Doing Business in Emerging Markets – What next after In Amenas?

North Africa

Last week’s terrorist attack at the BP/StatOil run gas facility in In Amenas in Algeria has prompted many observers to question the viability of foreign companies operating in unstable territories. Traditionally, North Africa has been a relatively stable place for oil and gas operators to do business in, but it appears that the fall out from the downfall of Gaddafi has opened up the floodgates  for a new existential terror threat in North Africa. Tackling extremism in North Africa is one issue but from a business perspective, the debate between high risks versus high reward will be a tough and uncomfortable one for companies. Here are some immediate issues that may need to be addressed:

  • What is the corporate business strategy: continue operating, scale back or exit?
  • Will North Africa become a no go area for expat workers?
  • Will more companies upscale their security arrangements to private defence contractors?
  • Will companies offer their staff increased ‘hardship’ allowances and significantly enhanced accidental death benefits?
  • Will companies who are operating in North African, shift their (back office) operations to ‘safe haven’ countries such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar which was a trend that was quite evident in the aftermath of the Arab Spring

Ultimately the decision by companies to operate in unstable territories will come down to weighing up pros and cons of critical risk and reward aspects. I believe there is still a future for companies to continue to operate in North Africa. Indeed, the recent events of last week have not deterred Alstom to do business in the region having just recently signed a contract in Libya.  How terrorist threats are dealt with will be a challenge facing world leaders but for CEO’s the urgent issues of employee safety and emergency planning need to be top of the agenda.

Photo credit:  tome213


3 for the week: Inspirational quotes to get you through the week – 21 January 2013

As from today, I will be posting a regular series of posts dedicated to inspiring you through your busy week ahead around the themes of motivation, success and on life and wisdom. Hope you enjoy them and above all find them inspiring and insightful.

MOTIVATION: “Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try”. – Unknown

SUCCESS: “In many instances, the likelihood of an individual succeeding (no matter what the goal) will be dependent on how uncomfortable that person is prepared to get and for how long.” – Craig Harper

LIFE & WISDOM: “Seek the wisdom of the ages, but look at the world through the eyes of a child”. – Ron Wild

Company ethics -remember its starts at the top!

company higher consil

When you step back and take a look at everything that has emerged from the global financial crisis, there is a pressing need to shore up ethics in companies across the corporate world. The sheer scale of fraud and malpractice revealed by the crisis has had a devastating impact on markets and the credibility of companies. How does one begin to repair the damage? How much do stakeholders trust their companies? As the recent case with the rogue trader at UBS has come to a close, it appears that companies have lost their bearings in the corporate world, and they urgently need to find an answer to the crippling greed, arrogance and corruption that has been apparent in the crisis. The repair job should involve the installation of strong ethical behavior in the company.

When things go bad, ultimate responsibility rests with the Board of Directors so there must be a sense of urgency to eradicate the failings evident in the financial crisis. No matter how complex the company structure, ‘a back to basics’ approach is needed. What is this approach? The Board of Directors must be non-executive and independent. Moreover, in order to ensure the healthy functioning of the whole company, a non-executive chairperson should head the Board. The same individual must not be the CEO and chairperson.

It is absolutely essential that the Board of Directors takes ownership of ethics. They must ensure that the ethics code is regularly reviewed, implemented by management, and that all employees understand what it means relative to the corporate culture of the company.

The Board of Directors must delegate authority to senior management to ensure that the ethics code is properly implemented. Here, key senior management personnel such as the CEO must understand that their role is one of stewardship when spearheading ethics in the company. The introduction of a separate Ethics Director may also be beneficial to ensure that a tight ship is run.

Transparent policies including performance objectives must be established by the Board. They must set the tone from the top relating to workplace issues such as procurement of contracts, employment and diversity policies, doing business in foreign jurisdictions etc. These policies must be backed by adequate training programs, and employee evaluations to reinforce their value.

All issues relating to reward and remuneration issues should be viewed by the Board of Directors as ethical matters. The general public will irk at the prospect of excessive bonuses. Through the Compensation Committees (made up of non-executive and independent directors), Board of Directors need to evaluate what impact the company’s performance has on the economy and society. Does the profit generated by the company deliver clear benefits for the general public and its own stakeholders? Moreover, owing to transparency, a clear disclosure must be made to the public on how the Compensation Committee arrived at the decision on the remuneration packages of the

The Board of Directors should be held responsible for ensuring that the ethics code is communicated clearly and effectively to all stakeholders. Everybody must be briefed about it, and it is useful that it is documented via an annual company ethics audit which has been ratified by the Chairperson.

The Board of Directors must ensure that the CEO is in involved from all angles to provide leadership on ethics with the backing of the Board. The company needs to achieve transparency by ensuring it participates and engages with key stakeholders on issues such as corporate values, and corporate social responsibilities of the company. Companies must think of themselves as being part of the wider social fabric of a country.



