Sunday, March 13, 2011

Requiem for the May Company

Here was my Tweet. “After 85+ years, George S. May Company is no longer in business. Perhaps the consulting company should have hired outside consultants.” I could have left it at that, but in the last ten years of its existence, this once great company churned and burned so many consultants and small companies, either you or someone you know has been touched by it. It touched me. Now it is no more.

George S. May identified business as a set of algorithms and began his management consulting business in 1925 with a consulting project for a company that would become Sunbeam, the blender maker. His new Chicago based company did so well that it opened offices in New York and San Francisco. Despite the Great Depression, May Company history includes its posting revenue of $1 million in 1937, more than $15 million today.

May himself became best known for getting golf televised, among other things. Post war America was good for his company, which advertised “Business Engineering” in leading business magazines and journals. He died in 1962 leaving the company stock to his family. In 1966 the May Company left downtown Chicago for the suburb of Park Ridge, where the 41-thousand square-foot world headquarters is now closed and for sale, price $4 million. More about the “Ridge” in a moment.

In the ‘90s the May company hit the $100 million revenue mark and by 2000 it began operations in Mexico, under Donald J. Fletcher, its third President. In 2002, Israel Kushnir replaced Fletcher. According to one of the companies last press releases, “The company’s former president Israel Kushnir has left his post to pursue his own ventures, but the company is in the best of hands as Mrs. Kerry Sam Jacobs, George S May’s granddaughter is overseeing the transition to ensure prosperity as the company moves forward.”

That expression, “. . . left his post to pursue his own ventures,” is usually a ubiquitous way of saying, “You’re fired.” The company’s Managing Director, Paul Rouseau, a frequent Fox Business News personality, is also pursuing his own ventures as are many other former top executives who presided over the May Company’s financial collapse inherited by Jacobs and the May family lawyers in 2010.

As one of the replacement senior executives put it to me, in an email confirming the company’s demise, “I left at the beginning of the year, but it was a slow, painful end to a once great company. 2010 was like sitting on the deck of the Titanic watching people rearrange the deck chairs while the band played on.”

The Ridge building has a cornerstone: “1960.” Eisenhower, a golf enthusiast, was leaving office. Cadillacs were 22 feet long. Gasoline cost pennies. Business had boomed. Inside the conservative office building, a photo mural of golf’s greats inspired awe. I never knew whether to genuflect or salute when I entered and breathed in that 1960’s air.

It has been said that the Kushnir-Rouseau regime monitored every phone call and every email. Yelling was the preferred mode of communication. The way they saw it, clients needed to be controlled by analysts and consultants. Intimidation meant control.

Israel Kushnir made an impression on me in an awkward moment at the Ridge, as I stood outside the training building on a cigarette break during a conference with a colleague. The dapper and bald gent strode across the parking lot and pointed at me.

“Stop smoking,” he declared, briskly.

“Grow hair,” I exhaled.

He passed me, smiled and entered the building. My colleague bit his lip, trying not to laugh. “Do you know who that is?” he choked. “That’s the president of the company.”

Paul Rouseau convinced me to pursue my own interests that Christmas.

There were others who worked alongside Kushnir and Rouseau who got sacked, albeit too late for new management to save May. Apart from a large headquarters staff of executives and support personnel, there is a telemarketing staff, a field sales staff, a field survey service [analyst] staff, a field consulting staff and a smaller client service staff that is now looking for work around Park Ridge, Illinois.

The Better Business Bureau gave the George S. May International Company an F before the company shut down. The company had previously boasted the Bureau’s Excellence in Ethics Award. The BBB also gives an F to May company rival International Profit Associates and its alphabet named clone companies. IPA is also the target of litigation by the Illinois State Attorney General's Office, but that is another story for some other time. and many similar consumer rating sites have been on the May company’s case for years. At a client meeting in Sitka, Alaska, a May analyst, a consultant and I, as Project Director, were met by police, given a cease-and-desist order and individual property restraining orders after our client had gone online and read Rippoff. The office in Park Ridge did not appreciate my report, I can assure you.

Evidently, what had been called “the May way” quit working. But, you know that your business is in the wind when Wikipedia deletes your page. It is really kind of sad. Business Engineering failed. One can only wonder what the May family will do with 85+ years’ worth of project binders filled with meticulous documentation. It is a Titanic load of American small business history.

