Monday, May 10, 2010

Sartorial Travels

My work year is unfolding predictably. Business and therefore business travel is picking up steam and it seems that I might duplicate 2009 with a manic run of project work in the final quarter of this year. If I could duplicate last year’s business performance I would turn back flips on New Year’s Eve. I’ve been a reluctant yet grateful entrepreneur now for more years than I’ve done anything else and I say reluctant because I didn’t intend to become a full-risk…top line-bottom line shepherd of my own gig. If you’d asked me when I was thirty years old would I ever leave Big Bad Pharma for another endeavor—especially my own, I would have checked you for a fever. I was the quintessential man in the gray pharma flannel suit. I was headed to the top. That is until as a young manager, I began handing out pink slips to fifty year old guys who had never had another job…who hadn’t had a resume in twenty five years…who were absolutely unable to get their minds around the fact that companies don’t love individuals to the same degree individuals are loyal to companies.

Some of those people never recovered and my witnessing that phenomenon was a wake-up call for me. I could remain on that treadmill and move around the country and world for that matter…every time they blew the whistle and said “ADG…time for your next assignment”. But I realized by doing so, I stood an equal chance of being made as irrelevant and redundant as the guys I awarded pink slips. The strategic inflection point for me was when I concluded that it would be my own fault if I stayed around and ended up in the same situation. I also speculated that at thirty six years old and no children, I could take an entrepreneurial plunge and if I fell flat on my ass after a couple of years I could rejoin some big corporation. I’ve never looked back and trust me, there have been harrowing moments where my entrepreneurial uvulas disappeared to almost undetectable levels.

I don’t have the magic formula for purveying a niche skill set or peddling insight and advice…for training others in exacting processes. All I know is that my definition of success as a consultant is grounded in the discipline of trade-offs…of not trying to be all things to all people…honing a capability in an industry and more precisely a capability within that industry that is valued and sought by said industry inhabitants. It ain’t rocket science or I couldn’t do it. On the other hand, the fact that the formula isn’t so complex is to me, why a lot of people think they can give it a go in the consulting world but end up failing. They can’t articulate clearly what it is that they bring of value and why they should be selected for that deliverable versus another consultant.

My clients see what I do and participate in sessions that I moderate or conferences where I speak and it never fails. I can see it coming a mile away—they think they can do what I do and they want to know how I got started and how might they get involved in such stimulating and seemingly fun work. I’ve developed a couple of questions that usually disabuse them of the notion within thirty seconds. “Can you afford (and equally important—do you have a spouse or partner who can tolerate it) to go one calendar year without taking a penny in compensation? Can you afford to have one hundred thousand dollar swings in your income from one year to another?” …I’ve got a tougher subsequent round of questions if they answer yes to both of those but I can’t remember when I’ve had to use them. The glamour and allure quickly dissipates and let me say unequivocally that those two questions are not red herrings…they are legitimate challenges. 

Most of my clients, even Vice Presidents who are managing billion dollar brands or three billion dollar business units haven’t tasted true risk in their professional lives. I define true risk as having your own money tied up in the supposed high risk decisions that you make…and I’m not talking about your personal compensation, options and benefits…I’m talking about your assets…you know…life savings, home, retirement etc. I know double Harvards who would cower if they ever had to taste true risk. If it ain’t your money, your balls can become mighty hubristicated. Step up and play business for real and most of the management legends I know would experience a breathtaking deceleration in testicular tumescence. I know this firsthand. I've played both versions of the game. Shut up.

