Chapter 11. Consulting

It seems my conversation with Eric was short. He asked who I was working for, and then suggested I call Richard K. “Rick” Roth. He didn’t tell me anything about him, so I immediately called. He wasn’t in, but his voice mail picked up and said, “This is Rick Roth with Price Waterhouse ….” I left a message. As I reflected on the lead the next morning in the shower, I remember looking at the faucet and saying to myself, “It is 1 to 1 million odds I would ever work for that guy.” I felt like my attitude and abilities in auditing had burned all my bridges in the firm.

Rick called a few days later. I told him Eric had suggested I call. We talked about my background. Rick was a consulting partner, building accounting and reporting systems for state governments and others. I guess I must have said I was interested in doing consulting, although I don’t remember when I made that decision. Rick said that some things were happening in his work and perhaps a position would be opening up. He didn’t give me a lot of specifics but told me to call him back the next week.

I was sent to Phoenix on audit assignments while I waited to find a new job. Even though I thought it was very unlikely I would work for Rick, I rarely felt the need to look for additional job opportunities. I had consulted with my wife Kari about it; she felt quite peaceful as well. I remember discussing consulting and travel and the potential we might have to move one day and her saying to me, “Kip, we aren’t going to look back and wonder where we would be if we had taken that route.” I agreed. So I would call Rick up every week or two, and ask if things had changed. He would say they were still making progress, but nothing yet. This went on for nearly three months.

Then one weekend I received word that my audit partner was quitting to go to work for a client. Also, my audit assignments in Phoenix were ending, perhaps more because I just couldn’t stand to do the work any more and they could tell. I left Rick a voice mail on a Thursday in the middle of June and told him the status and went home for the weekend.

When I returned to Phoenix on Monday, I received a voicemail from Rick saying he wasn’t going to be able to hire me for his new group, but that perhaps the Chicago office would be interested. This struck me with a bit of fear, and I think Rick must have sensed the urgency in my next voice mail to him. He called me at the hotel just a few minutes later.

He said something like, “So, are you really serious about this?” I explained that I definitely was; I hadn’t pursued any other option. He said, “OK then, we need to meet and talk about this. I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico.” I said I had a brother in Albuquerque that I could stay with. So I flew there on Friday night to talk to Rick on Saturday morning.

Rick called and said he was a pilot, and that he would fly his private plane and meet me at the commuter airport in Albuquerque. I stood waiting and as each plane landed I would ask the attendant if that was a Cessna something or other until the right plane landed. I walked out on the tarmac and shook Rick’s hand.

We went to a local coffee shop. Rick had a cup of coffee, and I had a glass of water. I don’t remember much of what we talked about, but I remember at the end him saying, “OK, we’re going to go do this.” I took that to mean I had a new job. When I called my wife to tell her I said, “But I don’t know where I will be working, what I will be doing, when I will start, or how much I will be paid.” She said it didn’t sound much different than the day before.

I thought the process was near its end, but was surprised a couple weeks later to hear Rick tell me I needed to fly to Cheyenne, Wyoming for an interview the next day. He apologized, saying it was a fire drill to fly up there for an interview and then back home that night, but he needed me to do it. I wondered, “Do I have a job or not?” But I got on the very small plane with the six other people the next day.

I was the only one in a suit. Someone was waiting who I don’t think even knew my name. He simply asked if I worked for Price Waterhouse. He took me to this 1940’s craftsman style home. He was working on a report of some kind at the dining room table. I sat down in the living room. The TV in the corner was turned to the weather channel, but the volume was turned clear down. It showed the radar image over and over and over. As I sat there, I thought this whole thing was a little surreal.

Finally a guy showed up in Levis. He introduced himself as Dale Gentsch, a partner like Rick in consulting. He had been asked to chat with me. He invited me out to the backyard. We sat opposite each other at a picnic table. Dale put on his sunglasses because it was bright. Dale sort of reminded me of a tough army sergeant, and I was the new recruit.

He proceeded to grill me on what it would mean to be a consultant. I think he had been asked to confirm that I really was willing to undertake the travel week in and week out. I remember thinking to myself, “Hey, I can do this job. I have been traveling weekly for a few months now, and I think I can do it—besides, I have no other jobs lined up if this doesn’t work.”

A few minutes later Rick drove up. He walked over and asked Dale what he thought. Dale looked up and said something like, “Well, yea. I think it is OK.” Rick took me inside the house and put me on the phone with a recruiter in Chicago. She said, “Kip, I heard your name yesterday. I understand you might be coming to join us for training.” I said yes, and that I wanted to bring my family along with me for the three months in Tampa Florida. We agreed the only way to make it happen was if I brought them to Chicago for the first part of the training, to begin the following Monday morning.

It was Tuesday afternoon by this time. The recruiter said she would call back in a few minutes and let me know if there was some place for my family to stay. Only a few minutes later she did and said there would be a corporate apartment for me Sunday night at Lake and Dearborn streets in Chicago. I told her to “wish me luck!”. I had to call my wife and ask if we could pack up the trunk of the car and leave the next day with our two children and not return home for months.

I called Kari and asked if she was sitting down; she asked why. I asked if it was possible for us to pack up the kids, and what we’d need to live in furnished apartments for three months, and leave the next evening for Chicago. She replied, “You have to be kidding. You have to be kidding. You have to be kidding.” I said I wasn’t. There was a pause. And then in a determined voice she said, “OK. We’re going to do this.”

Thus I began my consulting career. It should have been very clear from this beginning that my consulting was going to be anything but boring, and my career path anything but traditional. It would become very challenging. But for the next few months I left behind the worry about my job and the world of accounting and finance, and went back to school to learn about information systems development.