Tuesday 13 November 2012

Business ethics or double standards?

Today business ethics are being challenged to the very core and to the very notion of how we conduct our business. But what is business ethics? Since the start of the financial crisis businesses have been reaffirming their business ethics, and putting more emphasis in their websites on words such as Integrity and trust. I have seen vocabulary on corporate sites like ‘ground-breaking best practices’ and ‘impeccable integrity’ or ‘transparency is our key.’ To the point I fear no one knows who to believe anymore. Trust has been abused extensively over the past boom period and now even more during the crisis when persons are being cleverer than ever before in increasing turnover or profit whereby covering their own conduct.

The definition of integrity means honest, wholeness or soundness and consistency of character. In my view business ethics should be treated as the same as your own personal code or own moral conduct. There is no difference.  It is in the person that counts not the business because it is the people that drive the business. If we are good in our business but show no personal moral conduct i.e. with our colleagues or at home or in private, how can we put the word integrity in front of the businesses we represent? How can we be a whole and a sound person? This goes both ways in the sense that we could have impeccable family values but behave without any integrity or code of conduct at work in for example serving solely for our own purpose.

What is a personal moral conduct? It does not take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. It is everything in our behaviour and our conscience to knowing what is right and what is wrong and to act accordingly. It starts from our interior that is why it is so often hidden to others. From one end of the spectrum it is from deceitfulness, anger/bitterness, jealousy/resentment, idleness, our sexual behaviour, vulgarity, indulgence to our very own pride, fear, ruthless ambition and greed to name but a few. At the other end it is love (pureness of heart) & forgiveness, charity/kindness, and courage/endurance, clarity of conscience humility & patience, wisdom, hope and faith. Please read http://blog.timemcg.com/2012/07/are-we-still-at-crossroads.html to understand my 4 person paradigm.

If we don’t get a hang of any of these in our own self, how are we able to show that we are ethical in business? Seriously! Or would you rather that we continue with the very notion that if you are making money in business, we don’t ask questions? The two are intertwined. You don’t honestly believe that we can leave our loving family in the morning and put on a different face mask when we go to work. In some case I have seen business men (and women) behave without values both at home and at work. This crisis is teaching us that we really have to raise our bar in our own self. One does not buy or sell values, they are instilled in us and it is up to each of us to work on them ourselves.

In the past when I was in a client facing business of making money and had the ‘desire’ to make more, I behaved in front of my prospects and clients impeccably. I was good at that and I knew how (otherwise if I faltered I may lose the deal). But my private life and my personal conduct behind closed walls was to be ashamed of. We all tolerated certain stories and actions and we laughed and found them amusing. How is it I represented a major company that ‘portrayed’ itself to have integrity when my own personal self-did not? It is called leading a life of duplicity. If today this is still true in our society and common practice, I fear that business or the very concept of it could be over.  The cracks will appear and become visible in our actions; we then lose sight of ourselves and therefore our business practices.

Incidentally after much suffering I had to find faith to get myself in order. It helped me to re-instil a proper moral conduct in action and in conscience and therefore to be true to myself or become master of my own self and at the same time find a peace of mind. Therefore I happen to believe that it is only our Christian faith that is at the heart of our moral and personal conduct that we can really show a human depth, dignity and aim to serve a purpose. But that is me.  (Note I am not super human as I still have my faults!) 

To sound more down to earth it is up to business leaders or individuals to do their own soul searching and to work out who they really are and what they are here to do and to change if they have to. There are many ways in doing this. This takes time, maybe a few trial and errors along the way or through the school of ‘hard knocks’ and I suppose a little courage. If by chance you are consistent to your own value system home and away then I believe there must be some substance in putting integrity & trust at the heart of how we conduct our business. Our lives and careers become more interesting and with a purpose.

When we look at reality what have we achieved? We seemed to have turned into a world of masquerades, where money and ruthless ambition drives us to a sub-par conduct as it so often does and the concept of shame or guilt has no relevance simply because others do the same. Tolerance appears to have gone over board and Integrity and trust vanished into thin air. Whole communities have their value system turned upside down. Families are being pulled apart like never before. Society aswell as our institutions are confused and so are many of our business leaders and politicians.

In business we simply increase regulation and push for growth? What are we being asked to do? You want us to work harder and follow more rules? What we need is to re-evaluate our own moral standing to see where we are. Growth without any personal code defeats all purposes. When we neglect our mind we can neglect our body and our heart. It just comes down to more time thinking, to stand up and to get a better grip of our own conscience and not just do and follow where the wind blows or lose ourselves in the desert.

Looking at our western hemisphere from a distance, it seems that the nature of the beast has gripped us at such a superficial level. He now governs. When he governs, our conscience is numbed, then dulled and finally silenced. Business ethics or double standards? God only knows.

‘Integrity has no need of rules’ Albert Camus

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Are we balancing our career with family?

In the many career advising situations that I have been confronted with over the years, it was often the case that we would be discussing the ideal position. The candidate had ‘almost’ everything he/she wished for. It was challenging, promotional opportunities, great product, awesome culture and very good financial incentives etc. I had the ideal candidate. Just one snag; it meant that the person had to either relocate his or her family to a different part or another geographical region as the daily commute was not possible. In another similar case, no relocation this time but changing position meant 60 to 80% air travel. How do we balance these situations with a healthy family life?

In the case of relocation; the more sensible candidate would respond by asking for some time to discuss the situation with their partner. Some would revert back and compromise in that the person might commute on a weekly basis and be home in the weekends.  The few that relocated were more desperate for a new life, their children were grown up, or felt it was their only option due to a totally unfulfilling current role or in certain cases no role. Put simply they felt they had little choice and their decision was purely economic. Most would come back and say no. The upheaval and burden were too great on the family, the children at school, their home, their friends, sense of community etc. They would be happy to patiently wait for something else closer to home and make the most of their current position.

In the case of a high level of business travelling, this was straight forward. Many can cope with 20% to 40% business travelling in the year when it becomes very manageable even enjoyable. Beyond this i.e. 60% or above definitely becomes a strain on yourself and your family life at home. When I was asked to recruit for these persons I would search for the younger single type with little ties. Senior businessmen that I met that were married and travelled in the high percentage barrier 60% (In some case I have heard 80%) were often living difficult family situations and were ultimately unfulfilled.

I give these examples in that sometimes we are confronted with very difficult decisions in our careers.  If you want something so badly that may impact your family or is not coherent to your inner value system, surely the sensible, more measured or even courageous approach is to take time out, reflect, reason and think through on the best possible outcome and its consequences where sacrifice of our own personal need might take increased consideration before anything else.

My view is that any career decision that negatively impacts family life or worst of all may victimise children is an evil one. Furthermore a child brought up with a father or mother hardly at home is harmful. Plus what is no good is getting so tied up with your work whereby squeezing aside your family or using your work and other activities as a form of escapism from your private life. It goes without saying that work holism is nothing to be proud of; it falls into the category of addictions & aholism i.e. this compulsive need to do something or craving implying that in truth there must be something deeper at fault or missing in you as a person.

In brief a life balance is essential to our wellbeing; family life is one of the greatest contributions any human being can make toward our children and society, and parenthood is one of the greatest fulfilments and joy any human being could wish for. Anyone disagree?
‘It is never too late for us to become what we might have been’

Thursday 13 September 2012

What’s wrong with our home talent?

I spoke to a CEO of a web design company recently.  His company employs around 50 people with several of his designers based in Azerbaijan. I asked him how it was possible to have people based so far out even if he is in a virtual business.

