Corrections or additions?
This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the September 11, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Consulting: Dream Job or Nightmare?
As surely as spring follows winter, new business start-ups
follow every spate of corporate downsizings. In this particular downturn,
managers have been especially hard hit. Out on the street, often with
a buyout in their pockets, many consider launching a consulting practice.
Be careful, warns
Tracy-Hayden Associates of South Orange, in 1972. Consulting has never
been easy, but lately it has gotten a lot harder. For one thing, business
has speeded up — tremendously. "There’s been a change in marketing
strategy," he gives as an example. "It used to be you had
two years, now it’s more like three weeks."
To make matters worse, the managers with whom consultants have to
work have gotten crankier. "They’re under pressure to perform,"
Tracy says of this beleaguered bunch. "There is much less time
available to executives, and they have fewer internal resources."
In addition, he is finding, managers tend to be moved around more,
and with less experience in their current positions, are often less
confident than they used to be.
Other changes include a tightening up of procedures. "Ethics was
less of a question," he says. "And you could form relationships
much more easily with clients when they were suffering fewer stresses."
Given these new realities it is a fair bet that a number of corporate
managers dream of joining their laid-off ex-colleagues in going out
on their own as consultants. Tracy provides insight on the independent
consulting profession when he speaks on "Management Consulting:
Dream Job or Your Worst Nightmare" on Saturday, September 14,
at 8:30 a.m. at a meeting of the Institute of Management Consultants
at the Woodbridge Hilton. Cost: $149. Call 609-325-0095.
Tracy, a graduate of the University of Maryland (Class of 1960), where
he studied industrial engineering, holds a graduate degree from Stevens
Institute. He worked for Western Electric and then for J.C. Penney,
where he worked in the then-infant field of supply chain planning
and logistics. After a decade or so at J.C. Penney he was at a crossroads.
He was getting more and more calls from headhunters, but was uncertain
about continuing in corporate America.
"I took a look at the corporate world, and decided I didn’t like
it," he says. He chafed at what he saw as restrictions that would
keep him from doing what he wanted to do and earning what he wanted
to earn. So he set out to build a practice specializing in consulting
on supply chain, logistics, and operations issues.
Anyone thinking of following his path, he says, should be very sure
of the answers to two questions: What do I know, or what can I do,
that is so valuable or unique? and Who do I know who wants what I
He says that personality traits — perhaps boldness or an outgoing
nature — are not nearly as reliable a gauge of fitness to be a
"I’m constantly surprised," says Tracy, "by people who
do not appear aggressive who succeed." Yes, he admits, being able
to sell yourself and your services is vital in consulting, but he
points out that there is more than one way to sell. Consultants who
write well, for example, may build a reputation that will have clients
seeking them out.
Those who have good answers for the two vital questions, and are prepared
to sell themselves one way or another, still need to face some of
the realities of life as an independent consultant. According to Tracy
these realities include:
it. If your software goes buggy, you fix it. As an independent consultant
you need to be an authority on your field, but you also need to be
a marketer, a clerk, a secretary, a computer repairman, and more —
much more. "Who goes and gets the mail?" Tracy asks. "The
post office may not deliver business mail to a home. There are a thousand
little details like that." Of course, Tracy allows, as a consulting
practice grows, it is often possible to hire people to sweep up and
will most likely have to change his own light bulbs, but he needs
to know his limitations. "Get legal, tax, insurance, and accounting
support," Tracy urges. There is no longer an employer to arrange
automatic withdrawals from your (now non-existent) paycheck. The rules
governing a small business are complex, and you will need help in
staying on the right side of the law.
clients’ work done as fast and as well as possible, but doing so will
not ensure success. A consultant needs to network, to market, to keep
his name in circulation. Make sure that drumming up the next job —
whether by attending chamber of commerce meetings or appearing on
local radio shows — is always a part of your weekly schedule.
an awful lot of time doing work for which there is no remuneration.
There is constant reading to keep up with their fields, says Tracy.
