Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

As Economy Grows, So Too the Business of Consulting WANT

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

As Economy Grows, So Too the Business of Consulting WANT

Article excerpt

ILKE thousands of other Americans, Chris Christensen lost his job two years ago as a manager of a military aerospace contractor. In a year and a half, he sent out 750 resumes - all without a positive response. He finally decided to start his own management consulting business.

"The only way I can do what I know how to do is to be a consultant," says the 55-year-old Mr. Christensen. He converted a guest room in his condominium on the outskirts of Los Angeles into an office, obtained lists of businesspeople from the local library, and plied the phone lines offering his services.

A year later, Christensen is still living off his retirement money. He says he expects it to take another year for his business to become profitable.

The number of independent consultants such as Christensen is booming. Business is hungry for their expertise, new courses to hone consulting skills have full rosters, and unemployed middle managers see a future in the field.

The Wharton Small Business Development Center, an affiliate of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, offers a three-year-old course on the "art" of successful consulting, which attracts about 60 students a year. Clark Callahan, assistant director of the development center, says the course is aimed at high-skilled people who have been laid off and want to go into consulting.

Instructor William Dorman says most of his students are highly qualified, with at least 10 years experience.

As the United States economy begins to pick up, these laid-off workers are being contracted back as consultants by the same companies that trimmed staff through the lean years of the recession.

The growth of the industry "collates with the strong growth of the economy," says Patrick Byrne, vice president and managing director of North American operations at A. T. Kearney Inc., a Chicago-based management consultancy. As companies downsize and lay off large numbers of white-collar workers, they need management help, Mr. Byrne says.

David Lord, editor of Consultants News, an industry publication based in Fitzwilliam, N.H., adds: "Corporations are seeking to control their costs and improve performance. At the same time, {they want to} reduce the cost of their own personnel and resources. In a competitive economy, they seek experts who have knowledge of similar situations."

"The biggest single value of the consultants is `fresh thinking,' " says Alex Shibanoff, an independent consultant and the director of the Consultants Bureau in Brunswick, N. …

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