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  • Writer's pictureJoel Alpert

Billionaire CEO Attacks Consultant Over "Babble"! Confidential Business War Story, Now Told!

This is my true Business War Story about what happens when a billionaire CEO is fed up with "consultant's babble."

[ 😱 insert SCREAM! here ]

It's about strategic and tactical recommendations … how they may be perceived by a billionaire CEO… and tuna fish with some grated onion.

"The story you are about to read is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent."

( 🎶 Cue Dragnet theme music.)

• • • 

open book

Some years ago I'd been working with a well-known company in L.A. — doing a combination of strategic consulting, direct mail marketing and training. All had been going well… or so I thought. I used to love my trips out t "The Coast," usually 10 days with that coveted weekend in the middle. I'd been doing that

I'd bring my Rollerblades for a day-long skate on Sundays from Santa Monica to Redondo Beach. Sunshine, great exercise. Past the muscle builders, bikini girls, jugglers, and assorted loonies on the boardwalk. It was a joyous circus.

While I usually work with SMB, this business program was for a bigger company, bigger scope of work. After digging deep into the organization's strategy, direct mail marketing program, processes, and training the marketing team on direct mail techniques (essential to their business)…

I was finishing a presentation of next-step the main conference room Our consultant (me) was in The Zone. George, the Number 2 Guy at the company, was pleased that the components were fitting together nicely. Two of his generals agreed.

And we're headed down the runway for a lunch break. I was starving — I'd only had coffee and a banana, 5 or 6 hours earlier at the break of dawn).

Right at that point, a stately gentleman — looking a good bit like Mr. Rogers' dad — quietly walks into the room. Most everyone sits up a little straighter. Haven't met him, must be high-level management. He plops down… crosses his legs… leans over his knees for a moment to glance at the whiteboard.

"Why in the world would you recommend ___________ , when we've always ______________ before!" he asks with a sneer.

The style is not particularly friendly. He attacks Joel with a barrage of non=stop questions.

Boom! Boom! 😱 Perspective questions. Boom! Drill-down details. Boom! Big picture now. Dripping toxic skepticism of most recommendations and explanations.

Boom-Boom! 😱 I don't like strategy consultants, he says. Direct mail consultants don't know what they're doing, he says. Explain what you mean by (any point), he keeps demanding. Strategic questions. Targeted marketing questions.

Me the consultant was getting a little warm. I wasn't a criminal and I wasn't under a hot spotlight at the police station. Boom! Boom! Boom! 😱 One after the other. Now to the executive team: Do they think these recommendations are any good? Did they understand how to implement these tactics? Sometimes the gentleman doesn't wait for a full answer before the next question.

I catch a quick glimpse of one wide-eyed, open-mouthed guy looking at his buddy across the conference table, as if to say "Oh, sweat, Joel is getting a whoopin'!"

Boom! Boom! 😱 Back to Joel, Did you consider other options, why did you choose these?

Wait…the executive management team had just been wowed!…

… now this?!

[ insert colloquial 3-letter acronym 😱 for ASTONISHMENT here ]

Why the attack?

"Why this?" I thought, Who does this guy think he is? The provocateur was reserved, but clearly a senior-level guy with authority in a roomful of executives. Wait — with a half-moment of not dodging the spiraling bullets, like in The Matrix… I realize "the guy" might be Jack, the legendary, multi-billionaire CEO.

No time for meandering, focus right back on the recommendations. They had been written over a few weeks, developed over a few months. They were good, Or at least I thought so.. Strategy & tactics. They provided strong value to the company — a combination of fundamental needs and innovative approaches.

Why have these obliterated by a random ambush…even if this guy is high-level? It seemed so capricious and improper…

Though thrown by the attack, I gave a to-the-point explanation to every successive challenge. Defending the recommendations. Clarifying apparent misconceptions. Providing perspective. Looking back, my thinking combined doubling-down… flexibility where it made sense… and a few "I dunno, I'll check that out." responses.

It lasted 35 or 40 minutes. Non-stop. I was feeling like a blackened burger trying to jump off the grill.

The interrogator suddenly stops. Stands up. Takes one more mental snapshot of the whiteboard. Walks out of the room without a word.


George, the Number 2 In Command, says to me ,"That was Jack." Yep, The iconic multi-billionaire CEO.

The room was quiet for a minute. ("Yikes! What did I just do? Did I just do the right thing?").

Breathe. Okay, then. Go on.

During the next few minutes we tie up the recommendations in a nice bow, and start the lunch break. There were a few person-to-person glances as people left the conference room — Iit seemed to indicate "Does this consultant guy from Atlanta with the New York accent have any idea that he shouldn't be talking to Jack that way?!"

Joel retreats to his "onsite office."

