© Copyright 1996, HP Management Decisions Ltd., All Rights Reserved.
Vol. 2 Issue 1
Last year I spent an afternoon interviewing the Happ brothers about their management consulting practice. We talked about how they got started, how they approach information technology, and their philosophy of service. In this issue, we talk some more about HPMD, plus Groupwork, Relationship Consulting and the use of Information.
The Origin of the Species
So how did HPMD all get started? What is the history of your company?
Steve: You start.
Ed: Yes, I guess I should start the initial part of it and have you fill in the gaps. In September 1991, I was Senior Vice President for an information services company on Wall Street. I was doing a major plan for a downsizing of the company because the parent organization was in chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Steve: That's right, that's when you down-sized yourself.
Ed: That's right. I put myself in the plan to be eliminated, so I could start a consulting business. And I started doing some market planning and consulting assignments for my former employer. I did that for about eight months and then the president of this company asked me if I would fill in for a VP of Operations who had resigned, and run the data center for him for awhile. I said I would do it for a year. So I put the consulting business on hold and did that assignment for what ended up being a year and a half. Which was probably a year too long.
During the time that I was acting VP of Operations at this Wall Street firm, Steve was leaving Sara Lee.
Steve: Well actually, we also went through a downsizing of Sara Lee. I had just moved to Memphis and went through a downsizing in that office and they wanted to move me back to Chicago, which I didn't want to do. So I thought I would do some consulting, try my hand at it. Through somebody in Sara Lee, I found this project in Poland and I actually started working on it before I left Sara Lee. It must have been in May of 1992 or something like that.
So you were both working on consulting things separately before you teamed up?
Steve: Well, I started on, I had that one big project which I worked on and lived over there for awhile -- in Poland. And when I came back --I got back the first of December-- I pretty much took off a month. That's when you called me from New York.
Ed: Right about --I think it was the third week of December, at the end of 1992-- we had a major northeaster storm in New York and it flooded the downtown streets and knocked down our data center. And suddenly we had a catastrophe on our hands and a data center that was obviously inadequately protected with a very weak disaster recovery plan. So I immediately called Steve and said, "I need you to come help us do a data center audit and help us put together a disaster recovery plan." Which you did. You were up north almost every week from that point on.
Steve: Yes. I pretty well finished up in the first part of April, 1993.
Ed: And that was a good experience working together. I was overseeing the project and you were actually coordinating and running the project. It was good experience at doing a disaster recovery plan for a major data center. In fact, it's something that we've since worked on with one of our customers.
Steve: Well, I had done that with Sara Lee divisions before.
Ed: That's right. I knew there had to be a good reason for me to hire Steve other than the fact that he was my next of kin.
That was the first time we had worked together, and I remember that the type of interaction we had impressed me so much, that that I was saying "this is neat, this is fun." I was not enjoying what I was doing in the corporate world at that point. Despite still learning tremendous amounts of things, it wasn't satisfying. What was satisfying was the project we were working on and the interaction we were having. I remember saying to you, I think at one point at the end, if we have an opportunity to do this together, we really ought to look at that; we've got something here.
Steve: And I agreed too because what I noticed, personally, I was so much better because of the way you challenged me in any given situation. I mean, I'd come up with some ideas or something on my own, but when he threw in some more, it sparked more ideas in me, and then I threw it back and he threw it back and
Ed: The ping-ponging thing.
Steve: Yes, the ping-pong thing [see the 1995 newsletter for an interesting description of ping-pong discussions.]
Steve: Chronologically, then, you went on with the huge data center "insurance" program, which was the infrastructure rebuilding program, and I went back to just consulting on my own. But it was at that point where you said, "hey, why don't you use HPMD because I'm not using it right now, it's already set up," and all of that stuff. So I did.
Ed: It's a corporation. It's got a name, it's got an identity, it's got a logo, it's got a mission, it's ready.
Steve: So I started using HPMD and had very limited success from then through the rest of that year. What year was that?
