Ron is an expert at improving the efficiency of companies and factories in Brazil. He happened on this field by chance, and has remained in this line of work for more than 30 years. In this interview, he explains the ups and downs of working as a contractor, and shares how he uses the fury that comes with dealing with difficult clients as motivation to achieve great things.
What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in that field?
My title is Process Improvement Expert, and I have 30+ years of experience.
Would you describe what you do on a typical day?
I asses current processes, analyze, look for viable ways to improve and simplify, be it bureaucratic or labor processes, then analyze data to ascertain results and financial value of improvements.
What is your ethnicity and what languages do you speak? How has it hurt or helped you?
I am Brazilian and middle class, 100% fluent in Portuguese, English and Spanish (some French and Italian). My ethnicity hasn’t had an impact on my professional life. The languages I speak have been an important part of my marketability and I expect they will continue to be an asset professionally.
If you’ve experienced discrimination, in what ways have you responded and what response worked best?
I have not experienced discrimination, but I have seen the bad behavior by some hierarchic superiors, and I simply decided not to continue working with these individuals and companies.
What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?
I learned the meaning of the phrase “don’t be defensive” the hard way. When I was starting out and I was put on the spot by management and was asked to explain something I did and why, I would be told not to be defensive. After many years of hearing it and not quite understanding it, I realized that it meant I wasn’t always in front of a firing squad for my actions, and that I wasn’t always being blamed for something going wrong. Sometimes management just needed to understand what decisions were being made, and the reason behind them, so they would know how to move forward, or how to best change direction.
What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
There is no course in any college that would prepare me for what I learned in my line of work, and as quickly. One time a client asked me how I achieved in 14 weeks what that they had tried to do for years. I explained that the theories and lessons we learned in college do not apply to every single situation, and sometimes we must follow our gut, or what we learned in other real-world cases to find the solution for a problem.
How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I started out in this line of work by accident, when going to Brazil for a job to which I had been invited and, upon arrival, found out that the company had placed someone else in the position. I decided to give the country a try, and I looked for a job that could pay me something similar to what I was earning overseas, and I found a consulting firm that was willing to train me on the job. I was a natural at this new line of work that allowed me to combine my logic with my creativity, and would never change my choice. I only regret the fact that it took me so long to find it.
On a good day, when things are going well, can you give an example of something that really makes you feel good?
I love the “natural high” feeling that I get when I accomplish something that the client had said was impossible, or listening the client say “Oh, we hadn’t thought of this”.
When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most?
The only problems I find in my work revolve around people who resist change, particularly if they are high ranking in the client’s organization. My inner fury explodes inside when someone tells me that what I want to do is impossible. Such word does not exist in my vocabulary.
How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
When working under contract for a consulting firm, I feel some stress as I have to explain and defend myself from attacks and internal politics. When working independently, directly for a client, I have no stresses nor any kind of pressures, and never, ever work longer than 10 hrs a day.
What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough considering your responsibilities?
Working as a contractor for a consulting firm, I get paid between $700 and $1000 US Dollars per worked day, which could be deemed underpaid depending on how many people are on the job. When working independently I charge my clients $1,500 US Dollars per worked day, which is considerably lower than what the consulting firms charge the clients for each of my worked days.
What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?
The are two moments:
First, during my second project many years ago in Brazil, I gave the client a ROI of 120:1 when the consulting firm had promised a 10:1 ROI.
Another moment was doubling the plant output in a mine in as little as 10 weeks, working solo.
There are many more, but I will stay with these highlights.
What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?
Realizing that I had left my first job in consulting a bit earlier than I should have, thinking that I had learned enough, when I hadn’t.
What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
Common sense above all. It is the single most important quality to design a perfect plan.
What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
It is a wonderful career if you don’t mind the hard parts and the ups and downs, or potential long gaps between jobs.
How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
My only vacations are when I am between jobs. It is too much vacation.
Are there any common myths you want to correct about what you do?
The belief that consultants use the clients’ watch to tell the time, charge for it and then keep the watch.
If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
Exactly what I do now.