Burry Foss Remembers Harvey

I asked one of my Gellman Hayward partners, Burry Foss, how he remembers Harvey Gellman.  He was such a big influence on us all.

Burry Foss Remembers 

I first met Harvey in the spring of 1965, when he interviewed me for a consulting position in DCF systems while I was completing my Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon. I accepted a job offer and joined the firm in August, 1966, where I immediately began work on a major project to automate the Interprovincial Pipe Line. Harvey impressed me as a kind man who was very concerned about the individual but had no time for any nonsense if something was not done in the interests of the client.

Some of the things I learned from Harvey include:

1. The need to help a client to change. Often the best consulting recommendations do not work because the client is unwilling or unable to change. Harvey used his “drip” method to continuously stimulate a client’s thinking and reinforce the ideas and changes that are needed to get a business result. This, combined with Schaffer’s Breakthrough Strategy, proved to be a very powerful combination which I have used successfully in my consulting activities to this day.

2. Working a consulting engagement according to a set of principles and not relenting. Harvey expressed this as keeping it simple but he applied objectivity to this idea before it became well known as part of “best practices”. I have found that following Harvey’s practice of “taking the high road” has been one of the most important success factors in ongoing client relationships.

3. Quality is important and is also hard work. In the 1970’s we added to the visibility of Gellman Hayward by publishing extensive check lists for IT management in one of the monthly IT newspapers. This required a lot of staff work and diligent quality control. The check lists received significant praise from the IT community but after awhile it became more work than it was worth.

4. The importance of a consultant to be physically fit. Harvey ran every day on the roof of a building in Toronto that housed his gym. He continued this until arthritis began to affect his hip. I began my 30 years of running at the age of 30 and only quit in 2000 because of my knees. I found that it provided the energy I needed to cope with the demands of a fast-paced consulting career. Even today I am in the gym five days a week with two of those days devoted to cardio-vascular fitness.

I have read the comments that Jim Hayward and Bob Fabian have prepared in Harvey’s memory. They express the many sides of the man that everyone that worked with him found so valuable. For me, I have to say that after observing the practices of dozens of consulting firms over the years there is not one that provides the sense of caring and yet the drive for results that Harvey taught. I will forever be in his debt for the practices he showed me and the success that I have had in my 37 years as a management consultant.

  1. Stephen Hayward Reply

    Thanks for sharing Burry. It is funny how simple it sounds in how you summarize it, but how difficult it is to attain.
    Jim I think though examples help, an idea of the guiding principles involved are what give Harvey, you and Burry the tools to adapt the client situation. It would be interesting to learn more.

  2. Jim Reply

    I would like to expand on the idea of having a simple strategy as the underlying approach to a project or an assignment.
    I recall helping a client with an IT strategy that was challenged by the decision whether to decentralize the IT function. Harvey suggested we divide the function into three levels; strategy, development and operations. We then helped the client what level of decentralization was appropriate for each aspect. The simple strategy helps us work through complex issues with the client and help the client make some key decisions with a simple model.
    The genius of finding the overall simple strategy for the consulting project was priceless.

  3. Burry Foss Reply

    Points 1 and 2 in my comment are related to the strategy that a consultant uses with a client. I am always thinking strategy in any assignment and I found that the principles I mentioned worked very well for my client strategy. Harvey’s talent was management and he knew how to help clients manage better using these principles.

  4. Stephen Hayward Reply

    I really like Burry’s comments about Harvey. I would love to know more about #1 and #2. Maybe you could do a coffeeCAST on these or at least another blog post.

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