Friday 13 December 2013

Our talent versus our identity

Simon Cowell the producer of Britain's Got Talent, was asked the following question on Dutch television. 'If you are judging a talent show would you tell us what your own talents are?' Simon Cowell took some time reflecting before giving his answer. Finally he was able to respond. ‘I only have one talent.’
'What’s that?'
‘Making money!’ He answered.

Those of you out there that think that making money is a talent might need to get their head re-examined. Talents are our natural gifts and strengths. They are often birth gifts and need to be nurtured. It could be the responsibility of a foresighted parent even teacher to spot these gifts. We all have them which makes us all unique in each different way. As we grow up, our talents and strengths become part of our identity, an identity that becomes a kind of adventure in which we are destined to discover. If we do not nurture them or use them in our lives in the right way we have the distinct possibility of never discovering who we really are thus creating potential havoc and unhappiness in our lives. We also have the distinct danger of losing our coherency or integrity, let alone our wisdom and judgement.

The other day I had the privilege of sitting at a dinner opposite a well-known Norwegian singer song writer. We talked about some of the rubbish that was coming out of the music industry today. He concurred. I asked him out of my curiosity what he would describe as a talented singer or song writer. He paused and then answered, ‘The talented ones are those that sing or write from the heart.’ He was certainly a delightful person and one that appeared to know what he was talking about.

In our work place there is a common misconception that a person’s skill is their talent. Skills however are not talents. Skills are our expertise, knowledge and know how that are accumulated in our job. Talents on the other hand take great skill and discipline to develop especially the hidden ones that need to be tapped into. People can have skills and knowledge in areas where their talents do not lie. If they have a job that requires their skills but not their talents, organisations will never tap into their passion or voice. There is the distinct danger of becoming robotic or simply entrenched into the system.

What I find difficult to fathom is for example when some kind of gifted quantum mechanic or a rocket scientist as they might commonly be known by, is recruited out of a leading University by a large investment firm, just to devise some clever mathematical formula as a disguise for the sole purposes of enriching directors and shareholders. This has to be a clear example of not just talent wasted but talent exploitation which will only cause immense suffering to the person in question.

Making money is neither a skill neither is it a talent. Making money can be considered as a driver or motivator which can easily be translated into personal ambition, social status and power. If all this becomes a driver above all else it becomes incompatible to our true identity and we will never be fulfilled nor happy. One might add that it is not sustainable in the longer term for the human being to function in a decent or proper capacity. It can also become synonymous to losing our wisdom, judgement, authenticity, even our talent and skills. Unless there is a higher purpose, we fall over, for which there are many clear examples out there. Richard Fuld of Lehman's. 'Lloyd Blankfein' (not yet)of Goldman Sachs. Didier Bellens of Belgacom. Fred Goodwin of RBS, Piet Morland of Rabobank. Paul Flowers of the Coop. There are many more who all seem to be dropping off like flies. There is a common saying that you cannot serve two masters.
I know from my own experience, that in the past when my sole driver was making money working in commerce, I was incapable of understanding true love. In fact Simon Cowell is one of those in our culture that remind me of how I used to be, a bit of a playboy with little character. I was not the genuine article therefore I was not happy. Really and truly I had never tapped into my true talents which never allowed me to discover my true identity. I am greatly relieved that I discovered this phenomenon some years ago rather than later. Naturally I have great empathy for those that can take longer to figure this out or who may have lost their way. Others may have no need and sadly there are those that don't seem to care which is a shame really if we would like to achieve great things in life. It is logical to deduce therefore that sadly Simon Cowell is simply under qualified to judge other people’s talent. If the BBC take their values seriously they ought to re-examine the values of the people behind their shows as they ought to have some experience by now after the dreadful Jimmy Saville saga.

In short, the one way I have learnt in which to inspire our passion and create some meaning in our lives is to discover our voice of conscience; by this we can also sense a need out there. This can take time, education and some serious thinking. Needs can be defined in what others value or what is missing out there. Then if our talent matches that need, we can discipline ourselves in improving ways in finding solutions. Vision, passion and character can follow henceforth. Hopefully, with all fingers crossed with a bit of faith and self-belief, the money can follow as recognition for our service and contribution and not the other way round. You never know the hidden talents or gifts may spring about at the most unexpected of moments some in which you never thought you had. Here goes my basic formula and I am not a rocket scientist.
Conscience + heart + talent + Need = Identity (peace of mind/happiness)

Friday 6 December 2013

Man versus the machine

You may have noticed that many films that have come out of Hollywood of late all seem to be futuristic often man fighting the machine that we seem to have invented or made ourselves.  Iron Man 3, Pacific Rim, Robocop 4, even some of an extreme destructive nature such as Oblivion. Mind you I am not very interested in seeing these types of science-fiction films nevertheless I have suddenly become intrigued by what message this is giving us toward our everyday lives.
The other day I wondered into the supermarket. As I had reached the counter, the lady at the cashier almost fell apart. Whilst I was paying and started thanking her, I asked if everything was alright. She responded that it was sometimes very tough to be in this chair and simply not to be recognised. She mentioned that typically most customers, who pay, are for example very busy on the mobile phone, impatient and pay no attention to her. She apologised in that it was sometimes very difficult. Then she shouted out ‘I exist!’

Two weekends ago, I took the Eurostar from London to Brussels, and in the newsagent, when purchasing a newspaper of some sort at the cashier, to my bewilderment I was paying a machine. In this particular case it was not working very well. Perhaps it was due to my lack of understanding when scanning and touching the screen as I could not talk to it, nor ask questions nor could I thank it needless to say, it did not have a name. In my predicament, a supervisor finally turned up and offered his assistance. Seeing my frustration, he added that this is where it’s going now. He cursed the large corporations that they were just simply seeking business. Quite frankly as a customer I cannot see any added value. I would have to see it as a simple case of profit before humanity.

Perhaps we have all been guilty of the initial example I have given. I have learnt that most of the time in my change, it is the small things that matter in life. To thank the person and to treat him or her with dignity. A simple smile can mean the world as their job at times can be mundane. All human beings at all levels deserve recognition. It is these details that if we take for granted could have such devastating consequences. Is this an example of some businesses scavenging for any opportunity at the expense of humanity’s suffering? Or is it a case of man’s direct conflict with the machine? Now I understand clearly what message Hollywood is now giving us. Our hope is we can change to avoid this type of fatalistic future of the human condition that the film industry is projecting. And we must try to change!

Respect is dignity for all

Thursday 28 November 2013

Is it time for an awakening?

Today I am often ashamed to be considered a Westerner. I know that before I had discovered the beauty of faith, I was up to not much good and largely self-inflicted. I was a product of the West’s culture and made mistakes and suffered for it. The culture I knew was solely focused on the pursuit of wealth and the pursuit of maximum pleasure without any boundaries. Both are instrinssically linked. This was how many of us were.  We just lived for the sake of living. It was a kind of ‘work hard play hard’ or ‘live and let live’ or ‘life is too short’ attitude.  Some of us even devised clever ways in earning as much as possible for as little work as possible. Wealth creation often became exploitation. Just to get the maximum pleasure out of life. This resulted in a type of individualism linked with consumption, mixed in with a tolerant & liberal attitude. In a sense our tolerance and liberalism became a form of justification of our own guilt to cover our own misdemeanours. It was absurd as it brought on an inner selfishness beyond ones wildest dreams where without realising had inflicted harm not just on myself but on most likely so many others along the way for which I can only express my sorrow. It served me no purpose whatsoever, instead only misery, guilt, and shame. The culture that I lived which I had no doubt did my part in setting as an example upon others, was in effect in total conflict to my natural want of seeking to do well and good for others. I was lucky in that I could find solace amongst a solid loving family and good friends which in effect became a kind of double life. I had to change.