His answer was as follows: "If I had the choice I would employ my technical staff here (in Belgium) but the problem is the following: It is not about the money but more about it being extremely difficult to find the right staff who have a sense of loyalty to the company they work for as well as the adequate skills. Once the person is on board, they are trained for approximately six months, after which they do not hesitate to move on when a better financial offer comes their way from another company. So why bother? In Azerbaijan the workforce is highly skilled and has a great sense of loyalty to the company they work for. I am very happy with them."
I had witnessed this myself in a time when I recruited senior IT staff in the past but it was interesting to be reminded of this fact by a CEO and the flaws we face on our home ground when we are seeking our very own talent & skills. Take note skills are not talents. Talents are your natural gifts and strengths. Skills are the knowledge, expertise and know how you have acquired throughout your career. It is often the case the two are confused with each other. Yet it takes great skill to develop your talents.

The immediate issues that spring to mind from this example, is not just our lack of loyalty as an employee but how we are driven by money.  Evidently it is a cultural problem and a mind-set that is conflictive and extremely difficult to deal with, which clearly also exists in the financial sector amongst others.

The issues and solution are twofold. The IT sector, like in the financial sector, falls within the service sector. Those that are employed in the service sector must have the mentality of ‘serving’ for the needs of the customer (givers mentality) and not those for their own benefit.(takers mentality.) If someone leaves because of being offered more money elsewhere; this person is seen as contributing for his own need. This is a cultural issue and is endemic in our society. It begs the question. How can we be contributing therefore for our own benefit in a service sector customer facing environment?
Following the carrot is by no means the key to happiness. Instead we must strive to give yourself to work that brings together a need and I promise you; your talent and your passion will be unlocked and you will be happier for it.

I say it is twofold as this must be looked at too from the employer’s perspective. People in authority may not fully understand or grasp the full extent of human nature, in the sense that they manage people as they do things. Their lack of understanding can prevent them in tapping into the human potential of their employees, their true worth and their talent. By using them purely on their skill whereby overlooking their talent or rewarding a knowledge worker on short term gain; are some examples of management through fear in so far as the employee can easily become unhappy. He/she feels degraded or depersonalised. They do not feel ‘cared’ for and ultimately lose their sense of loyalty. In other words a job becomes a job, more like a necessity that is programed in us and not something they want to do or feel passionate about.

The final point to make and worth noting that it is also up to universities and training programs to remain abreast to where the gaps remain in our pool of talent to where the scarcity of skills can be matched. If there are a shortage of talent in our very own back yard well these issues must be addressed in a balanced manner.
The more we use our present talents, the more talents we are given and the greater our capacity becomes.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

How do I conduct an interview?

The best interviews I have conducted (there have been may) are with people who come across as having a certain ease with themselves. Open but reserved, confident yet still humble, honest and sincere. Focused yet undeterred. Finally slightly inquisitive, humorous and ultimately interested. There is a great uplift in creating a two way conversation with two interested individuals. I sometimes would walk away impressed with the person in mind for days to come.

Assuming you are sitting in front of an experienced interviewer for a position you are clearly interested in and for the right reasons, first impressions count enormously. It goes without saying that it is important to arrive on time. It is essential to dress appropriately or be in proper business attire suitable for the occasion. Introduce yourself formally with a firm yet gentle handshake.  Sit down when offered to be seated - not before! The task of the interviewer is to find out about you, the type of person that you are, your strengths and your weaknesses. He or she is there to find out if you have a focus, that you are balanced in personality and solid in character and to see if you can really add or contribute and ultimately fit to the needs of the company. The chemistry is vital to see if you get on with each other. This is very important especially if you happen to be talking with your potential boss or team members.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? This is one of the most common questions an interviewer will ask you. In my view it is in fact such a crucial question because it is really there to find out if you have found a purpose in life and to see how well you know yourself. Many candidates struggle to answer this question as they have not spent enough time knowing their own aspirations and ambitions and afraid that what they say may hamper their chances in getting the position on offer. (This can be the same when talking about your weaknesses.) Naturally unforeseen circumstances may limit your aspirations in the future but that should not deter you in answering this question.
I would therefore advise any candidate to work in getting an understanding of themselves to have a peace of mind before sitting down in front of an interview. What does not work is if a candidate is unsure of himself, comes across as slightly desperate and not being oneself. Fear is a crucial obstacle we all face as human beings but needs to be dealt with from within. Sweaty hands, play acting, fidgety, rambling and not allowing the other person to speak is really bad. Incidentally there is nothing wrong with being slightly nervous as we are after all only human.
A good interviewer will sense whether the candidate is sincere or not.  That is why it is so important, to know yourself well. To be able describe your weaknesses with ease and your areas where you can improve. It is important to have a focus, and to know your own talents.  To be able to show a fine balance between your own confidence and humility and not over sell yourself. It is essential that you have done your research about the company and therefore have some good questions to ask the interviewer about the position, the culture of the company, and the strategy of the business for example. As it goes both ways the candidate has to feel comfortable with the company and the job. It is important that if you are interested to make the interviewer feel that you are. Again this must sound subtle yet sincere. Show also that you have a bit of humour that in fact that not only do you contribute to the companies needs but you are also potentially positive to have around.
‘Thee lift me and I’ll lift thee and we’ll ascend together’
Quaker Proverb

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Prepare for the Unexpected?

One summer, I took the Eurostar from London returning to Brussels. It was one of those hot summers day, sometime in the middle of the afternoon. As the train got closer to Brussels, it started slowing down, until eventually it grounded to a halt perhaps 30 km from its destination and then the engine turned off. It stood there for a while as the sun was shining through our windows. After approximately 10 minutes an announcement came on ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, we are sorry to inform you that the local electric power supply is out on this part of the track. We have no further information to give you for now, as soon as we get some, we will inform you’
The air conditioning and the lights were switched off and another announcement came on ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, we are sorry to inform you that we are obliged to turn out all power in the train to conserve our limited batteries’

As the sun shone even more brightly through our windows, the heat in the train was rising. Another announcement,  ‘Ladies and gentlemen, would you be kind and to turn down the blinds in order to reduce the sunlight coming through the windows’

We in turn pulled our blinds down. The heat in the train was beginning to rise considerably. We had no air supply and it was perhaps 30 degrees outside. Inside, it would have to be a lot more not helped by the baking sun directing her sunlight through the blinds.  We waited for another announcement and after around 30 minutes we heard the following  ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have just been informed that there is a Deutsche Baan train in front of us which has also broken down due to no electrical supply. We have radioed the main station in Brussels Midi our situation and are awaiting an update. We do not know yet how much time this will take. Meanwhile water will be distributed to all passengers.’

The heat in our compartments was reaching 40 degrees centigrade, if not more as there was no oxygen supply. We were unable to open any windows as that was just not possible and to the doors what with no power supply they were firmly closed. I saw people beginning to perspire quite a bit. An hour went by, and no further announcement as yet. People were beginning to look nervous and some were agitated.

Another announcement came. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have just heard from Brussels main station that they are sending an extra diesel locomotive to attach themselves to us, and pull us into Brussels. We are not sure how long this will take. Again, we are very sorry and we will keep you informed’

As I pondered the situation, it was easily 40 degrees and fast climbing perhaps to 50 degrees. I don’t know. How much longer can the human body take this kind of thing.  Another diesel locomotive? No doubt they would have to toe the Deutsche Baan train in front first. How long will that take? Another couple of hours!  My mind wondered off what the human body would sustain. Dying through asphyxiation. This means the body has a lack of Oxygen due to excess Carbon. Without sufficient oxygen to sustain life, people will act normally at first but will then abruptly feel dizzy and black out in a matter of seconds as the remaining oxygen in the blood stream is consumed. I pondered how this would be an interesting way to go.

