Strategy and the Fat Smoker: Doing What’s Obvious But Not Easy by David Maister was given to me at the recent Winning Is Everything Conference, where he was a keynote speaker. This is the same David Maister who wrote the critically acclaimed Managing the Professional Firm (1993). I read that book twice and have heard him speak a number of times, and was always impressed by what he said, but always thought it was a bit theoretical.

I gained increased respect for him after reading his latest book, in which he describes himself as a “former fat smoker” who after a health crisis stopped smoking, started exercising, and lost 30 pounds. Maister has developed a much more realistic and practical approach to explaining the theories he is presenting.

He points out that the best motivator of change is a major crisis, explaining, “If revenue drops sharply, it’s amazing how quickly businesses can act to deal with known inefficiencies and bad habits they could have tackled years ago.”
He stresses the importance of skilled coaching when leading individuals and teams, the need for early successes, and how the primary task of management is to create and sustain ambition. I particularly liked his statement that the biggest problem with developing strategy is implementation. His chapter entitled, “Why (Most) Training Is Useless,” and his detailed practical approach at how to get agreement between partners as to what they want in the next managing partner, had incredible practical applications.

There are also numerous tips that would benefit those in any size firm, such as showing how to be a good conversationalist by imaging yourself at a dinner party, and pointing out that the way to encourage business development in those not skilled is to convince them that they are helping clients and will then be able do more of the work they find stimulating.

Maister readily admits that he has been repeatedly asked the same question over the years with regard to his theories on how professional firms should operate: “Do any of the real-world firms actually operate that way?”   I used to feel that way. After reading his latest book and because of my continued interaction with a number of firms, especially successful regional ones, I think Maister won’t be getting that question as often, and, when he does he will be able to point to those firms who proactively walk the walk that he describes. Both Maister and these firms are entering their prime, and that’s probably not a coincidence.

-------------------------Comment on earlier column and hyperlink--------------------
The text that follows is from an e-mail that I received commenting on my column from last week entitled “Firm Change Political Correctness Abandoned.”

As an alumnus of a Big 4 firm, and of several "mid-size" firms -- before I launched my own practice -- I applaud your shining bright light upon Catapult Communications Corp.'s bald disclosure of the faultline between firm billings.
"Software bloat" is nothing compared to the 'billing bloat' I witnessed while an employee of a Big 4 firm.  Not to mention the intense stress upon staff at my level there to 'justify' the inflated rates it required us to charge -- in order to 'keep our [supervising] partners "happy"'.

If the 'marketplace' really worked "efficiently," if information circulated as energetically as money, the Big 8 would not have shrunk to 4, but, rather, the largest of the next-tier firms would have stepped-up.  Even given four, deplorable scandals, there still should be a Big 6.  Instead, too much prestige resides still in a Big 4 imprimatur -- thanks for nothing, to an SEC that's more a tool of a failing president than what dug U.S. out of the "great depression."

Your news of CCC's press release -- and your take on that -- cheers me up.  I've resumed hoping that accountancy is not a handmaiden of self-aggrandizing executives, but the necessary 'governor' upon their worst impulses/scams.

Very truly yours,
Kurt C. Wilner, CPA

Here is a hyperlink to a blog that comments on the firm change by Catapult.


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