Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The G20 protests


The G20 summit takes place in London this week. The economic crisis needs continued and coordinated global response and will be the main focus of the summit. But what is happening outside in the streets of London beggars belief.

As with most other world events, every conceivable group wants to use the opportunity to protest against something. it is peeved about. London is bracing for a virtual war. 10000 police personnel have been deployed and the security arrangements alone are expected to cost £ 7.2 m. Violence is widely expected.

The following are a small sample of the protests planned

  • Anti-war march, organised by Stop the War Coalition, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the British Muslim Initiative

  • FOSSIL FOOLS DAY demonstration. Environment campaigners plan a "Climate Camp" in front of the Bank of England and at the European Climate Exchange in London's Bishopsgate area

  • Web site Anarchy.net is urging followers to meet in the Square Mile on April 1 and "take back what's ours." It continues: "Join thousands of disgruntled, angry, pissed off people on the streets of the financial district. As the bankers continue to cream off billions of pounds of our money let's put the call out -- reclaim the money, storm the banks and send them packing."

  • Government of the Dead, a radical group, which believes "the only Government is a dead government," is set to meet outside the Bank of England at midday on April 1. The group hopes to create a better world from the "train wreck bequeathed to us by the decadent, decomposing corpse of capitalism."

  • Regional group Bristol Dissent has asked followers to crash the stock exchange on April 2 and, in their words, "eat capitalism for breakfast" and "disrupt the traders whose financial egomania perpetuates global injustice."

There are innumerable such outfits, some bordering on lunacy, who are planning to create havoc. A sensible and civilized discussion is no longer possible, without radicals yelling at each other. In all this, the ordinary London citizen suffers and has to foot the bill for the actions of these protesters.

Enough is enough. The right to protest has been abused totally. It looks like any sensible global discussions can only be held in totalitarian countries. Methinks there must be a global consensus on how to handle protests.

  • Protesting online is best. Everybody can air whatever view they hold. A large number of people can read about the protest, if they wish to, and can either accept or ignore it.

  • If people want to protest in person, they have to send a representative to a designated place where they can have their say for 15 minutes and the press and TV can cover it to their heart's content (China and Singapore have such a policy)

  • If they do a mass protest, they have to pay for the cost of security and the cost of cleanup. (India has such a law, but it is ,alas, rarely implemented)

I completely fail to see why I, as a tax payer, should pay for the cost for some clown yelling his head off and trashing the place. Do you ?


Sunday, 29 March 2009

Did you turn your lights off on Saturday ?


(photo from www.webwombat.com.au)


Saturday 8.30 PM to 9.30 PM local time was Earth Hour as most people know by now. 4000 cities and towns in 88 countries joined the event initiated by the World Wildlife Fund to dim non essential lights to highlight the threat of climate change. The organisers had hoped to reach 1 billion people, and possibly succeeded.

Climate change is a key issue facing the world today. Most people would agree that the threat is real and that all of us need to act. An event such as Earth Hour is great for building awareness and touching people. I too switched off my lights yesterday.

However, the issue of climate change, is a very complex subject. It is in some danger of being hijacked by sensationalists, who are completely intolerant of any other viewpoint. Very often, some of the actions urged will actually make the situation worse. There is no simple answer - every action by humans will leave some carbon footprint or the other and sometimes what seems apparently eco friendly may actually be not so good at all. Take even the case of the Earth Hour.

What did most people do for illumination when they switched the lights off ? They probably lit a candle. Most candles are made of paraffin, a heavy hydrocarbon derived from crude oil. An article published in the Christian Science Monitor says that if you burn a paraffin candle for one hour, you would probably release 10 grams of carbon di oxide. If you had turned off a CFL bulb, you would probably have saved 5-13 gms of CO2, depending on what the source of your electricity was. So if you had a candle lit party in Kansas, for example, and lit a candle for every CFL you switched off, you actually added to the climate problem; not reduced it.

Of course, the Earth Hour did greatly reduce the CO2 emitted. A lot more lights were extinguished than candles lit. And by no means is CFL everywhere. Incandescents still rule the world and they emit for more CO2 than paraffin candles. So overall, this was a great event.

But my point is that an action is not always what it seems. A lot more research is needed , preferably under the auspices of the UN, to bring out a guide to the most sensible steps that mankind should take. This should not be left only to the tree huggers. You need a cross section of experts who can recommend the right actions that make the most difference and who can balance the needs of development and the needs of protecting the environment.

I switched off my lights, but can, will, and should, do more. But it would help if somebody (not Michael Moore) told me what's truly the best to do.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Credit Cards

I received a very kind message from my credit card issuer saying that the interest rate is revised to 42% p.a . YES FORTY TWO PERCENT

Readers of my blog may remember my rant against credit cards. Click here to read my earlier post.

Please show me one expenditure that's worth paying 42% interest on and I'll eat my hat. When will the idiots who borrow on credit cards stop ?

Shylock seems a positive angel before credit card companies.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Swiss Banks and Secrecy


The legendary secrecy of Swiss banks is coming under sustained attack, especially from the US. I read an article in the FT today, that some Swiss banks are imposing a complete ban on their senior executives travelling outside Switzerland for fear that they may be detained and questioned.


The US is mounting a sustained campaign against tax havens, as is Germany. The case against "Swiss bank secrecy" has been loudly made and is not worth repeating. What is however not heard amidst all this noise, is the case for secrecy. Let me make the case, including arguing against some of the myths about Swiss banks.


Firstly what novels and movies portray about the fabled numbered accounts is plainly wrong. You cannot open a numbered account without the same disclosures that you have to make when you open a normal account. Then only additional secrecy in a numbered account is that fewer bank employees know who the account holder is, since the account is referred to by a number. That's all.

A second common fallacy is that tyrants and despots loot their countries and stash their wealth away in Swiss banks. Cases such as Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko and Sani Abacha, come to mind. Add to this criminals and money launderers. This may have been true in the past, but much has changed. Today the Swiss laws on Know Your Customer and the rules against money laundering are some of the strictest in the world. Treatment of assets by "politically exposed persons" is governed by strict laws in elaborate detail. Today, if a crook wanted to stash his money, Switzerland is not the country that would come to mind.

Thirdly Switzerland's secrecy laws do not apply to tax fraud. If a tax fraud is committed and proved, Swiss banks will disclose information. They are required to do so by Swiss law. Period. And the Swiss follow the law better than many other countries.

