Friday 29 May 2015

Where is Europe going?

In a time of great confusion and muddling interests we seemed to have uncovered a world of far reaching smokescreens, and mirrors with an in excess of conflicting self-interests. All moral standing has been blown into the wind, freedom of speech is a right and then suppressed if you speak your heart and mind, and justice is a thing of the past. All this magnifies a blurred sense of right and wrong justifying poor conduct in an economic, social and political system that is fast losing its sense of purpose. Another hot topic this time in the football world is the subject of corruption. This prompted to ask a professor in finance in how he would define the meaning of corruption. He came out with a stunning thought provoking definition:

At the expense of the common good, consciously compromising one's principles or timeless ethical standards in pursuit of personal interests

One could almost deduce that based on this meaning, corruption remains rife and is everywhere. This is seemingly more apparent in politics and in business with many falling victims from perpetrators whilst most are apathetic, in an economic system that many might argue is in free-fall compounded by a minority in business, the media through sedition, intermediaries, leaders and politicians at the top causing harm in a human race with such a poor outlook where even our most basic of universal principles such as reciprocity, trust and integrity have vanished in a puff of smoke.

The European Commission argues corruption is costing our economy €120 billion annually yet this is a narrow view related solely to fraud and bribery when in fact the above definition is related to something so much deeper that being our moral interior. €120 billion is just the tip of the iceberg. Our belief, our value system our conscience, our strength of character, our capacity to serve, to create, to teach, to encourage, to lead and contribute to the needs of others has been pulled into the opposite direction by external perhaps inexplicable forces which are really and truly narrowed down to personal or self- interests.

Here in Belgium we are commemorating the 200 years of the Battle of Waterloo. Napoleon in our history makes for a very intriguing leader that brought meaning, pride and honour to many French people. A man with immense enthusiasm. (Enthusiasm was a term used by the ancient Greeks as those to have divine manifestations). His strength of character displayed by a belief of applied intelligence, a hierarchical system based on merit, hard work, mental toughness and physical courage, law and order, and contempt for anything that is self-serving. We can take light from such influential figures in our history.

By contrast today it is the term self–serving, our sense of entitlement and lack of belief and common purpose that negatively sticks out most in parts of our culture falsely perceived by some common diktat that the world owes us every thing as the key to our happiness and yet if I want to have a bigger garden, is it the dog in me that will dictate or is it my master?

How are we going to command respect to our leaders  when such people in responsibility such as Mr.Juncker is seen manhandling all the country leaders and not remembering their names making a mockery of the dignity of office of the European Union that he represents? Other leaders are having secret meetings about taxation as if taxation is the only solution to all our problems. Belgian politicians are talking about legalising sexual liberty for 14 year old girls whilst the issue of sexuality is one of the most personal of all matters linked to our identity and dignity and to many is not an open book that instead can have a reverse effect in encouraging more deviances and lack of respect.

In finance many people including Warren Buffet predict some crash some day. The stock market has become a measurement system that has simply lost its long term serving benefit that it once had and has instead become tyrannically abused by short sighted wealthy and powerful speculators that are only interested in their short term gain with no higher purpose except one’s own. This is having a devastating perhaps even psychological impact on listed companies which is a true test of their character when making long term decisions. This corrupt out dated and beleaguered system has evidently played havoc in our lives and resulted in a culture of short term insecurity rather than long term fulfilment.

A senior Banker mentioned to me in horror that Bonds have been the hottest thing on the market. Corporate bonds that are nicely packaged and passed around and no doubt will be nicely laid into colourful looking 'assets' creating nothing from nothing. Déjàs Vu? A good name for this game could be ‘musical debts’ where you pass the debt by dancing round in circles and cracking over the champagne.  What happens when the music stops? HSBC would rather go down with the Titanic.... presumably with a glass of Bollinger joined by Goldman’s who are only now beginning to admit that the world is over bloated with suspects instead with a glass of Cristal.

In a increasingly corrupt economic, social and political system it is very difficult for the weak or for any of us for that matter to rise up and assume responsibility and even the fittest can feel vulnerable. Nevertheless there are always solutions and a chance to show our true colours. And yes it's possible. We need visionaries for change, visionaries with true character that can lead us away from the devastating impact of the consumer debt culture into a more imaginative and sustainable future. Political leaders with the courage that is willing to make sacrifices not for their personal ambition but for the greater and common good.  A justice system that can regain its respect by acting more like the wisdom of Solomon. We need employees in the work place that find the strength to stand up if need be to their bosses when they sense that something is not right. More tangible and meaningful ways are needed in how we measure how success.

We need those that understand that it is not taxes and regulation or a nanny state that is the answer which instead crowds us out. We need people that care for the needs in our society, the vulnerable, and the ever enlarging widening inequality gap and for our environment. Those that understand that the race for growth in this economic war carries absolutely no meaning that builds our system on sand and not on rock. We need people that also understand that economic exploitation is cruel to humanity, and that we are not units nor are we a cost not part of a capital group. We need an attitude that wealth creation in its purest form from the cradle to the grave is not an innate right. On this matter, I am surprised neither Forbes nor Fortune has yet to come out with rich lists on who has the most expensive graves!!