There is research and analysis just to prepare to pitch a job. There
are the pitches that result in no contract.
a week," says Tracy. Lots of people in corporate jobs say they
work those hours, but there is a difference. The employees, says Tracy,
may be in the office for 50 to 60 hours, but spend a good chunk of
that time going to lunch, catching up on the latest gossip, and discussing
Sunday’s big game. The independent consultant, in his experience,
spends those same hours actually working — hard.
he didn’t attend some seminar or workshop. For starters, he points
out, consultants pay their own way. There is no employer to pick up
the tab for travel, fees, and meals on the road. Also, every half-day
spent at a seminar is a half-day in which a consultant is not billing
for his time. It is important to go to some meetings and seminars,
but consultants have to watch their expenses and time more carefully
than do their corporate counterparts.
or famine," says Tracy, "it’s a big problem. There are natural
cycles in the economy and in industry." Sometimes there will be
much too much to do, and at other times there will be no work —
and you will be sure there will never be work again.
schedule, great variety, and the satisfaction of seeing clients come
through a difficult time stronger than they were before. "I can
look around at dozens of buildings that were built and jobs that were
created because of our work," is how he puts it.
So, after 30 years as a consultant, what does Tracy think: Dream job
"For me?" he asks? "Oh definitely, dream job."
Trenton Small Business Week begins on Monday, September
4, this year. During the week,
Small Business of the Year awards to companies in three categories:
Small Business of the Year, for companies in business for at least
three years; Most Successful New Business, for companies between one
and three years old; and Most Improved Appearance, for companies in
business for at least two years.
Nominations in each category must be completed by Monday, September
16 and faxed to the Trenton Small Business Week office at 609-396-8603.
The awards will be presented during the Opening Kick Off Breakfast
on Monday, September 30.
<d>Sandy Schussel, a lawyer by training, was just
about back on his feet in 1993 after more than a year of cancer treatments.
Healthy again, he needed to get back to work, but balked at the prospect
of picking up where he had left off. "I was unable to function
for a year," he recalls. "There was chemo, radiation, complications
from a first surgery. During that time I did try to restart my law
practice, but after a year I had lost a lot of clients. I was faced
with the miserable prospect of doing what I hated, and starting it
up all over again."
Schussel found the courage to move in another direction, and courage,
he says, is what it takes to go for the work you love. "Everybody’s
afraid," he says. "When you’re a kid, your mom calls you back
when you go out of your safe neighborhood." Pretty soon, just
crossing safe boundaries causes sweaty hands and a racing heart. "It
saves your life as a kid," he says, "but as adults, when we
have some goal that is beyond our `safe neighborhood’ we back away,
mixing fear with its little cousin, guilt. We need to learn and practice
a new response."
On Tuesday, September 17, at 7 p.m., Schussel — now working full-time
as a sales trainer for a financial services company, and moonlighting
as a consultant, personal coach, and writer — speaks on "Live
Your Dreams" at the Princeton Radisson. He repeats the free workshop
on Wednesday, September 18, at the same time and place.
These free workshops serve as an introduction to Schussel’s "Three
Nights in October Coaching Workshops." Also taking place at the
Radisson, and beginning at 7 p.m., these three-session workshops seek
to focus participants on pursuing goals and dreams. One series of
workshops begins on Monday, October 7, and the other on Tuesday, October
8. Cost: $389. Call 888-289-5551.
Schussel is eloquent on the downside of a career as a lawyer. "Early
on, it became clear to me," says the graduate of the New England
School of Law (Class of 1976), "that it was a profession filled
with unhappy people. There are long hours, mountains of paperwork,
droning work, endless arguments, and then you fight to get paid for
it." In the beginning, says Schussel, he saw himself as a white
knight, out to save the world. Soon, he found himself sitting around
outside courtrooms in the company of unhappy clients, facing off against
unhappy lawyers in front of unhappy judges.
Still, he was "too afraid to move." He had studied for years
to become a lawyer. He had a family. He had clients. "I wanted
out, but I couldn’t get out," he recalls. "Then I was diagnosed
with cancer. I believe my immune system was saying `if this is what
life is going to be like, let’s quit now.’"
Schussel’s choice of law was based largely on a fantasy — law
as practiced on television — and on disappointment over an acting
career that was going nowhere. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania
(Class of 1972), he "went to New York to be a star on Broadway."