As almost 120 minutes came in this situation, an announcement came. Ladies and gentlemen, the diesel engine has arrived. We will shortly be moving slowly and into Brussels. We are very sorry about this delay.’ As the diesel engine attached itself to our train, finally after two hours of being stuck we were able to move. Of course with the power still out it was easily now perhaps 50 degrees and rising. People’s clothes were drenched in sweat but amazingly they were very calm.  I myself, just sat there breathing normally and slowly without moving. I was ready and prepared to look after people if there was a need. As the train was moving at 30 to 40 km an hour, still there was no supply of oxygen. Again I wondered again how long the human body could take this. I looked around, some people were quietly fidgety. Others were making jokes on their various mobiles about how they were trapped inside an oven. Yes, asphyxiation was a form of death that could catch people by surprise especially when in fact, in retrospect we were trapped inside an oven.

Another announcement came. “Ladies and gentlemen, we will shortly be arriving into Brussels station, please be aware that due to having no electrical supply, it is possible we may incur a problem opening our doors automatically. Please be patient for a few minutes upon our arrival, if the doors do not open, we will be obliged to open them each manually.’

I was beginning to wonder if people were going to react or anything would happen. There was quite a lot of grumbling; at least they took some comfort in knowing that they would get to their destination. About 2.5 hours into our ordeal we suddenly arrived into Brussels station. The final announcement came ‘Our apologies for this delay and discomfort, we would like to inform you that you may access our website for passenger refunds for this delay etc’

As it came to a halt, naturally we had to wait a further 10 minutes before all the doors had to be opened manually. We calmly waited until finally the doors opened and we walked outside feeling utterly relieved to be breathing in the fresh air after enduring a heat that probably reached 50 even 60 degree for easily over two hours if not three.

Now, I wanted to tell you this story of what happened to me back in the summer of 2011, which may have little if not nothing to do with my business at Time MCG but intriguing nevertheless. It describes a scenario that regardless of which responsible business or company you are responsible for, be it in financial services, retail, manufacturing or transportation & logistics clearly the unexpected may occur.  There are certain contingency  or ‘back up’ plans that can be put in place made when it comes to the responsibility of employees, customers and/or clients if certain ‘predicable’ scenarios may occur when related to our business. Shock waves related to slower growth for example. Perhaps more ‘thinking’ and investment by firms in this area will be required for the future.

In this case it is seemed clear that Eurostar’s contingency plan in such a situation was totally inadequate and it almost felt that they had none. The only fix they had was ‘A refund’ and thankfully there was a diesel locomotive at hand. To have a loss of local supply of power on a track line whereby a train losing all its power, could happen at any time. There was no backup plan particularly in the heat of the summer. To be unable to open any windows and not then able to supply oxygen with another battery was unacceptable. What if there were no Diesel trains, or suddenly a loss of supply of diesel to run those locomotives? How were we supposed to open windows or doors if we had to? What if we were further away from Brussels and more time was needed?  A refund? Is that it? I would rather our money re-invested on a clear guideline if such a situation occurred again as this one was not acceptable. The company put their passengers in an incredibly high risk and dangerous situation that Monday 4th July. I was amazed by the patience and calmness of all the passengers and that incredibly no one was harmed.

Incidentally, some days after that incident I was looking for my ticket and I couldn’t find it. I thought how silly of me, I must have thrown it away. In case any of you are asking I did not make this story up !

Are we still at a crossroads?

In our work it is often the case we come home and feel frustrated or unrewarded. It can turn out that perhaps we do very little and in the end view our work as what we can get out of it and as a way of feeding our families and providing security. We may feel a lack of fulfilment and make up for it in our own free time where we can pursue our own hobbies, enjoy our families or other pleasures.

I believe there is more we can do in our careers so let’s raise the bar a little. We need time to look at the nuts and bolts which require a certain re-examination of ourselves as that is where it essentially begins. I will try to summarise as follows as to what is in fact is a vast subject of which Steven Covey has a better grasp.  The human body consists of the mind, the body, the spirit and the heart. Let’s ask ourselves some questions from this whole body paradigm, which applies to our work just as much as to our home.

• There is our mind or our mental intelligence. Do I have time to think? Am I able to reason well? How is my memory, and my sense of logic? How creative am I? Do I have a vision and a strategy?
• The body and our physical intelligence.  How healthy am I? Do I possess the energy, discipline and work ethic? To have the physical capacity to execute what is required? How competent am I?
• There is our heart and our emotional intelligence. How much passion and or compassion do I have? Can I love? Am I emphatic enough? Do I think, help and understand others?   Do I listen and have the ability to put myself in someone else’s shoes? Am I sensitive, socially aware yet at the same time courageous?
• There is our spirit and our spiritual intelligence. Am I in touch with my conscience? To have an innate understanding of what is right and what is wrong? Do I possess humility and have the capacity to forgive? Do I lead a life in business compatible to my life at home?  Do I act according to my conviction, in good conscience and with integrity, respect and fairness?

I certainly know areas in myself where I can improve. I am touching on but a few and on some pretty fearful questions particularly the latter ones. We just don’t know what we could find. It might be a murky world under there. Human beings are often fragile and fearful.  Nevertheless the most important of them all I believe is the spirit or our soul. This is what makes us human beings different to every other living organism on the earth. This is the source and the driver of the other three where your alertness becomes more acute together with your talents and skills. This is the great mystery of being alive. It acts in stark contrast to our ego or pride. It takes some serious channelling of a band of frequencies out of a World War 2 radio, in which many people require guidance; you can create a synergy in you as a person, build character and change.  You can create a sense of higher worth and a purpose. You can create in yourself a powerful force and be prepared to face challenges better equipped than ever before. You can perhaps grasp the wider issues and then begin to do something about it. You can feel and become unique.

When I worked as a head hunter, a lot of us were talented and in many ways it was a fun business but somehow in the 4 person paradigm something was missing. It became a dog-eat-dog world in other words there was a lot of competition, both internal and external and we would do anything to get something. Note ‘we would do anything to get something.’ It rapidly became a world of takers and no givers. Many of us including myself lost our sense of worth. Many often had their egos which got the better of them. There were persons who camouflaged their fragile selves with possessions and money as an expression of power, and status. There was some delusional aspect that the pursuit of wealth was an innate right that somehow made us masters of ourselves. We would never ask ourselves why except felt awe for ‘the haves’ and brushed aside ‘the have not’s. We hardly changed the way we did business except only to ask ourselves how we could get more. It was never, how can I change in myself, in order for me to better contribute to the needs? Or if there is a problem, how can I make a difference? As a result the industry itself lacked creativity and had lost much of its credibility and integrity.

I for one had lost my sense of self (In truth I was already in the Goby dessert and was busy searching) Imagine I applied this to my home life? It would be all hell bent lose. (I confess I was in a muddle there too) In the end we would lead a life as a form of duplicity; we were therefore not being true to ourselves. In short most people could not bear the why’s’ which simply gave meaning to our lives let alone all the ‘how’s’. Some people might argue that business is not for thinkers but for doer’s. I beg to differ. The great recession has taught us that we need both. Business has become a ‘force majeure’ in our society and with it should carry responsibility, reason and purpose.

Victor Frankl said ‘This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love’

Thursday 5 July 2012

Are these traumatic times in our Leadership?

"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."
One of Churchill’s most famous quote 72 years ago straight after the Battle of Britain.

What an era that must of been. We live in a totally new era now. I believe in a very different and potentially more troubling time. The Banking industry in Europe, the UK and the US has done us a lot of damage over recent years. The European debt crisis is also driving the EU into the total unknown.

This brings me back to the Barclays saga. Bob Diamond the ex CEO has called the behaviour of some of the minority of his staff as reprehensible. We know that this minority were making a gain for their own personal need through a poor code of conduct. What we don’t know is how many others are out there like that.  Clearly we understand that everybody needs to make a living and at the same time life is becoming more and more expensive. We must try to get the message across that we can also make a living by maintaining strong business ethics and personal code of conduct.

