Monday 16 May 2011

The Business Life / Talking Heads Appointing staff by the numbers
The ancient art of numerology finds application in the modern business world, writes Doug Gordon

Accounting can follow an agenda and statistics can be spun, but business executives call up ‘personality profiler’ Lee Thomas for guidance on numbers that can’t be found in their balance sheets.

Based in Rivonia in Johannesburg, where she combines clinical psychology training with two decades of studying the ancient art of numerology. Today her consultancy includes clients from the fields of banking, marketing, sports sponsorship and the fashion industry.

“Numbers don’t lie,” says Thomas, “but I have had to overcome a  resistance towards accepting them as indicators in every part of our  lives. They are infallible in navigating the most advantageous course in business, management planning, personal relationships and even divorce settlements.”

Personal numbers comprise the subject’s birthdate and full name, with each letter assigned a value between 1-9. They are the starting point Thomas uses to underpin the charts she works out.

It’s a system of analysis far more reliable than reading cards or tea-leaves, she insists. The art of numerology is rooted in Egyptian and Greek history, the basis for mathematical studies of architecture, construction and astronomy ever since.

“Men in particular relate to numerology,” she says. “It’s straightforward. Once I’ve done the preliminary outlines of their lives they can see how the numbers correlate. By going back though the charts of preceding years they clearly see what happened to cause good or bad decisions to be made.”

Her consultations are like reading a series of balance sheets, she agrees. They let you see what works and what doesn’t in the subject’s  patterns of behaviour. The ups and downs of a client’s business decisions often uncover personal dilemmas about changing employers, emigrating or divorcing.

“I can’t tell them whether or not to end a marriage or change companies, that’s their call. All I can do is give them a clear understanding of what has brought such major decisions into play, and where each option may lead,” says Thomas.  

She doesn’t advertise her service, relying instead on word of mouth amongst her growing network of clients to bring referrals. Her consultation fees are modest in a market which today includes every sector of therapy, from pop psychology and fortune telling to licenced career and relationship management.

“Competition is healthy,” says Thomas. “My credibility relies on results. My USP is a background in business (in marketing, for Murray & Roberts) which gives me a broader view in my readings. I can certainly discuss past lives but how will that relate to the problems the client wants to resolve right now?”

Tackling those problems means getting personal. She charges R550 for a basic one-hour consultation, which is step one in defining the problem and exploring what’s behind it.

Thomas has many high-powered executives on her books. Once the ice is broken on her large and comfy couch, the information shared is often sensitive – revealing turmoil at Board or Exco level, takeover plans, impending bankruptcies  or even cut-throat divorce negotiations.

“My profiling is cheaper than therapy,” she points out. “I am not a registered psychologist but I follow the same professional disciplines that apply to clinical psychology. Every word that’s said in my sessions remains strictly confidential.”

Specialised readings to identify a particular problem affecting a client’s job or relationships cost R650. ‘Energy field’ readings, which analyse the subjects’ life to date and examine the future as far as they wish to take it, cost R750.

Fashion entrepreneur Nkhensani Nkosi gives sessions with Thomas as birthday gifts. She even advocated numerology as a useful guide to  making key decisions when she addressed the Gibs business school recently.

“I told the graduates that we need to look for creative solutions in different places,” she says. “It may have surprised them. It certainly surprised (former Vodacom CEO) Alan Knott-Craig who was also on the panel. But in my career numerology is an excellent guide.”

As CEO and creative director of the Stoned Cherrie brand, Nkosi’s reading of trends in the seasonal retail clothing market depends on precise timing.

“Lee’s advice has always proved to be spot on,” she says. “Some people may view it as alternative therapy, taboo in business circles, but my work is all about vision, relationships and lifestyle. Numerology empowers me.”

A large part of Thomas’ turnover comes from the corporate world.

She profiles candidates for executive posts and provides relationship advice on the employees and departments they’d be working with. These studies are commissioned by a senior executive rather than the company’s HR division, to ensure that her reports stay under wraps.

They cost R3500, often supplied alongside or in place of the psychometric inventories like Meyers-Briggs or Gallup which are used internationally as a matter of course by corporations making high profile appointments.

National Accounts Manager for FNB’s Insurance Division, Rita Cronje, has used Thomas to help select members of the teams interacting with the public by telephone.

While consulting the profiler in her personal capacity, Cronje realised that numerology could add fresh insights to the Meyers-Briggs reports she was using to divide a staff of 39 into 13 work units.

“Lee profiled all 39 people and provided her own reports on which combinations of three would work most productively together in a very competitive environment. Their performances have remained at optimum level ever since.”

Thomas doesn’t meet the employees or candidates she assesses. At executive level the SA business community is a small world, she notes, and she prefers not to know who is chasing a new seven-figure contract or is about to lose one. Each case she profiles is indexed to a list held by the executive who hires her.

“The full name and birth date gives far more accurate personality profile over the next ten years of employment. When operating budgets are tight it’s also useful to know who will lose interest in their jobs in the short term and seek to move on.”

The profiles she supplies never run longer than two pages and she stakes her reputation on being right. Thomas may be a wild card in the tightly-buttoned world of business practice but she is making an impact as a cost-effective alternative when it comes to sussing out job suitability.

“My goal when I expanded my business in Cape Town in 2000, was to focus my services on small companies that lacked the means to assess the best people to recruit,” she says.

“I offered numerology as a cheaper and faster way to do this. I even assess the company’s entire management personnel to determine which recruits would fit in best in each department. The word spread from there.”

There is no place for mystique in her practice, Thomas believes. She describes herself as a pragmatist who began reading about numerology as a hobby.

The main reason for her success, she says, is that unlike a regular psychologist, most people who sit on her couch are not unwell.

Her clients may be curious about numerology or they may have a crisis in their lives. They are looking for fresh insights into resolving a problem and her form of therapy is different from any other in the market.

 “The charts I do are completely objective; eliminating racial and gender bias. I avoid using numerology as a bright light to go looking for trouble. When I  began studying it of course I started analysing the numbers relevant to headline stories like major disasters.

“I don’t do that now. My expertise lies in personal relationships, divorce counselling and job aptitude at the executive level.”


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