After six months of rejection, he was discouraged enough to consider
other options. "What do you see yourself doing?" a friend
asked. He recalls answering, "being one of those lawyers on TV."
Looking back, Schussel says he might have made it as an actor if fear
of this notoriously difficult career hadn’t pushed him toward something
safer. After recovering from cancer, he began his move, one step at
a time, toward a career more in line with his talents.
Finding that collaboration was much more his style than confrontation,
he started doing some consulting. In truth, he says, he had been acting
as a consultant even when he was practicing law. He had one client,
for example, who was always being sued by customers. When customers
tried to return something, his client blew up and refused to take
the goods back, whereupon — with great regularity — he was
sued. Schussel convinced this client that it would be in his best
interests to bend a little and take some of the stuff back. This meant
less repeat business for Schussel, but he found satisfaction in seeing
the client break his self-destructive cycle.
When he decided to escape from the practice of law, Schussel did more
business consulting. He had already learned a good deal about the
workings of small business through his legal practice, and learned
more by helping his wife, Hannah Schussel, open Toys…The Store,
a toy store on Palmer Square.
"I wanted a business where people are happy — and they pay
on the spot," the former lawyer says of the venture. His wife,
who had worked in a clothing store on Palmer Square, has been in charge
of day-to-day operations from the beginning. Schussel contributed
marketing and operations advice and worked on training employees.
He then started holding seminars. Clients included retail mall managers,
travel industry professionals, toy manufacturers, and the state of
New Jersey. His topics revolved around leadership, customer satisfaction,
and employee training and motivation issues.
He also took work as a teacher in New York University’s School of
Continuing Education, teaching marketing management and entrepreneurship.
At the same time, he was building a private coaching business, which
he maintains today, although, he notes, "there was no coaching
then, it was called `consulting.’"
"At one time I was doing 10 different things," Schussel recalls
happily. He found every one of his new gigs far more satisfying than
the practice of law. Still, constantly drumming up business was time
consuming, and he started casting about for a steady paycheck. Fresh
from a career as a lawyer, he could not even earn consideration for
a job in corporate training, the area he decided was most aligned
with his interests and abilities. But after several years of leading
seminars, consulting, and teaching, he had proved himself, and landed
a job as a national sales trainer.
Through self-education, Schussel has moved himself most of the way
from job hatred to job nirvana. But he still has a short way to travel.
"I want to be a motivational speaker," he says. "That
is my brass ring."
Going back to childhood visits to the Coney Island amusement
park, he vividly recalls the handsome painted horses on the carousel.
And he recalls watching the big boys leaning far off the tall horses
to reach for the rings hung along the rail, high and to the right.
One in ten on the rings was brass, and the child who grabbed it won
a free ride.
He was only five when his family took him to ride on the carousel,
but Schussel grasped the lure of the brass ring right away. "That
was adventure, passion, joy, fulfillment," he says.
Although he has been coaching and consulting for nearly a decade now,
Schussel has just incorporated his Princeton-based business, naming
it Brass Ring Consulting.
The workshops he hosts this month are his final steps in banishing
the fear that kept him indentured to a job he hated for nearly 20
years. For while he has led seminars, this is the first time he addresses
the public as a motivation speaker. His message is that everyone can
— and should — reach for a brass ring. (His 15-year-old daughter
is following her father’s advice. Under the name Madeline Blue, she
is pursuing a career as a professional actress — U.S. 1, May 29,
Here is Schussel’s advice on how to pull down the prize:
Maybe the problem is that you are in a large bureaucracy, when a small
company culture would be a better fit. Maybe you are practicing a
branch of the career that chafes, and another would be a better fit.
are convinced that your career is making you miserable. But not everyone
can quit a miserable job today, Schussel acknowledges. A first step
is to start thinking about exactly what would constitute a better
job. "This is your life," he says. "You don’t know how
long it’s going to be. You might as well make every minute something
you want to live."
side," Schussel advises. A consultant might hate prospecting for
clients, but might enjoy giving presentations. A lawyer might hate
court room wrangles, but might enjoy legal research. Look for elements
you like in your current job — or in jobs you have held in the
without plunging into poverty," says Schussel, "and there
are probably 1,000 ways to do that." Take one small step, he urges,
then add as many steps as you can. For example, he says, if you know
you want to teach, do some research. After you find out what licenses
you need and what courses you have to take, sign up. Start building
the infrastructure that will take you where you want to go.