I worked also in a business of buying and selling people commonly known as headhunting. It was an intermediary business built solely upon greed. We were never interested in the real talent, values and their potential. We just put prices on people that we considered to be the best of the best and sold them together with conditions, to businesses who wanted to buy them at percentage fees without much thought of anything else. It was lucrative and it worked as long as we knew the highest earners and the larger clients and as long as the price was right. We had to be incredibly commercial and sell more people otherwise you were out!! I would have to class this type of business and what I had witnessed as the modern form of the slave trade whose business model ought to be banned. To offer some positive advice, the executive search industry as more apt expression would regain much of its lost reputation if it was priced on its work and if there was a real need and not as a percentage or a commission of annual compensation. Needless to say that professionals looking for work should genuinely be helped. In fact commission and percentage fees ought to be abolished in the entire world of intermediaries in all trade and commerce at all levels, and instead find a different way to be paid based on our work and contribution, thus reducing our stress levels which has had such an impact upon our health and private lives thus improving the much needed synergy, trust and integrity.

What do I mean by the pursuit of pleasures? I am mainly referring to our sexual freedom and loose morals. As someone mentioned to me. ‘I slept with a woman the other day. It was so easy. It was just a one night stand. Everyone does it.’ It was often the case if you did not sleep with a woman within a few dates you were considered not normal. This is common even in the work place. Our accessibility to pornography is so easy and done with a click all in the name of so called ‘freedom’ or ‘the freedom of choice.’ As the man pointed out everything is permitted. All it takes for someone to show you how it’s done. There are no boundaries. Everyone else does this. No love, just pleasures.  Does that mean it is right? I was so familiar with this culture. These situations can often be fuelled by alcohol and revelling. As Shakespeare said in his tragedy of Macbeth ‘Alcohol provokes the desire but kills the performance.’ Yes, the tragedy of the West. From my own experience and from what I have seen, it only brought misery, lack of respect, more family breakdown, broken communities, couples so apprehensive of committing, and divorce rates so high with a social crisis looming everywhere. The greatest victims that arise are our children. The only solutions our limited minds can offer are referring to our eternal and constant ‘rights’ and more laws for adults to give everything what people want as a result of our mistakes, and never bother to look at the source of the problem in recognising our faults, resulting to more social injustice, prejudice and more chains to our ‘freedom’ as well as more senseless work for everyone. That part is too difficult and fearful let alone time consuming. Most damaging of all are the potential laws in the EU getting airtime encouraging sexual education to small children (paras 41-43) as if they are to blame for the mistakes of the parents. Is this the freedom our grandfathers fought for in the War? Is this the key to love? In the end such freedom feels like flying in a plane destined for a rough ride due to all that drag, thrown in with some serious storm clouds.

What about our examples of our cheap, raggish and appalling celebrity culture including people of influence and power? In Britain, we produce ‘quality’ people or role models with the likes of Piers Morgan, Simon Cowell and David Beckham.  ‘I was useless at school therefore don’t bother with education and life is about luck.’ Simon Cowell said. The comment is worthy of not watching his shows anymore. Piers Morgan earning millions and qualified for interviewing people is from a broken marriage, with no respect for other people’s private lives from his time at the Daily Mirror. His double standards are beyond anyone’s comprehension. David Beckham. What message does he have for us? As far as we can see, he is just a face with sometimes a smile put on it. A face put on a body with painted pictures all over it on every advert promoting consumption and is described on the Wikipedia as a former footballer and nothing else. I suppose he has done nothing wrong but is he not  flying a little too close to the sun? The three all share a kind of self-obsessed vanity that beggars belief. No, I have come to realise this is not the success culture I signed up for nor is it an example for my children.

Over here in Belgium, we have a person like the CEO of Belgacom who only appears focused on self–enrichment and is addicted to money. He has not done anything illegal except that he has presided over Belgium’s largest telecoms company which senior sources tell me is a broken culture as a result of its maximisation of profit at both the expense of their customers and employees whilst waiting for the government to pressure his dismissal in order he gets his massive pay out. It’s become a one man show instead of a corporation. His arrogance, greed and blind ignorance make any outsider or spectator cringe. I’m glad to see he has just been fired. These types I am familiar with, are weak in character are endemic and dotted about our corporate culture and often are at the top. Their narcissitic, sociopathic tendencies with no empathy, aswell as their extreme management by fear have done more harm to humanity than they realise and must be treated ruthlessly or as pathological or as an illness or in some cases criminal. Certainly history will judge them very harshly similar to that of the Nazis. Narcissism and Nazism have uncanny resemblance in its spelling. Don't you think? One way to get rid of them is to report them to a higher authority. I am glad that more and more of them are falling by the wayside into oblivion. Then we have the mayor of Toronto pointing fingers and yelling at everyone implying that they too are guilty of their own misdemeanours. Oh how there is a need to regain our character in our culture.

The political classes are not much better in fact they cannot cope. The US and UK have blood on their hands from the 1 million dead in Iraq by imposing our liberal attitudes on others. The Islamic Faith certainly has a point that they don’t take kindly to this liberalism and loose morals which can result sadly in some extreme inverse behaviour. Have we apologised or redeemed ourselves? Now there are 100.000 people dead in Syria including children. Children burned. The US, UK and France are in a constant pact but a pact for what? France has no identity and no vision, the UK is in a period of flux licking its wounds from the idiocy of the last government lacking the real courage to do anything. Which brings me to the bizarre ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair who appears obsessed too with his own self- enrichment and his son is sadly following suit albeit in a different manner by entering a more obvious form of slave trade business, buying and selling football players just because it is a lucrative business.  And to think that this is a young man that went to Oxford! Is this the best of brains that our leading Universities can produce? What a waste of talent and education!  If it is any consolation as I'm sure he means well, he’ll learn the hard way like I did. Plus I thought his father was a socialist, so focused on education and a former lawyer that understood that the UK was the first to abolish slavery back in 1833.

The UK did the good thing as a nation to send an aircraft carrier to the Philippines to help them. One wonders why the oligarchs together with the Saudis such as Roman Obramovich did not group together and send their super yachts by converting them into a hospital or supply ships to help people in need. They have more money than some of our governments. I suppose they lack the imagination and spend their time comparing the size of their yachts. Where are our values? Where is our soul?  Where is our dignity?

Then we have our economies which could become the biggest disaster of all where very little makes any common sense. Some governments in Europe increase debt by borrowing more from the banks just because money is cheap, forcing governments and banks to coerce with each other and be at each other’s mercy without understanding the wider impact they are having on our society. What if money becomes more expensive? Who will pay then? Not to mention this horrendous approach of printing money to force lending via the banks to increase consumption. Do we really want to increase debt and stress levels on the individual just to increase consumption? The banks rightly or wrongly are so apprehensive in lending and are left with no alternative to pump all that cash by buying up shares through the stock market inflating the biggest bubble of all. The rest goes into their pockets as inflated fees for all the hard work. All this is done in the name of wealth and with no real change or redistribution in the real economy. Once this ultimate bubble of all bubbles burst, everything will be gone. When we lose our soul, we lose everything. Lest not forget the Roman Empire just like the West had also lost its soul falling over their own swords into oblivion due to the same problem: Our pursuit of wealth and its pleasures without boundaries, except this time it is all in the name of 'freedom'.

Wake up! The world is tilting to breaking point! Whilst many good parents now worry for the future of their children and want to do something, there is a slow awakening. Some families and communities in France, Italy and Spain I have heard want a revolution. Many great people, professionals, and businesses I know out there are defending real freedom and doing great things. In Italy and Holland, cultural issues are at stake with many wanting change. Business are realising, that it is not just about profit or just about wealth creation and personal ambition whilst justifying employment as their rightful cause. We are beginning to question the issues of shareholder value in that this might be a myth.  In Switzerland they are questioning whether salaries ought not to be balanced out and brought down at the top to more sustainable and realistic levels in public companies. Salaries in Norway are now published to bring about more transparency and its gigantic sovereign fund has decided to only invest in products considered ethical.