Ed: I think that was 1993. Starting in August of '93, I started to plan my exit from Wall Street. And I started putting together a plan to get myself out of there, which I was able to finalize in the beginning of November and then execute in December. In January 1994, then, we hit the ground running with very little.
Steve: Then we started working together
Ed: And we put a business plan together, wrote it up and we were on our way. We did about half of what we guessed in 1994, which is pretty good, considering that the business plan was a dart throw. Then in 1995 we more than doubled our revenue. And I think that that's indicative of our success. So we've now been doing this together full time almost four years. That's scary.
Steve: And we're still talking to each other.
The HPMD Name
Ed: Good question. The simple answer is that "HP" is the contraction of our last name "Happ". Take out the two middle letters and you've got "HP. " The "Management Decisions" part was not our first choice. We did three or four name searches before we got one that was available. But it turned out well. It describes the level of management consulting that we wanted to do. At that time we were more interested in looking at downsizing and reengineering of companies. But, interestingly, it has panned out because really, management consulting with an emphasis on information services, and all of the work that we've done in performance measurement has really been consistent with "Management Decisions." So that's the answer: it's a contraction of our last name plus the "Management Decisions."
Steve: It sounds good to me.
Ed: OK. But I think that the way I think of it now, which is probably more important, is that the combination of us as brothers was sort of mashed together and formed something wholly new that's beyond both of us, and it is driving ourselves and each other to better thinking and more thinking. What you were talking about before, so the contraction of the name Happ; the contraction, the bringing together, together into a new whole is a good one.
Now of course, some of our customers have said to us, "Yeah, but really we think of you as the Ed and Steve Show."
Steve: So it should probably should be "ES Management Decisions."
Ed: Right. Sometimes I really wonder whether this is like Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon. We probably both play each of the roles. Because I think humor has always been a part of us. And bouncing off of each other, again this "ping-pong discussion," sort of smacks of a talk show. The "Ed and Steve Show" is probably on target. I think the contraction of the minds, the bringing together of the minds and the thinking, and ending up with the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. I think that's what we are; what we're about as a company. The whole is very much greater than the sum of each of us. I think when we are interacting with our customers, that the addition of bringing together means that the whole of solution --the approach-- is more than just the individuals; it's both customers and us being brought together. And so that's the way I think of the company now.
Steve: I don't see it as a great positive. And I haven't perceived it as a negative. I do have to travel a bit because our projects are up in New York right now, but then again, I've had projects in Atlanta and in North Carolina, so I had to travel for those in any case. It hasn't been a problem because of Lotus Notes.
Ed: That's right. In fact, we run our entire business on Notes. This technology of wiring us together has made a big difference because for day-by-day business we can remotely collaborate on all our projects, through the heavy use of this desktop computer technology. In fact, someone who was in my office the other day said that my office is outfitted better than their corporate offices.
Steve: Well, that I believe.
Ed: True. It really is "Command Central." And I think the technology has been a key factor... I think the pros and cons are: we have a lot of personal space that is maintained. We're not in each other's face 5 days, 6 days a week and it amounts to tremendous flexibility in terms of the time when we're devoted to our projects. For instance, I devote a lot of weekend time to it and
Steve: I'm on the ball field.
Ed: And Steven's out with his kids and stuff on the weekends.
"...we run our entire business on Notes. This technology of wiring us together has made a big difference because for day-by-day business we can remotely collaborate on all our projects..."
I'm not a good morning person, so, I'll typically not be on working on things late and so I think that flexibility of scheduling makes a difference.
Steve: I think the hour time difference helps in that aspect.
Ed: That's true. Because, that's right about the time you're up, I'm usually up.