Mr Diamond has now been offered £22 Million in his lay off package by Barclays. This is going to be a true test of his character to see whether he accepts. Let me try to enlighten a little more wisdom here by adding a little EQ. The banking industry (as well as some other service sectors) in the last decade has caused so much harm to the wider society by so few what with our debt crisis, austerity measures, higher taxes and pension contributions for persons such as Mr and Mrs Jones who have worked very hard most of their lives.

Mr Diamond has already made £105 Million from working for one of the largest banks over this last ‘lost’ decade. Now he has been offered £22 million (€27.6 Million) ! Does he actually need it? Accepting it is surely going to hit big headlines. Is this not making a gain for his own personal need? This could be seen as no different to the reprehensible behaviour of some of his ex-employees.

I am certain other CEO’s from other sectors are aghast at the behaviour of some of their peers in the financial sector and would find these figures reprehensible and will certainly question its principle. The board in my view should never have offered this amount (they may have had no alternative as they must have been contractually obliged.) Mr Diamond has been presiding over large elements of a culture of greed and crookedness that requires change. He did not change it. He finds some of the behaviour of his ex-employees as reprehensible. He and his COO did the right thing to resign and waiving their annual bonus. To maintain your honour I would advise that perhaps waiving their own pay off package and perhaps to go as far as pay some money back to where it came from or forward it to where it is most needed.

It is a serious matter when we talk about re-instilling integrity and moral values. It is our duty as responsible citizens to erase the culture of greed where profit has become for personal gain and individualistic rather than the mentality of serving or contributing for others; this example has to start from the top. This is where people look to. They look at their leaders like they did when Winston Churchill was around. Gosh don't we miss him. An influential CEO must lead by example and also if need be resign by example. We must eliminate double standards. We must stop these mind boggling types of remuneration figures and extortionate pay off packages for discredited leadership even more so whilst the general public is suffering and making genuine sacrifices. There is a real danger of a general backlash. The public are not in the mood. This is how human nature works. We have seen this throughout history.

It seemed ironic the other day as I was asked by a normal good citizen what I did. ‘I help experienced people in training and their career direction with particular attention to the Banking and Financial services industry.’ I replied.

‘Oh yes’ she said. ‘They need help. They are so blind. Some of these persons with a lot of money can be so ignorant.’  She apologised for using such language as she did not really understand the technical aspects of what they did. I felt she totally grasped the issue at hand. Such simple language at times can send such a powerful message.

Never in the field of human existence has so much harm been done to so many by so few

How do I deal with redundancy?

In these troubled times of cost reduction, squeezed profit margins, lack of long term strategy and focus. Not to mention corporate human error, poor judgement and general lack of integrity. Jobs can go. The question is what do you do when you are asked to leave?

After a company has looked at all exhaustive measures then asks someone to leave. This could be a pretty traumatic experience. Let’s think of a common example. You receive an email for an urgent appointment with HR. The Director of HR argues that due to cost cutting measures they would like you to leave with immediate effect. ‘Our people will ensure that you receive a good pay off.’ ‘Thank you for your good work.’ ‘We will ensure you get good references.’ ‘We are sorry, Harry, but the decision came from the top, don’t take it personally.’ These might be common answers. You argue, you reason and battle but to no avail.

You then walk back to your desk; the company security officer is standing next to you. You take your personal belongings. There is no time to down load anything personal from your computer, contact emails, private letters that you have accumulated over the years. You hand in your company mobile, laptop etc. All company access and computer codes are blocked with immediate effect. You might have a chance to shake hands with a few good colleagues who have become friends over the years. He or she then walks you out of the door. You are out on the street. And that’s it.

What happens next? Well, you may become disorientated, try to reason and rationalise in your mind. Why me? You hardly understand anything. You go to the pub and might have a few. You may panic or become depressed. You may fight it. It hardly sinks in. You don’t know how to tell your friends or persons close to you and your pride and ego may have been severely damaged. It could be a huge relief as you were not happy in any case. I just don’t know. Again this would be a case by case situation. Each case is different as each person is different.

My advice here is that I believe that everything in life happens for a reason. In most cases a few years later, you will look back, and it was the best thing that had ever happened. I say this because over time, you would have got your act together and got over it. Human beings are generally resilient and certainly adaptable. My guess is that you would have sat down and really put some time in yourself to really understand your own ability, talents and added value. Possibly ask ourselves not what I can get out of life but more along the lines on how I can contribute. Something you had failed to do when you were working for your ex-employer.  Life can be full of pleasant surprises.

Nevertheless, if your new situation continues to trouble you in that you still find yourself unsettled; Time MCG can guide you out of it and into your future. Time MCG will give you time to understand your capability whereby rediscovering and tapping into your hidden talents. Think out of the box and re-discover yourself. To re-instil your inner belief and courage whereby offering you the right career counselling on a new path or even change. Out there, there could be many opportunities for you that you were totally unaware of regardless of this tight market. In the end it is not all a ‘dog eat dog’ world or a world full of takers.

‘You have not done enough; you have never done enough so long as it is still possible that you have something of value to contribute’
Dag Hammarskjold.  Nobel Peace Prize winner 1961

Let us wake up this career of yours!!

Friday 29 June 2012

Which Bank is next?

In 2012 we have had Goldman Sachs with the Greg Smith Affair, RBS and the Steven Hester bonus saga. Now Barclays. I am at a loss of words whilst I am reading about Bob Diamond and the mess that Barclays have got themselves into in rigging market interest rates. The PR of the bank is lacking so much social awareness and totally out of tune with the mood of the general public whose patience is being pushed to the limit. For the CEO to say ‘I will not resign’ and blames a number of staff. Mr Diamond, permit me, you are the CEO. The buck stops where you are.  If he had any honour left of course he has to resign. In my view the entire board needs to resign and let us start the radical shake up in the banking sector that we keep on talking about.

After four years since the financial crisis in 2008 and after all that has happened with the bail out of banks at the tax payers’ expense and the consequential wider public suffering from the on-going current debt crisis; why have we not learnt our lessons? There are so many questions that we should be asking ourselves amongst these large and powerful organisations in the financial services sector. Let me think of some. Are banks there to serve their own needs and that of each of their own individual employees or the needs of their customers? How is their selection process when it comes to their recruitment intake in so far as their employees behave in such a way? Who is accountable when their very own CEO says he is not to blame but a small number of employees?  For a CEO to shift the blame is in itself a reflection of very weak leadership and of a weak organisation.

A re-examination of our very own values and moral conduct when we do business must be looked at and where action needs to be taken. A change in culture and mentality is the only way to re-instil our integrity and honour which are commodities that appear to be now rarer than ever. Of course this is very difficult. I know from my own past experience that where money is involved it is very hard to change. Let us see where we can make a radical shake up and provide some ideas on the practical side. Regulation as we can see does not seem to be working as persons with sub-par conduct in their characters will always find a way to flaunt it not to mention the extra cumbersome costs it fuels. No something more far reaching.

  1. A radical review of bankers remuneration policy which ought to reflect more the current economic times and also more aligned to other sectors. This has to start at the top.
  2. Ending the type of bonus culture that links employee conduct to short term gain. Moreover looking at eliminating profit sharing or fee earning amongst employee, senior and or partner pay.
  3. A radical look at financial products which are linked to positions that encourage such conduct and behaviour.
  4. A radical look at positions that allow persons to conduct themselves in such a way.
  5. True character assessments in Banking recruitment intake. Annual re-assessments of employee work force to the very top. No room for sub-par behaviour privately and professionally as this is a reflection of the true nature of the person.
  6. Or to sincerely follow up on the suggestion of the breakup of the banks and a return to a traditional service provider for the long term needs of their customers. After all the banks are service providers in simply safeguarding the assets of their customers. I am going to go so far as to question the principle of lending and whether banks should be encouraged to lend. Lending is simply fuels debt which puts individuals, organisations and countries at their mercy and into a spiral not to mention the increased duress it causes (as what we are witnessing with the Euro crisis)
  7. Criminal prosecution to those who break the rules and are seen in manipulating the market for their own needs.