Some businesses and banks like Barclays are finally drawing more attention to real values, their identity, and their mission in life, as well as our environment and our social policy where the needs are so much greater. The road will be painful nevertheless worth it. We must stay the course. We could be investing in the happiness and talent of our employees with more vocational guidance and training discovering our purpose in what we do for our living and more transparency in how we make our living. Some companies could be questioning how to measure success. Not by profit nor in monetary terms but by achievement in contributing to the common good. Large companies such as Dell are pulling out of the stock market as it is considered too volatile as they are manipulated by very dangerous and powerful speculators only working for their own short term benefit.  Lending or investment and ‘what’s in it for me mentality’ could be replaced by a form of benefactor as when a sound creative idea comes about that carries with it a long term tangible purpose. That benefactor will see the long term intrinsic value not in immediate monetary terms but in something greater whereby creating employment and further growth. We can all still make a living! We could be moving away from the horrors of oil and all the wrongs it has caused by finally eliminating petrol cars and diesel lorries altogether into new clean energy. We may be even using solar as the new source of energy to fly. Imagine, technology could even allow us to do our work in such planes with all the time in the world. This is what I call flying so close to the sun!  Our media must change and start focusing on the good that is being done in the world and to encourage others to follow instead of pinpointing all the wrong and depravity whereby aggravating the situation. This may create a ripple effect as a way of inspiring the long term hopes, dreams and ingenuity of mankind. We could be moving away from short term wealth and the lack of meaning this has produced. These are the right questions and issues to bring to all our attention in our differing societies. Maybe better role models will come out of this change rather than the ones that I have previously mentioned for our young to follow.

We must find the Time in our busy lives to rediscover our purpose, our self-belief, our pride in our work and our voice instead of running away from it by pretending we are too busy. I have come to realise in my change that Time has to be the only solution to slow the paces of our lives down. Something we have distanced ourselves from and we need to rediscover. Thinking we instead of me, to change from the win lose to the win-win mentality.  Ask ourselves, who we are why we are here and what we are here to do? Rather than taking everything for granted, we must find our courage to say no instead of pointing fingers at the people on our television screens. We must do more to reset the moral boundaries and to allow our young to have a chance. It is not enough. Perhaps we can go as far as onto the streets and demand cultural change and maybe a velvet revolution for a new model that redefines our success responsibly and a new order to safe guard our children’s future and the future of this planet. It is time now to think and to act for real change to put new meaning in our lives. We Europeans are proud and talented and have historically always been the pioneers in change. Let’s show the rest of the world what inner steel we are made of. Yes, Mr Lakshmi Mittal that very steel that you have helped to destroy which brought about our initial Union over 60 years ago.

‘Without time, there is no solution’

Thursday 21 November 2013

How can the Banks change for the better?

Time MCG focuses on positive culture change in the financial sector. Why? For years now it has been hit by one scandal after the next. Recently we have had a group of banks fined for colluding with each other. JP Morgan which has just paid a record fine of $13Billion over the toxic mortgages. Not to mention the Co-op Bank in Britain and its disgraced CEO followed by the resignation of the Group Chairman. The continuous RBS debacle. Rabobank which has had one of its record fines for its libor rigging scandal and who has just lost its CEO. (Heavens forbid, I did not see that one coming!) Is this just the tip of the iceberg? The big questions remain. Do the Banks want to change? Or have they simply lost their sense of purpose? One answer is clear, they must change to redefine their sense of purpose, otherwise the public might have to make that change for them. History has taught us many lessons or examples where in many such circumstances, the ‘lynch mob’ tend to take over causing all sorts of frightening scenarios.
As a former banker and headhunter, I can relate to many of the problems in the banks as they are similar to many of the problems I had experienced even personally which caused me at the time a lot of pain. I had to change my mind set aswell as my attitude and as a result I believe in change. Looking back to that time that pain seems so insignificant and it happened presumably for a reason. We all know that change is hard as it can instill our greatest fear which is fear itself. Change will mean sacrifice as somewhere along the line someone out there might lose. It might mean moving out of our comfort zone or perhaps a change in our lifestyle. Hey, is this not how we can expand our horizon and create a better future? Between you and I, this has to be a darn site better than the whole system collapsing in its current form.
An identity issue is clearly apparent with many of the banks. It is also clear that some Bankers behaviour is not upto the higher ethical standard that the public expects of them to run our money responsibly. It is evident too there has been a lack of individual punishment for those who have behaved poorly where a clear example must be set particularly of those few at the top. Note many of those who instigated the financial crisis have got away scot free with millions, running around our economies continuing by doing harm and God knows what else. A senior banker mentioned to me once 'we are simply a mirror of what our investors want.' Instead of turning the ‘mob’ onto the Banks which noone wants, and regulation has to be a double edged sword; there must be a better solution. Let’s see how Time MCG can offer a few ideas.

We see two inevitable choices. Either the Banks become a public service which most bankers don’t want or their work must carry a meaning.
Let’s look at the latter and grab the bull on Wall Street by its horns which is far more enterprising and analyse the nuts and bolts of the problem. Identity. What is it? At human level an identity is not just about what you do nor is it about describing yourself, your personality or your hobbies. It is about who you are and why you do what you do at the given time and place. Thus having a purpose or meaning coherent to our very own inner value system which becomes increasingly clear in time through our ability to create, serve, teach or encourage and contribute to where there is a need thus benefiting others. It is by this that we can further develop our talent, knowledge and skill set thus increasing our confidence, self-belief and thus discovering our very own identity and sense of purpose.
This is the same at a corporate level or in a business. They are organisations created by human beings as often they are simply a mirror of their very own identities of the very person or people who created them in the first place. An identity of a business is not just about describing what you do nor how you do it. Again it is also about who you are and why you do what you do. They are adapted and changed not just according to the needs of the market place but also to the times of today. In the financial organisations or banks which is linked to money, investments, assets or wealth, it has often proved challenging to create an identity and certainly in more modern times.

To help the banks create an identity it has to start with a purpose, vision or a mission statement. This is where the banks have a great difficulty and understandably so as this would come into direct conflict with the enrichment of themselves, their shareholders or their clients. It is this conflict that must be resolved and it must be done very soon to bring back our inner belief, courage, confidence and identity. If this enrichement is for the purpose of a bubble that will eventually burst, then it carries no purpose.  Wake up! The world is shaking, and tilting to breaking point. It wants change. Somewhere along the line something has to give.
Profits aside. Anybody with any common sense will know that money in itself carries little higher meaning in our lives. It is simply important and a necessary tool for our bread and butter. I suppose one could say it serves the following, firstly it is simply the common denominator used as an exchange for goods and services and if you like it is a recognition for our hard work and contribution which again must carry a benefit. A mission therefore, can be something more tangible, something that their employees and even the public can relate to. Again it must relate to our work that carries a benefit, which could be described as a gap out there that requires filling, or to something that needs improving or to where there is a straight forward need that in itself might require changing. Everybody out there will be interested in something. This is the case either at individual, group or at corporate level. Profit and income streams are the positive result of getting the nuts and bolts right, not the other round how hard this may seem for a banker.
JP Morgan for example does not appear to have a mission statement, although their CEO has come out with a statement on the website which could be determined as a vision. ‘Our aim is to be the world's most trusted and respected financial services institution.’ With all due repect, this phrase is abstract and carries little meaning and very little is given away when talking about the much needed transparency required in the sector. JP Morgan may aswell become a public service. To many this will seem laughable after their record fines. On top of this how are they going to measure each employee on trust and respect? These are extremely difficult values to measure and might take a life time to bear fruit. No, we might have to go further than this. I saw a mission statement that struck me in another bank I had visited. ‘Our mission is to make money work for positive social, environmental and cultural change.’ Now that has meaning!

All we need now is a new breed of courageous leaders to take over the reigns that understand the cultural change that is required in our desperate world. To lead us into a new direction and the rest will follow suit. Yes. There is such a thing as hope.
‘With identity involvement will function’

Tuesday 29 October 2013

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! (albeit you may not necessarily be the lead arranger) 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, infrastructure, transportation, 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 24 October 2013

Are the Bank recruiters changing tact?