Ed: OK. That's a very good point. We've institutionalized the ping-pong discussion in Lotus Notes in that we edit each others' documents and add or comments in the text. We started to keep track of who was saying what by changing the color of the fonts. And Steve, I think coined the phrase that this was starting to look like a rainbow and so "rainbow editing" was born out of that. So the electronic version of the ping-ponging has been rainbow editing. What you get is that intro to leading thoughts. A lot of times when we do a proposal for a customer, we're writing up the final report, circulating final presentations, plus other ideas like bulletins and articles. Most of that stuff is collaborative and very interactive and then the final product is synthesis and the contraction, if you will again, to use that HP analogy again of the ideas together into one. It becomes an edited fabric at the end. You know, that's probably something that people do in companies now. But even with projects that we're on solo 100%, we've still collaborated, where we've helped each other out in terms of resolving problems that we were stuck on, or whatever. So, the bottom line is: get Lotus Notes; this Groupware stuff works!
Ed: First of all, we have less overhead because we can do things like send out a joint Mother's Day card.
Steve: Second, we're more responsible. Ed can remind me to call Mom on her birthday.
Ed: That's very helpful, you know. You wouldn't get that level of very personal secretarial assistance that I think we provide each other.
More seriously, I think that there is a level of trust, something to be said about it "being in the blood." I think that being brothers in a business is a tough thing to do in a small firm, to both be equally dedicated to it, want to see the other succeed and not wanting to disappoint the other. It's even more enhanced when you're brothers. Dad would yell at us otherwise.
But seriously, I think that there's a level of commitment and a level of collaboration that you get in being brothers. I think that's because the relationship is built in --just like we try to establish a close relationship with our customers. I think it's the fact that we experience that relationship with each other that that carries forward in our whole approach and our service orientation to our customers.
I think very much of the Nordstrom model, of the sales people at Nordstrom befriending their customers; and taking an interest in their personal lives, and in their careers and in their management development --and we do that. You know, we can run through our customer list and talk about all of the discussions and advising that we've done in and around the projects. I think the roots for that are
"...I think that there's a level of commitment and a level of collaboration that you get in being brothers. I think that's because the relationship is built in --just like we try to establish a close relationship with our customers."
in our relationship with each other. I mean, how does that strike you? It was pretty good for having made it up on the spot, wasn't it?
Steve: I thought that was darn good. I have a tear...
Yes, I think that's probably one of the biggest things. We are very comfortable with one another; we're very comfortable with how we work, what we do; the level of trust is good.
Ed: You know, the biggest thing, probably the biggest benefit to customers is this whole way --and I think it comes from the genes-- that we build off of one another, that we bounce off of one another. Really, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. I think that comes out as our getting hired or brought into the firm as much because of the relationship as because of our skills.
Steve: We really developed the relationship more when we started working together.
Ed: Yes, that's right. So I think we see it as a tremendous benefit for our customers, whereas other examples of "family" may be a weakness. I think it's exactly the opposite for us.
Steve: It's an additional factor. And it's an enhancement. The other thing is that if one of us is gone on vacation or are tied up, the other can typically jump in and help if the customer has a question or an issue. And be able to pick up the ball. That has been the biggest benefit to our customers. So I think that the handoffs are very good.
Ed: But before we move on, let's talk a minute about being carnivorous, because I think that's a common trait that we have. Whereas I may be the carnivorous reader and the carnivorous collector of information, you know, Steve has been the carnivorous doer; a carnivorous wrap-your-arms- around-it-and-get-it-focused, make it happen. I was actually trying to think about two dinosaurs that you could stick as captions under our picture, but since I had already taken tyrannosaurus rex, it didn't leave you with much, so. I figured we'd better drop that analogy.
Steve: Where else can you get this much personality?
The Common Thread: Information to Act on
Ed: I think that all of our clients have had an information services connection. I think all of them all of them have been at Director, VP, Senior VP level and could be in the upper, middle-management type role. We are always looking to grow that more to the President level, but I think the fact that we have ourselves been middle and upper level managers, in terms of being vice presidents and senior vice presidents, means that we are most able to apply ourselves to that level. 75% of our business in 1994 and 95 has come from executive information and performance measurement, but that's looking back. I think we've started some new projects now in product management and disaster recovery planning that I think are at different ends of the spectrum in themselves. This will change the mix of our business into 1996.