For 20 minutes after the meeting, our consultant is glazed over,. Exhausted.. "Boy, did I just do a number on myself, I just pushed back against the boss, a hugely successful person who has built a business empire, and I'm just a little guy, a hired gun on a contract."

Our consultant expects to be unceremoniously kicked in the butt… bounced out… pointed back to the airport with his tail between his legs, for slamming the CEO's comments. Especially in front of his execs.


At that 20 minute point, George, the 2nd In Command, glides by the nice little onsite office Joel had been getting used to.

George still has remnants of a wide-eyed "Are You kidding me?!" look I hadn't seen in the few months of working together.

He had just spoken to Jack.

Turns out this iconic CEO hates, hates, hates consultants! But he somehow seemed okay with the meeting.

Then it dawned on me that months ago George mentioned the boss "hates consultants." But they hired me anyway, so it didn't cross my mind again.. Then after a few months of good feedback, this "challenge" — this overt provocation —  in the meeting. Jeepers.

George says Jack wanted to know: Did this consultant have real rationales, real strategic thinking, real experience,… behind the recommendations? Were these working sessions — that were sucking up the time of some of his executives — worth the money? And would these recommendations be worth it when it cost many times more, to roll out in marketing campaigns?

George didn't suggest that Jack was satisfied or not, I don't think he knew.

But -- for the first-time ever, I'm told — this business icon would pick me up at 12:35 at the South Entrance… to continue the conversation over lunch!

No way!

Did I screw up enough to earn more of Jack's Wrath? He wants to talk more… but he'd already grilled me. Does he get involved at this level? Does he want to berate me for being a smartass? Did I embarrass him? Did he value any of the work?

Yes, I was early at the South Entrance, watching a number of cars pull up, waiting for some hot ride, like a Jag or Maserati , but didn't see Jack. At the stroke of 12:35, a 15-year-old Toyota Road Runner pulls up, windows roll down, "Hi, Joel… jump in!" Joel asks Jack where we were headed… assuming it was going to be a fancy L.A. restaurant. The boss said we were headed to his home in Beverly Hills! And to this point, I still wasn't sure if I was going to get more pushback on the recommendations, our interaction…

Some small talk and long silences while Jack chauffeured, The boss seemed focused on his driving, squinting over his bifocals, or deep in thought.

The house was decidedly… unimpressive.

A 20-minute drive, and we arrived at a ranch house in Beverly Hills. Not the palatial estate envisioned as we drove past serious mansions. Car parked outside with a guy watching us. And the house looked bigger on the inside. The kitchen had a brand-new refrigerator… but the dark wood paneling said 1950's. No kitchen renovation? The place looked well-lived and musty, but smelled clean. The CEO lookd more relaxed as he played short-order cook — he made tuna, with a measured dollop of mayo, and a small bit of grated onion,. He had really good rye bread available, crispy crust. Wrong kinda pickle, no problem.. Served in elegant mansion style… on a Dixie paper plate.

He told Joel that consultants and his underlings usually don't tell him the truth. He can't stand that!  He gave me 3 examples of that disingenuous behavior — they were awful panderings.

Jack tells me he likes his reality unvarnished. (I 'd also picked up that phrase from my consulting mentor, Robert Fritz).

And he really liked my recommendations and straightforward defense when attacked.

Jack smiled.

Hot damn!

Truth can win. Straightforward works.

I was feeling tears of relief and validation coming on, but shut that down fast — just act like this happens every day, I thought, Right.

It was a great conversation, unhurried — covering strategy, branding, direct mail marketing, operations, even confidential stuff about personnel and how two teams were working together. We were having a conversation. Two guys.

Yeah, right… "two guys." I knew I was in the presence of greatness, and I certainly was humbled. Okay, a little intimidated, but mostly okay. His questions were well within my expertise. I'd seriously done the work — a barrel of formal and informal consulting to discover details that fed my recommendations. Our exchange was candid and friendly… spirited… sometimes even playful.

He wanted to know if I liked the tuna. (It really was good!) He gave me feedback from the meeting, about what he and I said during the meeting. He even sorta apologized for his attack, with a sheepish grin.

Lunch lasted well over 2 hours!

It stopped at a very natural point. Jack said there was a driver outside to take me back to the hotel. I got into the car I'd seen waiting since we'd arrived. (Oh, sweat… he had been ready to send me back from the moment we arrived!) I asked the driver to drop me a mile or so from the hotel, this day needed a brisk walk.

By the time I got back to the hotel in Santa Monica there was a dark wooden box with a little latch, waiting for me inside my room — the box had two crystal glasses… and a bottle of 25-year-old Balvenie Skotch!


Now that was a most .excellent day!

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Joel Alpert is a Swiss Army Knife consultant with a pocketful of unconventional skills in strategic thinking, brand development, direct mail marketing, and other specialized business goodies. He's worked with large and small companies, usually SMB. You can visit:


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