If you take action, it means that you are not paralyzed." Many
times, people remain stuck because they are afraid of making a career
mistake — again. Don’t sweat it, says Schussel. "Get over
the concept that there is a perfect choice," he says. "You
can switch again."
Last September 11, just as
president for academic affairs at Rutgers, and
dean of that university’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and
Public Policy, were to present their economic forecast for 2002, two
hijacked aircraft crashed into the World Trade Center. Stunned, they
added a disclaimer to their talk: "All bets are off," they
A year later, uncertainty about the economy abounds. Inflation and
interest rates remain low, industrial production is recovering, and
housing and consumer spending are remarkably resilient. Yet, the bear
market continues, consumer confidence is down, a turnaround in business
investment has not materialized, the federal budget is in deficit
and the rest of the world is relying on stronger U.S. growth. In this
overall ambiguous economic climate, where is New Jersey’s economy
On Wednesday, September 18, at 9:30 a.m., Seneca and Hughes lead a
panel discussion, "Will the Economic Recovery Be Sustained or
Is a Double-Dip Ahead?," at the opening session of the New Jersey
Public Policy Seminar Series for 2002-2003 at the State House Annex,
Committee Room 1, in Trenton. Call 732-932-7741.
Health insurance, property and casualty insurance, terrorism
insurance, directors and officers insurance, you name it and the rates
are up — – way, way up. In a clear case of it-never-rains-but-it-pours,
companies struggling with a recession that shows no signs of leaving
town are being saddled with rate increases of 18, 44, even 300 percent.
The jump packs an added wallop because it comes after a decade during
which modest increases — and in some cases, even reductions —
were the norm.
"Carrier reps used to deliver three, four, seven percent increases,"
says insurance broker
the same happy face with 15 to 18 percent increases." Indeed companies
seeing healthcare premium jumps in the high-teens are the lucky ones.
Borton has a North Jersey-based client who just got a 44 percent increase,
and a suburban Philadelphia client whose rates went up 40 percent.
Borton, an independent employee benefits insurance consultant affiliated
with Fleet Insurance, moderates a panel on "Skyrocketing Insurance
Premiums" on Wednesday, September 18, at 5 p.m. at a meeting of
the New Jersey Technology Council’s CFO forum at Fleet Bank headquarters
in Carnegie Center. On the panel are
America’s Choice Healthplans;
for PWC; Michael Losch, CFO of Tellium;
The reasons for increased property and casualty insurance rates are
more clear-cut than those for the healthcare insurance hikes, and,
while generally more steep, are also more apt to be short term. Borton
says sloppy underwriting and outsized returns on premiums invested
in the stock market led to artificially low property insurance rates
throughout much of the 1990s.
"In the last 10 years," Borton says, "everyone got a pass
on renewals, but a year ago it started getting harder. Insurance companies
were losing money." Claims kept coming in, but investment profits
shrank substantially. Industry consolidation reduced competition.
Then came the terrorists’ attacks. The result? "You’re lucky if
your increase is 20 to 30 percent," he says.
For terrorism insurance the hit is much harder. "If you own an
office building in New York or Philly that sticks up, you need terrorism
insurance," says Borton. The banks holding mortgages on these
buildings demand it, but, he says, "good luck getting it. It costs
There is not much a small or mid-sized company can do about property
and casualty rates. Self-insurance, a possibility with healthcare
insurance, is only an option for the largest companies. Smaller companies,
says Borton, simply can’t afford the risk.
While property and casualty rates have gone up dramatically, Borton
says the move most likely is a correction to make up for rates that
were too low for too long. Barring a bear of a bear market — or
another catastrophe on the scale of 9/11 — rates should stabilize.
Healthcare insurance is another matter. The forces driving premiums
higher are multi-tentacled and intractable. Borton ticks off a dozen
and seems capable of going on forever. The factors include an aging
population, increasing obesity, declining fitness, malpractice suits,
defensive medicine, life-extending technology, rising hospital costs,
rising doctors’ fees, rising prescription costs, government mandates,
increased consumer demand, fraud and abuses, and a sense of entitlement.
