Interview by David Powe; editing by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
As RPCN prepares to celebrate 25 years in 2015, RPCN board member David Powe talked with charter - and first female - member Chris Leavitt about her recollections of how the organization began, what makes a good consultant and more. Here are highlights of the conversation.
Q: What do you remember about how the organization came into being?
A: I would not be surprised if Dave Young got the thing going, but it was composed of seven Kodak guys initially. Ted Fraser recruited me on a plane where we were both going to consulting gigs. I think John Foote joined at just about the same time. Other founding or early members I can remember were Roger Vickery, a computer guy and a marketing guy, and I think Dave Young.
We met in homes and sat in a circle talking about how the consulting game worked. No one had a realistic idea - they thought all consultants worked like Kodak consultants and all logistics were worked like those at Kodak. Discussions were often very unrealistic. As each mirrored the other, there was no telling them anything for a long time. I almost dropped out, but I really liked John and Roger, so I stuck it out with them.
Basically, it started with Roger Vickery's excellent leadership skills as the second president.
I could hardly ever get a word in edgewise, not being as loud nor as persistent as a room full of guy "experts," so I stayed quiet except with Roger and John.
After we got a "constitution," we began to get organized and John and Roger pretty much put the squeeze on me to run for VP, which was also the Program chair. I was pretty scared, but did it anyway, and it proved to be a wonderful experience (I was guaranteed that I would not have to be president). I learned how to work in a room full of men, all of whom saw themselves as experts in their field, which back then was almost all quality.
I found the Brighton Town Hall as a possible meeting place, and Dave Young had a contact there. Most of the guys felt it was beneath their high level to meet there, but when they found out that other choices would cost money, they soon changed their minds. It worked out just fine at Brighton Town Hall.
Our meetings soon grew from the seven or nine original members to 20, 25 and 40 members, and then more and more. We had swell meetings with really neat speakers and gained lots of information. We had a lot of fun.
After serving that one year, it was time for me to take care of my business. Soon I was not able to attend meetings, as I was often working on those days. Eventually I attended again and realized RPCN was a swell way to meet working consultants who I could subcontract with to work gigs for me. I would be working on Thursday and someone was somewhere else in the state, working for me. I split their fee 60/40. Since they were charging $800-$1,000, I was earning a nice amount while also earning 100% on my own. Those were golden days.
Along the way, I made hundreds of new friends. I always tried to network with and help them, including introducing them to RPCN. RPCN was frequently full of recently outplaced groups of Kodak employees, but there were always working consultants quietly lurking about. It was wise to be professional all the way round, as those working consultants were there scouting for people to hire also.
I always regarded RPCN highly.
What are you doing now?
I am more than happily retired.
How did the RPCN help you in your career?
Mostly by helping me find good people to hire. I also developed leadership skills and lots of self-confidence by working with lots of guys in suits with loud voices. The real consultants always wore suits. They were quiet and never the "expert voice"; just sitting and quietly listening.
What advice do you have for our members today (new consultants or experienced consultants)?
Always stay professional - people are observing you and possibly thinking of hiring you. Once you make up your mind to consult, it is imperative that you not take a "real" job. That will end your career as a consultant forever. People want to know that their consultant is going to remain a consultant. Make up your mind that you are a consultant or you are not. Consulting is not a place to sit temporarily while looking for a permanent job with a company.
Once you accept a gig, you must finish it - never accept a better-paying gig until you have served the first request. First is first, period. I have known consultants to turn down a $1,000 gig to fulfill a $120 commitment. That was how it always worked.
Model yourself after the person you most admire - notice their great traits and copy them.
Don't lie, don't be greedy and - most of all - listen.