BOFH: All hail the job cuts consultant

Who is that dashing, mysterious caller that has the Boss sweating so profusely on the Zoom?

BOFH logo telephone with devil's hornsEpisode 4 So the PFY and I are hanging around the boardroom because the Board's Zoom call keeps cutting out.

London skyline, beer on windowsill

Looks like the Zoom call's over

The Board members themselves aren't overly happy that we're here, but as this is our third time coming up to restart the app (and lunchtime is coming up quickly) they want the call to reach a conclusion.

Listening in on the call outlines why the Board isn't all that keen on us being here. Job cuts are being talked about and the Board are considering an offer from a consultancy which claims to help with post-COVID balance sheet issues.

"… and we feel confident, after looking at your expenditure profiles, that we can make some strategic changes that would save your company a significant amount in outgoings," the bloke on the other end of the call says.

"What sort of savings are we talking about, Gerard?" a Board member asks.

"We'd expect it to be in the order of 20–25 per cent," Gerard replies.

Cue murmurs of mild excitement, as this sort of saving would likely trigger a performance bonus for everyone around the table.

Everyone except the PFY and myself of course.

"Interesting proposal," our Chairman responds whilst trying not to wet himself. "And your fee?"

"Our fee would be ten per cent of the costs we helped reduce," Gerard replies.

More murmurs, but I think the crowd considers that 2 to 2.5 per cent isn't too bitter a pill to swallow.

"Okay, we accept," the Chairman says. "So where would you like to start?"

"Once you've signed the contract I'd probably start with the people responsible for the quality of this call," Gerard jokes.

At least I think he was joking – though that thought isn't reflected in the faces of the Board as all eyes turn to survey the PFY and myself.

"I think he was hanging up the call himself," the PFY says a couple of minutes later as we descend in the lift.

"Might be."

"He probably engineered the whole thing. Have you looked up the company?"

"Yep," I say, flashing him my phone screen. "Shell company for around ten years, ambiguous name which could mean financial consulting but could just as easily be a dung farming co-op in Yemen. The website's about three weeks old including a photo of Gerard – and only Gerard – in the 'Meet our team' section, although all the blurb refers to 'we' or 'us'."

"One-man band?" the PFY suggests.

"Could be, but we'll find out soon enough when his 'team' does their interviews with us."

Barely 15 minutes later, the PFY and I get invitations to one-on-one Zoom meetings with Gerard's company. By the end of lunchtime, we find out that at least 50 other staff in the company have similar appointments and there's a distinct smell of blood in the water …

… a day later …

The PFY's interview can't have gone well because the nanosecond he gets off the call he's hunting Gerard down on social media.  

"He asked me what educational qualifications I had that supported me having the role!" the PFY snaps. "Then he wanted to know how I justified my salary when the technical side of the work we do is fairly pedestrian!"

And it's not just him. When the Boss came back from his interview he was almost weeping.  Apparently, he forgot one of the questions and tried to blather his way through it and somehow wound up talking about erectile dysfunction before launching into a mental list of the rest of the staff's shortcomings. With the appalling soundproofing in his office, he's now about as toxic as Pol Pot's portaloo.

One of the Beancounters resigned after a question about a spreadsheet function that he couldn't answer. Apparently, he saw the writing on the wall and leapt from the top of it.

"They're saying he wants to close down the company cafeteria," the PFY murmurs after returning from lunch.

"Yes, but THEY say a lot of things," I say, having just finished my interview. "When you get down to it, Gerard's a fairly dull person to speak to – and I've talked to OS/2 fans. I'd go as far as saying he doesn't have an original bone in his body and that you'd find all of his business acumen and strategic direction setting in a handful of budget management books."

"I don't think you can write him off so easily," the PFY says, shaking his head.

"No seriously, he really IS based on five or six business financial books," I reply. "Those books there, in fact." I gesture at a pile of books behind my desk. "The easy part was the visuals and the AI – I just paid an AR company for that. The hard part was distilling the bullet points in the books into a decision tree."

"Gerard's not real?" the PFY gasps.

"Of course he is," I shoot back. "He's a real AI. Obviously, people would eventually twig that they're talking to a Sim, but with a teleconferencing link you can hide some of the worst glitches. On top of that, people are in defensive mode because they're being interviewed. And if Gerard ever gets cornered he can just break into one of his 'perceptive' stress questions."

"What's a perceptive stress question?"

"Oh, there's about ten of them, all completely ambiguous, but with an underlying accusation of some form of misconduct. You know the sort of things: asking someone about the anomalies in their workplace timekeeping and attendance; hinting that their work-from-home performance was seriously under par; suggesting that a previous interviewee has in a roundabout way implied they're a stalker; maybe just mentioning that office supplies belong to the company and that taking them home is stealing. Then there's just also asking them a question about something obscure that they think they should know – like the parameter list for the FACTDOUBLE excel function."

"So what – this is all for your amusement?"

"Hell no. This is for the money. Gerard has a binding contract with the Board of Directors to receive 2.5 per cent of the money he saves the company – whether they implement the changes or not."

"And what's Gerard going to recommend?" the PFY asks.

"Gerard's going to recommend firing the Board."

Someone's getting a performance bonus!

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