Its a common feeling that the success of the Swiss banking industry is due to the secrecy laws. This is largely a myth. Switzerland owes its success due to economic and political stability. Stability of laws. Absence of sudden controls on currencies. To well run banks, to a freely convertible currency that is not restricted. To geographical location. Less to banking secrecy.

What Swiss banks don't do is routinely provide every information regarding your account to the authorities as the banks in many other countries, including the US and Germany, do. This is what is behind the current spat. Swiss banks will not entertain fishing expeditions by the tax authorities. The US wants the banks in Switzerland to disclose any information they want on the bank accounts of US citizens. The Swiss say, show a tax fraud and we'll give you the information. But we are not going to just give you every information on every customer.

I think there is some reasonableness on the part of the Swiss banks. Why should your financial transactions be known to every authority. Privacy has been encroached in every sphere of our lives. Big Brother watches everywhere, even in the so called freest of countries. Anybody who has been at the receiving end of a tax dispute with any government knows how unreasonable tax authorities can be. They don't cover themselves with the glory of fair dealing.

In the end, political pressure will be brought on Switzerland and it may buckle. But that's a pity. Just imagine - the United States can detain a Swiss national employee of a Swiss bank, fully complying with the laws of his country, if he comes into the US, just because he hasn't acceded to a demand of the US government. Did I hear that freedom was a virtue in the US ?

For an excellent research report on Swiss Banking secrecy read Swiss Banking Secrecy: Origins, Significance, Myth by Robert U Vogler.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

The Chinalco Rio Tinto affair






The proposed acquisition of a 18% stake in Rio Tinto by Chinalco is starting to get more and more messy. The deal raises a number of issues and hence this post.

First the facts. Rio Tinto is an Anglo Australian mining giant. It is listed in the UK and in Australia (as separate companies, but managed and run as one). Its mines are mostly in Australia. Through acquisitions made at the top of the commodity cycle, it is saddled with $ 38bn debt in its balance sheet. Now with the financial crisis, it is in trouble. Cash is needed to repay tranches of the debt that fall due in October.

Step forward Chinalco. A Chinese state owned metals company. It has offered $ 19.5 bn dollars for minority stakes in iron ore, copper, and aluminium mines and a 18% stake in Rio Tinto itself. Rio's Board unanimously passed the proposal.

The deal has raised howls of protest form all sorts of people.

The UK shareholders are howling because it dilutes their stake in the company. While the price Chinalco is paying per share is higher than current prices, it is lower than what it was in the boom days. They want a rights issue. But there is no certainty that the rights issue will raise the cash that Rio requires. In fact it is very likely that it won't. Then what ?

The Australian shareholders are crying foul over the valuation. But then in today's market that's all they will get. No point in crying over what might have been in the boom days. They want asset sales. But that's what Rio is trying to do and there's no evidence that it can raise any better with anybody else.

The Australian public and the politicians are howling over an entirely different issue. They are scared of "China taking over Australia". This is plain nonsense. I can bet that if it was an American company or a British company, there would have been no protest. Just because Chinalco is state owned in China, there is yelling. This smacks of jingoism and many posts can be devoted just to trashing this fear. The Australian Competition authorities cleared the deal yesterday, but it is stuck with the Foreign Investment Review Board who will decide whether it is in Australia's "national interest".

End result , complete uncertainty. If the deal falls through, there will be serious trouble for Rio come October when a major debt repayment is due. In the process, their Chairman is going away and the man they announced as his successor also went away. They have now announced a new successor. No prizes for guessing where Rio's management attention is now. All this after the soap opera of last year of BHP Billiton's proposal to acquire Rio Tinto, which finally fell through as the stock market tanked.

Methinks that the deal would not have had anywhere near this chorus of objections, if the suitor was not Chinese. That's the real pity.

Neither the shareholders, nor the authorities have covered themselves with glory on this matter.

For more reading on this deal

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

They just don't get it

Some companies have shown amazing insensitivity in recent days. What was AIG thinking when it decided to go ahead with the bonuses ? How could they not foresee the furore that this would cause ? How could the Chairmen of GM, Ford and Chysler even consider coming to Washington in their private jets to press for a bailout ? And to compound the disaster, when one of the Congressional leaders asked if any one of them would consider going back in a commercial airline (first class), not one offered to do so.

These are tall business leaders. They make complex decisions everyday and are extremely intelligent and capable. Despite all this, how could they be so insensitive ? Obama summed it up beautifully. He said "they just don't get it "!

I believe senior business leaders have become divorced from reality. They move in a rarefied world, that bears little resemblance with the real world and have become cocooned in it. They meet only other company chairmen. They live behind fortified walls. They fly to Davos. The ordinary mundane things of life are taken care of for them. In that world, flying in a private jet is the normal thing to do. No wonder that even after the story broke, the auto companies still couldn't see what they had done wrong.

This is extremely dangerous for the companies, as well as for the leaders personally. It actually makes them lesser human beings - and that's why "they don't get it". Once in a while, they should inhabit the real world, just for the experience. They should make an occasional trip, coach class. They should catch a bus to somewhere. They should walk around the park and go to a McDonalds with their kid. They should volunteer for a day and work as an orderly in the hospital. They should try manning the checkout counter of a supermarket. They should teach in a primary school . All just for a day; occasionally.

Or, should they really feel upto it, spend a day in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In fact not just business leaders. Any human being will have a different perspective on life after a day in Congo.

Just once in a while. Doesn't even have to be often. Even the most overworked business leader can spare a day in a quarter (after all they they aren't all that busy as is made out, as I posted before). I suggest it would be enormously uplifting for their soul. They would become actually better human beings. With their intellect and capability, the "experience of the real world", would make them even more effective.

Perhaps, they would then, "get it".

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Thus spake Jack Welch

Jack Welch in a recent FT interview was quoted to have said "on the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world".

This has created a storm with many columns, articles, blogs being written about how one of the doyens of capitalism had turned against it.

This is a classic case of sensationalising a quote taken out of context.

He was asked what he thought of "shareholder value as a strategy". His response was "On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world," Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy . . . Your main constituencies are your employees, your customers and your products."

All he said was that shareholder value, by itself, cannot be a strategy, but is an outcome of a strategy.

