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The Two Words That Terrify Junior Employees

Curt notes sent by higher-ups wreck weekends and family time; ‘Until you’ve gotten that 10 p.m. ‘pls fix,’ you just don’t get it’

Tue, Oct 11, 2022 8:46amGrey Clock 4 min

Picture this: It’s 9 p.m. and your workday is finally winding down. You, a professional in your 20s or 30s, haven’t heard from your manager in a few hours. Things are looking good as you start closing out dozens of tabs and spreadsheets, hoping to shut the laptop and take a few hours after dark for yourself. Suddenly, a ping.

A “pls fix” email.

“Until you’ve gotten that 10 p.m. ‘pls fix,’ you just don’t get it,” says Amelia Noël, a former consultant and investment banker turned career coach.

“Pls fix” is shorthand for a curt note from someone up the chain—and is a phrase that has become a phenomenon among corporate stiffs in certain high-pressure fields. The buzzword has spawned “pls fix” merchandise, and made it into the Urban Dictionary, which defines “pls fix” as a frequent email reply from a boss in consulting or finance that “more accurately translates: ‘fix this ASAP and don’t F$%^& up again.’”

The text might vary—“please action” or “make better”—and the notes tend to come with little instructions. (What the heck needs fixing?) But the message generally translates to: stop what you’re doing to send the 39th version of a PowerPoint slide to your boss.

“If you get that email, it’s expected to get turned over by the time your managing director gets back into the office the next morning,” says John Senkarik, a 39-year-old business analyst, who says he recently got a pls fix message while at a cabin with his family. As his children played nearby, Mr. Senkarik stepped outside to a back porch to work through the assignment, which took about two hours.

Few things panic young professionals like getting the notes. On Instagram and TikTok, they share snapshots and stories of receiving “pls fix” emails at all hours and on vacation, while at bars, at the gym, by pools, on trains, slopeside at ski resorts, or as they are boarding a flight. A podcast called “Pls Fix Thx!,” which started early in the pandemic, talks about “modern-day fads and trends that leave us feeling overwhelmed, drained and burned out.”

Sanchit Wadhawan, a 25-year-old consultant who lives in Atlanta, is one of the podcast’s hosts and knows the terrain well. One Friday evening, he was planning to watch Netflix with his parents at the end of a long week. He was about to close his computer when he saw an urgent instant message from his manager.

He received a draft PowerPoint with about 50 slides—a compilation of several files formatted in different styles. Mr. Wadhawan needed to make the font uniform and ensure the color was consistent throughout, and he needed to do it right away.

“You can’t put weird fonts in front of a client,” he says.

At the office, many workers are dialling back efforts and reporting lower levels of engagement. But consultants and bankers—who have tended to be corporate climbers terrified of the “out” part of “up or out”—are still leaning into the grind.

To be ready to respond to a “pls fix,” Ms. Noël, the former consultant and banker, would lug her laptop to brunch and bars. She took it on a Christmas carriage ride in Central Park with her family, and regularly charted her running routes to stay within a 15-minute radius of her laptop.

Those few seconds between double-clicking on the email attachment and understanding the scope of the assignment held a special dread. Was this a few quick wording changes to a slide deck? Did she need to rerun an entire data analysis? Was this going to blow up her night?

Close readers of The BOG—a satirical internal newsletter at Boston Consulting Group—will find Easter eggs in the copy referencing “pls fix.” In one, The BOG writers joked that high-level managing directors and partners speak certain languages conversationally including: Please fix, arreglalo porfa, and correggilo per favore. (The newsletter’s writers declined to comment.)

Susan Grimbilas, global head of human resources at BCG, says consulting has always required late-night work, but in-person feedback can be more meaningful. A “pls fix” email can feel transactional in a remote setting, especially without much instruction about why something needs to change, she added.

BCG teaches managing directors and partners about giving more effective feedback, she says. Still, if a presentation’s numbers don’t square, she adds, “I don’t care what time it is or where you are—you’re going to have to make sure your numbers make sense.”

Alex Raines, 29, who lives in Austin, knew about the “pls fix” culture when he started as a data-analytics consultant last year.

Before he began, he rewrote the lyrics to “Lose Yourself” by Eminem and posted it on LinkedIn, in a homage to his chosen field.

“His arms are heavy, knees weak, palms are sweaty / There’s coffee on his vest already, spilled his Yeti / He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready to pls fix, but he keeps forgetting the right deck.”

Litquidity, known for finance-related memes, sells a “pls fix, thx” mug for $15 and a ball cap for $35. Crazy Mgmt Consultants, a meme account on Instagram, sells a “pls fix”-themed ugly Christmas sweater for $45 and baby onesies for $25 reading: “Daddy and Mommy, Pls fix my milk ASAP, thx. Sent from my iPad.”

Some managers send “pls fix” emails, but urge recipients not to pull an all-nighter, as Mohak Mehta, a New York-based consultant, says he does for his direct reports. Sometimes he says he tells them to “time box” an assignment. (That’s consultant-speak for seeing how much can be done in 10 minutes, or an hour, and then leaving it until the next day.)

