I've been in the automotive business a long time, and I've seen many fads come and go. I've also seen companies embrace certain fads, then later discard them as worthless, only to embrace them again years later as new management concepts. There are no new fads, only recycled ones. Consequently, I'm amazed not only by how they get started, but also how quickly they make their way from company to company.

This applies not just to industry but to all segments of our society. Someone declares something as gospel, goes on a few talk shows, and, bang, everyone jumps on the bandwagon.

Look at diet plans. Every time you spit there's a new one for whatever ails you. The same holds true for get-rich schemes -- you only have to look on the best-seller list to get the idea, with such titles as Ageless Body, Timeless Mind; The Wealthy Barber; and The Investment Biker. My favorite is the Guide to Financial Security, a book by the Beards Town ladies.

I've often wondered whether if you followed all this advice you could live forever in the lap of luxury.

Another thought: If we give each welfare recipient a little seed money -- say $4,000 and the latest get-rich book -- we should be able to eliminate all welfare. The fads in industry may have different names, but they're basically the same.

You would think that industry leaders would be sophisticated enough not to get involved in faddish escapades. Apparently this isn't true. It seems that as soon as one fad disappears, another one surfaces.

A fad that has been around for a few years now is the management consultant. Don't get me wrong; there are many consultant firms that provide essential and legitimate services. There are times when it makes good business sense to use the services of a consultant, such as when special expertise is required for a short period of time. Maybe a company wants to install a new computer system for payroll or inventory control, or maybe it wants to set up the mechanics of a potential merger or study the requirements of getting into new markets.

It has gotten to a point, however, that the use of consultants has gone well beyond making any business sense.

Consultants are being hired to do what companies pay their managers to do. Large companies have high-priced managers in all areas of their operations: manufacturing, engineering, finance, personnel and marketing. These people were selected for their managerial abilities and, generally, they were the best people for the job.

Historically, managers always have been held responsible for the operation of their departments. They were accountable for whatever decisions they made, right or wrong. If a manager made a few wrong decisions that resulted in problems, for example, he would be under constant pressure to get them straightened out. It was then that managers discovered that by hiring consultants and following their advice, they could shift responsibility to the consultant when their operation ran into problems. On the other hand, when things ran smoothly, they could still take credit. It was a win-win situation.

Why in the world would any company hire a consultant to do what it pays its managers good money to do? You have to suspect it's the herd instinct. You can't go wrong if you follow the herd.

Now, it's bad enough that a company pays out good money for these so-called consultants, but what makes it worse is that their very presence is counterproductive. They tie up employee time while gathering volumes of superfluous information and by holding endless meetings.

The extent of a consultant's expertise seems to be to question employees as to their solutions to current problems. They then pick and choose the best ideas, put them together and present them as their proposal to management. For some strange reason, proposals made by consultants seem to be accepted almost without question. If a department manager made the same proposal, he would more than likely run into all kinds of resistance. Why? I don't know. Whether it's internal politics, personalities or a narrow-minded boss, when it comes to in-house ideas, they just die.

Consultants also have a knack for figuring out ways to extend their contracts. A consultant suggests a course of action that management is about to accept, but then qualifies it by saying that the proposal is dependent on implementation. That implementation requires seminars, training sessions and so forth -- services the consultant quite naturally is in a position to provide.

Incidentally, I've noticed that these sessions must always be held off-site -- despite the fact that there may be ample and very suitable facilities in-house. Apparently, there are too many distractions such as telephone calls and beeper messages to hold these sessions inside. Surely, these distractions can be managed. Just hold all telephone calls and leave your beepers at home.

I have more thoughts: If outside consultants are so successful in directing the labor force, making investments and running the manufacturing operations, why not go all the way and outsource everything?

We could have one consultant for manufacturing, one for finance, one for engineering, one for marketing and sales. Then the president would become the head consultant.

Because everyone is in love with outsourcing, this would be the ultimate. Just think, almost everybody would be a supplier. No labor problems. The analysts would love it. The stock price would probably go sky high. The net worth of the company, consequently, would be enhanced. Endless books would be written analyzing this new concept. It would be the closest thing to paradise.

Sounds like a beautiful idea. Too bad it's Utopia!