I have more respect for the family owners of a mom and pop grocery store or gas station than I do these proverbial business legends…because mom and pop are at full freakin’ risk. Here’s a clue for you—scores of industries have directors and often times vice presidents who are responsible for the top line contributions of their brands or business units. The don’t have full responsibility for the net-net…the proverbial bottom line. The difference in the courage and skill set necessary to manage to the bottom line is phenomenal and for the two and a half of you that read my blog while in undergrad or business school, don’t confuse managing T&E and other expense lines with full P&L responsibility.
Ok, let me get off of this rant. One of the things that I love about my work is the diversity of clinical and technical categories that I involve myself in over any given year. We only work with organizations marketing products and services into the healthcare economy but there’s enough variety within our niche to keep me from getting bored. A couple of weeks ago in Boston I was fully immersed in multiple sclerosis sales and marketing strategy. Last week in Philadelphia it was blood screening technology for tertiary care hospitals. Who pays for the blood screening technology and what type of technology is best suited for the specific demands of urban teaching hospitals and trauma centers? And you thought that all I thought about was horizontal stripes and GTH pants. I hadn't been to the train station in Philly for quite some time...train station architecture is nice-nicer than airports and usually sans carpet.
The fact that the rest of the world has taken a hygiene holiday—including some of my double Ivy clients—doesn’t mean that I’m gonna succumb to the trend. Corporate casual is a boondoggle of stunning proportions and I won’t dress down but so far. Crazy I know but the next day's Flusser suit is in this Orvis tennis bag. Four hours of hotel bathroom shower steaming and I'll be looking stellar. Read on if you don't believe me.
My Acela trip to Philly last week saw me in an Alan Flusser-Southwick made to measure linen option for the train ride up. The Flusser-Southwick entry level collaboration is genius. 
I can’t understand why younger men who are interested in clothing would go to Polo and pay the freight for that albeit tasty option when the Flusser minions provide an experience that is just a slight step below their bespoken submission. Open patch pockets-double vents-three/two roll that Southwick mastered ages ago. 
My Connor memorial pocket square that I traded a ton of loot for last year. Still can't believe he passed on the Cafe Bustello coffee and that bra some girl left in my house.
The trick with the Flusser-Southwick option that to me makes it compelling is the handwork that occurs when the garment is back in house. The unfinished sleeves arrive and go directly to the in house masters at Flusser for hand finishing and hand felled button holes. I had this casual coat finished with only two sleeve buttons.
I’m in a Sheraton in Center City Philly and this is what rides the elevator with me. We aren’t at Claridges but still, this is a guy about my age who ain’t in the hotel for Spring Break. We’ve lost not only our moral compass but our aesthetic sensibilities as well. Who told him this was ok? I think the moral compass—aesthetic sensibilities slide is a tandem concurrence…both equally skimming along slope slippery inextricably tethered.
I ran three miles tonight and am on my second liter of water. I’ve got to atone for such indulgences as is manifest in this picture. Even a business class hotel cheese steak is pretty damn good in Philly.
I removed the cover from the book I read last week. A rare occurrence for me since I usually don’t give a damn what people think. This one though, was even too girly for me. I enjoyed reading it and will do a post on it later in the week. Toad knows that she is my girlfriend and that I’ve loved her more than he ever has or ever will. I love her even more now.
Bow ties are an easy amulet for me when I’m spending time in teaching hospitals. I visited four of them last week in Philadelphia. Also, when an account person I’ve never met is squiring me around, it’s easy for me to have them look for the fella in a bow tie.
J. Press madras bow accompanies an almost twenty year old Flusser bespoke suit. The only two button Flusser unit that I've ever contrived. Everything else is 3/2. This is an old bulletproof standard. Lightweight but very hard finished tropical wool that still looks great.
See the light coming through the suiting fabric? A testimony to how light this garment is. So light that I can't risk wearing an orange thong or anything similarly showy.
Oh and here's a little tip for you less than savvy travelers. I don't care how nice the hotel bed comforter might look. Remove it at once. They rarely if ever clean these things and let me just leave it to you for thought-speculation-consequence embellishment on that point. By the way, did anyone else see the Upper East Side Bedbug article in New York Magazine? Scary. to my bed...sans bed bugs avec comforter...ADG


Old Trad said...

There was a time when a doorman at a Sheraton wouldn't even have let those elevator passengers through the front door.

Lisa said...

Re: "We’ve lost not only our moral compass but our aesthetic sensibilities as well." While over in London last week during the run-up to the election, one of the morning TV presenters hoped that whomever occupied No. 10 Downing St would ban the wearing of bedclothes outside of the house. It's not nearly the problem over there that it is here!

LPC said...

I'm far less invested in the imputed sartorial downturn. In California we've been wearing shorts ever since we turned in our fur loincloths.

ADG said...


Lisa...I'd say the problem is about equal.

Old Trad...And doormen have always been better dressed than most.

