"We Made Some Mistakes": The Monitor Group in Libya

by Vault Consulting Editors | May 26, 2011

Ever since it came to light that Cambridge, MA-based consultancy the Monitor Group had once represented Colonel Muammar Qaddafi's Libya, the questions have been swirling. What did the firm do there? How much were they paid? Should they have been there at all? What does this mean for the firm's reputation—and for the individuals involved? Was CEO Mark Fuller's decision to step down earlier this month just a coincidence?

Libya poster of Saif QaddafiEnter New York magazine, which this week published a fascinating account of the career trajectory of one of the Colonel's children: Saif Qaddafi.

According to the piece, Saif was instrumental in bringing Monitor in as advisers—something he did as part of an effort to rebrand the country. It also suggests that Saif wasn't interested in just providing window dressing: it presents a portrait of a man who seems—initially at least—to have genuinely wanted to bring reform to Libya, and deliver some form of democracy in the process.

However noble his initial intentions, Saif is now, in the words of the article, "the new spokesman for a congenital strain of Qaddafian dementia," having completed the journey from reformer to active participant in attempting to quash rebellion in Libya—actions that have made him a man wanted by the International Criminal Court.

Back in 2004, it wasn't just Monitor that Saif brought on board to help with reform and rebranding. According to New York, he also hired K Street consultancy C & O Partners, former Department of Energy official Randa Fahmy-Hudome, and a handful of other advisers. But, per the article, it seems that Monitor was the lynchpin of the efforts:

"The most ambitious courtier [of Saif's ambitions to re-brand Libya] was the Monitor Group. […] Co-founder Michael Porter, a professor at Harvard Business School, began traveling to Tripoli to meet with Saif, bringing with him energy consultant and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Daniel Yergin. In June 2004, Porter, Yergin, Fahmy-Hudome, and C & O head Sandra Charles attended an economic forum Saif was overseeing at Tripoli's Corinthia Hotel."

At that forum, we learn that the group found Saif "a refreshing change from Muammar," and that Fahmy-Hudome thought it "was the seminal meeting of launching the new Libya. This was the team that was going to help him do it."

Viewed from that perspective, it seems that the firm was possibly just unlucky to have ended up on the wrong side of history; imagine where it--and the Middle East--could have been today had things panned out as Saif intended.

With that in mind, perhaps the most striking part of the New York piece is the firm's methodology. Simply put, it seems that the biggest thing the company had to offer was connections. Because the strategy—well, frankly it all seems a little PR 101:

"[I]n 2006, Porter presented the Qaddafis with a plan for the rehabilitation of the country that called for a 'unique model of "popular capitalism"' starting with the energy sector, which would revive the economy and, eventually, Libyan society. Muammar could do all this, they promised, by 2019, the 50th anniversary of his coup."

Rough translation: make money from oil. Spend said money on things that will benefit your country, rather than siphoning it off for personal enrichment. Stand back and watch the country flourish. (Am I the only person hoping that Porter's deck for Qaddafi had a slide with something like "stop acting like a dictator" on it?)

Some other highlights:

  • • The firm's yearly fee "reached $3 million."
  • • For that, the firm "mounted an international public-relations campaign to 'enhance international understanding and appreciation of Libya and the contribution it has made and may continue to make to its region and to the world,' according to a memo."
  • • Said PR campaign involved "bringing to Libya a who's-who gallery of public intellectuals, including Harvard's Robert Putnam and Joseph Nye and former LSE director Anthony Giddens."
  • • Remember all the fuss over Facebook's PR agency trying to place negative stories about Google in the press? That's pretty much a spin on a page out of Monitor's playbook: some of the intellectuals they hired "wrote glowing stories about the new Libya in the press."
  • • The sleight of hand didn't stop there: the magazine reports that the firm offered to ghost a book for Muammar. The price tag: $2.4 million.

All told, it's difficult to argue on the New York evidence anything but the firm's assessment of its own actions, laid out in a recent statement:

“Monitor supported, during a period of genuine promise, the processes of reform and modernization in Libya. We made some mistakes along the way."

One of those mistakes: failing to disclose to Congress that it was acting as a representative for a foreign government—something the company has recently said it will register retroactively.

Whether those mistakes were what led to co-founder Mark Fuller relinquishing the chief executive's position in early May remains open to question—as does the firm's future. For his part, Fuller suggested in his parting statement that the move was the culmination of a long-term strategy to "establish more sustainable structures and processes, ones which would require diminished support from the Founders generally, and from me specifically."

Read More:

New York Magazine: The Good Bad Son
Roll Call: Monitor Group to Register Work Done for Libya, Gadhafi
Monitor Group: Announcement Regarding Mark Fuller

--Phil Stott, Vault.com

Filed Under: Consulting


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