Last weekend I was offering some career advice to a young student who wanted to go into banking once he graduated. He was studying Mechanical Engineering at a well-known University in the UK. What struck me was the feedback I was able to get in how some of the banks were approaching young up and coming talent. The young man mentioned that Barclays whilst on their milk round were offering insights in how they were changing and not only were they asking their feedback, they went as far as asking ideas from the applicants in how they could change and improve. Blackrock were onto a similar approach and openly advertising amongst their divisions that they want people and graduates to innovate what their tasks are and how they execute and implement. This was even pushed by executives.

This approach struck me, that instead of selling themselves and just seeking the highest IQ; they actually went to the students asking their opinions on how they could change themselves. This must also be a way of really testing the true character of the person.

Is this an eye opener in how other banks such as Goldman’s, JP Morgan, HSBC or Citi could follow suit?

Thursday 17 October 2013

Are our imperfections running wild?

Poor old Britain! Selling arms to the Middle East, demeaning sex in the music industry, child abuse amongst TV celebrities. Greed in the banking sector combined with the aggressive culture in business. Not to mention our horrendous debt and consumer culture.  So bereft of ideas and identity that we have to go begging for money in China for our so called ‘race for growth.’  Hardly a model for others to follow. If it makes you feel any better other parts of Europe are not much different. Corruption in the French and Spanish government, selling of our industries to foreign players. Sleaze amongst our leaders and leadership. Bizarre laws being passed on same-sex marriage and strange debates on transgender identity. Poor old Europe so focused on short term wealth and resources but so weak in character, ideas and moral fibre that it really has lost its sense of direction.  So many imperfections that cause so much harm to the other with the big three: power, money and sex. It is little wonder there is such little integrity and trust everywhere.

Some of us who have found or took a while a journey to find their common sense of decency, who are educated or well balanced and talented from the bottom of the food chain to the top are not easily taken in as fools, may find most part of our leadership, culture, economic direction and laws just simply weird, unsustainable, and beyond our natural principle in humanity.

Just recently I attended a conference that was promoting Judea-Christian values in our business culture and institutions. Unfortunately it was interfered brutally by a group of women that demonstrated on stage with graffiti written over their half-naked bodies and throwing a cake in the face at one of the Bishops.  What is difficult to fathom is whilst we were trying to promote the common good that there can exist so much anger and hatred. It is as if Love, one of the Christian Faiths greatest virtue, can so easily become the enemy.

I don’t hate the women that demonstrated but they certainly showed hatred toward us as if life was a continuous dejas vu of some warning shot that something biblical might occur where all too often the battle lines are drawn between good and evil, the flesh and the spirit, or right and wrong.  And it was up to each of us through free will to decide which side of the coin you were on. Unless you might be one of those by no fault of your own that abstain by remaining comfortably in a ‘muddle’ ahem I mean in the middle.
As imperfect as we are, in this far from perfect world and regardless which side you might come from, we do know however that trial and errors will often happen in our lives. For those who may commit errors or are confronted by trial and may lack understanding or guidance, will often find the door to life’s fulfilment firmly closed to the point that we may feel trapped, alone, victimised, insecure let alone burdened by fear, hatred, anger, despair or suffering. This can often sadly lead us to take the easy or superficial route or make an impulsive approach toward an even more difficult path. Nonetheless it is also an opportunity or our challenge to search and discover the key to that door, so that we can open it and get through. After which it is our duty as responsible citizens to fulfil our destiny, so we can proudly pass on the reigns to our children and if need be by helping others in doing so to reach their goals where there is a place for everyone.

I later discovered that these women were part of a feminist group standing up for lesbian rights. I have no problem with lesbians and I never did as people as I am sure many of them can be extremely kind. But on the recent debate on same sex marriage and transgender rights for example I cannot see how it is justifiable nor humanely possible that governments of all the institutions can get themselves in such an awkward position, and let alone, to decide laws that encourage not just sexual activity but our imperfections between two women or two men or on the point of gender orientation for that matter as if it has become the norms of our society.
It goes beyond the purpose on what a law is. I cannot begin to imagine how to explain to our children who are in my view the best examples of common sense, that may start asking questions once they see their school friends who have either two mothers or two fathers or even transgender orientation. To think that divorced parents are already a difficult enough challenge as it is! Once they see this as social convention what will become of them?  Just like we cannot marginalise nor treat the LGBT community inhumanely nor differently nor with ridicule for that matter which is equally deplorable. Let him who without sin cast the first stone and why group people in such a way? There are some things in life that are best left untouched. In an ideal world we must all learn to revert from publically and shamelessly justifying our faults or worse still publically legalising them in so as to simply satisfy  our inner selfish wants, cravings or desires and try to reverse this disastrous trend from an ever increasing conflicting individual self-interest, and obsession with self.

Indeed as my Professor in coaching likes to point out, we are all so wonderfully imperfect. Therefore surely the best alternative is for each of us to acknowledge our imperfections via our own conscience quietly in ourselves or with those we trust and to do the best we can to overcome them or to change, to attain our own peace of mind and peace with others.
Our concience is our peacemaker

Wednesday 25 September 2013

How do I conduct an interview?

I thought I would share some insights in some experience in interview tecnique's. The best I had conducted (and there are many over the years) are with persons who simply come across as having a certain ease with themselves. Open but reserved, confident yet still humble, honest and sincere. Focused yet undeterred. Finally to be slightly inquisitive, humorous and ultimately interested. There is 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. 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 more crucial if as it happens you are 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 coherent you are in 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 ought not to deter you in answering this question.

I would therefore advise any candidate to work in getting an understanding of themselves (our daily struggle) and 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 a candidate is sincere or not.  That is why it is so important, to try 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 recognise your own talents.  Moreover to be able to show a fine balance between your own confidence and humility whereby not over selling 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 in that the candidate has to feel comfortable with the company and the job. It is important that if you are interested therefore 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

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Our empathy versus our ability

An American psychologist almost 70 years ago spent time into understanding the minds of the Nazis and their thinking. He came up with a definition what he thought was the nature of evil.  He described evil as the absence of empathy. It is an interesting analogy because during the war the Nazis had immense ability. They were warriors, builders and creators. They were organised, structured and well disciplined. But it so happens that with their incapacity to feel for their fellow man would have to explain their mistrust for one another and their crimes against humanity which ultimately led to their own self-destruction and downfall.

Today after two generations of peace in Europe we are in a very different era. But are we? Our economic war, failure and success has perpetuated a culture of individualism. Individualism is primarily derived by advocating one’s own self–interest, ahead of the interests of others; advocating one’s own independence versus others. Arguably in many ways many of us are working purely for our own interest where more often than not our human behaviour is governed by profit amongst others and not by conscience where our sole purpose is serving one’s own. This has by and large coincided into an era of liberalism and tolerance which has led to a world of mistrust and genuine apathy. A friend remarked off the cuff whilst describing another person’s misdemeanours. ‘He can do what he likes as long as he does not harm me.’  The three liberalism, tolerance, and individualism, the latter of which Lord Sachs describes, has played part in our society which he decribes is losing the plot.

In our current economic system we have the ability to work hard and show discipline. We are involved in cross cultural takeovers and acquisitions. We know how to cut costs and we can make money. Some of us are real economic warriors, and when it comes to profit, we can achieve this almost by any means often to the detriment of others. But do we really have the ability to show empathy? To show compassion in how we make decisions not for our own benefit but for the benefit of the other person? Are we really able to listen, care and understand the needs of our fellow human being, of our environment, and our world?

To really listen and to understand the other persons frame of mind is a very rare and unique skill to have.  It requires an element of awareness with a combined spiritual and emotional intelligence of its utmost. I myself find this part a perpetual challenge. It so happens that most communication failures occur because of differences in semantics or perceptions. Semantics means the way you define words or terms and perception is how you interpret data. If we were truly able to listen to each other with true empathy these differences would in effect disappear.

