Di Angelo Braun Consulting Inc. is the name of the fictitious management consulting firm owned by Lou Di Angelo and Andrew Braun the main characters in the story The Consultant with Pink Hair written by Cal Harrison, professional services sales and marketing consultant.
But they almost weren’t Lou and Andrew. Below is a chapter that was re-written several times and ultimately never made it into the book – but reading the omitted chapter may give you a sense of how the characters developed.
Lou and Andrew, were almost Pete and Ed.
Pete Anderson and Ed Waters had co-founded their consulting company ten years earlier with no strategic plan, no previous consulting experience, and no idea how the industry worked. They had seen an opportunity that required quick action – and they took it. Within just a few days they had gone from salaried employees to being partners in their new firm. A thirty grand a month retainer with their former employer, Caldon Industries, had kept them going through the lean early years and been a good foundation of core revenue that helped build the more profitable years. But now it appeared that this important client and their retainer would be leaving them soon.
They agreed that some discussion about the next ten years was probably a good idea and convened a partners retreat (read: fishing trip) for the very next weekend.
That Friday, the partners loaded Ed’s antique fishing gear and Pete’s latest fishing gadgetry into Pete’s SUV and headed north to a lodge on a massive lake two hours away. It was run by Walter and Alec, two old widowers who had never traveled further than three hundred miles from the area in their entire lifetime. The lodge was on the verge of being more than the aging brothers could handle, and each year the little bits of unfixed wear and tear betrayed the brothers’ efforts to hang onto their corner of paradise. Pete wondered if this might be the last time they saw Walter and Alec.
The old guys always made Pete and Ed feel like they were visiting with family at a cottage, instead of boarders in a commercial enterprise. Pete and Ed joked to the brothers that the lodge had become their “satellite office” given how often they had “met” there. Walter had immediately titled the partners accordingly.
“Look sharp Walter it’s the accountants from head office” said a smiling Alec.
“Holy cow they finally came back” said Walter. “You boys ready for some fishing?”
Walter and Alec never really got their head around the idea of what a management consultant was so they referred to Pete and Ed as accountants – a near-enough label that made more sense in their universe.
Pete and Ed had arrived too late to get out on the lake that evening and decided to grab a few cans of beer and start their “retreat” on the dock watching the sun set behind the trees across the channel. Walter and Alec joined them for the first half-hour, catching up on news from the big city, sharing tales of local characters and events, and finally shifting the conversation to pointers on the fishing in the area.
“We’ve got you set up on that twenty-footer with the inboard and the canvas top so you guys can fish in style this weekend” said Alec. “The keys are in the glove box and don’t forget to run the fan for a few minutes before you start it. I’d hate to see you guys blow up our nicest boat.”
“Thanks Alec. What are they biting on these days” said Ed.
“Well if you’re going to sit still for a while use a pickerel rig with half a minnow, or a white headed jig with half a minnow. Just grab a tub of minnows from the freezer in the morning on your way out. The anchor is in the front storage box there but you’re going to have to stay in thirty feet of water or less for the anchor to hold” said Walter.
“Head over to the point by the old fishing camp and settle in just off that big rock on shore. If you don’t get any bites there in about twenty minutes, pick up the anchor and troll up along the shore to the north. One of you use the white jig and the other use a spoon or a small wiggler.” Said Alec.
“They’re not biting hard these days so you’re going to have to pay attention and reel them in them slowly” added Walter.
When the brothers left to go attend to a boat full of guests just coming into the dock from the lake Ed leaned over to Pete and said “For two guys that can’t get their heads around the idea of a “management consultant” they sure do know how to give good advice.”
Pete laughed and said “Ed maybe we should sell our practice and buy this place. We already know the advice part and we’re pretty good at the fishing end of it as well.”
“Well I guess that’s what we’re here to chat about – selling the practice” said Ed.
Pete was caught off guard.
“Uhhhh…well, I guess that’s always one of those options that’s out there but we probably have many more years before that happens – right” asked Pete.