Why am I writing this? The answer is very simple. A radical shake up means that many jobs are going to go in the short term but that is better than the whole system collapsing in its current form. The system requires filtering. The apples which are rotten in the core need to go. In the long term jobs and growth will benefit. Short termism, and this obsession for profits for personal gain, speculative greed, selling of misguided products in the financial service sector is evil and it has to stop. The ‘quick buck’ mentality is simply foolish and is a reflection of human fear and finally making a gain from someone else’s misfortune is neither contributing nor adding value to anything at all. This entire culture has to stop. It is greed, it is intoxicating, and it is simply wrong. This has been proven over the last lost decade. The public know it and they have had enough. The change has to start from the top. An example has to be set from the top.

All this can bring in negative publicity as with this current Barclays debacle. The consequences and damage can be enormous. All hell can break lose. Confidence, synergy and trust evaporate. Many more jobs will disappear. Many good people will suffer. Many good bankers will suffer and endure a bad name because of the sheer foolishness and lack of integrity of others. Good people who worked very hard with their entire life can suffer simply because we have not changed or bothered to make that change in our culture. Most bright and intelligent people with honest aspirations to do well who feel they are really contributing and providing a service will feel totally let down. 

It really is time for real change before I am sure more banks will follow in jumping on the negative publicity band wagon and entering into an intractable mess.

Letter to The Times 19/03/2012

Dear Sir,
"In our view, we will only be successful if our clients are successful. This fundamental truth lies at the heart of how we conduct ourselves."

This is the statement put out by Goldman Sachs regarding Greg Smith resignation. I feel sorry for Goldman’s; they could be falling over their own sword. They certainly have a problem with their own PR and in my view lack a little social awareness. They appear to underestimate the mood of the general public who do not take themselves as fools. Let me try to illuminate more thinking to some distortion here and try to solve their problem which is clearly endemic and as I understand pretty toxic. Let’s start by taking some of the dressing off this opening statement.

As they are an investment bank, we can use the word money.  ‘We only depend on rich clients; that’s how we make our money.’ Let me go further and throw the word success into it with a bit of emotion. ‘We only depend on very rich clients, this is how we make a lot of money this is what we need, we are good at it and we want more. This is the fundamental truth at the heart of how we conduct ourselves.’ I think you see what I am getting at. Greed we have already learnt in a culture is intoxicating and I have heard it is getting worse. It is linked to my theory in business where we stop asking ourselves the ‘why’s’ and the ‘how’s’ but just do. The only ‘how’ we are familiar with; is how can we make more? Some of us are getting cleverer at it than ever before. I have seen this culture before amongst my former colleagues certainly in myself as a former Managing Partner of a leading Executive Search Firm which too mind you was ‘fee earning.’

The crisis of 2008 has now been four years, of which the lessons should be learned in our mentality, personal behaviour and conduct. Humility seems to be a rare commodity. By now I was hoping for a bit of common sense that we would see statements along these lines; ‘This crisis has taught us that we have learnt our lessons and we are deeply sorry of the past debts we have contributed to our governments and the effect it is still having on our wider society. After some soul searching we have had a fundamental shift in our own values, we now understand that with an organisation that is client focused we have had to change and attain a deeper sense of our own selves in each and all of our fee earning employees & partners. We have learnt finally to understand and serve better the needs of our clients which are the key to our future strength.’ This is the fundamental truth which lies at the heart of how we now conduct ourselves.

Do you see the shift?  It could take a while; change in mentality requires a change of heart which is a challenge particularly when money is involved. It would perhaps require change in the way they conduct business. One idea is dismantling the concept of ‘fee earning’ and introducing normal salaries at partner level. In general I believe the mood of the public is looking for a change and moreover demands it. Pride & stubbornness in persons who have the combination of wealth and intelligence are not easy to deal with. They don’t like to be told what to do. Particularly in a time when they were once used to it as per in our last growth period, they will do anything to maintain it. I have recognised this in myself and took me a while to understand. The pursuit of profit can be a good camouflage to our own weakness. The danger is we can view wealth as an innate right or as something delusional that somehow we are masters of ourselves when invariably we are the very masters of disguise. 

‘We must become the change we seek in the world’ Gandhi.

Yours sincerely,

A muppet

Monday 12 March 2012

How do I get the perfect job?

It is a challenge to know ones unique talents and discover our hidden ones too. Everyone is born with them. As we develop ourselves in our careers and our private lives we begin to understand more fully what they are. We are then confronted with choices and decisions. Some of us lose sight of our talents if we make the wrong choices and decisions that we may (or may not) later regret. Others may be sleep walking into the abyss perhaps falling by the wayside. Some of us grow wiser as we make the effort to redeem ourselves, change then learn to rediscover them, as we realise it is all part of life’s experience. Some of us may even begin to understand who we are and why we are here. And others… are still searching.

In my last article I had put some important questions across on how to kick start looking for a new position and ideas on how to get an interview. For example ‘With my talent what contribution can I make where there is a need (and get paid for it?)’  But how does one get the perfect job? The reason for this question is that so often nowadays so many people, bright people; gifted people are in the wrong job or apply for any job, simply because a job is a job. Or how often have we heard ‘This is the job I want because the money is good’ or this is exactly the job for me because it matches my skill set.’ Take note skills are not talents. Talents are your natural gifts and strengths. Skills are the knowledge, expertise and know how you have acquired and developed throughout your career. It is often the case that the two are confused with each other. Yet it takes great skill to develop your talents. Without discovering them or tapping into them we run the real risk of being unhappy and dissatisfied in our job.

I spoke to a senior investment banker recently from the lending side. He was highly educated, intelligent and experienced of around 40 years of age.  Due to the on-going crisis and the continual banking problems, he described how the banks have been forced to take on so much extra costs such as: new regulation & controls, more audit and compliance. This has fuelled so much unnecessary bureaucracy. Deals are getting smaller, and therefore very cumbersome. He felt his talents were more and more compressed until they were simply quashed.

I noticed at the same time he felt trapped, financially too, and was unable to unleash himself. This soft voice crying out from within perhaps seeking a higher purpose yet feeling imprisoned whereby having no peace of mind. The older bankers from the baby boom generation seemed indifferent or aloof as they move closer to their retirement. With more than one secretary these persons were quite content, looking forward to their pension and playing more golf, seemingly undeterred by the banking mess they and their generation have left behind.
He described that he was not the only who felt this way and that it is a common phenomenon amongst the culture of bankers nowadays. It seems such a waste of talent in our world that great people with MBA’s from Erasmus, Solvay or London Business School, with so much experience and so much more to offer to get caught up this way, to have their aspirations crushed.
Aristotle said ‘Where talents and the needs of the world cross, therein lies your vocation’
This takes some courage to figure out. I emphasise again this importance of tapping into our talents and to link it to societies needs as it will provide us with a sense of direction, fuel our passion, unleash a drive and provide us with a sense of purpose. Take your time to re-think, listen to that ‘voice’ which is softly speaking through you and the answers will come.  If we can succeed in this challenge by then you will create a certain ease and a peace of mind and you will find a voice. You are ready to make that change and the step forward. You are ready then to conduct the ideal interview and for the perfect job. Your chances of success are high.

I remember there were times albeit rare in my career when I was introducing potentially talented individuals to employers seeking talent. In the interviews they came across as bright, totally at ease, at the same time humble and still able to sell themselves. They knew themselves well, had a focus and a sense of purpose. (A little humour is also good in interviews) Employers would give their feedback to me. ‘We want this person!’ they would say. ‘What do we need to do to get him or her on board?’ It seems ironic he or she had very little to do with the job description at hand. The employer felt the need to alter the job description considerable to fit this person’s needs and talents. Or they simply created a totally new position out of nothing. They knew that he/she would make that difference to them. They knew that he or she would add value to their company. It turned out that together they created the perfect job.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

How can I get an Interview?