In short our combined culture of individualism, tolerance and liberalism truly has a danger of reverting to an absence of empathy. With the absence of empathy, our ego, pride, and self-interest becomes the order of the day which could have a distinct possibility of igniting the nature of evil thus ultimately leading to our very own self-destruction.

Our hope lies therefore in our ability, our ability to fight our ego, selfish tendencies and desires and reverse the tide of individualism, liberalism and tolerance. This may open an environment of empathy and true compassion in our work place and relationships whereby opening countless new boundaries and talent. Our ability to serving human needs together by contributing to the benefit of others, attaining a higher or clear purpose through leadership, thinking we instead of me, seeking first to understand then to be understood and behaving interdependently as opposed to co-dependently. Is this not a way we can bring back an environment of synergy and creativity not to mention trust and integrity into our lives and relationships that has been so battered and bruised in recent times?
Our conscience is our peacemaker

Thursday 22 August 2013

A case of profit by night?

I was recently saddened by the death of a young intern from an investment bank in the City of London. He was working extremely long hours, and very often through the night. The independent newspaper writes that this is common amongst investment banking with some people calling this slavery.

I can recall some years back a lawyer friend of mine working once very long hours and often through the night. She explained how this habit had perpetrated a type of repetitive strain injury where she was unable to use one arm and her fingers. It took many months for her to recover.

Recently a female friend of mine had returned to the office, after maternity leave. Her boss demanded that in order for her to achieve in this environment, she would have to work very long evening hours. She found this hard due to the nurturing she was required to give her little child. There was little incentive to work late what with no extra pay etc. The only thing was the fear of being fired or being asked to leave resulting in the possibility of not having a job in which case she felt she had no alternative. A situation she was certainly not happy with.

Time MCG often writes about exploitation of employees for the sake of profit to the detriment of our health and well-being. I see no sense in people nor anyone for that matter in working through the night unless under exceptional circumstances or perhaps crisis situations. It would certainly not be cool if it was for the fear of losing one’s job instilled by a kind of management by fear or through lack of resources, or by saving costs.  Such cases would have to be unacceptable and beyond reason. There is little sense too in the investment banks allowing their interns to do the same and making them believe in such greater rewards later. They too must realise that remuneration in Investment banking is enduring a time of great intense scrutiny and may change, more so after the scandals and excesses in recent years.

Perhaps I’m different nevertheless I am someone who requires a minimal amount of sleep, in order for me to function well the next day. At least 6 hours, ideally 7 even 8 work’s well. It is proven that sleep is essential for one’s memory to function well, to be at its best and for one’s talents to be used as effectively as possible the next day.  If I was to write some sort of report or synopsis, I can write these things in record time. I find myself having more in my deposit than what I am able to withdraw. Call me a stick in the mud, but even if I was invited out for the evening, I would ensure that I come back in time to get my vital hours of sleep.

In short a human being is precious in his or her own right, endowed with enormous, almost infinite potential and capacity. For this part to function properly it requires its regular down time. Perhaps we are entering an era where wisdom must be able to dictate the wider consequences of our actions. Or is it simply the opposite in that we sacrifice ourselves for the sake of our clients, personal ambition and profit?

Saturday 10 August 2013

Has our business culture lost its sense of purpose?

Karl Marx argued that the Capitalist theory was a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Believing it to be run by the wealthy classes for their own benefit and he predicted that like previous systems, capitalism produced internal tensions which would lead to self-destruction and replacement system was socialism.

It is uncanny how this German philosopher had foresight in which in one end he can be so wrong on the other almost perfectly right. The shocked leaders working in immediate solutions behind the scenes of the 2008 financial meltdown facing our stunned nations, may tell you that Karl Marx was probably right, in his above theory. The capitalist system was in meltdown and we almost reverted to a socialist system just like that, over night. Thankfully we avoided this, as fearful memories of the last century were not so distant away. But the consequences of this crisis today are devastating of almost biblical in proportion. We must learn to change our attitudes and our mentality in certain sectors of our economy.

In the business media headlines there is very little reported on change except the usual on how our economic war is progressing, law suits, tax avoidance, business fighting for market, cross cultural and cross country takeovers, and so on. Statements are coming out of financial institutions as ‘business as usual and banks reverting to profits. There is more negative news on the German state banks in crisis. and bankers on trial for fraud and the whale traders scandal. Time MCG is not against wealth per se nor is it against profit but Time MCG is against abuse of wealth, the pursuit of wealth as a be all and end all to the detriment of others, and abuse of the system. Part of the solution is simply a question of transparency in a business or individuals in how the money is made, used or served for the added value or benefit of the other amongst our intermediaries within the economic and financial system.

Banking has brought on the most criticism but in all fairness to them, Time MCG regularly argues that it has opened up a wider endemic cultural problem in business, trade and commerce everywhere that has already existed. A professor of finance made an interesting analogy and informed us that much of the guilt and shame stands mainly in the world of intermediaries where what one has to distinguish between the real economy (goods/services) and the financial economy, which merely intermediates. Any business which merely intermediates doesn't provide real value; they only take a cut of the real value at both ends. Sometimes there's a need for intermediation only if there's a proper market failure where supply and demand don't meet, but that's not always the case.

The reality today is that intermediaries are taking a far too great % cut to make supply and demand meet, and sometimes they deliberately manipulate the market to their advantage, using their influence, power, and the size of their balance sheets or any other means at their disposal (perhaps false rumours, lies and deceit,). Intermediaries are not just in the financial community, they are middle men, agents, wealthy individuals, brokers, football agents, executive search head hunters and so on in the world of finance, commerce and trade. They are so often people or institutions seeking opportunities and after the quick buck in which some only require a phone and a computer.

One can logically deduce therefore that paying oneself more or the same percentage wise by taking a bigger cut out of the real economy, whilst supply and demand is weak in the real economy serves no purpose except ones own.  It puts us quickly into the category of greed, even as potential thieves and impedes our true advancement.

The business secretary Vince Cable in the UK government says that the UK is now 5% poorer after having bailed out the banks. Belgium, Holland, Spain and France are a lot poorer too.

One thing we have learned from the economic crisis is that we must try to correct things in order for this not to happen again and if it requires changing the system then so be it but this must be done in a peaceful and intelligent manner. To change a mind-set is the most challenging thing that can ever be done because arguably people do not change over-night; it can instil greater fear and insecurity even revolutions. We know throughout history that once you create wealth, it is very hard to let go. It is only when we do silly things or easily become blind for the sake of profit then things start to go wrong. When businesses which operate in money then unprepared if the music stops, sentiment of the general public can sway. Here we must not underestimate the general public who do not take themselves as fools. History has taught us plenty of stories where greed can get to be eradicated through force or even through violence particularly when people's livelihoods are affected. We hope it will not come to this.

The biggest sadness in our current societies is the result of a breakdown in trust as a consequence of this abuse. Sadly now even an MBA graduate in business from Harvard or Oxford, has proven to not necessarily have the developed intelligence in business inciting weak judgement and poor conduct. Henk Poulson, the former White House economic advisor had an MBA from Harvard and is widely criticised for this crisis. Fred Goodwin ex RBS was a Chartered Accountant. Dick Fuld of Lehman brothers has taught us, that a ruthless commercial individual, or a ‘shark’ (as we used to commonly describe these types) who has grown from the bottom to the top of the food chain through poor methods. They cannot be trusted. We have also learnt that wealth does not necessarily make us more intelligent nor possess sound judgement in our choices or decision making.

There are firms who hire PR and lobby firms creating smokescreens and mirrors on how the firms do business. Can they be trusted?  We also know too that the biggest is not necessarily the best. Then there are those leaders in business flying too close to the sun deemed to have lost their sense of reality. Are they to be trusted?

Economists and monetarist have gone quiet as if they have lost the argument of reason. Not to mention the other end of the spectrum, of high level white collar and experienced professionals that have been made redundant who have shown loyalty to a firm but the firm has not retuned that loyalty. There are those who are trapped in the system, who feel insecure with their jobs, or unhappy and feel enslaved, victimised, stressed or exploited.

