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It is the worst of times. Full stop.
Everyone knows this is a mess. That old saw of election years - ?It?s the economy, stupid!? - could be updated to ?It?s the economy, you bafflingly ignorant hermit with no apparent access to news media!? The stock market is in the tank, banks are failing, unemployment is spiking? Oh, and gasoline costs as much as your mortgage used to, which is funny, because you now live in your car. There?s a bailout underway, which is well and good, but how (read: by whom) will the country be steered in the years to come? And what will it mean for consulting?
As I wrote last week, the consulting industry has an excellent chance to ride this thing out. There are still variables, however. Best and worst case scenarios. Let?s call the best case scenario ?Obama.?
Granted, both candidates are promising the same basic results: more jobs, less corruption and waste, and the reassurance of national security. Obama?s approach involves public works, corporate reform by closing tax loopholes that encourage shipping jobs overseas, and opening up communication with our enemies. McCain?s involves cutting corporate taxes, cutting taxes on the rich, and aggressive or hostile action against our enemies (or, sung in Beach Boy?s style, ?bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran?). Obviously, this is a simplification for blogging purposes, so I won?t get into (and don?t, anyway, have a perfect understanding of) the nuances of each approach. But having the same goals, let?s assume that the first two-thirds of each candidate?s approach have the same results: boosting business and reinvigorating the economy. This can only be good for consulting. New projects, enhanced bottom lines, the whole nine yards.
It?s that pesky last third, isn?t it? This is where a new administration would seem to have an advantage. Our reputation is broken. Even 10 years ago, when I backpacked around Europe, some Americans wore big red maple leaf patches on their bags because they found that passing as Canadian resulted in less harassment and resistance. Americans were perceived as arrogant (accurately so, going by my experiences with my own countrymen and the pointlessly boastful graffiti I found in nearly every youth hostel bathroom). Nowadays we?re perceived as arrogant, imperialistic and financially incompetent. How many foreign companies do you suppose have found or are seeking an alternative to doing business with us? To put a finer point on it, how many companies that already think we?re haughty and annoying would be impressed by a consultant?s resume that included advising Enron, WorldCom, the U.S. government or, hey, any investment bank? As explained in a posting on the Vault message boards, firms that have a strong international base are currently in a better position than those with a domestic focus. Whether this gap widens or closes is of major importance.
As our economy is repaired, so too must our reputation abroad be repaired - or else all of the foreign clients who took the meltdown as an opportunity to find help closer to home, or from a more popular nation, will stay away. The winning candidate and voters alike have decisions of the utmost importance to make. There is a long and difficult road of relationship-building ahead.
-Posted by Brandon Wilkerson
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