Main Line Sportsman said...

Great shot of the statue at 30th st. Station. You were about a $6.00 cab ride from my office when you rolled thru there.
Great shot of a flip-flop wearing be-shorted wanker at a downtown can an adult male think it is appropriate to kick around a major city and in a hotal when dressed like he was in line for mwater-ice at the beach. I loathe that crap.
Glad your cheese steak was good....

Mal said...

I appreciate your comments about starting your own business, free-agency. I live and work in rural Alabama, small family-owned businesses are the life-blood of the economy and they are fast becoming a extinct species. Besides, you know why people ask you about being a consultant: its glamorous! Travel! No boss! And your stories make it look one thinks about the work, effort that goes into what you do. My hat is off to you.

And the shorts/business travel-no, sorry but no. Don't care if its NY, CAL, or Alabama, no!

James said...

Here in the Great Rust Belt your elevator chum might have been on his way to a funeral.

CeceliaMc said...

Thank you so much for this great rant!

I've been on a tear, myself, about the surrender of civilization into adolescent banality.

Not long ago, there was a death in my family and I was amazed at how many mourners showed up at the funeral in business casual, casual casual, and just-stay-your-ass-in-bed casual.

Another incident involved a family gathering where I was enjoying an evening of story-telling and conviviality, only to notice that everyone under thirty was busily texting. My daughter was texting her cousin who was in the room!

I don't know what the world is coming to. It's not that I eschew everything youth oriented, I once watched an episode of MTV Cribs with my daugther, and was pleased to hear a rapper say that unlike the usual celebrity on that show, that he made sure his refrigerator was filled with food, so that no one in his family or his employ, went hungry.

He said that's what being a man is, or something to that effect. It was getting up going to work, and making damn sure that there's food in the fridge.

Well, being a grown man or a grown woman is also taking risks and acting like you mean it when you get out of bed and get ready for the day.

Again, thanks very much for your rant, and for the opportunity for me to give mine.

Patsy said...

My boss has 100% of his (non real estate) net worth in our business, it's one of the main reasons people do business with us.

Anonymous said...

As a sole practioner attorney in Atlanta I appreciate your comments. I too have been blessed with an abudance of clients but it results in long hours and hard work with now substitute. Best of luck to you.

NCJack said...

If I dress like that I'm, like, not an old boring dude, dude, I'm, like, young and way cool...oh, yeah,and you think you're better'n me, don'cha? My money's as good as yours! There's a lot of strange thinking that goes into dressing down and dumb, but I'm sure that guy thinks he's a "regular guy" and, probably, a "Real American". I think the British "yobbo" type is similar

JDB said...

Flip flops should be outlawed for everyone. Haven't people seen the news reports of the disgusting filth picked up on the feet from wearing them? Furthermore, feet are simply gross. No one wants to see them.

Rant on!

Summer is a Verb said...

Now that Emma is home I've dusted off the running shoes and thus far, no probs with the ole achilles. Two 3 milers under my belt this week and another on deck for this afternoon. And, I will admit those 3 miles have been twice as hard as the 8-ers I was up to in the fall. Oy, how the mighty have fallen. Bed bugs? Shudder...XXOO

JP from Portugal said...

Hi, have been visiting every now and then. It's always worth it! Curious about those shoes (loafers). Are they English? Thanks, best,

ADG said...

JP...yes, the loafers are Crockett and Jones. How's Portugal holding up economically?

JP from Portugal said...

Thought so (Boston, I guess). Well, economicaly the Government just announced today a raise in taxes (over transactions, salaries, company profits, you name it). We have to cut the deficit pretty hard. The good news is that we registered some economical growth in the first three months of the year (best in the EU, they said) and that the attack over national debt seems to be over...

Anonymous said...

You should be writing for the "RAKE". Excellent observations and comments. I too own my own business. If I get into a negitive cash flow situation or go broke its all over. I come into contact with many high level excutives who are well educated, competent, responsible, well liked people but they just don't get it and don't know that they don't get it. On the satorial side I'm often chided for being "buttoned" up. However, last week at the Clardiges I recieved a compliment. At the Carlyle people will nod. Elsewhere people look at me like I'm from another time and planet. The mud wrestlers are taking over the world!!