Mix it all up and out comes sky-high healthcare costs — and insurance
But rates in New Jersey are among the highest — if not the highest
— in the nation. A reason, says Borton, is those government mandates.
He points, for example, to recently-passed legislation that requires
insurance companies to pay for infertility treatments. "That’s
$10,000 a pop for in vitro," he says. But that is just the beginning.
The treatments, he points out, can lead to multiple births and premature
babies, each of whom may need hundreds of thousands of dollars worth
of medical care.
There are no easy answers. Borton comments that most of us expect
everything possible to be done for our loved ones, no matter what
their age or prognosis. And he points out that the nation’s general
lack of fitness and fast food habit can be traced, at least in part,
to the long work hours that lead to a rushed lifestyle.
These trends are not likely to reverse themselves any time soon. So
what’s an employer to do?
employees would fish two singles out of their wallets to pay for a
doctor’s visit, and just flash their insurance cards upon exiting
the hospital. No more. Borton is seeing employers choose coverage
with $20 or $30 office visit co-pays, $500 co-pays for in-hospital
procedures, $250 co-pays for out-patient services, $15 co-pays for
generic drugs, and $30 co-pays for brand name drugs.
During the tech boom, worker hungry companies assumed all of the cost
of healthcare insurance, but the soft labor market is allowing them
to shift more of the burden to their employees, a trend Borton sees
continuing. "Once the genie is out of the bottle," he says,
"you can’t put it back in."
Still, the savings from these pass-alongs are surprisingly slim. An
employer who ups his workers’ co-pays to something approximating the
above figures would cut his premium only about three to four percent,
says Borton. Instead of paying 20 percent more for healthcare insurance
this year, he would pay 16 or 17 percent.
vehicle, a defined contribution plan makes employees partners in choosing
healthcare — and gives them an incentive to shop wisely. Under
these plans, each employee gets a healthcare account of perhaps $500
to $700 to spend on any healthcare expense. When the money is gone,
he is on his own until expenses mount to about $1,000 to $1,500, at
which time traditional healthcare coverage kicks in, with the employer
paying about 80 percent and the employee paying 20 percent until costs
reach $10,000. At that point, the employer would pay 100 percent.
The theory behind this concept, says Borton, is that employees will
see what healthcare costs. Now, he says, they just flash their plastic
cards, get treatment, and never consider the price. Perhaps unsurprisingly,
employees have been underwhelmed by the appeal of defined contribution
plans. "Businesses offering it as an option are getting very limited
participation," says Borton. Big insurance companies, including
Aetna, United Healthcare, and Humana offer defined contribution plans.
Humana, he says, "went through a tremendous process introducing
it." Despite the fanfare, only three percent of subscribers signed
A negative for the plans, Borton points out, is that there is a disincentive
for employees to spend dollars in their fund for preventive care.
A plus is that it forces them to confront the costs of medical care.
"Everybody agrees," he says, "that until American consumers
gain an appreciation for what the stuff costs, we won’t see significant
for healthcare claims, hiring an insurance company to handle the claims
and issue the cards, but funding outlays themselves. Generally, they
buy catastrophic coverage for out-sized claims. This option can work
for companies with over 100 employees, but the more employees the
better because the risk gets spread around. If most employees are
single, healthy, twentysomethings so much the better. Employers with
a roster of fiftysomethings probably want to stay away from self-insurance,
Self-insurance carries risk no matter what the age of the workforce,
and is not the right vehicle for a small company. Yet, says Borton,
"I’ve seen 50-person companies self-funding. They’re desperate.
In the short term, they save money, but long term it could bankrupt
companies on the ropes, the higher costs are a problem for all New
Jersey companies. For some, the premiums are a drain on the bottom
line. For others, especially tech firms with dwindling venture capital
dollars, they are fast becoming the difference between making it and
not making it.
The only way businesses will get substantial relief, says Borton,
only half kidding, is to "move to South Carolina and hire healthy,
Corrections or additions?
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