Requiem for the May Company

Here was my Tweet. “After 85+ years, George S. May Company is no longer in business. Perhaps the consulting company should have hired outside consultants.” I could have left it at that, but in the last ten years of its existence, this once great company churned and burned so many consultants and small companies, either you or someone you know has been touched by it. It touched me. Now it is no more.

George S. May identified business as a set of algorithms and began his management consulting business in 1925 with a consulting project for a company that would become Sunbeam, the blender maker. His new Chicago based company did so well that it opened offices in New York and San Francisco. Despite the Great Depression, May Company history includes its posting revenue of $1 million in 1937, more than $15 million today.

May himself became best known for getting golf televised, among other things. Post war America was good for his company, which advertised “Business Engineering” in leading business magazines and journals. He died in 1962 leaving the company stock to his family. In 1966 the May Company left downtown Chicago for the suburb of Park Ridge, where the 41-thousand square-foot world headquarters is now closed and for sale, price $4 million. More about the “Ridge” in a moment.

In the ‘90s the May company hit the $100 million revenue mark and by 2000 it began operations in Mexico, under Donald J. Fletcher, its third President. In 2002, Israel Kushnir replaced Fletcher. According to one of the companies last press releases, “The company’s former president Israel Kushnir has left his post to pursue his own ventures, but the company is in the best of hands as Mrs. Kerry Sam Jacobs, George S May’s granddaughter is overseeing the transition to ensure prosperity as the company moves forward.”

That expression, “. . . left his post to pursue his own ventures,” is usually a ubiquitous way of saying, “You’re fired.” The company’s Managing Director, Paul Rouseau, a frequent Fox Business News personality, is also pursuing his own ventures as are many other former top executives who presided over the May Company’s financial collapse inherited by Jacobs and the May family lawyers in 2010.

As one of the replacement senior executives put it to me, in an email confirming the company’s demise, “I left at the beginning of the year, but it was a slow, painful end to a once great company. 2010 was like sitting on the deck of the Titanic watching people rearrange the deck chairs while the band played on.”

The Ridge building has a cornerstone: “1960.” Eisenhower, a golf enthusiast, was leaving office. Cadillacs were 22 feet long. Gasoline cost pennies. Business had boomed. Inside the conservative office building, a photo mural of golf’s greats inspired awe. I never knew whether to genuflect or salute when I entered and breathed in that 1960’s air.

It has been said that the Kushnir-Rouseau regime monitored every phone call and every email. Yelling was the preferred mode of communication. The way they saw it, clients needed to be controlled by analysts and consultants. Intimidation meant control.

Israel Kushnir made an impression on me in an awkward moment at the Ridge, as I stood outside the training building on a cigarette break during a conference with a colleague. The dapper and bald gent strode across the parking lot and pointed at me.

“Stop smoking,” he declared, briskly.

“Grow hair,” I exhaled.

He passed me, smiled and entered the building. My colleague bit his lip, trying not to laugh. “Do you know who that is?” he choked. “That’s the president of the company.”

Paul Rouseau convinced me to pursue my own interests that Christmas.

There were others who worked alongside Kushnir and Rouseau who got sacked, albeit too late for new management to save May. Apart from a large headquarters staff of executives and support personnel, there is a telemarketing staff, a field sales staff, a field survey service [analyst] staff, a field consulting staff and a smaller client service staff that is now looking for work around Park Ridge, Illinois.

The Better Business Bureau gave the George S. May International Company an F before the company shut down. The company had previously boasted the Bureau’s Excellence in Ethics Award. The BBB also gives an F to May company rival International Profit Associates and its alphabet named clone companies. IPA is also the target of litigation by the Illinois State Attorney General's Office, but that is another story for some other time. and many similar consumer rating sites have been on the May company’s case for years. At a client meeting in Sitka, Alaska, a May analyst, a consultant and I, as Project Director, were met by police, given a cease-and-desist order and individual property restraining orders after our client had gone online and read Rippoff. The office in Park Ridge did not appreciate my report, I can assure you.

Evidently, what had been called “the May way” quit working. But, you know that your business is in the wind when Wikipedia deletes your page. It is really kind of sad. Business Engineering failed. One can only wonder what the May family will do with 85+ years’ worth of project binders filled with meticulous documentation. It is a Titanic load of American small business history.

Article first published as Requiem for the May Company on Blogcritics.