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顾问大行其道的诅咒
The curse of the consultants is spreading fast

来源:FT中文网    2017-05-17 06:44



        Warren Buffett will go to great lengths to stop Berkshire Hathaway using consultants. “If the board hires a compensation consultant after I’m gone, I will come back,” he promised its annual shareholder meeting on Saturday. It was a joke, but from the heart.        沃伦•巴菲特(Warren Buffett)将尽力阻止伯克希尔哈撒韦公司(Berkshire Hathaway)使用顾问。“在我走后,如果董事会雇用了薪酬顾问,我会回来的,”巴菲特近日在年度股东大会上承诺道。这是个玩笑,但是他发自心底的想法。
        Mr Buffett’s low opinion of overpaid hedge fund managers, whom he describes as “compensated on the basis of something that in aggregate cannot be true”, is well known. He extends that scepticism to other intermediaries — investment bankers, brokers, and consultants of every kind.        巴菲特对薪酬过高的对冲基金经理不屑一顾,是广为人知的。巴菲特认为,他们“的薪酬建立在整体而言不可能真实的东西的基础上”。他把这种怀疑延伸到了其他中介人士——投行家、经纪商和各个领域的顾问。
        It makes him highly unusual, since the corporate world is heading in the opposite direction. Everywhere one looks, there are more and more consultants — on strategy, investment, operations, compensation, digital transformation, technology, marketing. Some businesses seem to have been entirely occupied by consultants.        这让他变得高度与众不同,因为企业界正朝相反方向前进。无论我们往哪里看,战略、投资、运营、薪酬、数字转型、技术和营销方面的顾问都越来越多。有些企业似乎已完全被顾问们占领了。
        What was a niche for a handful of wizards in firms such as McKinsey & Co and Boston Consulting Group has turned into a thriving industry that keeps on growing faster than many of its clients. Consultants now do many jobs that companies once performed themselves.        原本属于麦肯锡(McKinsey & Co)和波士顿咨询集团(BCG)等公司中少量奇才的小众工作,已变成了一个蓬勃发展的行业,其增长速度一直快于其许多客户企业。现在,顾问们做着客户企业以前自己做的许多工作。
        Global revenues of management consulting firms grew 7 per cent last year to $133bn, according to Source Global Research. Some top firms, such as Bain & Co, are enjoying double-digit expansion, and have for several years. The large accounting firms, which mostly left consulting in the early 2000s, are back: 44 per cent of EY’s revenues last year came from advisory work.        Source Global Research数据显示,去年管理咨询公司的全球营收增长7%,至1330亿美元。有些顶级咨询公司,比如贝恩(Bain & Co),增长率达到两位数,而且好几年都是如此。基本从2000年代初放弃咨询业务的大型会计师事务所,又杀了回来:去年安永(EY) 44%的营收来自咨询业务。
        Consultancy is at the heart of professional services: of 2.2m people who work in financial and related professional services in the UK, 477,000 are consultants, compared with 421,000 bankers, according to the City UK trade group. What is going on?        咨询业务居于专业服务的核心:行业团体TheCityUK的数据显示,在英国的220万金融及相关专业服务业从业者中,顾问达47.7万,银行家为42.1万。发生了什么?
        One answer is that they are needed. Many companies shed employees and retreated to their core after the 2008 financial crisis, outsourcing activities from manufacturing to technology. Hiring expertise as required — management as a cloud service — is a natural next step.        一个答案是,企业需要顾问。在2008年金融危机之后,许多公司裁减了员工,退回核心业务,把从制造到技术的各项业务外包出去。按照需求聘请专业人员——把管理作为一种云服务——是自然的下一步。
        Technological change is also a boon for consultants. The rise of digital technology and data analytics is upending many industries, including retailing and media. Companies wanting to remake how they operate have turned to consulting firms, particularly larger ones with tech expertise.        技术变革也给顾问们带来福音。数字科技与数据分析的兴起,正在颠覆包括零售和媒体在内的许多行业。想要改造自身运营方式的公司,已求助于咨询公司,尤其是那些拥有技术专长的更大型的咨询公司。
        That can mean everything from how a company collects and analyses data to how it advertises products to consumers through Facebook and delivers them to their homes. Marketing companies such as WPP and Publicis compete with digital divisions of consulting firms such as Accenture.        这可能意味着从一家公司如何收集并分析数据,到如何通过Facebook向消费者做产品广告以及送货上门的所有流程。WWP和阳狮(Publicis)等广告公司与埃森哲(Accenture)等咨询公司的数字部门展开了竞争。