Article first published as Requiem for the May Company on Blogcritics.


David Dunn said...

Wasn't a bad idea, trying to offer consulting to small and medium sized businesses, but how they did it - a really sleazy sales approach was really bad. Maybe they are right that you couldn't get them to buy without scaring the companies into it. I worked for a few weeks for the company as their sales person and as an analyst. Typical turnover was something like 1000%. Quite an experience.

Henry San Diego said...

I worked for the May company as a consultant and they pushed us hard to push the clients to wire transfer money to thd May company every Friday. We had a stack of boiler plate consulting procedures that were okay if you customized them. What I did not like was the pay. I was paid about 12 dollars an hour and they billed my work to the client for 150 dollars. Also, I was always left stranded in any City I went to and therefore had no choice but cooerce or do anything for the money for the wire transfter. Ugh. It was fun exciting, scary, amazing success stories, horrible errors where all we did was put the last nail in a companies coffin.

Henry McCluskey 1995/6

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John Rowland said...

You know I worked for the May Company too. I was with them when they shut the doors. Field Rep. I was really inspired by the concept but the energy and the level of personal interest in the prospects and clients fell off quickly. Truly an interesting story of a company that really helped shape the modern way our small businesses operate today. May's demise was the rise of technology and the availability of the information, methods and techniques May was out the preaching on an individual and expensive platform.

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The Gran Faust said...

I was employed by the GSM company, not directly though. I worked for a call center in Nicaragua called Press 2 and the GSM company was one of our clients. So I called a number of business owners on behalf of GSM to set up appointments for consultants to meet with them. Most turned me down or were not there. I worked hard as did many of my coworkers, but I honestly can't say I ever had a high opinion of the company or the representative of GSM sent to act as an overseer. But it was a job and a source of income until the day when I could no longer get enough successful appointments to continue working there.

This was over ten years ago.

I had long forgotten about the George S May company until thinking about my past employment recently and looking up the GSM company only to find that much like Press 2, they no longer exist. I can't honestly say I am sad at its loss. Especially after hearing how much the company devolved in its last days. Perhaps it was for the best.

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Unknown said...

As crooked as crooked gets ...special place in hell for the thieves who preyed upon clients and employee recruits... over a decade since I naively wasted a month working for these charlatans... still can't get the awful taste left in my mouth in agony GSM execs.

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Unknown said...

Sad, sad story made sad by a meagre few. With over 23 years I saw the good and not so good. Ths old classy ways dissipated under the leadership of a few mentioned in the commentary. May did a lot for a lot of decades for a lot of businesses. It's demise began with the hiring of an individual around 1990 and was then given a key position of leadership after his pre deceasor became ill.
That one ibdividual was responsible for more dissent,poor attitude and infighting than all others combined over 20 plus years. His unofficial motto was "the whippings will continue until the attitude changes". He and a couple other leaders were masters at hiding reality truth and the numbers from ownership. In fact ownership was duped by those they placed in positions of trust and autonomy. I was told to shut up many times when asking delicate questions that hit raw nerves.I refused to become part of the HQ Brigade and I know they watched me through a microscope to find out what I really knew to indict their actions.
Closing of May was a travesty and loss.
The systems were fool proof and solid.
The greed driven by guilt and fear by final leadership caused the weakening of quality, pushy billing and inferior ability. That was very foreign to the May family and founder. That is how I see it

Marcy said...

I was an employee, one of the few females that was hired to do advising to small business. I also believed the concept was amazingly good but I can tell you that the management was thug mentality. I worked for the company pre-cell phones so I had to leave the business and go to a payphone and report into my progress on being able to sign the customer up for overpriced consulting. We were taught not to let the customer see our white shoes, in other words don’t let them know we’re sales people. Many times I would not be able to get the signature on the contract and was told I would be left in The city I was in without a plane ticket out if I didn’t get the signature on the dotted line. As a young single woman this was terrifying to me. I also recall the top boss giving his assistant $100 and told him to take me out and romance me so I would Be able to concentrate! I went out on three jobs and then when they got me back home I quit immediately because ethically I felt it was a horrible place to work. So glad they are out of business. I agree with the rest that Mr. May would roll over in his grave if he knew what they had done to his business