In short my hope is that one day we find a way to move away from our debt consumption fuelled economy that has trapped our culture into a new era of real freedom, and empowerment unleashing humanities ingenuity. As unique individuals willing to contribute including our footballers, we deserve to be respected for our talent and treated with dignity, deserving of a more fulfilling and creative future where there is a place for each and every one of us.
Dignity is a universal right for all

Wednesday 20 May 2015

Renewable Energy. Do we have the will?

While several institutions such as the Rockefeller Foundation is divesting its investment away from fossil fuels assets and reinvesting in clean or renewable energy, the demand on climate change, the effects it has on our eco system and what we eat is carrying a big voice. Too many it is evident that fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gas) as a primary energy, causes pollution and global warming. If we burn such fuels at an alarming rate together with deforestation (to allow space for planting crops or crazing livestock for example) then through sheer logic we could really be in a critical fix. NB. From a point of view of semantics, 'respect for our environment' rather than 'climate change' is more apt.  A revolution to renewable can only be a good thing by this we mean any power that is generated through, wind, sun and water and lest we forget the EU's ambitious 2020 target. Frankly it is becoming harder and harder to justify for such companies as Shell and Exxon, extracting oil in the Artic.
A while back when I lived and worked in Amsterdam, I would drive my car some 1.5 km to my office. I would laugh at the Dutch on their bicycles. What on earth are they thinking? Look at me. Yes me. I have a brand new BMW still hot off the conveyer belt straight from Germany. Leased too! They’ll just never learn will they?
Moving on from those aimless days, people’s attitudes and not just my own are really changing. A revolution would imply that coal, oil, and combustion engines will move into the history books as some 20th century adventurous experiment. Oil and our insatiable appetite for it has caused so much harm and despair in the last Century. Even mankind’s worst battle in history, the battle of Stalingrad was down to Hitler’s objective to get hold of the rich Oil fields in the Caucasus.
Aeroplanes, Shipping and haulage would need to revert to renewable. Electricity would have to be generated differently to satisfy our household consumer appliances, as well as TV, sound, lighting, machine equipment, trams, and trains and so on. The transition to get there would be formidable and the change and effects would be enormous. The effects are enormous because quite frankly with the amount of energy we use would very likely exceed the supply. And yet do we have the will? Could this mark the end of industrialisation or a consumption driven economy? The simplest way to deal with the challenge is for lifestyles, hearts and mentalities to shift in so as we consume less, live more simply and in a sustainable manner. It would also mean our industries producing sustainable goods.
Change in hearts and mentalities is easier said than done as more often than not it takes a bolt of lightning to trigger. Apart from governments lacking a serious strategy due to short term panic thinking and basic economics, this divestment of assets from oil companies to re-invest elsewhere is surely an effective way to carry out this transition as this would influence the bottom line in such companies. Could the banks and financial sector take the bold decision to divest their assets, lending and investments (or reduce their exposure by 20% would make mathematical sense) from oil including fossil fuel dependent companies and redirect them into renewable energy companies?
Apart from generating a switch to countless new opportunities, jobs and ingenuity bringing us into an exciting new era, what about our everyday lives? Let’s take a car for example where Elon Musk the CEO of Tesla, appears to be making his mark. It clearly takes energy to produce and process a car. Plastics, steel, and even rubber would be needed. Then all this would need to pass through the supply chain and then assembled, to make the car. When we drive we use energy whilst we stand idle in traffic, accelerate and even break.
To produce and assemble an electric car would have to be the same. To make the batteries, compounds such as lithium, copper and nickel are mined from the Earth and processed in a manner that demands energy and can release toxic components. No doubt there have been studies done on such things to compare the energy life cycles between the two. Is the chemical plant willing to revert to renewable energy? Is a steel company willing to revert to renewable energy to extract iron ore? Or could we make a car from something more sustainable?
Here in Belgium, electric cars are hardly sold due to the lack of investment the government has made in public recharging facilities. ‘The revolution is on its way but we are far from ready,’ the VW salesman pointed out the other day. Nevertheless, having tested an electric car, a Nissan Leaf, besides the fact that there was a huge reduction in the noise and air pollution in our streets, it was the easiest thing to drive and very enjoyable. Was it made and assembled from using renewable energy? Unlikely. Yet are we on target in reducing greenhouse emissions by 20% from 1990 levels? Not sure.
Having finally learnt a simpler solution north of the border, I have reverted to just riding a bicycle which uses the best energy of all and hey presto it comes with a little dynamo creating its own light and to potentially recharge the mobile phone.
In short it is really down to each of us and how much responsibility we are willing to bear.  It is probably virtually impossible to produce goods that are 100% biodegradable or in a natural way. At best it comes down to a respect and love for our environment. This starts from the respect of oneself. Where does that respect of oneself come from? Our family, our upbringing, our education, our values and an awakening of our conscience. This way we begin to appreciate our land, our surroundings, our buildings, how we contribute or benefit, what we make and create, who we serve and the people we meet.  This is needed more than ever in our desperate world that has been passed down to us from so long ago, so as to discover our paths and to hold onto it with gratitude, meaning and with care. If one person gets it, others will break the waves with you, enabling a life of not just a rippling energy but of immeasurable, infinite beauty and fulfillment.   

