Paul C. Palmes was elected Chairman of the US TAG to TC 176, having been placed on the ballot by outgoing Chair Alka Jarvis. His name appeared alongside that of Craig Williams of Johnson Controls, presumably to give the illusion of it being a democratic contest, but an account says that both Palmes and Williams were handpicked by Jarvis before they were actually nominated. Williams was eventually nominated by former Chair Jack West, and Palmes just nominated himself, but the nominations now appear to have been done after the ballot was already decided by Jarvis. The ballot was produced by the a “Nominating Committee” also handpicked by Jarvis, comprised of herself and two consultants: Charles Cianfrani and JP Russell.
As we saw last week, after Palmes was elected he immediately joined both Jarvis and Russell at a speaking gig for ASQ, promoting his private consulting practice.
Bulking Up a Lightweight
Paul Palmes is not known for being a deep thinker on issues related to standards development, nor a particularly advanced practitioner of the quality management profession. His speeches are usually simplistic parroting of material presented a thousand times elsewhere, by a thousand other speakers, with little to no new content or approaches. His podcast series consisted mostly of repeating things other people wrote, without adding any context or analysis. His books are filled with grand pronouncements and marketing spin unrelated to the actual text of ISO 9001, such as “ISO is a business plan built to give the customer what he wants” and “this is not your father’s ISO 9001.” Well, grapes are pretty, but that doesn’t tell me what the wine tastes like. Nothing you can argue, but nothing at all inspiring.
So it’s a bit baffling to understand how someone described by another 176 rep as a “lightweight” landed the top gig as the United States’ official representative for all matters pertaining to quality management systems. But with great power comes great responsibility, and since both Williams and Palmes declined to provide the TAG members a “vision statement” of what they might do when elected, it falls on us to dig into Palmes’ background, if for no reason to see what the future might bring under a Palmes leadership.
But doing so reveals that the TAG leadership is in more hot water. The short version: Paul Palmes has a resumé problem. His claimed ISO 9001 and quality management experience appears to be padded by more than 20 years of work experience he doesn’t actually have, his credentials are stretched to the breaking point, and his most famous ISO 9001 client abandoned it years ago. Despite this, Palmes appears to have slithered his way to the top through serial exaggeration, and by befriending cronies who never bothered to vet his resumé.
We compared Palmes’ background against a few important documents, including the official nomination form he submitted to the TAG when nominating himself for the Chair position, which summarized his related ISO 9001 experience. We also looked at various published resumés for Palmes, including his LinkedIn profile, consulting firm website biography, book jacket bios, and numerous other published sources. The investigation, led by Oxebridge but supported by expert Human Resources and hiring professionals, discovered irregularities.
We first attempted to verify Palmes’ degrees through formal vetting agencies. They reported that claimed BS Education degree from Wittenberg University could not be confirmed. This does not mean that the claim is false, as there are other possible explanations: the student had the records sealed for some reason, or the student changed their name, or the school merely lost the records.
So we then moved to verify his MA Administration degree at Gonzaga. At first we couldn’t verify that, either, but a secondary scrub came up satisfactory. Palmes graduated with the proper degree from Gonzaga, as claimed. Since it’s unlikely he could have gotten a Masters without a Bachelors, the glitch over the Wittenberg file is moot.
After his education, however, things immediately get murky.
According to Gonzaga, Palmes indicated obtained his Masters in 1977. His first verifiable position in quality doesn’t appear until about 1990, leaving a blank spot on his resumé of 13 years. This isn’t uncommon, though, as recent graduates often hop around for a few years before landing their first “real” job, so it’s not demonstrative of much. Nevertheless, it is odd that Palmes can’t name any specific ISO or quality-related work during that period, since he otherwise doesn’t miss an opportunity to claim experience if he can.
Instead, Palmes makes two unverifiable claims of having done … well, something … related to quality in that time period. As we will see shortly, while working at Northern Pipe Palmes made a claim in 2001 that he already had “15 years” of ISO related experience, which would put his start date in the industry at 1986. Later, in 2011, in an online presentation he claimed “27 years’ experience” which would put his start date in the field at 1984, adding an additional two years.
Golden Valley Products
Palmes’ first work history entry on his TAG nomination form was for Golden Valley Products of Minneapolis MN, for which he claimed he worked as both President and QA Manager. On the form, Palmes makes an interesting math error: he claims he worked for GVP for a “total 12 years – 3 years as President with financial responsibilities, 5 years QA” – except that 3 + 5 = 8 years, not 12. Keep that in mind, as we are going to see a pattern of math errors throughout this story.
We reached out to Golden Valley Products and found they were unable to find Palmes’ employment records at all, which the current owner said was highly irregular. She purchased the company after Palmes’ period of employment, so could not verify the actual years he worked there, but an elderly employee remembered Palmes and verified he did act as President for an unspecified period. No one could verify if Palmes acted as QA Manager.