The interview with FT is an interesting read. Click here.

In response to the storm, Jack Welch published a question answer session with Suzy Welch. Click here to read this.

They have their own website http://www.welchway.com/ with many excellent articles.

By the way, Jack & Suzy Welch have commented on how important the HR function is and how the process of layoffs could be handled more professionally (my pet peeve at the moment). Coming from "Neutron Jack", this is an excellent read. Click here for this superb view point.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

A CEO with a head and a heart


Paul Levy is the CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Just like everybody else, the hospital is hurting from the downturn. Things came to a stage where they had to shed 600 jobs. Ouch ! But nothing special - this is what every organisation is going through.

But Paul Levy's reaction was different. He called a town hall meeting. What happened in that meeting was something different. Read about it here in Kevin Cullen's excellent report in the Boston Globe.

Paul Levy could not bear to let 600 of his technicians, secretaries, administrators, therapists, nurses, the people who are the heart and soul of any hospital, go without a fight. He knew they would hurt and so would their families. Getting another job today would be impossible for most. But ,equally, he could not just do nothing. So he enlisted the whole hospital to join the fight.

Find savings. The better paid employees would sacrifice a little to enable the others have a job. People would take pay cuts. The whole hospital has come together as one. From the most junior person to the CEO. They'll cut costs. They'll all share the pain. But they won't let a fellow worker lose her job, without giving it everything they've got.

Thus far, they have found savings to retain 450 jobs. One week to go and another 150 to be saved.

Paul Levy is a regular blogger. Click here to read his blog. Its a great read.

Readers of this blog would know that I am a strong advocate of job losses being the absolute last option. I have posted before on this - click here to read the post.

The Beth Israel Deaconess Medical center is a place with a fantastic team spirit. Its because Paul Levy and his team have demonstrated that hey have a head for business and a heart for the people they touch. I would be proud to work for such a place.

Won't you ?

Friday, 20 March 2009

Ask the stupid question

Who doesn't want to look brilliant, sharp, knowledgeable, completely on top, impressive ...... This post argues that sometimes it pays to look stupid.

Reflect back on your own experience. How many times have you listened to a presentation, or read a proposal, and not understood exactly what was being said. You don't want to look stupid and say you don't understand it, especially as everybody else in the room seems to be enthusiastically supporting it. Or it begs a question, but asking it might sound stupid. If everybody is saying its good, it must be good. So you nod your OK.

The older and more senior you are, the greater this risk. No Chairman is going to admit that he didn't understand what this twenty something MBA was presenting.

Something like this on a grand scale is what I believe has happened in the financial services industry. The rate of innovation in this industry is extremely high. New and esoteric products have been invented all the time. I don't think bank managements, who decided on launching these, really understood what they were. Everybody got caught up in the tide, and nobody paused to ask the stupid question.

I suggest it would be wise to practice being comfortable with looking stupid. Distrust the following

  • The guy who's spouting jargon
  • The banker who's selling you a financial product that "everybody else is doing"
  • The IT geek who's trying to sell you the latest technology
  • The consultant who's made a very slick presentation without showing you the bill
  • The marketing guy who's showing you the latest quantitative research findings
  • Any presenter who uses lots of abbreviations you don't understand

you can add lots to this list.

When faced with something you don't understand, its best to launch your "look stupid" act. Make it an act. Tell them that you are an old geezer. Tell them that you are intellectually challenged these days. Tell them you never went to a business school. Tell them your English is a bit shaky. And then ask them to explain what they've said in simple English. Preferably in words of one or two syllables. You'll be amazed at how often the same super confident guy struggles to explain. Ask the stupid question again and again. Until you have got a sensible answer.

A manager I know, who perfected this art, used to ask "Can you please explain it in Gurmukhi" (an earthy Indian language, in which it is impossible to spout jargon). He was incredibly bright. You could never bullshit him because he didn't mind asking the stupid question.

As Warren Buffet said, there's a great motto in business. If you don't understand it, don't do it.

If only they had followed it in the finance world.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Irresponsible advertising

Which is the most dangerous place in the world ?

Iraq ? Afghanistan ? Darfur ? Gaza ?

Wrong.

The most dangerous place (actually the second most dangerous place, but that's another story) in the world is the Indian road. About 100,000 people are killed each year. 2 million people are seriously injured. India loses 3% of GDP due to road accidents. It claims more victims than Aids, TB and malaria combined. Click here to read about this depressing state of affairs. There are more people killed on Indian roads than in the war in Iraq, than in Afghanistan, than in Darfur, than in Gaza.

Anybody who's been to India knows the complete insanity on the road. This post is not meant to address the traffic problems in India. My focus today is on an unlikely villain.

India has the largest two wheeler population in the world. More than China. India produces some excellent scooters and motorcycles. The companies that make them are professional and world class. And yet what do they do ? Remember their ads ?

Zip Zap Zoom

Traffic Cutter

There's not a single responsible two wheeler ad I have seen in India. They are all about high speed. Daring tricks. Wide eyed babes staring adoringly at the guy who's driving like a maniac. Wind in your hair, music in your ears. All that is fine provided you live to tell the tale.

Of course, these ads sell. Nobody wants to buy a bike to get from point A to Point B. They buy it for the sex appeal. Fine - but should companies be really promoting irresponsible driving. Nestle has been hounded for baby food advertising. Cigarette companies are ostracised for advertising smoking. Does it need a law to force two wheeler manufacturers to advertise responsibly ? I haven't seen a single safety ad from a two wheeler company.

Yeah OK. I am a old foggy. I am a killjoy. But at least, I am alive.

Drive safely today. And tomorrow. And for ever. Wear a helmet. Drive slowly - its not an affront to your manhood. You owe it your family. You owe it to yourself.


PS - In case you are wondering, the most dangerous place is the Democratic Republic of Congo. You can't even begin to imagine the nightmare there.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The VIP Visit


Visits of corporate honchos to distant lands are often amazing events. Some companies take it cool, but in most companies, the preparations are taken to absurd lengths. If he is a real real honcho, then preparations rival those of a royal or papal visit. In my long experience, I have seen many such absurd happenings. Here's one for your light reading, and maybe a chuckle.

This is a true story from many years ago. A big VIP from overseas was visiting a factory, in which I was working as a flunky. The head of the factory was a terror. He decided that this VIP was unbelievably important and that everything must be done to make the visit perfect.

