Three decades ago, I met a management consultant specializing in restructuring companies in trouble, known as a “hatchet man.” His job was to fire people, and when the company was back on solid ground, he would leave. One day, the hatchet man said, “I need you for one day in California, and I’ll send you a ticket if you can fly out today.” Thus began one of the most interesting jobs I have ever been called on to do.
I flew from East Texas to Los Angeles International Airport. At my hotel I found the consulting contract I was told to evaluate and be ready to discuss the next day.
At the headquarters of a big company where my client, the hatchet man, told me we were about to meet with company management, my job was to listen, take notes, write questions I could hand to him, and we would talk things over later in private. The meeting went well. Over lunch we talked business, and I explained the notes I had taken at the meeting.
The early 1990s was a period when the Internet was unknown to most of the world. Corporate management had heard of the World Wide Web, which could make them tons of money, but they had no idea how and absolutely no technical understanding. This led to bad decision-making, which is what happened to this California company. They had hired a high school student as a web consultant to create an e-commerce system. The hatchet man saw that it was not working. That’s when he asked me to explain websites. In 1993 the internet was new and as unfathomable as airplanes would have been to cavemen.
I explained that the young web developer had fulfilled his legal obligations under the contract. Since the company management had no idea what they were doing, little work building a website had been done. It was clear the company had made costly mistakes, and it was reasonable to abandon what had been done and start again. The company would not lose anything of value by just walking away from this mistake except that under the contract the company had been paying the young web developer for his consulting work. The payments amounted to many thousands of dollars—enough to pay for his college education and a postgraduate degree. This young man belonged in the league of other college dropouts, the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and was capable of earning six figures while still in high school.
I asked the hatchet man if he was going to fire the management of the company and hire that kid to take their place. I never got an answer because he put me on a plane back to East Texas.
Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8@SMAguru.com.