me off at the terminal like Silvercar or Enterprise (but without the smarminess).
  • Hotel elite floors should offer real upgrades and amenities, and they should be guaranteed. I rarely get a room the elite floor and even more rarely see any difference. Seriously, what's the point?
  • Ritzy hotel chains should add some business-friendly booking options. Let me “upgrade” even if I have to partially pay out of pocket. I’d love to switch to the Hyatt or Fairmont but my clients would balk. But they wouldn’t object to a market-rate room expense.
  • Airport lounges should have good food and real booze and should offer a ride to the gate. Otherwise it's pointless for people like me to go to the lounge. I’m sneering at you, United!
  • Give me a credit card with real benefits. Everyone knows the concierge service is worthless and “Priority Pass Select” is bogus. Throw in some of these perks and I’ll gladly pay a $500 annual fee and shift tens of thousands in expenses your way.
What do you think? What stealth luxuries could hotel chains offer you?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Manufactured Spend and Other Stupid Games, or, "I’ve Got A Real Job"

Constant business travelers like me spend lots of time studying the nuances of “loyalty” programs. We make sure we maximize our airline and hotel status, we have a wallet full of credit cards, and we pick our travel providers accordingly. For us, it’s all about minimizing the horrors of travel.

But there’s a whole other world of loony points fiends with quite a different perspective. They’re in the programs to earn rewards and they’ll go to extremes to do it. They book everything through online portals to maximize points, they churn through credit cards for the signup bonuses, and they’ll go to extremes to “manufacture” spending.

I read lots of travel blogs to keep on top of programs. I do this mainly to keep on top of the latest developments (it’s important for me to know what will happen to their programs when American and US Airways merge, for example) and indeed a bit to learn about rewards opportunities. When I started staying at more Hilton properties, I relied on Gary Leff’s advice to suggest which new credit card to sign up for, and the constant barrage of Hyatt/MGM Resorts coverage encourages me to swing their way if only to ease my thankfully-rare trips to Vegas.

But about half of what I read on these blogs is a complete waste of time for me. To wit:
Let me reiterate: I have a job. I spend over $100k annually on actual plane tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars, and business meals. To people like me, jumping through hoops to manufacture a few thousand dollars of “spend” in order to earn a free ticket or hotel room is a complete waste of time.

I want benefits. I want to be greeted by name when I return to the same hotel 10 times per year (a pox on the Hilton New York!) I want a whole floor of the Waldorf in Orlando that doesn’t allow kids. I want to sit in first every time, buying an M-class ticket on United so my client thinks it’s a coach seat.

Airlines and hotel chains would be wise to court folks like me and are wise to continue alienating the manufactured spend crowd. Go ahead and cry over your Vanilla Reloads. I’ll have another Manhattan.

Image credit: Awesome Brolly Usage! by Whatleydude