Organisational Failure – A rough guide to the red flags

Red flags

The global financial crisis has delivered a sucker punch to the integrity and reputations of companies. If you scratch beneath the surface as many financial regulators have, to expose the unscrupulous practices of companies, there will be many critical indicators  why many business empires within the banking and financial services industry came crashing down. But go further and beyond these industries, and it is issues relating to management, leadership, strategy and operations that can fracture and/or destroy a company. Here is a list of things (some lighthearted) which may help identify red flags that indicate shortcomings within a company:

  • The HR department should be at the forefront in practicing active talent management, not just a department that processes hiring and firing decisions
  • When the company uses propaganda to disguise its underlying problems, and presents a different image to the public
  • The company has a revolving door policy where the employee is literally considered disposable. Companies like this have a high turnover rate. They place regular job advertisements all year round
  • Relentlessly recording and monitoring employee’s activities. The reason given for this is for  training and monitoring purposes, but actually it’s just a way of micro managing employees
  • The scripting of client conversations – If there is anything that gets on the nerves of clients; it is people talking to them in robotic voices that starve the client relationship management process of individuality and life. Clients are not brainless and know when somebody is reading from a script
  • Setting overly challenging KPIs for employees that are counter – productive and encourage malpractice among employees. Targets only work if they if they are realistically challenging and motivating
  • Constantly changing KPIs, and manipulating performance metrics to limit bonus payouts
  • Weak and ineffective communication that results in employees never getting clear and meaningful direction of where the company is going
  • Delaying promotions and making it difficult for employees to progress
  • Promoting people on favoritism, and not merit
  • Lack of trust between senior management and employees – not being honest with employees
  • Poorly remunerating employees who deliver key front line services
  • Misselling the job at the interview stage just to draw people in
  • Micro-managing employees down to the last detail – a reflection of weak managers
  • Treating employees as a number/statistic
  • Putting employees on probation for underperformance instead of offering remedial coaching which may be more beneficial and cost effective for both the employee and company
  • Rewarding incompetent employees and punishing productive employees for good deeds
  • Appointing people into management positions that are not fit for the job, subsequently running the risk of obliterating an entire function or department
  • Nobody other than the CEO has the authority to make decisions: no delegation of responsibilities -getting management approval for anything, no management buy in for ideas that come from front line employees
  • Top heavy management structure – power is too centrally concentrated
  • Atmosphere and culture of fear -‘do what we say or else!’
  • When the company believes it is bigger and better than it actually is – indicating a possible deep lying branding problem
  • When the company never talks about the negative aspects of their business – are they perfect?
  • When employees are fired for making constructive comments
  • When your own clients tell you that your products and services are overpriced
  • When employees are terminated without notice
  • Calling customers when they have specifically instructed not to be called , and believing that harassing people over the phone would make them cooperate
  • The absence of a compliance and/or ethics program
  • Treating employees like they are your personal property
  • Having a one size fits all approach to customer and employee issues
  • When promotions are subjective and political
  • Use of intimidation and humiliation to motivate employees
  • Failure to take action on reported cases of misconduct
  • Introducing last minute projects with impossible deadlines
  • Using performance metrics analytics that are difficult to comprehend, and prone to misinterpretation
  • Placing unrealistic expectations on employees
  • Deliberately finding reasons to fire employees
  • When the company is taking more cancellations, than generating sales
  • When senior management in the company don’t understand their own industry – no background in the industry in which they operate
  • When senior management do not give employees meaningful feedback
  • When ex – employees say that the training they received was non – existent to irrelevant
  • When the IT system is full of glitches -new systems are introduced before proper testing
  • When the company doesn’t listen to its own customer’s feedback
  • When competent employees are threatened with demotion, and worse still demoted
  • Undermining employees potential
  • Ignorant attitude towards employees and the entire industry in which the company operates
  • When employees feel that they are sitting on an ejectable seat
  • When employees work in the company only to avoid unemployment
  • When the best thing former employees remember about the company was the time they handed in their notice and left
  • When the only advice former employees give to prospective new hires, is not to take a job at the company
  • When the best advice you receive from a fellow employee is to stay quiet, and keep your head down
  • When senior executives have never worked for another company in their lives – lacking depth of experience
  • When the client/customer you call doesn’t want to speak to you
  • When line managers are afraid of senior executives, and afraid to tell them that a project needs more time/planning

Even one of these red flags is a cause for concern. Left unaddressed, the impact this could have on a company over time could be catastrophic. Would you like to work for a company displaying these red flags?  Well, many times we don’t have a choice in this. It is just luck of the draw whether you are an employee who is on the receiving end of one of these red flags. If you are, you may even find yourself in catch 22 situations, and often departing is the most viable option. But if you are braver, then you may choose to blow the whistle as Michael Woodford did.

What do we do?

There is an increasing consensus in the academic and business community that soft skills will increasingly play a key role in the making and breaking of companies. Perhaps companies need to bench mark themselves against industry standards of what constitutes a good place to work.  What is required is a conscious effort by senior executives to identify and diagnose problems before they turn nasty and risk taking everybody down. A risk management/compliance – ethics program would be a good place to start, and a commitment by everybody in the company to discuss issues openly without the risk of reprisal.