However, despite some early claims of “ISO 9001” on their website, the company was never certified, and the current owner indicated that the company was not compliant at the time she purchased it.
Northern Pipe Products
The bulk of Palmes’ ISO credentials rest on a single job he held as Director of Quality Assurance for Northern Pipe Products in Fargo ND. Palmes joined the US TAG 176 as a representative of Northern Pipe, and has subsequently name-dropped the company in his biographies, articles and training seminars; in fact, he even wrote an entire book about them. During my tenure on the TAG, I witnessed firsthand how his role in Northern Pipe was greatly promoted — even over-exaggerated — since it made him one of the few actual ISO 9001 users in the leadership circle, something Chairman Jack West couldn’t claim.
Palmes started with Northern Pipe in 1998; it took a lot of digging with parent company Otter Tail to find the information, as they (like Golden Valley) also had a “missing personnel file” for Palmes, which is weird. Eventually they confirmed his period of employment was from September 1998 to March 2007, or about 8 ½ years. This is a problem, because Palmes claimed that he worked there for ten years; it’s only a slight exaggeration, but as we will see, they all add up.
What’s apparent from the record, though, is the odd relationship Palmes had with Northern Pipe. While on the books as the quality director / quality manager, he was simultaneously advertising his ISO consulting practice, on their dime. According to Internet Archive snapshots of the company website from 2001, Northern Pipe promoted Palmes as not only their quality manager, but also boasted of how he was a consultant, going so far to advertise his “Quality Assurance Consulting Services” to other businesses. Anyone working in this field knows that’s a unique — and outright weird — arrangement. Didn’t he have enough to do at Northern Pipe?
But if Northern Pipe was promoting Palmes, it thus makes sense why Palmes would spend years returning the favor and promoting Northern Pipe.
That old web page is problematic for Palmes for a number of other reasons. First, it claims he has experience in “service, medical devices, education, software development and manufacturing,” which appears to be exaggerated based on what we know of his employment prior to Northern Pipe. Golden Valley was at least tangentially connected to the medical device industry, and he appears to have a degree in education, but what software did he develop?
Next, it claims “for the past 15 years [Palmes] has enabled several organizations to attain ISO 9000 registration.” This claim is impossible, since the ISO 9001 was first published in 1987, a year later. In addition, it is well known that there were nearly no US-based consultants in operation until around 1989-1990, and most US companies had to hire consultants from Ireland, England or Germany as a result.
It’s also not clear if Palmes already had 15 years’ experience with ISO 9001 prior to Northern Pipe, why he wouldn’t list the companies he had worked with to gain that experience, since that would have helped build his credentials for the TAG nomination. We do know that Golden Valley was not one of those clients, since they did not obtain ISO 9001 certification, so it must have been work done during his post-education gap period, as we showed earlier, and which appears impossible to verify.
For Northern Pipe, the company did obtain ISO 9002 certification originally, although the date of certification is not known, so it’s not clear if they had it already, or if Palmes helped them achieve it. They later upgraded to ISO 9001, post-2000, but then dropped it entirely. The receptionist of Northern Pipe confirmed they no longer hold an ISO 9001 certification, but attempts to talk to senior management were met with silence, and they have declined to provide any details on their ISO certification, despite repeated requests. It makes sense that if Northern Pipe benefited from years of promotion by Palmes in the ISO 9001 space, they would be very skittish about publicizing their eventual abandonment of it; and, of course, this would be a black eye for Palmes as well, since Northern Pipe is his only truly verifiable position within a company that was certified to ISO 9001.
Business Standards Architects
After Northern Pipe, it appears Palmes then used his work history and his role in the TAG to expand the persona he had begun creating in 2001: that of a working ISO 9001 consultant with decades of experience. He landed book deals, TAG committee positions, speaking engagements and webinar events. At no time did anyone appear to check his resumé. After Northern Pipe, however, it’s clear he was no longer actually working for anyone other than his own consulting firm Business Standards Architects.
Once again, however, we see problems with math that result in an inflation of his experience: Palmes has claimed he launched BSA in 2007, but official records show it was launched in 2011, a difference of four years.
On his webpage at PDCauditing.com, he lists a number of ISO 9001 consulting clients, including one Trollwood Performing Arts School. No one at Trollwood had heard of ISO 9001, and a representative confirmed that Palmes had done some consulting regarding — well, something (they weren’t clear at all) — but that it had to do with helping the company move from North Dakota to Moorehead MN, and nothing whatsoever to do with ISO 9001 or quality management. 2006 tax records for Trollwood do show that Palmes was an unpaid director for the school, likely a title granted to donors. This raises questions as to the veracity of his client list, which is not particularly spectacular anyway: it lists only eleven clients for the entirety of Palmes’ alleged decades-long career in consulting. Assuming he did start in 1986 as claimed, that would mean he averages one client every 2.6 years. Yikes.
