Smoke & Mirrors: Outsourcery

The comms chief discovers that the chill wind of outsourcing has blown through Smokehouse. But is there an upside?

by Guy Browning
Last Updated: 19 Jun 2016


Outsourcing. I don't like it because it reminds me too much of my divorce. What happens is that what you were doing quite happily in-house, you now have to pay through the nose for someone else to do it for you in their house. I had a chat with a bloke at a conference the other week who says everyone outsources these days and even the maintenance of our nuclear warheads is outsourced. I hope the government gets more value than I get from my maintenance payments. Anyway I'm glad Smokehouse has kept well clear of this whole outsourcing malarkey.


Sat next to our CIO Mike Lamb at lunch. Normally I try to avoid dining with IT people because they struggle with knives and forks as it's a different action to handling a mouse. Mike's also divorced (mental cruelty apparently, which doesn't surprise me as that describes any meeting with IT) so we also happily chatted about the costs of maintenance/outsourcing. He promised to send me a presentation of how it's always cheaper to keep things in-house. Back in the office a little later, I read through his very closely argued PowerPoint, but I couldn't help noticing that the document was authored by someone called Zlatko Boyanov who I don't remember being on the payroll. I had a chat with Siri and she informed me that Zlatko runs an interesting little business in Bulgaria.


I had a good talk with our Bulgarian friend in Pernik just outside Sofia and he said that he did the job of about 30 IT directors in the UK. I asked him how big his team was and he said his wife helped him with the invoicing. I went down to HR to ask about how we monitored staff internet usage just in case of anything irregular. She didn't know exactly, but she gave me a number to call. I went through Mike Lamb's internet usage, and apart from a burst of activity at the end of the month from Bulgaria, most of it was StarCraft (to give him credit he seems to win most of his games). I was just about to say goodbye when the guy asked me what company I was calling from. Turns out he was a contractor too and we outsource most of our HR.


Quite worried about all this outsourcing but fortunately I had a lunch to look forward to. Our sales director Nigel Beamish understands the therapeutic power of a couple of bottles of red. I joked that he must spend most of the time lunching clients. He then told me that our CRM was cloud-based software-as-a-service because it allowed seamless scalability. It was then that I began to suspect that he too was a replicant. He then said that outsourcing was quite often the reality behind omnichannel. That confirmed it. I jogged back to HR and Brenda admitted under duress that our CRM and our Field Sales were outsourced. I looked at her closely. 'Are you also outsourced, Brenda?' I asked her. She was. As are our legal services, our marketing services, our product development, our operations, our catering and our site services. I backed out of the office and suddenly felt very alone.


I sat at my desk and watched the replicants move around the office. At about 11 o'clock, I saw our bewigged CEO Lynton Spivey slouch past. The question I've been asking myself for many years resurfaced; how can a man with the management skills of a hot water bottle be running the company? I walked back into HR. Brenda tried to defend herself with data protection but I counter-attacked with supplier re-tendering. I sat down with the files and there it was. Spivey and his hairpiece were interim managers. Outsourced. Why hadn't the board removed him? Because all the lovely non-execs were supplied en masse from a specialist recruitment consultancy. And then suddenly a great sense of peace spread over me. No-one could sack me or boss me about or pass judgement on anything I did because I was the only person on the payroll. It's what makes divorce so wonderful.

Guy Browning is the author of The British Constitution: First Draft, published by Atlantic Books at £7.99. He can be contacted at

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Want to encourage more female leaders? Openly highlight their achievements

A study shows that publicly praising women not only increases their willingness to lead, their...

Message to Davos: Don't blame lack of trust on 'society'

The reason people don't trust you is probably much closer to home, says public relations...

Dame Cilla Snowball: Life after being CEO

One year on from stepping back as boss of Britain's largest advertising agency, Dame Cilla...

How to change people's minds when they refuse to listen

Research into climate change deniers shows how behavioural science can break down intransigence.

"Paying women equally would cripple our economy"

The brutal fact: underpaid women sustain British business, says HR chief Helen Jamieson.

Why you're terrible at recruitment (and can AI help?)

The short version is you're full of biases and your hiring processes are badly designed....