Where there is a will there is a way

Tuesday 5 May 2015

Our compass. Which way is it pointing?

Many of us today have the inclination that humanity out there is being tested in every single direction albeit from an economic, environmental, or moral standpoint. Our businesses small, medium and large are being squeezed, with very tight budgets and much smaller margins. Our USP’s are no longer what they used to be. Competitiveness becomes very tricky. Loyalty is a bygone word. Trust and integrity such intrinsic values that were once so valuable that reflected our respected structures and institutions have been battered and quite frankly whilst many people agree there is a lack of respect in our leaders everywhere. France, UK, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Greece and Holland and even the EU. Is the rumble of change under our feet?

It is also very difficult for many of us to know where to look and to understand which way the wind is blowing as our anxieties and fears tend to increase.

My generation who grew up in the 70s and 80s are learning fast from the great recession which I might add is a good thing. Those of us who perhaps had a taste of, or were used to, the good life earlier this century (and the last), have had to wake up, do some thinking, come to terms with some of the foolishness of our past, assume our own responsibilities and get some of our priorities right.  In making the necessary sacrifices this is essential in order to live in the present to build those necessary inner resources and if need be offer those a helping hand in so as we can inspire ourselves and others to move ahead in our careers and private lives with confidence and with hope. 

Infact there are still several questions whose answers I still need to spend time to figure out in today’s culture.  The questions that remain a concern; Is it not possible that once you put yourself on a pedestal however lonely it might be up there, that we can remain coherent to whom we are in the good sense of the word? How is it that the powerful mainstream media create such false people who put themselves in the limelight for others to look up to?  Why is it that when something goes wrong it is always others or circumstances that are to blame? And our politicians or those who have power and influence, why do they so often have to compromise their own integrity making them look fundamentally weak or even at times unpleasant or dishonourable? And then how is it that so many of these same types are unable to see beyond the palm of their hands? And finally why can’t our children play openly in the streets?

To attempt to answer some of these tricky questions, I suspect it is to do in part that we build walls around us. It is in our nature. We always have done. Not just our inner walls but our outer walls too. We build these walls to protect ourselves because we are vulnerable. We are vulnerable because we all make mistakes and hide from them.  It is that vulnerability that we fear the most which can only imply that the greatest enemy is in us, more so than what is out there. By which the only solution through sheer logic is to build on our inner resources to allow us to me more open, assertive, forgiving and confident. Moreover when times are tough, imagination is required.

In 1937 when Japan invaded China a Japanese soldier witnessed what he thought people that at the time had lost their sense of self-worth.  They could not understand the weakness in the Chinese character and in that they lost lives for this. To them such a battle seemed meaningless.  If ever, heaven forbid, Europe was invaded, or endured some widespread civil unrest, by an extreme force of some nature, we could be a walk over. This would be a sad reflection on our own character.

In May 1940 whilst Britain was close to its knees, Winston Churchill, a man who often had enough foresight in warning his people against the tide of mainstream, was in a room alone with the then Prime Minister Chamberlain and Halifax the next expected leader. The PM had asked Halifax to take over the reins from which he had politely declined. There was only one person left in the room. Churchill noted. ‘On this occasion I was silent’ He felt the tap on his shoulder. He must have felt the eyes of the world were on him and that lions roar in him.

Some of us may have the lion’s roar in us, whilst others may wait patiently or silently for that tap on our shoulder. Yes we need strong characters, real men, and real women that are prepared or cope with the unexpected. We need men and women with integrity and the wisdom of lifes experience that inspire greatness in that we are not a soft touch by allowing us to see beyond the palm of our hand. Those with enough forsesight, a sense of calm or self-control that can master or bridge our differences into something greater. That way we can begin to see the world not as it is but as we are.

In short, if the enemy is in you; shake it off. If that wall is in you, knock it down. Have the courage to breathe in and gently blow that hand in front of you outwards. Blow your arms outwards. Blow into the wind, see ahead, beyond the horizons, and on upwards. Allow that old ear in you to disappear and the new one to replace it. The respect in you will allow the respect for others. That compassion in you will allow the compassion for others. That inspiration in you will inspire others. As a Dutch business leader in Finance quite eloquently put it, it is that magnetic compass in all of us that points north that measures our confidence. I could not agree more and yet right now the needle appears to be spinning in every single direction that could prick us accidently until we bleed into a deep sleep or like a dog chaising its tail.

Well let’s blow that compass back North wards with all that you've got!

Inner peace is our path to greatness