Essentially it is important to sit down, spend time to think and to try to attain a deeper sense of yourself. Start by asking yourselves several questions such as: how am I able to contribute something useful into our society? With my talents and interests how can I be of value to an employer? Where can I add or improve where something else is missing or needs improving in the marketplace?  How can I make a difference? What projects or initiatives does my conscience tell me to inspire me to take action?  Once we have come up with some answers, by this we can obtain a sense of direction, a focus and possibly acquire a passion, a vision and a purpose.  After which, well, we can begin to take some action.

Our next step is to concentrate on our CV.  This is important. I have seen hundreds of CV’s of which and believe me the most part are very poorly written. There are many different ways of writing CV’s. You can see this link to my website for a generic form. Some additional comments; Have two ready, one in your own language and the other in English.  Have your CV checked by someone in the ‘know’, an expert, career counsellor or coach for example.  Your CV in most cases is the first thing your target group will see. It is you on paper and it has to be easily readable for those who read it. Keep it down to two pages maximum. Tailor it slightly when necessary according to your different target group and eliminate any form of personal pronouns. ‘I’ ‘me’ us’ ‘we’ myself, themselves etc. Finally have it ready in PDF format but beware who you send it to! A resume at the same time is a confidential piece of information and must be treated as such.

Now we come to your target companies. This is where we need to be internet savvy. Look at their websites and check their job vacancy page. Search too by typing the position you are seeking and to see who is hiring. This way you will come across interesting SME’s and start ups most you have never heard of. Take note, senior positions although fewer and far between, are rarely advertised and are often contracted outside via third parties or searched through their own network. Mid management positions are often advertised typically on job sites such as Linkedin and efinancialcareers.com. There are many other job sites. It is a question of really getting the hang of searching online. Get to know them. Contact a handful of mid management recruitment companies and ensure they have you in their database. There are many. For senior positions; contact headhunters familiar with your market. (there are many therefore keep to the leading ones and ensure you get a good consultant!)  Check out positions in popular national newspapers and well known business magazines. Open applications are always worth a shot; and finally, never forget your own network!

Do not be afraid to make phone calls. Try and get to the person directly and always be polite but to the point on the phone. You have a ‘voice’ and you never know, the person on the other end may like the sound of it. Covering letters if required must remain reasonably brief and again to the point. Hand written letters (which may reflect a more dedicated effort) are sadly increasingly outdated and not handled well the other end as most applications are done online.
Searching for a job can be very disconcerting and can really affect ones self-esteem. In my view, this is one of the biggest challenges a human being can face, particularly in these harder times. It can really take time. Do not despair as most people have been there in some form or another at a different stage in their career. Normally people at the other end will understand. It is only by fighting this you will reach your goal. Remain concentrated on what you have and not what you don’t have. Remain focused. Treat it as a part time job. I would advise you to hire outside expertise, a career coach or counsellor. This is to give you the extra added value, a stronger sense of direction and better self-awareness and to help you answer those questions I put across earlier on.  It can also help you instil inner belief; add extra discipline, and tips on how to market yourself, almost like building a roadmap to success. Do not be afraid to knock on doors, calling people and yes, your network. Use it!

‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened’

Next blog post; How do I get the perfect job?

The basics on how to write a CV.

  • Personal details, including name, address, phone number, email address and possibly any professional social media presence. You no longer need to include your date of birth, owing to age discrimination rules
  • Qualifications and training from previous jobs, with the most recent first with dates of graduation
  • A personal profile which sells yourself and your qualities, tailored towards the job you are applying for (generic is ok)
  • Career history, starting with your most recent job first. Include dates and temporary or voluntary jobs. The company must be described if unknown and business unit if it is a large organisation. Your position must be clearly stated followed by your responsibilities.
  • Achievements from previous jobs that are relevant
  • Interests, if they are relevant and especially if the skills or teamwork concerned are relevant for the job
  • Any extra information, such as reasons for a career change or reasons for gaps in career history, such as caring duties
  • References, ideally two or more and including a recent employer

Friday 10 February 2012

The Economic Crisis - Every man for themselves?

I rang up a friend recently in London who was working in hedge funds. I had asked him, how things were? How is the market? Is there really a recession? He took a deep breath and he sighed.  ‘Things are flat, not a lot going on. It seems to be a case of every man for themselves.’ This was not the first time I had such a phrase. It is an interesting study -  human behavourial patterns when things get rough in business. How to be cool in a tough economic climate and how to behave rationally in a crisis.

Another friend working in a business that due to few deals coming through, it was not what it used to be, everyone in the company was at each other’s throat, total mistrust and loss of synergy. The company is clearly a sinking ship. In the case of the spectacular tragic semi submerged cruise ship last month, I had read differing reports of whether women and children were allowed off first or was it a case of ‘every man for themselves’ and in some cases even the crew.  Acts of selflessness are rare and in few circumstances.  I am no expert in disaster situations as I have not experienced one, I wonder how I would behave in such a dramatic situation. I have only experienced a crisis.

One other chap joked to me that in his rich neighbourhood nowadays, businessmen in the evenings if they were not drinking heavily in the pubs, they were fighting their wives back home because they were close to bankruptcy or their firms were suffering.  In public during daylight they would be keeping up appearances as decent and respectable businessmen. Yes, different masks were put on adaptable to each situation.  Oil crisis have a tendency to cause panic buying of petrol even of food, foolish really if you think about it that we should be so dependent on oil.

Internal selling of shares when you know there might be a profit warning on the horizon. (as with 2 recent Tesco business executives reported recently in the UK) This could also be a case of unfortunate misconception but suspicious nevertheless. 50% above Inflation busting salary rises in the case of top executives in 2011 reported in the BBC business just after Christmas and the increasing debate on pay inequality where clearly more transparency is needed.

It is a very dangerous concept ‘Every man for themselves’ Human nature can become raw, and our selfish tendencies more exposed, corrupt….possibly savage. It is a condition of fear and panic closely intertwined.  It can instil so many negative emotions whereby we behave irrationally, lack sound judgement and character.  Like an illness, when one person catches it, it is easily transferred to the one next to you. You can let down the whole group, the crew….everyone else. The entire ship will sink.

This is a time when in fact we ought to be behaving the opposite, a time to develop our true character.  How do we help ourselves, each other in a time of hardship? Many years now of stagnation in our economies, is this not giving us a clear signal?  Is this not the perfect time we group together, to really spend time to think, how we can move forward for the long term?  Do we have a vision? Be creative, have passion in our ideas or possessing discipline in executing our strategies. Showing acts of courage and selflessness in our businesses and crisis situations and thinking ‘we’ and not ‘me.’  Have a deeper understanding of what is required and missing in our world, seeking to understand, redefining our attitudes, to do things differently and to change.  If one responsible or influential person gets it the others will follow suit, not like an illness but more like something positively motivating.

It is really very simple. There is a natural principle and moral compass in each of us that points North. It is thus that governs our natural principles and behaviour.  When it veers off course as it so often does, it starts to rattle and shake, possibly move backwards.  It may just stagnate.  It may just sink… and next time with everyone else on board.

‘Character in the long run is the decisive factor in life as an individual and of nations alike’ Theodore Roosevelt.

Monday 23 January 2012

Creativity - Do we dare the impossible?

Today is a confusing period in our history dominated by big business, a stagnated growth, number crunching, profit tomorrow, and regular cost restructuring. I have mentioned before that we tend to lose sight of our long term strategies and goals even our mission statement.  It does appear to be a time that we are void of imagination in business, void of creativity and ideas. So therefore the key question must be - how do we develop them?  Creative people can rightly or wrongly be perceived as a bit whacky, different, idealists, gifted, perhaps psychologically flawed and unconventional.  Sherlock Holmes, for example, or Winston Churchill. They are so full of ideas, that is what makes them creative.