“I don’t know Pete. I mean I never real thought about getting out. That just seemed something that would take care of itself down the road – a long way down the road. But the other day Elizabeth said something to me that really got me rethinking my timeline in much more immediate terms. Like two or three years.”
“Ed – Elizabeth isn’t sick is she” said Pete. They had recently lost a good friend and colleague to cancer and Pete’s radar was up.
“No, no, nothing like that Pete. Everyone is fine.”
“Elizabeth and I were packing the van to take Shauna to university and Liz turned to me and you what she said?”
“No” Pete nodded.
“Let’s talk about that crazy idea of yours.”
“Holy crap you mean your crazy travel idea” said Pete.
“Yeah. I thought that was dead and buried years ago. I almost had a heart attack when she mentioned it” said Ed.
“I’ve been selling that idea to her for twenty-some years and essentially gave up about five years ago” said Ed. “Talking about your long sales cycles…”
Pete remembered the story of how Ed had given Elizabeth a copy of a book he had picked up while traveling to a conference in Monterey, California. A Year on The Road told the story of a young couple with three kids that had sold everything and taken their children on a thirteen month round-the-globe journey. Ed dreamed that he and Elizabeth and their kids would make just such a trip of their own.
Maybe it was an early indicator of his lack of selling skills but Ed was never able to win Elizabeth over to his dream.
“I wondered if the stress of seeing our baby leaving home had caused her to snap.”
“Did you ask her what made her come around after all these years” said Pete.
“Oh yeah. She said seeing the kids make their new lives made her think that maybe she and I needed to start talking about the next chapter of ours. And it occurred to her that for over twenty years – hell almost thirty – we have both put our heads down and worked our butts off – university, first jobs, careers, looking after kids, taking care of parents – maybe now it’s finally time for us to poke our heads up and find our calling.”
Pete knew how Elizabeth felt. He dreamed every night of escape. No responsibility. Just relaxation. For Pete it didn’t matter what he did when they sold the firm. It just mattered that his wife Maria and the kids were there with him. And lately that was not a certain bet.
Pete had met Maria when he was eighteen and she was only sixteen. He did not make a great first impression upon her but was smitten. Maria however, never gave him a second thought. Two years later they crossed paths at a wedding where they literally bumped into each other on the dance floor. A timely slow song, an invitation to dance, and by the end of the evening they were making plans for a date the next week.
Pete spun his wedding ring around his finger as he thought of the twenty years that he and Maria had spent together and how often he had not been home during that time.
His first job had him travelling three weeks out of four, and when he joined Caldon so that he could quit travelling, a major plan reconfiguration scheduled to take two years ended up growing into a five year plan that saw him miss dinner at home more times than not. And then with the launch of his own firm with Ed the long hours continued. He knew that Maria and he were drifting, that for too long they had run parallel lives and that without the connection the children provided, they would have gone their own ways years ago.
The success of Pete’s business was a big deal to him professionally, financially and most importantly it was critical to his family because a well-run firm, that wasn’t always scrambling to hunt down and drag in new business, one that was profitable and attracted new clients without the eighty hour proposals and endless courting lunches and after hours networking events could give him back time for his family. He only had a few years left until his last daughter went off to school. If he and Maria didn’t connect again before that happened he was sure she would follow their youngest out the door.
Like Elizabeth had alluded to Ed, Pete and Maria had been so busy looking after everyone else for so long, that Pete was looking forward to planning how he and Maria might one day just be looking after themselves.
In the boat that day, inspired by the pickerel that were biting fast and furious, Pete and Ed decided to try and get their practice to twenty people and focus on margin – not leverage – to grow their profit. They felt to become an acquisition target big enough for consideration by a larger regional or national firm their firm had to have a reputation that attracted new business. They knew also that they would need to sell better and to have well defined selling systems that did not rely upon Pete and Ed to bring in all the business.
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"This should be required reading for consultants AND their clients - especially the part about RFPs." - Blair Enns, Win Without Pitching
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