Emotion, says Barry Jordan 83, has no place in a management consultants repertoire. So when he is greeted by a throng of angry parents one warm summer night in Mount Vernon, NY, he appears unruffled.
Midway through a $100 million construction project, Jordan had been asked to work with the city school districts architects and construction manager to figure out how officials could best address growing middle-school enrollments. The team recommended that an elementary school be transformed into a middle school because it was, at least on paper, big enough and in the right location.
Neighborhood parents cherished the elementary school and informed Jordan and the school board during a contentious four-hour meeting that they needed to go back to the drawing board.
Consultants must be thick skinned, says Jordan. My job is to give clients options. The school board still had to grapple with the political side of it, and they realized it wouldnt work.
Jordans clients have ranged from the Mount Vernon school district to a massive real-estate project outside Washington, DC, to a waste-hauling firm owned by college chum Ron Adolph 83. Adolph was the first person Jordan met when he arrived in Cambridge from Henderson, NC, in 1979 and remains his best friend today. Barry has a strong analytical mind, says Adolph. Hes absolutely unflappable. Hell present the facts, say hes sorry you are upset, and proceed to lay out the choices you face.
Jordans consulting role can vary. In Mount Vernon, he was the school districts owners representative, making sure that contractors for the school transformation project, scheduled for completion by the middle of 2006, finish on time. For the $2 billion National Harbor project, which is developing a stretch of the Potomac River in Maryland just southeast of Washington, DC, Jordan set up a registry to ensure that local and minority business contractors get work at the sprawling complex of hotels, shops, and restaurants. The developer broke ground in December 2004, and several local and minority-owned firms were hired for the first phase of a project expected to take a decade to complete.
But as different as the projects sound, in both Jordan served as a link between builders and a community, making sure some construction investment flowed into the local economy. The only way that happens is to have someone working to make it happen, says Jordan, who lives in Brookeville, MD. In Mount Vernon, Jordan helped negotiate a labor agreement that guaranteed 20 trade union apprenticeships and a pledge not to strike in exchange for the requirement that nonunion construction companies hire up to 88 percent of their workers from local unions.
Jordan, who earned a masters in business administration from Duke University, worked for the international consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton for five years before striking out on his own in 1999. For corporate clients, he usually analyzes company operations and proposes ways to improve efficiency. For Adolphs TAC Transport, for instance, he studied the latest in tractor trailer design so that he could recommend additions to Adolphs fleet. He also helped schedule the daily hauling of 3,600 metric tons of trash from Washington, DC, to Virginia landfills up to 240 kilometers away.
Jordan knew little about the industry in 2001 when Adolph asked for his help. Adolph appreciated Jordans knack for analyzing complex business problems, and Jordan knew schedules from his days as a civil engineer in the 1980s, when he helped manage the construction of the Shoreham, NY, nuclear power plant, Mellon Financials Pittsburgh office tower, and the U.S. Airways terminal at LaGuardia Airport in New York.
Jordan says that after taking several trips to the landfills and spending days watching trucks being loaded at transfer stations, he learned the importance of good employees.
As much as you want to create a formula to calculate how much trash can be moved, it comes down to the people driving the trucks and loading the trash, he says. Statistically, you can predict when a truck will break down, and you can determine through queuing theory how long theyll wait in line. But you cant theorize what makes a guy stop at a rest stop for an hour or why one guy leaves at 10:00 at night and another waits until 5:00 in the morning.
But an efficient trash-hauling system also requires procedures that can be replicated throughout an organization and the proper equipment. Jordan is now studying which trucks and trailers Adolph should buy to expand his fleet into new markets. And hes developing software to keep track of the truck operation.
As a civil-engineering student at MIT, Jordan says, he developed the discipline necessary for problem solving, based on the understanding that there are many different ways to get a correct answer. Having mastered the practical applications of mathematical formulas gave him great confidence as he left MIT.
It makes you somewhat fearless of the unknown, says Jordan, who was quarterback on MITs 1980 conference champion football team. It makes you a little cocky going out into the world. You might not understand something, but you know how to figure it out.