        These changes have serious implications for the nature of the company itself. A generation ago, the chief competitive advantage of US corporations such as General Electric and Procter & Gamble was management. They trained cadres of executives to run operating subsidiaries smoothly.        这些变化对公司自身性质产生了重大影响。一代人之前,通用电气(GE)和宝洁(P&G)等美国公司的主要竞争优势是管理。它们培养了大量的高管去得心应手地管理各个子公司。
        Consulting offers a substitute — the ability for companies to outsource chunks of strategy and operations. It begs the question of what a large consumer goods company, for example, does. If trends continue, it could soon amount to a few managers overseeing consultants and contractors.        咨询公司提供了一个替代方案——公司可以把大量的战略和运营环节外包出去。例如,这引出了一家大型消费品公司要做什么的问题。如果趋势延续下去,不久后答案可能是几名经理管理顾问与承包商。
        Even for those that do not go that far, using consultants has attractions. It offers flexible use of a well-trained group of managers and professionals — the top echelon of what Accenture calls the “liquid workforce”. Hiring consultants who have undertaken similar projects elsewhere is reliable and fast.        甚至对那些没走这么远的公司而言,使用顾问也是有吸引力的。这让公司可以灵活地使用一群受过良好训练的经理人和专业人员——这是埃森哲所谓“流动劳动力”中的最顶层。聘用在其他地方执行过类似项目的顾问,既可靠,又快速。
        But there are dangers, which can be overlooked amid the rush. One is that companies are buying off-the-shelf solutions that make them operate more like others. They are being sold similar ideas and similar methods for reaching customers. The curse of the consultants is that anyone can hire them, so their ideas soon spread.        但其中存在多种危险,人们在匆忙中可能忽略了这些危险。一个危险是,公司正在购买现成的解决方案,这会让它们运营得更像其他公司。它们买到的是如何触及消费者的类似理念和类似方法。顾问的诅咒在于,任何人都可以聘用他们,于是他们的理念很快就传播开来。
        It is a version of the conformity problem in asset management so scorned by Mr Buffett — originality is very difficult to come by. Berkshire is deliberately eccentric and obstinately operating in its own way has produced enormous rewards. As he wrote in his 2014 shareholder letter, “there are worse things in life than having a prosperous business one understands well”.        这是在资产管理领域遭到巴菲特如此蔑视的一致性问题的另一个版本——原创性很难实现。伯克希尔公司故意不走寻常路,坚持走自己的路,产生了巨大的回报。正如巴菲特在2014年的致股东信上所写,“在生活中,有些事情比拥有一家你非常了解的繁荣发展的企业糟糕”。
        The second danger is that consultants become a habit — once they get inside the building, they are hard to eradicate. They have an interest in keeping the relationship going, either by persuading clients that the challenges are complex, or by selling them more services.        第二种危险是,使用顾问成了习惯——他们一旦进到大楼里,就很难把他们请出去。维持关系符合他们的利益,手段要么是让客户相信挑战是复杂的,要么是卖给客户更多服务。
        A company that needs a few tasks done quickly can become enmeshed. Many US corporations have “an expensive bureaucratic culture internally while a growing corps of financial advisers bids to sell shareholders a wide range of costly services”, writes Lawrence Cunningham, a professor at George Washington University.        一家需要快速完成几项任务的公司可能落入圈套。许多美国公司“在内部有一种代价高昂的官僚主义文化,而越来越多的财务顾问努力争取向股东出售范围广泛的高价服务,”乔治华盛顿大学(George Washington University)教授劳伦斯•坎宁安(Lawrence Cunningham)写道。
        Consultants are alluring in a world of changing technology and regulation, as their growth shows. But it is also wise for the buyer to beware of what they offer. One thing we do know: if Berkshire ever joins the bandwagon, Mr Buffett will turn in his grave.        在一个技术和监管规定不断变化的世界里,顾问是有吸引力的,顾问人数的增加证明了这一点。但是,买主也应明白顾问提供的是什么。我们的确知道的一件事是:如果伯克希尔赶这场时髦,巴菲特将会死不瞑目。
                
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