Six Management Consultants Assess the Accuracy of House of Lies

Ben Schwartz as Clyde Oberholt, Don Cheadle as Marty Kaan, Josh Lawson as Doug, and Kristen Bell as Jeannie Van Der Hoovenn in House of Lies.
Photo: Ken Regan/Showtime

Showtime’s comedy House of Lies, which stars Don Cheadle as Marty Kaan, a big-time management consultant, began last night. Each week, Cheadle and his staff, which includes Veronica Mars and Jean Ralphio (Kristen Bell and Ben Schwartz), visit a company and “consult” them, offering cynical, crass, cutting advice on how to make more money. Of course, in real life, no one actually knows what “consulting” entails, except Bain and McKinsey employees and their ilk: Cheadle and his crew could do anything and the viewing audience would be none the wiser. But we here at Vulture believe in the truth, so we asked six consultants, past and present, to watch the pilot and give us their professional analysis of the show’s veracity. The verdict: House of Lies is aptly named. Said one Bain consultant, “It was funny. But it didn’t bear any resemblance to consulting as I know it. The consulting parts of the episode were ridiculous.” Here’s what House of Lies got right and what it got wrong. 

What House of Lies Gets Right
The Male-Female Ratio
: Though all six consultants concede that there’s no toxic-level old-boy atmosphere at major firms, the ladies weren’t surprised to see Kristen Bell’s Jeannie as the only gal on the team. “There are still way more men than women,” says Raina*, an engagement manager at McKinsey. “Probably my first six months on the job I worked exclusively with men. My first manager apparently had a rule that none of the guys were allowed to swear when I was in the room.”

The Crazy Jargon: While our consultant panel notes that the actual jargon on the show has no basis in reality and wouldn’t be used to deliberately confuse a client, the fact of its existence was right-on. “The scene where [Cheadle as Kaan] is doing the first meeting with the clients and throwing a lot of meaningless mumbo jumbo at them, that was good,” says Phil, who spent years at Bain’s consulting arm. Megan, a Bain alum, adds, “Consultants do use a lot of words and phrases that don’t mean anything outside of consulting. It’s something we laugh about, like, ‘Oh, this line might have too much jargon.’”

The Gist of the Boardroom Dynamic: “A much more subtle aspect of consulting they got right was the relationship between the CEO’s No. 2 and the CEO, where he’s the smart guy who has good ideas but he’s just not respected by the CEO.  The CEO really wants to hear it from Don Cheadle because he has more regard for him,” Vikram, another Bain alum, says. “The CEO often just doesn’t want to communicate with their team.”

What House of Lies Gets Wrong
Don Cheadle’s Attitude:
All six consultants broke into the giggles when it came to the accuracy of Kaan’s character. “You will not see a partner that’s like him,” says Dan, a Bain alum. “He’s so brash, just walks in and starts talking shit at dinner, goes in and criticizes the CEO for being slimy. You don’t go in and insult your client and expect that to turn into business! That’s just not how it works.” Consultants tend to be more buttoned-down and deferential to the client, Phil says: “It just doesn’t make sense to walk in like a hotshot. [The client] knows much more than you do when you walk in the door.”

Also, His Sexually Harassing Ways: Consulting firms are incestuous places. Dan estimates that during his time at Bain, 10 to 12 percent of the office was hooking up with someone else in the office. “But it’s not like, ‘I’m a partner, so I’m gonna mack on all the girls who work for me!’ He’s just asking to get fired on the spot.” Plus, Megan says, “No one ever asked me inappropriate questions about my personal life” like Kaan does with Jeannie. “That wouldn’t be acceptable.”

Consultants Are Not I-Bankers: Several panel members wondered if any actual consultants were, er, consulted in the making of House of Lies, saying the characters lead a social lifestyle much more akin to investment bankers or hedge-fund managers.  “It seems silly to use consultants and present them in this way, ‘cause it’s not true,” says Dan. “It seems like they could get a lot more of a rise out of people if they used bankers, since everybody hates Wall Street right now.”

Consultants Are, in Fact, Kinda Nerdy!: A consultant is “much more likely to be the guy running a half-marathon before he goes to work in the morning” than the guy staying out till 6 a.m. partying, says Raina. “Folks are usually much more neurotic and quirky,” Megan adds.

And They’re Really Young: Top-tier firms are swarming with Ivy League babies, but everyone on Kaan’s team looks like they are in their late twenties. “The real crazy thing about consulting is that it’s a bunch of 21-year-olds going in and saying, “All right, this is what you should do with your company,” Dan says, “and everyone’s looking at you like, ‘Who the fuck are you? You’re younger than my children and telling me what to do.’”

The Expenses Aren’t Quite So Crazy: Our panel was unanimous on this: no way would a client pay for a strip-club outing, much less one taken during the pitching stage of a project. (If the outing ever happened in the first place, the partner would likely pay out of his own pocket and leave the firm out of it.) Not to mention, “The reality is, we’d still be stuck at the office,” Raina says. “No one has time to go to a strip club in the first place.” Several also quibbled with the team’s Escalade transportation: Consultants roll in taxis.

The Bizarre Client Meeting: All of our panelists noted several oddities about Kaan’s meeting with the MetroCapital honchos. At first, Kaan is essentially pitching — a step in the consultant process that would not require his entire team to be there. But by the end of the episode, Kaan and his team are presenting a solution as if they already have the project (never mind that they’re also presenting it in a far flashier way than consultants ever would — all our panelists say boring old PowerPoint is the presentation manner du jour). The content of the pitch (“a PR pitch,” Phil says) didn’t make much sense to our panelists either. “I tried to listen to what they were saying,” Phil says, “but it didn’t seem to reflect actual sensible business practice at all.”

Why Are They There in the First Place?: Alexis, a McKinsey alum, wondered why, when there are plenty of high-class consultants in New York, Kaan’s team from L.A. would need to fly in. Rana agrees, “and especially for finance. There are no finance experts in L.A.!”

*Names have been changed.

Six Management Consultants Assess the Accuracy of House of Lies