Then we have the higher authorities who are at a cross roads and lacking the courage to make the real decisions in case of civil unrest often at the mercy of those business institutions with power and money. They appear to be forced to give in to the short term solutions, as we live in a short term world, too fast for our own good easily swayed that high incomes and therefore consumption is the only solution. In all honesty the Capitalist system has had the stuffing kicked out of us in Europe and the entire West.

How has it possible that it has all fallen down to this level? Is it due to our liberal, ‘laisser faire’ and tolerant attitudes resulting in unending conflicting individual self-interests, lack of leadership and authority? Is it our lack of vision and identity? Or is it simply a lack of education and guidance?  Are we too spoilt and therefore uncaring? Is it our misconception of freedom in that we are allowed to make whatever choice we want and without thinking? Or is it simply a case of a moral breakdown in family values, conduct, and behaviour?  My mother pointed out on the phone the other day. ‘What is happening in this world, there seems to be such a lack of quality in people everywhere!’

We must listen to the common sense of our mothers sometimes and we must act. I know as an interviewer, business consultant and coach there are plenty of responsible, sincere, fun loving quality, honest and people with integrity out there and even plenty of honourable bankers and plenty of great businesses offering real solutions in needs for the real economy. Plenty of people who strive for a better world or for the common good. Perhaps it is just a case of these types simply waking up their careers, finding their courage and rallying. You just know and feel it through instinct when you meet someone of quality. He or she tends to be true to his or her own self, with a strong sense of right and wrong, a high level of logic and reason, perfectly in tune with his or her own identity. If they have a passion and conviction in their work for all the right reasons that is great. If they have a vision well that is even a greater attribute. This is called education and good upbringing. It is these people I believe that have a duty to be all conquering for the sake of humanity, our children and our children’s children to get us all out of this mess. It is these people that must help the others even in the upper chains to think coherently.

How do we do it? Well, first of all we have to change the money culture which is simply not healthy for anybody’s identity. A culture I had experienced myself. As right now it is some tyrannical obsession, to rule over others, object of power, success, often corrupt, secretive, status, individualistic and all conquering. This serves no benefit for anybody except ones own and worse we seem to forget who we are and why we are here and what we are here to do. These people need to be sifted out, reasoned with, challenged or coached. The media play a great part in not helping us over this who takes the assumption that if some individual is wealthy or a firm has strong profits, they must be amazing. This is not helped by many of us who have a kind of short sighted view in business, a kind of what is in it for me mentality regardless of conscience. Or a takers mentality in that I am going to go out there and take as much as I can so that there is enough for me and for my life. Even an attitude of high margins for as little work as possible or as quickly as possible so that I can do something useful with it later on. This mentality is fruitless; it is an attitude of fear and serves no long term higher purpose. Neither does one take, nor does one take to give.

It is also this Wild West culture amongst our intermediaries with its relentless pursuit of revenue that requires gentle reform, and if necessary with an iron fist.  This is a culture I have lived, experienced and witnessed myself. I remember too once in the mid-90’s in my 20’s in London, a banker friend of mine came to me making very good money and asked with his full conscience speaking ‘how is it they entrusted me with so much money to trade with when I lead such a debauched life in my spare time?’ Many of my generation including myself were all like this, often hedonistic with loose morals. I feel ashamed of this and I had to change. Is there a link? I dare say this conduct was contrary to my upbringing or family values. It was just the way society was (or still is...) 
Today more and more honest or guilty people have come out to speak about the misconduct inside our firms and corporate culture for the outside world to hear. This is a good thing and an opportunity for change so that this culture is dealt with once and for all. But the change also requires ingenuity, quality people and courage and not an opportunity for the lynch mob to make their mark. We are living a time of historical proportion with debts equivalent to the last days of the Weimer Republic.

The European banks are in such difficulty themselves brought on by serious internal problems such as their vastness, conflicts of interest all over the place. Acting in their own interest, shareholder interest, at the mercy of hedge fund managers, investors, their customers, debts with governments, regulation, mistrust with other banks and the list goes on. Not to mention remuneration, fees and cultural issues, people leaving etc. and god knows what else. Bank of America is now being sued by their very own US government. Is this what we want? Would it not be better for simply the culprits to come forward so that we learn? Bearing in mind that history has also taught us that in time the truth will always bear fruit.

At personal level we must ultimately learn to give or offer our expertise if there is a real need, based on our true unique talent, values, knowledge, training and experience. The product or service that you work in would need to serve a purpose that identifies with you. This is how you anchor your identity and how businesses are built. In an ideal world when the receiver or counterpart feels it has been benefited, he/she will recognise you for it and pay you for your services and hard work. The result is you feel your value added is rewarded. This is how you treat money. This is how you measure success. The rest takes its course. This is how it works at individual, corporate and society level. To some people this part is not rocket science and it never was. Although sadly I know from my own experience that this part is hard to figure out. For those of you who have read the fairy tales, or the brothers Grimm to their children. These writers were geniuses and I believe we need to revert to this kind of belief. My grandmother once told me that there is only room for the few that reach the top of the mountain. One wonders where does that mountain end?
In brief what we must learn not to take, or become opportunists for our own benefit beyond our expertise creating conflicting interests and in the end working for our own interest which not only results in a loss of pride and integrity in our work but it can so easily create resentment and mistrust from the counterpart or from the outside. It is uncanny when you think of Roman methodology; there was the God of Mercury, or Mercurius. He is the patron god of trade and commerce. Today it could be considered as financial gain, commerce and trade, eloquence, messages/communication (including divination), travelers and boundaries, luck and the internet.  He is also the God of trickery, thieves and the guide of souls to the underworld...

Soul searching is clearly required within our economic and financial system amongst our differing societies in Europe and the West. Who are we, why we are here and what we are here to do which may explain our lack of advancement. As the banks and the other intermediaries are the main cause of this crisis to the detriment of the other due to their self-service culture, it implies they may have lost their sense of service and identity. What made them stand out were the drastic negative repercussions on the wider part of our society in Europe that we see today reflecting their greater sense of responsibility which was in part something that slipped by them nor fully grasped. It must have shocked a number of them to the core.

Now if they employ the best people and brains in our societies and carry great responsibility in our communities and our world, it would be nice to see them putting their ingenuity back into our real economy, our communities and our societies on our very own door steps here in Europe. Let’s all come back down to earth in Europe and understand the needs of this continent and change. Believe me there are plenty of needs out there. The banks ultimate challenge is to discover the real need in an ethical and the right way and then it is for them to serve in the interest of this need, and this way they may be able re-create trust to help us all into a new era. We need you and you need us. What is no good is serving the interests of each other, running away, globetrotting and seeking opportunities elsewhere with the same practices as before together with that quick buck risk taking mentality that we have all learnt will create the opposite effect causing more problems than actually necessary .

Of course their initial challenge is getting their own houses in order and redefining their vision, sense of purpose, principles and business models as I am sure they will. The finance community and the real economy (goods and services) have to meet. Right now they are worlds apart as seen in the stock market. Stocks are at their highest levels and the real economy has hardly budged one bit. This has a danger of creating an ‘us versus them’ mentality. If they took a cut of 5% out of the UK real economy well they could for example put 5% back plus interest. This part is going to require brains of the best calibre and I would say great courage, wisdom, leadership, humility and sacrifice. Right now there are few signs of people coming forward and time for us in this respect is not exactly our most valuable commodity…..
With mistrust the solution stares

Friday 2 August 2013

Has the Capitalist system become its own worst enemy?