Amongst the problems we had to solve, was what to do with the cows which roamed the factory. Try as we might , we could never get rid of the cows and had come to accept that we had to live with them. But on this visit, cows were a no no. What would the VIP think if he saw cows in a factory ? No; they had to be got rid of, at least on the day he was visiting. How ? A bright MBA, new to the factory was given the title of 'Cow Driver" and was told that his future career depended on ensuring that no cow was to be seen during the visit !

Now the favourite place for cows to lie down was under a certain boiler, where it was warm. It was winter time and the cows found the warmth irresistible. I don't know what the bright MBA did, but come D Day, it did appear that he had solved the problem - there didn't appear to be any cows around.

The VIP arrived. He was fed, watered and bombarded with presentations. And then it was time to take a walk around the factory. A bunch of hangers on accompanied the VIPs and this group started to walk around the factory.

Our bright MBA was nervous. So he went a few steps ahead of the group to make sure everything was OK.

Sure enough; as they approached the boiler, there was a cow sitting underneath it.

DISASTER.

The MBA panicked. He tried to shoo it away. The cow lazily got up and instead of going away, ambled leisurely towards the oncoming group. The hangers on panicked seeing the cow coming their way. They tried to drive it away. The cow, now thoroughly confused and alarmed, ran right into the centre of the plant and in full view, shat copiously on the gleaming shop floor. It then rubbed itself against the gleaming pipes and peeled off all the fresh paint that had been applied on them, just for the VIP visit. Instead of a white cow, a rainbow cow now emerged.

The post mortem was furious. Our bright flunky was roasted alive. How on earth did he get a MBA, if he couldn't even drive away cows.

Moral of the story : Business Schools must incorporate "cow management" as one of their courses !

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The AIG Bonus affair

The newslines are awash with reports of AIG paying out bonuses of $165 m, after getting a bailout of $ 170 bn from the US government to stay afloat. Normally, I am of the view that too much noise is being made on executive pay, stemming largely from jealousy, and it doesn't deserve all the attention its getting. But in this case, there is every cause for outrage.

The facts are as follows. These bonuses are retention money's guaranteed to the key executives in AIG's Financial Products Division. For those unfamiliar with the situation, this is the Division that brought AIG to its knees with huge positions built on credit default swaps. When the shit hit the roof, AIG needed these executives to continue with the company to recover whatever could be recovered. They were the only people who probably understood what they did. Hence the retention bonuses.

Ed Libby, the Chairman of AIG has laid out why the bonuses had to be paid in his letter to Tim Geithner, the US Treasury Secretary. In plain English his position is as follows

  • He hates these bonuses as well
  • He is not getting any
  • He and the top 25 executives have committed to draw a salary of $1 for the year
  • The company needs these guys in the Financial Products Division
  • The bonuses are contractually committed
  • AIG will get sued if it doesn't pay and will then have to pay twice the amount
  • Hence regretfully it has to be paid, much as everybody dislikes it

AIG is probably legally correct, but wrong in every other aspect in the way its handling this situation. It will get egg on its face. The US government is not going to sit idly and watch this go by, law or not.

With the wonderful advantage of throwing a stone from the outside, my humble suggestion of an alternative way of dealing with the situation is as follows

  • Tell the guys in Financial Products Division, it would be complete suicide to pay these amounts, contractual or not
  • Tell them , the company values their contribution and will pay 2 times this amount, after the bailout situation has been reversed ; maybe 2 or 3 years from now. Remind them that if the company had gone into Chapter 11, they wouldn't have got anything at all; so this is better than nothing.
  • Ask these guys if they would like to voluntarily agree to this. Maybe 50% will and 50% won't.
  • Tell those that won't, that the bonuses are cancelled and they can do as they wish.
  • Tell them that they would publish their names in the press and that they are welcome to sue. Tell them that they may win, but no serious company would employ them after that.

Public opinion, at the end, is more powerful than the law. After all even the most powerful men on earth are scared of public opinion turning against them.

And AIG may find that its smart employees aren't stupid enough to take on public anger for a million or two in bonuses.

PS - After I wrote this post, I came across an article in the New York Times with the opposite point of view. To read this, click here

Monday, 16 March 2009

Are these the guys we work for ?


We all work for our shareholders. That's what capitalism is all about, isn't it ? All employees are there to maximise returns for the shareholders. If we all work for them, shouldn't we get to know better who these guys are ?

Amongst all stakeholders, the shareholder is the guy we know the least about. If you are an average employee, you'll get to meet customers once in a while. You'll get to meet consumers fairly often. You'll meet employees every day. Ditto, with the community around you. But the shareholder ? Probably never. The Investor Relations guy meets them often and the Chairman and the CFO once every quarter or so, but the others ? Maybe never?

You are an employee in a fairly large global company that's listed in a couple of places in the world. Lets say widely held. Its very probable that the company last issued share capital many decades ago and the original investors of the company are long gone. So the shares are held by all sorts of individuals and institutions who have given nothing directly to the company.

So who are these shareholders. There are all types of them. Lets see some of the usual suspects.

There are the sovereign wealth funds. Rich countries investing their surpluses in companies. Maybe the sovereign wealth funds of Dubai or Singapore. Do you want to work for these governments ? Especially when they create such incredible trouble in granting you a visa even to visit them for business !

Then there are the pension funds. These seem to be good guys - after all they may be paying your pension too when you retire. Along with them come mutual funds,insurance companies, banks, funds, etc etc. These are the aggregators of private savings. Its difficult to love this lot. Just consider the mess they have created globally and we can rest our case. They care two hoots about your company, unless you make them tons of money. They invest in all your competitors as well. They don't care much for the products you make - they might very well be consuming the products of your competitor. They cheer when lots of employees are sacked. They put enormous pressure on you every quarter. They are fair weather friends - they abandon you in a second when the slightest ill wind blows. Do you want to work for them ?

Then there are the speculators. They don't hold your shares really - they come in and out, often many times a day. They absolutely don't care who you are - you might as well be the fly on the window. The only thing they are doing is betting whether you'll open your left eye or the right eye. Do you want to work for them ?

Then there are the old geezers. They have held your shares for 50 years and very probably their fathers were direct investors in your company. Half of them have lost their shares , or whatever slip of paper needed to claim their ownership. The other half have meticulously kept their certificates and come diligently to every AGM - to grab the eats that you lay out and to make a boring, irrelevant, soporific speech under the guise of asking a question. Do you want to work for them ?