Steve: Right. And I think a majority of our customers, probably because of the business that you're talking about, our customers have been interested in taking data and putting it in something and coming out with information. And that's kind of glib at this point.
Ed: It's the need for information to make more important management decisions. It's not accounting information, if you will, or HR information. It's a higher level of interaction with information.
Steve: Right. It's the more executive level, it's the analysis tool, it is the summation of a whole lot of stuff down to the one page thing. And, you know, that of course applies to all the EIS, the performance measurement, and probably the product development projects too. It's taking a lot of information, figuring out what's going on all over the place and managing it and understanding it; making sure that it's helping the business.
Ed: I agree.
Steve: Now, the disaster recovery thing is another thing all together.
Ed: However, it's interesting. What we're doing is we're taking a very well known data center management issue; disaster recovery, and we're actually now extracting from that, or extrapolating from that, how to have an information system about disaster recovery. And how to have an application that executives can use and other managers and other departments can use so that they are kept up to date. The Notes-based application that comes out of this allows managers to react to the crisis with an electronic, living handbook of what to do with it. And I think there is a good example of...
Ed: of putting the information at the manager's fingertips in a way to solve a problem, in this case a crisis; a disaster occurring. And I think that's a similar thread.
Steve: That a good point.
Ed: We believe strongly, for a long time that the world of sports and the world of personal achievement needs to be... the world of sports and the world of the university, needs to be applied more to business. That, in a university setting, you know, you have your very cerebral types of activities going on, you have to amass A grades, you have tests, and you know how you're doing as you go. You get the master grades, you get the feedback. You get the grades so you know how you get to the next level, you have prerequisites. And then certain grades get you rewards-- like you have Dean's list and so forth, and scholarships. And eventually get you the degree. And then, you know, on from there. The business feedback, in business... business measurement has sort of lost sight of that university model. Where it was very individual, right down to the individual student. Every student had an understanding, even though there may be core courses, it was also tailored to each individual, that accumulating a set of very tangible, objective accomplishments. Namely grades and so forth, awards, got you to the level achievement where you graduated; graduated to the next level, the other job or further.
In sports, it's very clear that you know, what you have to do to get the next score down, or to score points. And there's boundaries and there's penalties
Steve: And a scoreboard for feedback.
Ed: That's right. And that whole scoreboarding or that report carding or scoreboarding type of mentality, which is very familiar to us when we're going to school and very familiar to us when we're playing sports, as spectators or involvement in it directly
Steve: And it goes away in business.
Ed: And it goes away in business. You walk in the company, in the front door, and it sort of disappears. And then you walk out of the company at the end of the day and then it's there again. And then that's... we think that that has to be more applied. And it can be applied in positive and fun ways. And then there's an interesting book called the Game of Work by Charles Coonradt, who talks about this stuff; about applying, you know, gamesmanship to company status. And we'd like to see more of that done; we'd like to be a force in our consulting work, to help make more of that happen. People want to do a good job, they want to know that they're achieving, they want to know that they're excelling, they want to bring home the good report card to mom and dad, if you will. And take that pride in accomplishment; that pride of authorship and be able to demonstrate that and also have people around them wanting them to succeed. As opposed to many measurements in performance reviews in companies being sort of an opportunity to point out failure, or an opportunity to write, you know, boiler type reviews as opposed to somebody even being able to keep score on themselves. You know in a university setting, sort of like, what you've got to do the next semester in order to make the Dean's list. And you become conscious of that and you orient yourself toward that and then when you achieve it, there's a great sense satisfaction and there's a great sense of personal direction; that you made it happen. It should be that way in a company. We think it could be tremendously motivating, it can be a tremendously positive force for productivity and success in a company. And, again, it is very people oriented; very people focused. Scoreboarding: it's a good thing, put up the TransLux ticker tape in your office, and tell people how they're doing
Steve: And hire us to do it!