My Way or the Highway - New Age Consulting (NAC)

This Case Study is a cautionary tale describing the unlikely logic behind the irrational behaviour of a founding entrepreneur. It unravels the tangled complexities within the entrepreneur’s failing consulting company by examining the personal histories of the protagonists, in particular, that of the entrepreneur-leader. We see how interpersonal relationships are at the very heart of the successes and failures of the company—and the way these contribute both to its original unique and winning culture, and eventually to its spiral of decline.

by Manfred Kets de Vries, Elizabeth Florent-Treacy
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

Imagine arriving for a job interview to find that there is a grand piano in the reception area and that each assignment taken on by the firm is announced through the sound system preceded by Sinatra’s “My Way”. How would you feel if the boss of this successful consulting company used the following analogy: “The chicken lays eggs for its boss: it is committed. The pig, however, gives its whole self to the boss: it is involved. We don’t need people who are committed. The world is full of committed people. If we want to be the best, we need people to be involved.” Would you sign up or ship out?

New Age Consulting (NAC):“Cronus” in Organizational Life (written by Nesreen Srouji and Elizabeth Florent-Treacy with Manfred Kets de Vries, the Raoul de Vitry d’Avaucourt Clinical Professor of Leadership Development at INSEAD) scrutinizes a situation where the personal histories of the protagonists, in particular that of the entrepreneurial leader and his interpersonal relationships, are at the very heart of the successes and failures of a company with a unique winning culture that goes into a spiral of decline.

The case plots the rise of NAC, founded by a young and charismatic entrepreneur in 1995. It began within a promising environment – he assembled a group of young, highly motivated people driven by a desire to create value for the customer. Relatively low wages were accepted as part of the deal; the partners were willing to work hard for a loftier goal – their leader’s vision of a lucrative future. By 1999, success and increased wealth had come to the company. NAC had 90 consultants, was consistently profitable, and possessed a solid client base. Yet cracks started to appear. Despite profitability, excitement and the changes that success brought, there was a noticeable decline in employee satisfaction and rumblings of discontent that some attributed to a lack of leadership and coaching on the part of the founding entrepreneur.

In an apparent attempt to give employees more control, he introduced a business-unit structure that gave the firm another enormous boost in profits and growth. Again more problems arose and, although successful, this ‘devolution’ of power was to be significant in other ways - it revealed and amplified issues and problems related to the characters and relationships of those at the company’s core, precipitating a series of struggles and disputes and ultimately its downfall.

This fascinating case unravels the complex history and logic of the decline of a company, providing insight for MBA students, managers and executives who work with entrepreneurs. It may also offer a cautionary tale for entrepreneurs wanting to do it entirely their way. Cue piano.

INSEAD 2003

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