I was intrigued by the civil trial of Fabrice Tourre the ex–Goldman’s Sachs trader nicknamed ‘Fabulous Fab’ whom has just been found guilty of fraud. He has been described as ‘Feeding Wall Street Greed.’  centred on the Abacus deal back in 2007 and its continued conflicts of interest (= value breakdown) . GS have also paid Mr. Tourre's legal fees. This has also brought on perhaps one of the most fascinating debates I have ever encountered on linkedin started by John Taft from Royal Bank of Canada on business ethics. Everyday somehow this financial crisis seems to be exposing more and more of our frail human nature in our business conduct, the entitlement culture, our selfish desires, misdemeanours, the exposed hidden truths and the wider damage this crisis has occurred largely due to the weakness of the system, breakdown in values and lack of moral leadership.

These examples affirm more and more in what Time MCG stands for. That we must change with renewed purpose and vigour in our corporate identity. We must learn to carry our responsibility, try to think of the wider consequences of our actions before we make a decision and be accountable for our failures in this desperate world. Finally we must urgently revert to a service above self orientated culture rather than the opposite and in particular the financial sector. This change must be led from the TOP and the upper levels of management and must be put into action.

GS on Wikipedia seems to have an ever increasing list of scandals. They all appear to be under the watch of their CEO Lloyd Blankfeid. Nothing we notice is written on their efforts and changes they are making in their culture or the transparent measures they say they are making.  Another ex-employee Greg Smith only last year described the corrosive atmosphere working in the London office similar as that of the Wild West. This latest scandal will no doubt have calls on further potential management resignations. All this has prompted as an outsider to look up the business principles and values of Goldman’s’ and to study those more closely in what might be causing all their scandals and perhaps offer a little help. The first few at the top of the list make economic sense notably customers’ needs and interest followed by profitability and shareholder returns.

However the great capitalist conflict and sentiment can so easily flare up and in this fast world of ours as so often the case powerful shareholders are thinking instantaneously or speculatively ironically led by many banks. ROI yesterday and profits tomorrow etc. Their own employee stock owner ship interest is mentioned as a business principle. All this brings in many extra and unnecessary burdens on a company which can often result in putting profit before needs of their customers whereby inciting poor conduct and greed. Or is it simply a matter of their well known unashamedly excessive high reward and fee system that puts employee interest before customer interest?

Time MCG believes that for the capitalist system to regain its credibility shareholders must revert back to focusing on the long term value of a company and reform is clearly needed in fees and remuneration. These are two areas where investment banks have an innate danger of becoming victims of their own success.

There are some very good things written such as pride in our professional work as well as creativity and imagination. It briefly mentions ethical principles that govern us. I would like to challenge Goldman’s what they mean by ethical principles and how they actually govern you? Further down two more are stated.  ‘We are a service business, without the best people we cannot be the best firm.’  ‘We offer our people the opportunity to move ahead more quickly than in other places.’ The former is vague other than thankfully they recognise that they work in a service business. The latter emphasises personal ambition and self above service which contradicts their leading principle. Needless to say that people can quickly be let down by having false expectations raised too quickly.

Another one that springs to light is ‘We aggressively seek to expand our client relationship.’ In our experience this one is unpleasant, again self above service which often breaks down our inner core value system resulting easily to mistrust and loss of integrity. Why don’t the customers come to you as a reflection of a proper service and trust instead of the other way round after all you are the best? Not to mention that this is hardly the climate to be at the receiving end of a so called aggressive banker.

Right at the bottom of their business principle, is honesty and integrity. These are probably the most important and challenging values and principles any business would like to have in their people and their culture particularly if you are a bank and you are involved in money.  We all know that within the financial sector such values as integrity and trust has had the stuffing kicked out of them in recent years. Some banks such as Barclays have got the message and are already working hard in real tangible efforts in re-creating trust and honesty. Unfortunately Goldman’s makes little effort in defining these values. Perhaps what with Greg Smiths assumption of the Wild West is it of no wonder these principles are at the bottom of their list and considered less important?

I have to say these principles are not coherent and do not bode well as a model of wisdom and developed intelligence that is expected of leading MBA graduates. I would have to challenge Goldman’s to enlighten the outside world with some serious reflections.  With such vast profits surely you carry a weight of responsibility in our economy therefore our society. As a highly secretive bank it is very hard to know exactly how you make your revenue. What is your actual purpose? Is it tangible? Do you have a vision? Are you really contributing or serving for the needs or benefit of others or vice versa?  How do you define success and what transparent efforts are you making in re-creating trust? Well informed sources have informed me of shocking examples of how traders have held on to vast quantities of commodities to the detriment of others in developing countries that are already suffering and in real need just to increase prices, demand and their own profits. Is this how you make your money or what you call in hiring the best people?

As for Fabrice Tourre, I don’t blame him. Instead I feel sorry for him as clearly he is a scapegoat of a wider cultural problem that is still endemic.  It is evident that he came into an environment that made him like this taken in by the trappings. This made him self-serving and seeing his superiors and elders do the same. In their eyes he was perhaps not cleverer enough in that he got himself caught. The sad thing is that in order for him to change for the better it will be a long hard road and he will suffer for it. The good news, he is still young and therefore he has time to re-invent himself for perhaps a greater and brighter future. Just find a better nick name! As for the old guard within GS management, their time could be running out or in all likelyhood we'll have Boris Johnson, the mayor of London,  come charging up on a horse, whipping their London office wearing a 10 gallon hat!

Lastly, on a wider serious note a question for the monetarists and economists out there, how come most western stock markets are at record highs when most of the countries they represent have been in recession? Who else out there is in their own imaginary bubble?

Monday 8 July 2013

Are you a European?

I watched Andy Murray win Wimbledon on a screen at a tennis club here in Brussels. The Belgians around me were commentating. ‘Les Anglais sera tres fiere. C’est tres bien pour les Anglais’ I had to correct them in that Andy Murray was Scottish and not English. This is a common error made by the Europeans, misinterpreting the English with the entire island. I had to explain that in the UK, we have the Union of three nations (and Northern Ireland), and to help us identify with the Union we are known as British. They knew this of course. They pressed on by asking why the Scots wanted independence when we have the European Union?  Or worse still, how come the UK is arguing for a referendum in Europe whilst the Scottish are seeking independence from the UK? I asked them that how was it that Flemish political forces were seeking the break-up of Belgium whilst they too were in Union with Europe. Nothing really made a lot of sense.

These are big questions ofcourse which are fundamental as it raises so many other issues. They are fundamental because it has everything to do with our beliefs, values, purpose, history, culture, and tradition. In a word, our identity which is about who we are and why we are here which President Holland of France argued recently we seemed to have lost. There is clearly an air of unease in and around our formidable continent. As this belgian continued to speak, he blamed everything on our liberal and tolerant attitudes (liberalism) as well as individualism. In other words so many of us seems to have a difference of opinion with differing self-interests succumbing to what people want and not what they actually need which arguably numbs our identity, core values, conviction and beliefs.

How does one turn the tide of liberalism and individualism in differing representative democracies? Somehow we have to keep the birds at bay.  The solution that this person and I agreed with was that we were Europeans in that we needed a strong identity in Europe which implies we have to change our attitudes. This requires a need for strong leadership and a very strong representative power structure in Europe one in which has a coherent sense of direction to keep everyone together by respecting each other’s traditions. Not have everyone going in every different direction linked to a total misconception of  individual freedom. With no higher authority this will have a tendency to result in a breakdown in conduct, general standards aswell as a general decline in our services as we are seeing daily everywhere. Moreover we cannot just plodder along by simply having a bit of everything in order to satisfy a bit of everything. At some point hard choices and big decisions would need to be made. Perhaps Europe is now ready for a federal system in what the founding fathers, Monnet, Schumann and even Churchill argued for but this time with a different vision fitting to the times of today. The UK with their hands tied will have no choice but to stay in in order to preserve their very own Union. Or with their potential turn of events would we prefer Scotland in and England out?