N.B. The above post is based on insight from industry research reports, surveys, and news articles.


4 questions you need to ask before contemplating a job move

Thinking - lampelina

The global economic decline has prompted many employees to cling on desperately to their current jobs. But as skills sets become scarcer in certain professions and  sectors, individuals with particular hard to find skills sets are increasingly in demand. Faced with increased probability of getting a call from a head-hunter/recruiter, here are 3 questions you need to ask yourself before considering a potential career move.

  1. Will the opportunity on offer improve my quality of life?
  2. If I chose to stay in my current role, what would the next step for me be with my current employer?
  3. What isn’t working for me in my current role?
  4. Will the proposed role add value to my career in the long run?

Focusing your discussion on the above four questions will ensure that you cover the critical aspects with the head-hunter/recruiter. By doing this, you will keep the conversation flowing and allow yourself to make an informed decision about whether or not to progress discussions to the next level.

Photo credit:   lampelina


Inspirational Character from Movies – Chris Gardner

Pursuit of Happyness may not be many people’s choice as a favorite movie but it is a very memorable movie for me, and one of the slightly better movies on TV over the festive period.  It was memorable for me because it revealed in spectacular detail the struggles and stresses we face as human beings. By the end of the movie I was left absolutely dumbfounded because I had to remind myself that this was a true story. A man and his son actually went through this. It was also the first time a movie had brought tears to my eyes (the softy that I am). Chris Gardner was a phenomenal hero of his own life. The story of Chris Gardner is very touching because it reveals the worst that can happen to any capable person. Gardner is a bright salesman and family man. When an investment goes bad, his family is brought to the brink of financial disaster. As time progresses and the family’s troubles intensify, Chris’s wife leaves him and their son to move to another city. Chris becomes broke and he and his son rely on homeless shelters for food and a place to sleep. Chris goes through immense hardship personally and financially but takes some solace when he sees an opportunity for a stockbroker internship position come up. He then becomes totally dedicated to this opportunity driven by an unflinching commitment to his son. Chris faces one challenge and setback after another (including failing to sell a bone density scanner) but his resolve remains strong. In the end, it was his commitment and self belief that won him the job.

Here are some insights into Chris’s character:

  1. He didn’t let his problems define him
  2. He didn’t want any sympathy from anybody
  3. He cherished his relationship with his son
  4. He did things he wasn’t comfortable with
  5. He didn’t let his feelings get the better off him
  6. He persevered – adamant and determined to sell the scanner despite all its flaws
  7. He remained professional throughout his troubles
  8. He believed in his abilities

These are eight things that stood out to me from the character of Chris Gardner but the one thing that kept Chris Gardner going despite all his hardship was that he was proactive in everything he did.  It was this momentum that spurred him to win the job he so desperately wanted, and by doing so he was able to reverse his fortunes.  It takes a big man to fall from grace and manage to get back on his feet again. Chris Gardner is living proof that bouncing back from despair is possible.

29 things I have learnt so far in life


Life is a journey as one of my former managers said. In this festive season, I thought it would be best to highlight some lessons I have learnt and the wisdom passed on by others in both my professional and private life. I see the following as wake up calls, harsh lessons, reality checks and even motivational thoughts. So in no particular order, here they are:

  1. Things get worse before they get better
  2. Bad news tends to come together at the same time
  3. Opportunities can jump at you when you least expect them to
  4. Your gut instinct is always almost right
  5. You may not always get what you ask for
  6. You may have to settle for your second choice: you probably won’t get your first choice
  7. Bear in mind that you may have to take small, baby steps to make big advances
  8. Don’t look for quick fixes: be prepared to being excruciatingly patient
  9. Stay the course before making a final decision
  10. Don’t be afraid to ask advice from others
  11. If something  isn’t working out, don’t be scared and shy of admitting defeat: bail before you get washed out
  12. Don’t be afraid of experimenting, taking risks
  13. Don’t always look to be in your comfort zone: accept that you need to push yourself to get better at doing what you do
  14. Accept that some things will never be perfect
  15. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo
  16. Punch above your own weight
  17. See boring, uninspiring tasks as challenges as you never know where they might lead you
  18. When it comes to jobs and companies, it invariably comes down to cultural fit so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t manage to secure an offer
  19. Try avoiding people who have  detrimental impact on your life
  20. All things being equal, the simplest explanation normally tend to be the right one
  21. A degree doesn’t make you intelligent but it gives you an edge
  22. Not everybody is capable of maintaining a professional approach to work
  23. It is easy to be a micro – manager but far harder to be an inspirational, likeable manager
  24. You don’t need to sweat to prove a point and nor does it make you more authoritative
  25. Don’t take things seriously and more importantly, don’t take yourself seriously
  26. Accept that you won’t always get things right the first time
  27. It may take people a while to understand what you are all about
  28. Extract happiness from the smallest things in life
  29. There will inevitably come a time in life, when you will run into the wrong people who will have a detrimental impact on your life

Most importantly though, ‘be certain to learn life’s lessons and move on’.