Still, Mr. Mehta says many young professionals in finance and consulting are high achievers, and ignore his instructions and work late anyway in pursuit of a perfect final product.

“At the end of the day,” he says, “that’s what clients are trying to pay you for.”


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China’s EV Juggernaut Is a Warning for the West

Competitive pressure and creativity have made Chinese-designed and -built electric cars formidable competitors

Thu, Jun 8, 2023 4 min

China rocked the auto world twice this year. First, its electric vehicles stunned Western rivals at the Shanghai auto show with their quality, features and price. Then came reports that in the first quarter of 2023 it dethroned Japan as the world’s largest auto exporter.

How is China in contention to lead the world’s most lucrative and prestigious consumer goods market, one long dominated by American, European, Japanese and South Korean nameplates? The answer is a unique combination of industrial policy, protectionism and homegrown competitive dynamism. Western policy makers and business leaders are better prepared for the first two than the third.

Start with industrial policy—the use of government resources to help favoured sectors. China has practiced industrial policy for decades. While it’s finding increased favour even in the U.S., the concept remains controversial. Governments have a poor record of identifying winning technologies and often end up subsidising inferior and wasteful capacity, including in China.

But in the case of EVs, Chinese industrial policy had a couple of things going for it. First, governments around the world saw climate change as an enduring threat that would require decade-long interventions to transition away from fossil fuels. China bet correctly that in transportation, the transition would favour electric vehicles.

In 2009, China started handing out generous subsidies to buyers of EVs. Public procurement of taxis and buses was targeted to electric vehicles, rechargers were subsidised, and provincial governments stumped up capital for lithium mining and refining for EV batteries. In 2020 NIO, at the time an aspiring challenger to Tesla, avoided bankruptcy thanks to a government-led bailout.

While industrial policy guaranteed a demand for EVs, protectionism ensured those EVs would be made in China, by Chinese companies. To qualify for subsidies, cars had to be domestically made, although foreign brands did qualify. They also had to have batteries made by Chinese companies, giving Chinese national champions like Contemporary Amperex Technology and BYD an advantage over then-market leaders from Japan and South Korea.

To sell in China, foreign automakers had to abide by conditions intended to upgrade the local industry’s skills. State-owned Guangzhou Automobile Group developed the manufacturing know-how necessary to become a player in EVs thanks to joint ventures with Toyota and Honda, said Gregor Sebastian, an analyst at Germany’s Mercator Institute for China Studies.

Despite all that government support, sales of EVs remained weak until 2019, when China let Tesla open a wholly owned factory in Shanghai. “It took this catalyst…to boost interest and increase the level of competitiveness of the local Chinese makers,” said Tu Le, managing director of Sino Auto Insights, a research service specialising in the Chinese auto industry.

Back in 2011 Pony Ma, the founder of Tencent, explained what set Chinese capitalism apart from its American counterpart. “In America, when you bring an idea to market you usually have several months before competition pops up, allowing you to capture significant market share,” he said, according to Fast Company, a technology magazine. “In China, you can have hundreds of competitors within the first hours of going live. Ideas are not important in China—execution is.”

Thanks to that competition and focus on execution, the EV industry went from a niche industrial-policy project to a sprawling ecosystem of predominantly private companies. Much of this happened below the Western radar while China was cut off from the world because of Covid-19 restrictions.

When Western auto executives flew in for April’s Shanghai auto show, “they saw a sea of green plates, a sea of Chinese brands,” said Le, referring to the green license plates assigned to clean-energy vehicles in China. “They hear the sounds of the door closing, sit inside and look at the quality of the materials, the fabric or the plastic on the console, that’s the other holy s— moment—they’ve caught up to us.”

Manufacturers of gasoline cars are product-oriented, whereas EV manufacturers, like tech companies, are user-oriented, Le said. Chinese EVs feature at least two, often three, display screens, one suitable for watching movies from the back seat, multiple lidars (laser-based sensors) for driver assistance, and even a microphone for karaoke (quickly copied by Tesla). Meanwhile, Chinese suppliers such as CATL have gone from laggard to leader.

Chinese dominance of EVs isn’t preordained. The low barriers to entry exploited by Chinese brands also open the door to future non-Chinese competitors. Nor does China’s success in EVs necessarily translate to other sectors where industrial policy matters less and creativity, privacy and deeply woven technological capability—such as software, cloud computing and semiconductors—matter more.

Still, the threat to Western auto market share posed by Chinese EVs is one for which Western policy makers have no obvious answer. “You can shut off your own market and to a certain extent that will shield production for your domestic needs,” said Sebastian. “The question really is, what are you going to do for the global south, countries that are still very happily trading with China?”

Western companies themselves are likely to respond by deepening their presence in China—not to sell cars, but for proximity to the most sophisticated customers and suppliers. Jörg Wuttke, the past president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, calls China a “fitness centre.” Even as conditions there become steadily more difficult, Western multinationals “have to be there. It keeps you fit.”


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