Sometimes your shareholder might be a corporate raider. He's wanting to steal your company, break it up into bits , sell them off, get fabulously rich and screw you. Surely you can't want to work for them ?

Or you might be working for yourself. After all employees are shareholders too. But wait. You hold a few measly shares that you invested your hard earned savings in. But the %$@#s who sit on the top floor, rewarded themselves with options, grants and the like and they are the employees who hold the most shares. You already work your backside off for those insensitive %$#@s. You don't want to work "more" for them surely !

Oh yes - I know all the economics. You work for whoever gives you the capital and its none of your business as to whether he is a likeable fellow or not. All very true. The world cannot run if this is not so.

But then, surely something is not exactly right. You can't give your whole life (and most of us do indeed give our whole life to the companies we work for), to make some faceless lot, that you have never seen, and don't very much like, rich. Did somebody say capitalism doesn't have a heart ? Maybe that's why, despite all the good it has done to the world, its not liked very much.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Tha anatomy of a fraud



Most, if not all, corporate frauds start small. Probably not even as a clear cut fraud. It then builds momentum, becomes a monster, and gets out of hand. Two recent cases lead me to muse on how, and why, frauds start.

Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty yesterday and was taken in handcuffs to jail. He will spend the rest of his life in a cell. Three months ago, in India, Ramalinga Raju the Chairman of Satyam Computers owned up to a massive accounting fraud and has been in jail since then. He too faces a long prison sentence.

Madoff said yesterday, that "he felt compelled to deliver at all costs". He said that "he had started the scheme in the 90s when financial markets were struggling amidst a US recession" . "He had hoped to end the scheme in short order, but it spun out of control."

Ramalinga Raju in his now famous letter said "what started as a marginal gap between actual operating profit and the one reflected in the books of accounts continued to grow over the years" and that "it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten".

People, who commit fraud and get caught, of course try to say the right things. Even discounting for this, I think there is some truth, and learnings, in both their statements. Two cases, by themselves, cannot be the basis of any generalisations. But I will still speculate on a few hypotheses.

What is the motive for a fraud. In most cases, its of course, to get rich quick. But increasingly there is an added motive - to look big and successful in the public eye. Both Madoff and Raju wanted to be seen as giants and when they couldn't perform as giants, they committed fraud to maintain that image.

Frauds seem to start small. After all, inflating profits by $ 100,000 cannot be a real crime, can it ? Or deliver a quarter's return by the Ponzi scheme cannot be all that criminal surely ? Taking a temporary small "loan" from the company for 15 days to settle a personal debt isn't all that serious. This is where the critical point is, I believe. I think you are eventually doomed if you cross it, thinking its only a small step and that you'll only do it once. Its only a matter of time before it will catch up with you, even if you rectified the original misdemeanour.

A third ingredient in the mix, I believe, is overconfidence. A belief that one can get away with it. After all, am I not so big and competent and that I won't be caught and I can anyway clear things up well before there is any danger of getting caught. A giant sized ego is another cause for white collar crime.

There is no such thing as a small fraud. It will grow in size. Once the fraud starts to become big and gather momentum, a whole series of forces seem to come into play. It keeps multiplying, although the incremental addition to the fraud seems small by itself. The capacity of the fraudster to delude himself that it can still be corrected and he won't be caught, seems to rise exponentially. There seems to be no way out, other than to get deeper and deeper into the mess. I believe in the development of a fraud, there comes a point of no return. Before this point, some people do turn back. But once this is crossed, there is a only a one way ticket.

What could be some lessons for ordinary mortals like me.
  • Ethical dilemmas occur for all people in the corporate world; not only to the likes of Madoff and Raju.
  • The smaller dilemmas are more difficult to deal with than the larger dilemma. If I was faced with the possibility of inflating profits by $100 m, the answer is easy - no way. If I was faced with the choice of inflating profits by $100 K, that's a little more tempting.
  • May I have the strength to never cross the first line and being human, if I sometimes do, may I have the strength to come quickly running back.
  • Let expectations not completely take over me. Expectations might be from the boss, from headquarters, from the market, whatever. May I have the strength never to let this be an excuse for crossing the line.
  • Keep the ego firmly in check. Yes, of course, I want to be seen as a great guy - who doesn't ? But I ask for the strength to accept being seen a shade below what I truly am, rather than a shade above.
  • When faced with a possible temptation, may I have the courage to seek a counsellor.
I suggest an ethical "test" to guide when faced with such a situation
  • If I add three zeroes to the amount in question, would I still do it ?
  • Can I live with it if my mother/wife/daughter knew what I had done ?
  • What if it came on the TV tomorrow ? Play in my mind what I would say in front of the camera.
Give me the strength to take a rap on the knuckles now, and look silly, rather than commit an improper act and try to look good.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Its just not cricket



You either love cricket or you don't have a clue about the game. There isn't anything in between. The lovers of cricket are found in the Commonwealth. Everybody else can't figure head or tail of this funny game. This is a "Light Reading" post, not linked to business ; after some real business stuff, I thought I would just slip in something different. So whether you are a fan of cricket or not, read on ....

These days I am wallowing in nostalgia as you might have gleaned from recent posts. This is shamelessly dripping with the yearning of the past.

Cricket was the quintessential gentleman's game. In fact in England there used to be a match of the Gentlemen against the Players - the Players being professional cricketers couldn't qualify to be gentlemen !

Picture this scene in a lovely English village, maybe in Lancashire.

Men dressed in immaculate white. The village green with the church spire in the background. One of the rare summer days when the sun is shining. The pavilion dates back to 70 years ago. There is a roll of honour of the captains of the yester years. The captains go up to toss, dressed in blazers. Its 1 O'clock. The game starts. The fielders wish the openers good luck. Batsmen say well bowled to bowlers. Fielders applaud a good shot. The few spectators lounging on the green just beyond the boundary clap for that exquisite cover drive and tut tut when the batsman slogs ungainly. Nobody appeals unless the batsman is clearly out. The batsman walks before the umpire raises his finger.

Church bells toll. Tea at 4.00. Cheese and cucumber sandwiches brought in by the ladies. A hot cuppa. Back to the field. A tight finish in the gathering gloom as the shadows lengthen. Handshakes all around. Three cheers are raised. A hot shower to sooth aching muscles.

