Management consulting on film

What do management consultants do? Hannah Langworth goes to the movies to find out
Introducing consulting

It can be hard to work out what management consultancy is all about.

But what we do know for certain about this industry is that it's hardworking, but also glamorous, exciting, and fast-paced. So we thought: where better to go to find out more about it than Hollywood?

We've found out more about management consultants at our local multiplex than you might think - and here we've distilled this wisdom into a special Gateway guide. So while you grab the popcorn, we'll dim the lights - and off we go!

Reel 1

Charlie's Angels (McG, 2000)

Consultants encourage their clients to improve the way they operate.

In order to get into the offices of a company they're investigating (as part of a plot that'll test your powers of logical thinking to the max), super-sassy Angel Alex Munday (played by Lucy Liu) poses as an "efficiency expert" and forces her way into the building.

Accompanied by fellow Angels Dylan Sanders (Drew Barrymore) and Natalie Cook (Cameron Diaz), she asks some tricky questions about the business, encourages employees to think about how they might do things differently, forces them to look at the competition and, it's safe to say, thoroughly shakes up the company for the better.

Just like what management consultants do in real life, then - although we're told they don't wear leather suits or bring canes into work every day.

Reel 2

Office Space (Mike Judge, 1999)

Consultants help their clients to control their costs.

In this cult comedy, consultants visit the offices of the moribund software company where the film's hero, programmer Peter Gibbons, works.

They attempt to slash expenses by making redundancies, but it's Peter who shows greater business acumen. When he's left suspended in a Zen-like state of calm after his hypnotherapist dies mid-session, he speaks his mind about some of the company's true unnecessary expenses, most notably excessive layers of management.

Peter then strays from the path of business righteousness by using a computer programme to exploit the company's lack of attention to its cashflows by continually diverting small amounts of money into his own account. But he redeems himself at the end of the film by confessing all, and joining his neighbour's small but successful construction firm.

Reel 3

Aliens (James Cameron, 1986)

Consultants bring their clients technical expertise.

In the second instalment of the long-running and endlessly controversial Alien franchise, the heroine of the first film, Ellen Ripley, is persuaded by her former mining company employer to return to the planet where she and the rest of her crew encountered the original nasty creature.

Like many consultants, she's of great value to the company who calls on her assistance because of her deep knowledge of a particular area. In Ripley's case it's monster-slaying, but it's more usual for consultants to specialise in areas like technology, financial processes, or environmental issues.

However, we think that her solid understanding of the problem, willingness to get to grips with a challenge, and quick thinking make her a great model for consultants on Earth as well as in deep space.

Reel 4

Up in the Air (Jason Reitman, 2009)

Consultants look at their clients' issues from a fresh perspective.

In this gentle comedy, we meet Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney, who spends much of his life airbourne, zooming from location to location to assist different companies with their "downsizing" programmes.

As with all the best management consultants, his impartial viewpoint and upbeat attitude is a godsend to the companies he works with who are spared the burden of delivering bad news to their employees themselves.

However, firing people for a living is not an accurate reflection of how real-life consultants typically help their clients, but those wanting to enter the profession should be aware that a peripatetic existence like Ryan's, as you work on a string of different projects, can be a part of life in the business.

Reel 5

Kinky Boots (Julian Jarrold, 2005)

Consultants come up with imaginative solutions to tricky problems.

This Britflick sees a struggling family shoemaking business led by hero Charlie Price adopt a radical strategy to save the firm.

Admittedly there are no actual consultants in the film, but the solution the Northampton-based company finds is exactly the kind of business inspiration the profession prides itself on providing.

After Charlie has been forced to let several of his employees go, enterprising young staff member Lauren suggests to him that, rather than selling up, he should find a new range of products to diversify into. A chance meeting with drag queen Lola gives Charlie all the inspiration he needs. The moral of the story? You might need to think a little differently to put your best foot forward.

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