An Outsourcing Story: When Outside Expertise is Called For

Hiring more than one expert for doing the same work can be worth much more than you pay. Read this strategy on using consultants effectively.

A friend of mine who held a Ph.D. in chemistry got a new job as director of research and development at a cosmetic company that developed new products for African American women. After a month’s work with the new company, he called to ask me if I knew that black women used lye to straighten their hair. I said I didn’t.

He then asked if my company could develop a hair-straightening product for black hair that would be safer to use and not threaten the eyesight of consumers. I said I would try.

On a visit with management of the company a list of criteria for the new product was developed. Number one on the list was product safety. Also considered were cost of manufacturing, application of the product, how fast it would work, how it would be failsafe, how it would smell and what color it would be.

You must understand that I knew very little of chemistry, having completed only simple freshman chemistry in college. I realized that I needed technical help on that project so I wrote a classified ad for the local newspapers that read: “Ph.D. Chemist required for four months work on a confidential project. Must have management level experience doing formal development for permanent wave products.”

I received forty detailed resumes. After studying them I selected six people to interview and hired three of them to work as outside consultants. One was an older professor of human chemistry at a local college; the second was a young Ph.D. fired by a company that had bought out his old company; and the third was a retired manager of a laboratory at a local company that produced permanent wave material.

I hired all three without telling them that there would be three working on the project. I asked each of them to make sure they understood natural products and to pattern their product ideas after such things as meat tenderizers and other natural softeners.

After agreeing on prices and schedules I gave each the list of criteria developed by the client, and all of them promised to return to my office in a week for a review.

When the week was up, I interviewed the first man, keeping careful notes. Then I interviewed the second and told him what I’d learned from the first, keeping careful notes on what he told me. Then I interviewed man number three and told him what I had learned from the first two men. I worked this way for five weeks and gradually educated myself in what they knew that was useful in the development of these new hair products.

During that time I developed a relationship with the manager of a hair salon focusing on black clientèle and we were able to test new products on many people with great success.

We eventually developed a group of quite effective, safe, and wonderful products. We took them to our client and after being tested in their labs, the products became very successful for the company.

Article – Copyright 2000 Stanley I. Mason. Syndicated by ParadigmTSA

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