Everybody retires to the village pub. Beer is starting to flow. Every ball and shot of the day is dissected minutely. The fielder who dropped a dolly is ragged mercilessly. The guy who scored a 50 is buying a round for all. Lots of backslapping. The youngsters are trying to chat up the barmaid. All too soon, its time for the final orders.

Doesn't this sound idyllic compared to today's cricket which more resembles a war. I suggest, same is the case with corporate life.

Mary Hopkins' wonderful song all those years ago comes to mind.

Those were the days my friend,
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day

We'd live the life we choose
We'd fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way.

You can listen to the song on YouTube here.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Do companies deserve loyal employees ?

In the good old days, life was simple. You joined a company when you were young. You worked through the ranks and rose to a decent position in the company. You stayed with them for most, if not all, of your working life. The job offered you an anchor to your life, to your family. Most of your friends worked with the company too. If it was a big company, usually the local town was built around the company. You retired from the company with a decent pension. It was fairly clear what you expected from the company and what the company expected from you.

This sounds like a prehistoric story today. Sometime ago, I posted arguing that employee loyalty to the company was a good thing. In this post, I ask the question, do companies deserve employee loyalty ?

There was an unwritten , but implicit agreement between the company and the employee to be loyal to each other. Companies expected employees not to job hop. They expected them to be passionate to the company; to not even use competitor's products personally in some cases. Employees expected not to be fired (Utopian dream maybe, but an expectation nonetheless). This implicit agreement was first broken by the company. When employees got fired, it tore this unwritten agreement to pieces. Trust earned over many decades vaporised.

This happened partly because of a shift in the stakeholder priorities of the company. For a long time, the employee was the key stakeholder - not the customer, not the shareholder. When this started to shift decisively to the shareholder, the employee started to feel the tension. In today's age, the shareholder is the key stakeholder. In such a situation, the contract between the employee and the company has become a mercenary one instead of one of trust. How can loyalty survive this ?

The relationship between the company and the employee has become a power situation. Where employees are strongly organised into unions, the power equation firmly resides with the employee. Witness the US auto industry, where the powerful UAW can bring giants like General Motors and Ford to the point of bankruptcy. Where employees are not organised, companies can act at will. Gunshot firings are OK. How can loyalty even begin to raise its head ?

The real fact is that companies do not expect loyalty from their employees and employees have no intention of being loyal to a company. Its a pure mercenary relationship. Talent is a commodity, just like any other raw material, and companies buy talent - period. After it is consumed, and it has no more use, it can be discarded. Similarly if the price is not right, the talent can simply vanish away.

That's the reality today, but that can't stop me from musing that somehow there seemed to be merit in the good old days when employees wore the badge of their company with pride and honour. A badge they wore with pride even if they left the company !

No; companies do not deserve loyal employees.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Earnings Guidance - Good or Bad ?

The Economist , in its Feb 28th issue, carries a leader "To forecast or not to forecast" ? It warns its readers to be beware of firms that refuse to issue annual forecasts. The trigger was the recent announcements by a few companies that they would not give an earnings guidance for 2009, citing the turbulent times. The article, as all Economist articles are, is very well written with cogent arguments and well worth a read, even if you don't agree with its conclusions.

Providing guidance to the market is now widely practiced and expected of all companies. As investors push for greater and greater transparency into the company, guidance requirements have become very detailed and at shorter time intervals, usually quarterly. Companies are expected to meet their guidance numbers - companies and managements are punished severely if they don't. Prior to results announcements, there's a veritable frenzy of speculation on results with analysts falling over themselves to announce their expectations. Share prices are prone to violent fluctuations if the actual results are off from the guidance either way.

When companies are doing well, they rush to give guidance and talk up their share prices. Its when companies are not doing well that you hear moaning about how these expectations are unrealistic and how its all unfair to expect quarterly forecasts. The current downturn is an opportunity for many companies to escape the yoke of guidance and its reasonable to expect many more companies to take advantage of this opportunity.

The case for guidance is that investors are entitled to understand what the company is aiming for and what it expects to deliver. This is an important constituent of valuing the company fairly. After all every company has a detailed budgeting process internally. Giving some transparency to this for the investors is part of good stakeholder management.

The case against guidance is strong as well. Because of the severe penalties of missing a guidance, there is every incentive for management to massage results as close as possible to the forecast. The premium on quarterly numbers also promotes short termism. The whole process of providing guidance has degenerated into expectations management - its more important to set expectations properly and "manage" them rather than actually deliver outstanding performance. A whole Investor Relations industry has thrived in this atmosphere. There is also the trap of too much guidance that is expected - listen to any earnings call of any company and see the extreme detail into which some analyst is probing. What he is trying to do is to fill his valuation spreadsheet of course, but the company is expected to make ridiculously detailed forecast which is meaningless anyway.

Where is the balance ? I believe the pendulum has swung to too much forecast and too much detail. Its perhaps time to correct this balance, using the opportunity of uncertain times. An annual forecast range of top line and bottom line should be adequate with some details on major business lines. A range is better than a headline number, which is spurious accuracy anyway. At quarterly results time, there would be details of actual performance . That's it. Nothing more.

As The Economist says, " here is one forecast for 2009 that is certain to come true : investor relations departments will be busier than ever" !

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Companies aren't bad creatures

Companies in general, seem to be disliked by the public. The larger the company, and the more global it is, the more it is disliked. Have you noticed how often somebody rails at "multinational corporations", with the word multinational being said as if it were some highly distasteful object. Why ? Do companies deserve this hate ?

There is a broad coalition of opinion against global companies. Politicians have a love hate relationship with companies. They love them when they open a plant in their constituency. They love them when they are successful. They hate them when they announce redundancies. They hate them when they get up to mischief. However, on the whole, over the last two decades, politicians, and governments, have tended to be much more favourable to companies.

NGOs and activists tend to hate most companies. To many, they are the embodiment of evil. The average Joe Public also does not like companies, although he may be employed in one. He often rants and rails against multinational corporations doing bad . There is often instant suspicion of a large company. He is much more tolerant of a small company, but a large company is usually seen as not good. Public opinion is not in favour of companies.