I believe creativity is individual and not communal. In my case, in order to have ideas, I would primarily need to initiate a vision, an interest, inner drive or a passion in what I do. Ideas will help me maintain this and advance forward.  In order to generate my ideas and to be inspired in my business, for example, I need a peace of mind, time to think, read, acquire knowledge and interact with people and things will capture my interest. When it comes to writing an article, an idea of a topic will spring to mind and then I write.  I find that in order to write it requires imagination and thought therefore I need to be disciplined, solidary and peaceful, this allows me to write down my ideas in an orderly fashion.

Ideas and creativity requires knowledge and knowledge is a function of your memory. And your memory needs to be constantly updated, checked, challenged, used and exercised in a meaningful way. In short, to THINK that’s the key, and ideas will catch you by surprise, in your sleep, after an event, going for a walk.

The problem lies herein: yes there are many ideas generated but only a few that get past the first hurdle. We are not confident enough to implement them. It requires a creative visionary with enough foresight to generate the great ones, and it requires a degree of boldness, and an element of fearlessness to implement them. A person who has found his inner belief or passion and is not the least concerned with the effect he or she is creating around them.   It also requires considerable energy, time, and discipline not to mention the cost where risk can come into play if more capital is needed to execute. With all the above – well it takes what some people may call individual genius or a group of them. Perhaps this is why so many potentially great ideas are seldom, and so many of the smaller ones if any are so often just thrown into the in tray and buried beneath the ashes together with everything else.

Let’s try to give an example:

John F, Kennedy in his moon speech in 1961, made a dramatic goal to put a first American on the moon by the end of the decade. Spectacular idea! It drew criticism as unrealistic, mad and a waste of money.  Well with engineering ingenuity together with enough boldness and resources, we know what happened next.

I am no JFK but here is a challenge for the future. Solar impulse makes first International solar powered flight from Switzerland to Brussels.  Wow! The idea is fantastic albeit may have been around for a while but to actually design and implement it!  How about we have our first commercially viable solar powered flight carrying passengers before the end of this decade?  Just think. No more fossil fuels, air and noise pollution, political environmentalists etc. Just to depend on the sun as a sole source of power. With enough ingenuity, talented industry engineers and experts, and financial resources, could we possibly dare the impossible?

Listen – come closer because I am going to say this very quietly. Here is the thing - there are some of us who are out there, more than we know. Those geniuses I am describing, the ones who are half awake… waiting perhaps for a tap on the shoulder… yes. You.  What are you going to do about it?

It is really such a pity in a time where we need them more than ever. Ideas, provided it is a good one, will generate change and bring us forward and I know change can so easily go against current convention but so what.  Am I conventional? I have no idea but I know there are many social norms in society I am not willing to abide by.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

What else can Bankers do?

Having Interviewed and assessed many bankers over the years, I have often been confronted with shall I say a ‘restless’ banker wanting to switch careers and go into for example, Industry, commerce, retail etc. How easy is it once you have gained years of experience in a specialised field? There are certain ways in approaching this question. On paper there are certainly many switches you could make and naturally it depends what you were doing in the bank itself. A functional expert such as HR, IT, Finance and operations, are roles often transferable into many different industry sectors. I am more interested in front office experienced roles in Investment Banking or the business areas, such as Corporate Finance, M&A, Project, leverage, or trade finance as well as equity and debt capital markets and the financial markets. There are many different disciplines such as origination, execution, risk, syndication, sales and trading.  There is also the geographical knowledge and sector expertise of different industries and there is the size of the bank. You could be working in a small bank for example and take on all the front disciplines & sectors! Salaries are also something to take into account as some of the above roles have very high remuneration level of which other industry sectors would not be able to compete. Normally a banker will be aware of this and won’t want to get bogged down on this issue; after all if it was about the money -  just switch banks and find one that pays more!

Taking into account the above factors, it is really a case by case situation but I shall try to summarise and refer to these roles as Investment bankers.  A banker can gain a significant amount of knowledge within a certain sector. Power, renewables, energy, Logistics, aviation, media and telecommunications etc. An easy option is to move to ‘the other side of the fence’ either via one of your clients, your network, or via a third party.  Take on a C level role, Treasury & Finance or a commercial role. A banker can accumulate considerable financial product knowledge and investment expertise, why not transfer this skill set to helping other banks from an advisory or consultative capacity? There is ofcourse Private Equity, after that your options could be limited.

There really has to be strong link from your current skill set to your new position. The recruiters and HR individuals will always try to select those who fit the criteria almost perfectly. They would want to do themselves justice and not shake the cage when it comes to filling a position.  I would differ in my opinion. I believe we can be a little more ‘out of the box’ and not so rigid and too set by ticking the boxes. Hard skill set knowledge is all very well, our softer skill set is equally important. Many experienced and talented individuals will continually want to learn and know more whereby challenging themselves into new areas, in brief they want career progression.

In this difficult and tight market where open positions are less available and career progression more limited, a disguntled’ banker could take this opportunity to really do what he wants to do. In this case little should stop us. Here you need a little bit of ‘character’ the so called extra ‘inner force’ i.e. drive, conviction, desire, passion, inspiration, enterprise.. courage. If I wanted to ‘retire’ early and write a book well you can. If I wanted to leave and open a delicatessen shop or ice cream parlours in a small village in the middle of nowhere. That is ok. Or set up a funeral undertaking business in the basement of my house-  who is stopping you?  If you wanted to give up your banking career to run for Mayor or MP for your local community. Great idea. We need a few more inspirational politicians nowadays. You may need a third party or a partner to help you instill that ‘inner force’ and help bring out your ‘hidden talents’ and true character which we all have but the rest is up to you. Anything can be possible.

The dilemma is as so often the case, we are confronted by a fear. A psychological fear of losing maybe one’s job security, or a level of lifestyle we are accustomed to or feeling chained by the typical trappings of our society and environment. Maybe we have been so busy and engrossed in our work that we simply have not given ourselves time let alone the thought. Not helped by this crisis where every headline appears to be dominated by number crunching and mind boggling figures, we tend to lose sight of our ideas, goals, our strategy, our creativity….even ourselves.  In a nutshell it is that ongoing fear that we have towards change.  It would be a shame really if we went to our graves without having fulfilled one of our lifetime dreams or ambitions.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Should we curb excessive pay?

Remuneration is often a hot topic particularly in a time of economic hardships and tight budgetary controls.  Having gained a detailed insight into the area as we are often aware of people’s salaries and bonuses and what the market pays. Although highly confidential, individuals were always happy to let us know. This is why Time MCG has developed an interest in the topic and can offer advice to firms as part of its services.

It is important primarily that we define remuneration which depends on so many different factors and here is an attempt at a summary. When we look at executives in the banks or large corporations they are generally broken down as follows: Fixed annual salary. Your bonus potential. Share options, pension and health insurance. Potential extra perks such as children’s schooling, phones paid for, laptop, car etc. A reduced mortgage rate if you are working for a bank is a good one. Often at high level employees negotiate a sign on bonus and in some cases at Board level, a clause specifying a payoff package if they were asked to resign. A sign on bonus is negotiated simply because of what the person is negating from his former position. Companies will have strong guidelines on how their offers are made. Share options can often offer a lot of misunderstanding. Companies can award shares at the price of its value of the time that they are awarded to you. Typically you are allowed or have the option to sell them at given dates and price in the future. (e.g. after 3 years a portion, 6 years another portion etc) This is a way of retaining an executive. If you were to leave before you were able to exercise your options, they would become worthless.

