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’