Why is this so ? I think the main reason is plain jealousy. Large global companies, are by definition successful and rich. Human nature invites jealousy of the rich. Companies can do very little about it other than to grin and bear it. Some humility can help. Unfortunately the word arrogance, rather than the word humility, comes easier to them.

A second reason is that companies are very public figures, just like political leaders and sportsmen are. All public figures will be held accountable to a higher standard than Joe Public. That's the law of nature. Witness how its perfectly acceptable for the average man or woman to commit adultery, but its an absolute no no for Bill Clinton to do so. Companies have to accept that they have to be as clean as possible, even when examined under the brightest lens.

A third reason is that most companies have failed in communicating effectively the good they do. Companies create jobs, they pay taxes, the enable you and me to enjoy products and services that would otherwise be impossible. The PR garbage they churn out is often unreadable, and more importantly, not believed. A much better communication strategy is in the company's own interest.

In 2004-05 Oxfam and Unilever jointly conducted a detailed study of the economic impact of Unilever’s operations in Indonesia. The conclusions were eye-opening, especially for Oxfam. Unilever in Indonesia supported the equivalent of 300,000 full-time jobs across its entire business, created a total value of at least $630m and contributed $130m a year in taxes to the Indonesian government. The lesson for firms is that they have been far too defensive about their contribution to society

A fourth reason is that in the past, companies have often solely focused on their mission - to generate profits. While this is no doubt their main mission, they haven't paid the same degree of attention to their other stakeholders. This is rapidly changing. Corporate social responsibility is now accepted as a very important area for companies and many companies have started to have good programmes in this area.

A fifth reason is that global companies have got caught in the crossfire of the battle for and against globalisation. Companies are the one institution that have truly gone global. Being a pioneer in globalisation, they have got caught in the debate as to whether globalisation is good or bad. Hence the anti globalisation protesters against companies. The defence for companies can be that while they are global and think global, they act local. They must be seen as true citizens in the communities they operate in. Without the deep bonds with their local communities, they will be seen as outsiders, and as we all know, when there is trouble its always the outsider on whom the first stone is thrown at.

I am hardly suggesting that companies are the bastion of virtue. They are not. Just like any other group, there are the good, the bad and the ugly. Many companies are guilty of appalling conduct and deserve the brickbats that are thrown at them. Some are out rightly criminal. But they can't be the representative of the corporate community as a whole. Its not right to paint the whole group with the same brush. There are many outstanding global companies. In fact there are more good than bad. They deserve a fair hearing. And a cuddle or two !

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Jumped a red light, ever ?

There are few things in life that are starkly black and white. Corporate Ethics is one. That's why its so difficult, for its human nature to seek shades of grey. White is too startlingly brilliant. Darkness is not tolerable. Grey is comfortable. Unfortunately in something like corporate ethics, there is no such comfort zone. It is black and white

I read a nice post by Ujjal Gupta which prompted me to muse on this.

I believe breach of ethics always starts small. Its never a grand fraud that is created overnight. Its usually small things that are overlooked and slowly breeds a culture where its OK to do something as long as you don't get caught. The snowballing effect cannot be controlled and a monster is let loose. I think that's what happened at Satyam.

Ethics is something very personal. An ethical organisation comprises of ethical individuals. And often you can smell the nature of ethics in an organisation, by how it treats the small things.

At a personal level, here are some pointers, based on my own experience about the "small things".

  1. Do we ensure that every personal call made from our mobile phone is reimbursed to the company ?

  2. On a business trip, do we ever use company transport for a personal activity ?

  3. Are we truthful when we report information, (especially bad news), in the company. Do we camouflage, or hide it, or do we say the truth. It is possible to say the truth politely and courteously !

  4. Do we "massage" performance ? Or do we show as it is ?

  5. If the company made a mistake in the payroll and paid us more than what we should have been paid and does not find it, would we return the money ?

  6. When the choice comes between taking a decision that's right but is detrimental to the career and a decision that's good for the career but is not "right", where would we lean ? Such a choice often comes in an acquisition or disposal situation.

  7. Would we artificially boost short term results, in order to get the bonus ?

  8. Do we recuse ourselves in every decision that may have, or appear to have, a conflict of interest. Do we disclose all potential conflicts of interest ?

  9. Do we ever deal in the shares of a company, where we are privy to some information, however small, and where we will not be caught on insider trading ?

  10. Do we accept that gift that appears slightly excessive, but not outrageously so, that the supplier has sent to us for the New Year ?

I could go on and on, and you could probably think of a dozen better situations where an ethical conduct is called for. These are very personal matters, but still black and white situations, for ethics has no shades of grey.

And an important thought to consider. In each of the above situations, what would we do when somebody was closely looking at us. And what would we do when nobody was looking ?

Its past midnight. You are late to catch your flight - its the last flight home after a long and exhausting trip. You are driving to the airport. The road is deserted. There's not a soul in sight. You come to a junction. There's no vehicle to be seen at all. The light is red. What would you do ?

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Executive Pay



(cartoon from www. corpwatch.org)

There are few universal truths in business. Here is one however. Everybody believes he should be paid more and everybody else should be paid less. The more senior the "else" is, he should definitely be paid a lot lesser.

A zillion words have been written on executive pay and how excessive it is. Politicians have fallen over themselves to criticise Wall Street "excesses" - this is the "I should be paid more and he should be paid less" syndrome at its best.

In general, I believe there is no such thing as "excessive" executive pay. Talent is a commodity, just like any other commodity. When oil price was $15/barrel, it wasn't "underpriced". When it was $ 150/barrel it wasn't "overpriced". It was just supply and demand working like in any other market - we may not like the outcome, but its still the most efficient pricing mechanism. So must be the case with talent. It will be priced according to demand and supply. If there is a shortage of talent in any field, salaries will go up; if there is a surfeit, salaries will come down. Period.

While this can be true in general, there are situations (especially with very senior management), where a true demand supply situation cannot exist. In such cases pricing is more difficult. Checks and balances can be however constructed ( for eg a truly independent and effective remuneration committee of the Board) to make the process as efficient as possible.

Any legislative cap on executive pay is simply daft. It can never work. Just like price control on commodities can never work - all it will encourage is a thriving black market. The same will be the case with capped executive pay. The only result will be a thriving remuneration consulting industry which will find ways of beating the cap.