Generally speaking if you are looking for more perks, it is possible but it will be offset elsewhere. There is always a limit. What defines your fixed salary is a mixture of company guidelines, market conditions, years of experience and position. Often companies get this right helped by internal expertise, collective labour agreements with other firms in similar sectors and advised by specialised consultancy firms. Bonus’ are part of your secondary benefits. Your bonuses are generally calculated according to the company’s profit and your own performance. Some firms can get very creative how they award their bonuses. E.g. percentage of fees earned or turnover made minus your cost centre etc. At the end of the day it is about profit of the firm. It would be very difficult to argue for example, that an individual had done well in a bank as a front office fee earner for example, but overall the firm made a loss or that you would get a bonus whilst the firm was concentrating on cost cutting. Although firms are quite creative nowadays with their company structures and you could still get paid if for example you were responsible for your own profit centre. The arguments that are in favour of good bonuses. It is an incentive for hard work, it enthuses success. It attracts the best. People in the private sector have money to spend who in turn put it back into the economy in other forms.

We knew often whether people were paid above or below market value and would say ‘You have just got one problem, you are too expensive!’  Individuals never quite liked to hear that it would take them time for this to sink in if they were seeking new position. Pay can be markedly different amongst commercially & specialized orientated roles, according to each sector whether you work for banks, manufacturing, FMCG, retail, IT, or professional services. Amongst functional roles such as HR Director, Finance Director, or IT Director, these were pretty similar across the sectors. It was only in rare cases that pay was excessive and unusually high.

Where the criticism often comes into play is the bonus excesses in the financial sector amongst certain commercial, front office or fee earning individuals in the financial districts of London and New York. Here they are often discretionary. Not to mention sometimes at Board level for large corporations and in certain cases professional services, a more secretive sector, (lawyers, consultants, advisors etc..) Professional services charge (often by the hour) and in certain cases there are cases where fees seem hard to justify. More often than not they can be based on the reputation of a firm and not the individual or some emotional perhaps delusional aspect in saying that ‘we have to charge high as we are good and one of the best.’ It has a tendency of the rich becoming intertwined with the rich. There are many of these individuals who walk home with 7 figure plus annual compensation.

Amongst bankers it is more complex. Generally speaking the Anglo Saxon model is the lower the fixed salary the higher the bonuses. The more traditional continental European model is a higher fixed and lower bonus. In Holland for example, a couple of years back the government decided to cap bank bonuses. This was in order to pre-empt any form of backlash from the general public after the financial crisis and the ABN Amro debacle. The bankers were not too concerned as they were not that high in any case and already they were fairly content with their quality of life.

In conclusion in cases remuneration is correct and spot on although firms need to continually stay abreast. However we are living in a time of serious constraint where many parts of the world and our society are suffering due to inequalities. The wealth gap between the top and the bottom is getting wider. Job losses are increasingly common as are more positions becoming obsolete. There is a real possibility of much resentment and even unrest. We must act responsibly, possess a social conscience and therefore be sensitive to our own pay. It needs to be justified and in some cases transparent as must the profit of the company as the two are clearly linked. Remuneration will need to be more aligned in a case of cost cutting and job losses. No one wants to see bosses lining their pockets as a result of other people’s successes or ostentatious behaviour with regard to wealth. No one wants to see cleverly made large profits as a result of other peoples misfortune (as per the banks with real estate crisis in 2006) or from misguided products. A large pay off of a CEO due to resignation for poor management is wrong. Speculative greed and short termism is not cool. People might say ‘it is survival of the fittest’ I see it as something a little more than that. It just looks like material wealth, money and profit becomes our goal and our only goal which is proven, as in the last ‘lost’ decade and historically, to be superficial and only exasperates our inner craving for more whereby negating our deeper sense of fulfillment and purpose. We will only end up with more problems at a wider level as we are witnessing now.

In an ideal world what we would rather see is a good product or a good service adaptable and changeable to new innovations for the long term, driven and managed by talented inspirational individuals and backed by a strong motivated workforce whereby rewarding ourselves responsibly, fairly and justifiably.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Redeployment and mobility

A priority for a firm in a time of budgetary constraint due to the growing economic threat is redeployment which is closely connected to the movement of employees or mobility. To avoid redundancy or outplacement situations, a firm will often do its utmost to seek alternative opportunities within the group at large for their employees. This is currently a growing phenomenon in the larger banks. This requires no doubt the flexibility of movement from certain employees. However, if for example there may be more than one person for this position on offer or a shortlist of very good candidates. Who do you choose?

The answer is clearly the best candidate. Nevertheless this is not always the case. Other factors or internal unexplained circumstances could come into play to influence what some may regard an unfair decision and the outcome can be potentially negative for all involved. Time MCG, with its vast experience in interviewing and assessing candidates, will offer external solutions to help resolve such a situation. After reviewing and meeting all candidates, Time MCG will provide the best objective and refreshing advice on who would be the best candidate outlining its reasons behind such a choice without regard of any internal politics or seemingly other factors.

Monday 9 January 2012

The Linkedin Dilemma

I read in the papers just recently that a Company Executive got fired due to ticking off the box specifying he was interested in ‘career opportunities’ on linkedin. In a public website the company in question claimed that they had a policy that specifically prevented its employees from signing up for the network and ticking the “career opportunities” box. It would be seen as a sign of disloyalty to your employer. The employee is bringing a case to court for unfair dismissal’

I found this article intriguing particular as a former Executive Search Headhunter. As far as the recruitment and headhunting industry is concerned, Linkedin was a very powerful tool to use to headhunt experienced hires. (Although not top or C hires, as they are less likely to publically show themselves,) I know some recruiters who purely rely on it. I remember using it back in 2002 when Linkedin was by and large fairly new for a large client and it worked wonders for me. Nowadays thousands of business executives or corporate employees have their profiles on it of which a very high proportion have ticked off the part ‘interested in career opportunities’ Clearly a significant statement for prying eyes, and hungry headhunters. We had therefore no inhibitions when headhunting as we knew that the employee was openly eager to receive our call.

As an employee’ what does that mean to be ‘interested in career opportunities. Effectively what the employee is saying is ‘call me because I am always interested in either hearing what is out there or for a better opportunity. Are you loyal to your firm? Clearly not. This therefore raises all sorts of questions such as. Are you satisfied? Are you not happy? Do you feel unfairly treated? What is the problem then? To always want more is a constant inner struggle in our nature whilst so many of us seem permanently restless and dissatisfied which is more acute in a time of change and uncertainty. The problem therefore lies in the combination on how the employer is treating you and how we feel treated by the company, our attitude and how we behave as an individual.

As far as employers are concerned this is a nightmare. They are regularly infuriated in some of their staff leaving for another opportunity. They have an excellent employee who ‘they believe’ is talking to headhunters simply because he had ticked off the career opportunities box whereby being enticed for a better paid and more responsible position. (this could also be the headhunter/recruiter selling hot air and/or talking them into a move) They are right to be irritated and somewhat infuriated. What do you do? You devise a policy to make it against company policy to fill in your details on linkedin. Good one.

Now that I have left headhunting and run an employment consultancy firm, I will be very frank. I think it is vital to re-instill loyalty back to a firm and work on bringing happiness in a company. It is essential that we look after our employees and do everything to keep them in maximizing their talents and gifts through every available opportunity. It is vital that the right people are working on the right things at the right time. Oh how our productivity could increase ! What we do not want is slave driving talented individuals or that they become codependent or using carrot and stick policy (offering extra financial incentives) If anything will have the opposite effect.

Finally as an individual we must also play our part, to regularly challenge and re-invent ourselves, to give ourselves time to invest in our own training and education in order to stay abreast. Let’s not get so caught up in our sole purpose for growth and profit in this fast changing ‘virtual’ world, this is only running away from own true talents, and let’s be open to change and have a positive attitude.

Ultimately there will simply be no need to tick the box ‘interested in career opportunities’ which is like living in a dream world for that eternal wish for something bigger and greater.