Auditing and Training
More discrepancies emerge when vetting his work with auditing and training organizations. Palmes has made differing claims that he has worked for SAI Global as an ISO 9001 Lead Auditor; his LinkedIn profile and other sources claim he worked with SAI since 2006, but he indicated on his official nomination form for the TAG that he has worked there for “8 years,” or 2007. In both cases, Palmes alleges he still audits for them, but SAI was only able to verify that he began contracting with them in 2009, and has not audited since 2014, resulting in another 4 year discrepancy.
Palmes also claims he currently works for training organization The Quality Group Inc., but the company reformed itself a few years ago and has not utilized Palmes at all since the restructure. They were also only able to confirm that Palmes worked with them since 2007, not the 2002 that Palmes has claimed, meaning his actual work with them was between 5 – 7 years less than claimed.
The pattern here is consistent: in each case, an error is made which extends Palmes’ alleged work history and experience, and in no case whatsoever is the math reversed so that it doesn’t favor Palmes. The result is that Palmes’ alleged experience is improperly exaggerated by as much as 23.5 years.
Let’s take a look:
- General ISO / quality experience (post university) – padded by 1-3 years
- Golden Valley Products – padded by 4 years
- Northern Pipe Products – padded by 1.5 years
- Business Standards Architects – padded by 4 years
- SAI Global – padded by 4 years.
- The Quality Group Inc. – padded by 5-7 years.
I checked with six different HR professionals and asked if this amounted to something that would reach the bar for what’s called “padding a resumé,” and each agreed that yes, this was padding. They all agreed it was highly unethical, and would likely be grounds for a candidate to be denied employment if it were discovered during a routine resumé check. They also agreed it was unlikely that these were the results of memory lapses or inaccuracies, given that all of the “errors” favor granting additional experience, rather than a mix of pluses and minuses.
Curiously, Palmes telegraphed on his TAG nomination form that there might be a problem with his recollection, but in retrospect of this pattern, it seems more like he was attempting to pre-empt any problems should someone (like me) actually check these things:
But Wait, There’s More
As if that weren’t enough, there are other niggling details with some of Palmes’ claims, most of which could have been confirmed by the US TAG team who nominated him, had they the desire to do so:
- Palmes claims he is currently the convener of ISO TC 176/SC1/WG1, but that position is currently held by Craig Williams. Palmes stepped down a while ago.
- Palmes claims he co-chaired the IAF’s ISO 9000 Advisory Group with Nigel Croft, but in fact took the position later. It was under Palmes’ leadership that the group was disbanded, and absorbed into the IAF Task Group, considered by most a now toothless committee.
- Palmes implies – although doesn’t directly state – that he was employed by ISO, ANAB and ASQ, when his work for these organizations is purely voluntary, whether on committees or boards. Admittedly this point is up for debate, but a casual reader might well mistake some of his resumé entries as claiming he worked for these groups, rather than volunteered some time for them.
The giant psychic tandem war elephant in the room is that Paul Palmes makes quite a fuss over being the TAG’s “Ethics Expert” after having done a short stint with a group called the Open Compliance and Ethics Group. He has dropped the “e-word” in his book blurbs, as well, such as this one from his book, “Process Driven Comprehensive Auditing“:
That claim stung him when, in 2014, he stepped in to speak at an event run by G31000, an unaccredited certificate mill for risk management professionals, after White House risk expert Dr. Karen Hardy dropped out of the event due to its surrounding scandals.
The Final Analysis
It is likely that Palmes and his supporters, including those that nominated him and currently engaged in speaking events alongside him, would attempt to explain the discrepancies away as simple mistakes or faulty memory. Palmes himself attempted to frame it as “unintentional oversight.” However, any objective analysis of the errors shows a consistent pattern of exaggeration since at least 2001. This meets the industry-accepted definition of “resumé padding” and is viewed by HR professionals as at least exaggeration, if not outright lying; recalling a few dates incorrectly is common, but not to the tune of 23 years of exaggerated experience.
Now the issue has been formally raised with both ANSI and the US TAG 176 Administrator. The process requires the TAG investigate this themselves, and then ANSI step in if they fail to take proper action. We will see what happens.
The best course of action would be for Palmes to stand down, for the TAG to cancel out the election and hold a new one, based on a ballot comprised of candidates actually nominated by the members. Then the TAG could move on with some sense of authority; as it stands now, the growing evidence of institutionalized cronyism is getting harder and harder to ignore. Finally, the TAG should work to root out the dominance by the private consultants, and to permanently fix the election rules so that this kind of thing never happens again.
Note: Paul Palmes was contacted prior to this article’s publication, and directly asked to address or correct the discrepancies in his resume. He did not respond. The issue was then escalated to Alka Jarvis, who also did not respond.
About Christopher Paris
Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 30 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001 and Surviving AS9100. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.