The real issue, of course, is the difficulty of linking pay with performance. People are not objecting to the absolute quantum of pay. They are really objecting to what they consider excessive pay when the performance is not "excessive".

There are four broad components of executive pay. One is a fixed component that is both cash and perquisites. This is settled at the time of contract and is rarely the subject of public outcry.

The second, and possibly most controversial component, is the bonus or variable pay. This is usually an annual bonus linked to some targets. In some industries, notably the financial services industry, this has become a monster, with virtually no cap. The problem in this industry is that it started out as a partnership and therefore these "bonuses" were a form of profit sharing amongst partners. When they all became companies with shareholders, they were mistakenly allowed to carry forward this tradition and hence bonuses became many times the amount of fixed compensation. The bonuses were also linked to short term targets (the market should not moan about this as they themselves want companies to show quarterly results and to hell with the long term). All this must change. Bonuses must be capped to say twice the fixed compensation. Targets must be linked to both overall company performance and individual targets. Bonuses should be paid over a three year period - say 10% in Year 1, 40% in Year 2 and 50% in Year 3 just to ensure excessive risk taking over the short term does not happen. These bonuses are payable even if the individual has left the company in Year 2 or 3 - its just that the payment is deferred to ensure that there were no medium term fall outs. Such practices are already common in many industries.

The third component is stock options. In principle this is supposed to align the interests of shareholders and management and is supposed to be a good thing. In practice, the problem has been that managements often fiddle the timing and pricing of the options. So much so, that this has tended to go down in significance as a component of remuneration. My view is that this should be integrated with bonuses into a stock grant. Allow employees to take the bonus in shares or in cash, with a small incentive if he took it in shares. End of story.

The fourth component, and the one I have no sympathy with at all, is compensation for termination. Golden parachutes are the worst. They must simply be abolished. Nothing raises the heckles more than an executive sacked for performance and taking away a massive amount in compensation. I believe there should be no termination payments other than what is paid to any employee - usually x months salary for years of service. There should be nothing more than this and it should be the same for all employees in a company.

At the end of the day, much can be said and written on executive pay. It will all boil down to the values of the company and that of the executive. No amount of rules or policy is going to deter the executive who is just out to maximise his money at the expense of the company. Equally no rules are required for the ethical company and employee who both want a fair wage, but no more. As with all things relating to governance, its ethics that will finally rule; not legislation.

Will the Chief Ethics Officer please rise.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Wanna earn $ 20m for doing nothing ?

Executive pay is a hot topic these days. Everybody, President Obama included, is railing at the insane bonuses at Wall Street and calling for curbs on executive pay. While you could argue for, or against, it (and I intend to in a future post), here's a non Wall Street example of pay excess, the pundits might want to train their guns on.

Stephon Marbury is the name of this guy. For those of you who are unfamiliar with basketball and the NBA, Marbury is a 32 year old player. Until three days ago he was a player for the New York Knicks. He was twice an All Star , in 2001 and 2003, (that's a sign that you are one of the best players in the NBA) and was twice voted into the All NBA Third Team. He was good in the early part of the decade, but was not amongst the very best. His best days are clearly behind him.

His ego is however sky high and he's had numerous problems with many teams he has played in. This year, his story reached absurd levels; something every basketball fan is very familiar with. He's had a public ongoing row with his team . His team benched him and he then refused to play for his team - yes, r-e-f-u-s-e-d to play for the team. All year, he hasn't played a single game for the Knicks.

However, his contract was water tight - his salary of $ 20.8m per year was fixed irrespective of what happened. Whether he played or not. Whether he was injured or not. So sitting on his backside, he collected collected some $56000 every day !

Sports contracts with top players are notoriously one sided. Fabulous sums of money. Very large fixed component irrespective of whether they play well or not. They continue to get paid if they are injured. Guaranteed fixed salary contracts and they can't be sacked without being paid in full.

Wall Street bankers seem a timid crowd before this lot !

As for Marbury, the Kicks finally paid him two days ago his full salary for the year to just go away. He joined Boston Celtics, the current reigning champions. They are paying him minimum wages.

Monday, 2 March 2009

What does a manager really do ?

Walk into any office anywhere. The overwhelming sight is one of most people peering into a computer screen while a few others are closeted in meeting rooms. This has always stuck me as odd - why do managers peer into a computer screen all the time. I did so too; so why did I do it ?

Which led me to the question - what do managers really do ? Wait a minute - that sounds stupid. Aren't executives the most overworked creatures on earth ? Aren't they always busy ? What sort of a question is that ?

Sure they are busy. They are overworked. But what do they really do, in all that time ?

What if we adopted an industrial engineering approach to studying what managers really do; timed their average day . We might find some answers. I am of course too lazy to do this. But I can speculate. Lets take a middle manager - Joe D Public. What's Joe's typical day like. ?

Let's say he works for 10 hours a day - a typical manager's work day. Add to that a one and a half hour commute. So typically he devotes 12 hours to his job.

Two hours he's on e mail. I blogged about it earlier in one of my posts. Probably over half of this time is unproductive.

One hour he is on the phone - half of this is on numerous one on one calls and half of this is on a conference call.

One hour goes for lunch, tea, smoking breaks (you see Joe smokes and he has to get out of the office building to do so these days).

Two hours he's on meetings. Some of these are one to one talking to somebody. Some of these are meetings of more than 10 people where Joe doodles or checks his e mail. Lets say 50% of this time is productive.

He travels for an hour ( averaged over a period ). I blogged about this earlier.

If he's a really good Joe, he meets with a customer or a supplier for about half an hour a week. That's really productive work time.

He meets his subordinates for about half an hour - giving instructions, reviewing stuff with them, etc etc. Very productive. For half an hour or so, his boss or colleagues are firing him for something. Not very productive.

He does company bureaucracy for another half an hour - filling forms, sending some report, authorising some stuff, etc etc. Complete waste of time, but something that has to be done.

All this totals to about nine hours. He then does 2 hours of peering into the computer. If he's a good Joe, he's browsing sites on the internet. If he's a naughty Joe, he's playing computer games. If he's a really naughty Joe, he's looking at porn.

He has now done 11 hours. He's late. With a weary shrug of his shoulders, he heads for his commute back.

I can count about 4 hours of really productive stuff. But Joe is overworked and weary. Executive life is really hard these days.

I am waiting for some really pissed off manager to tear this apart !

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