It is the same in business, with globalisation, businesses went on the global rampage seeking new markets. Some went ahead of themselves where often personal ambition got the better by exploiting resources from other territories and using employment as their just cause whilst others realised that due to the crisis this may not have been the solution and humbled themselves by re-localising again. Often businesses are in direct conflict to how political forces operate which may explain why they hire so many lobbyists. It also depends where the power is. Is it in those that lead large businesses or in those that govern? Or is there simply a struggle between the two, leading to the two coercing with each other impeding our grasp of our very own destiny adding to our inability to advance forward? The solution in business could be that, once Europe has its power structure right and regained its coherent sense of purpose; business can reflect let alone respect that power structure so that they too can get it right.

Reverting to our cultural identity, I don’t know about you but if I was to travel abroad outside of Europe, and I meet a German or a Swede, apart from my limited linguistic skills, I can totally identify with them far more than with the local country I am visiting. I am a European and we just poke fun at each other and our differences but somehow we are of the same stock. As for our economy, the Brits can invent, the Italians can design, the Germans can engineer and so can the French. The Dutch can trade, the Spanish can help renew everything and the Scandinavians can make things useful.  As for the Greeks, they founded Western civilization they can help us rebuild it again. We really can stick together and become a winning force to reckon with if we try and help each other with our core expertise in our advance forward. In all this a common denominator will need to be found to help keep us together and by this it would require something more than just the Euro.  It would be sad if we were to breakup, God only knows what would happen. 

Anyhow Time MCG likes to leave food for thought, raise the big questions and the small ones in combining the macro with the micro. In the meantime the sun is out, our holidays are here and we can also enjoy ourselves to spend time with our families. I’ll stay in Europe (UK for sure) because it has everything on offer that we need!
Without identity, involvement will be dysfunctional

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Should money be there to rule or to serve?

After having read highlights of the UK parliamentary commission report on banking standards, the key issues that spring to light are; lack of responsibility and accountability, general poor conduct and high levels of reward and risk amongst senior bankers which has resulted in a general breakdown of trust in the sector. It all seems so familiar and Time MCG has been offering solutions for some time now.

In all fairness to the banking sector, this poor conduct is wide spread across the wider business community as a whole, across Europe and perhaps elsewhere. The banks share the main brunt of the blame mainly because the consequence of this type of conduct has been so devastating to our wider society largely because their bail outs have been at the tax payer’s expense which logically implies that they carry a major responsibility. It is of no surprise that the spotlight is on them.

In my previous career, I worked in a culture that was very similar. Very few of us were willing to take responsibility. No one wanted to be accountable. Our proposals carried no risk and our sole purpose was making money. That was our motive and our main driver.  It was a means to an end. This was how we all were in business to the extent that it simply blinded our judgement and practically obliterated our inner core value system. Poor conduct and mistakes were common place. Most were either tolerated or turned a blind eye, brushed under the carpet and even laughed at. We were in awe of the haves and brushed aside the have not’s. We often said the right thing but acted the opposite. There was plenty of narcissistic conduct amongst senior people and plenty of victims as a result. In coaching terminology many of us were rebellious children and the culture of individualism was rife. It was pretty sad to see and to experience. As a result no one trusted anyone to the extent that there was very little creativity, synergy and integrity. I admit I had played my part as it was just considered normal of which I can only be ashamed of. All this was in total contrast to how our behaviour ought to be i.e. as mature autonomous adults whereby utilising our natural talents to contributing to where there was an actual need for a moral benefit or even a higher purpose.

What the commission argues and what Time MCG argues daily is a change of culture and a reaffirmation of corporate identity that we need urgently before sheer havoc will break lose in the current economic system initiated by society’s rebellious and spoilt children. Let’s analyse further this culture. What might be causing it? Or is it the system that just allows the cat to chase its tail? As someone quite aptly pointed out to me the other day there are three forces which perpetuates our inner struggle and if used inappropriately i.e. for our own pure self- interest in our already complex human nature, it can cause much havoc, suffering and grief not just to us but to others around you in our everyday lives. The three happen to be sex, power and money. They are often intertwined and interlinked and sadly can arguably exasperate our loss in identity.

Let us take one of the three. Money. (Sex is hardly an appropriate subject to write about on a corporate website or a business domain such as linkedin) Money we all know is a need and a highly practical one yet today it can so easily be linked to one of our main inner selfish desires commonly known as greed which Time MCG often writes about. We all want it. We all feel entitled to it. This is what we work for. Those who work in it may feel more entitled to it than others. Some want it more than others and some may even need it more than others. There are those that make a lot of it for self enrichment purposes to the detriment of others. Some know how to make it by exploiting the system or through unethical methods, use it for the wrong purpose or as an end that justifies the means.  Others who don’t make any or not enough often become depressed and unhappy. There are those who make it by becoming more opportunistic or multi-functional than ever. Then there are even those who have so much of it and have no idea what to do with it. In short when our inner selfish desire comes into play there is always someone else that loses. This is the case at all levels be it individual, corporate, or even national. Here is an amusing sketch that caught my attention of late.

More worringly the money culture today has become a tool of power and success giving us that delusional capacity to rule over others as well as giving us a delusional sense of confidence, belief and identity whereby it has lost all its ability to serve. Perhaps throughout the different cultural ages it has been like this but today it happens to be more people in this category than ever before. Someone mentioned to me the other day that in order to succeed in making money or reach turnover targets in business in our modern world we have to walk over people. Aggression is the key. There we have it.  In order to succeed we have to break down our very own inner value system. It is often the case that companies hire aggressive people to make their money for them.

If our work has a sole purpose of making money, we are first and foremost going against our key value or driver in our human nature. Let me give you an example. The other day I met a nice promising young man in business. I asked him what his key driver was. He told me that serving a client and creating trust was fundamental and it was this that made him tick. Together by utilising his talents he felt it was this way he was really adding value and in which he felt recognised. I asked him where money fits in as a motivator. It is important but it ranks as number 3 or 4 out of all his key drivers. I asked him about the firm he worked for. Yes. Money, profit, turnover in the short term was their main priority. He felt he had no influence in the matter and that this culture was endemic which he felt was simply caused by shareholder pressure.

Most mature and responsible professionals that I had interviewed over the years, money was important but it was never a sole driver. Most people wanted to add value with their own expertise and knowledge to where there was a real need, benefiting stakeholders and even society. If customers have trust in you and are in need of your services, expertise and know how, they will pay for them, it as simple as that. If your services are no longer needed, then you change and adapt them according to your own expertise and know how. It is as simple as that.

It is logical to deduce therefore that if you work in a business whose sole purpose is making money which is in contrast to your own primary driver. You will be swimming against the current in your organisation. If you happen to be someone who has discovered your talents and gifts which has anchored your sense of identity and you use them to meet needs and produce results and at the same time the rest of the crew is thinking on a different level. Then you will be working upstream or become an island of excellence in a sea of mediocrity.  Against these internal forces, the conflict will arise. Eventually you will not be happy. Either the culture has to change, or you will have to leave. The worst outcome is you get sucked into it and become like the rest of them which is such a waste resulting in much harm to yourself professionally, privately and perhaps elsewhere. Alan Watts describes this way of thinking far more eloquently than myself here.
Barclays have just recently published a deal on their website. They have closed a project finance deal together with two of their customers to help design, and construct 7 hospitals in rural Ghana. Here is a perfect example of how money can be used to serve. It is an example of how a bank by possessing the courage to take destiny into its own hands, can help to create growth and not just follow the growth. It was even recognised as a deal of the year by the Banker Magazine!!

Time MCG believes that in order to help eliminate money or profit as a sole driver in business or as an end through whatever means resulting to such a detrimental effect in our conduct, our society even our planet, we need a higher belief or purpose instilled by the top. Banks for example would need to come out with tangible mission statements or a renewed identity where its ultimate goal is to serve a purpose or really adding value to where there is a need by benefiting others and improving our society we live in. We must also serve in the interest of our customers and to eventually strive to become a force for good as per the example I just gave.

Meanwhile as for us Europeans as the post war baby boom generation leaves us, let's get a grip of our own destiny before something more sinister will get hold of us and show the rest of the world what we are made of.

We do not see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.