As an advocate of smarter change, a curious observer of life and its challenges and a generous sharer of interesting thoughts and ideas, this is an eclectic collection of posts that I hope will entertain, inform or simply stimulate your thinking. I am available as a change leader and catalyst, writer, mentor, coach, speaker ........... and sometime stand up comedian.

13/01/2015 07:00 PM
New Bank, Old Bank
In response to the financial crisis of 2008 many of the worst affected banks adopted a “Good Bank, Bad Bank” strategy. In this they hived off their most toxic assets into what was referred to as the Bad Bank, leaving the cream (most profitable?) of their business in an entity referred to as the Good Bank. With this the Bad Bank and the troubles related with it were essentially left to someone else to sort out, often a government and the taxpayers.
Why do I recap on this? Well, I think that we will soon see a variation that I call “New Bank, Old Bank”. The trigger for this is the difficulty many banks are having bringing their legacy systems, legacy products/activities, legacy data and indeed legacy clients up to the standards required to meet current and future regulations.
Legacy systems have long been cited as an issue for large and long established banks. They all operate complex sets of poorly understood systems, many of which are based on technologies dating back to the 1980’s (and before?) ie pre world-wide-web, pre mobile phones, etc. The effort to maintain and upgrade them has been enormous, but so is the effort required to consolidate and replace them. Now the new regulations are forcing many banks to make multiple changes to long neglected technology and not surprisingly it is often proving very difficult and sometimes nigh impossible.
Likewise new regulations are placing new obligations and operational standards on old products and activities. It is not uncommon to hear the complaint that “that was not the way this was made to work!” The additional cost related to compliance for these products will almost always have a detrimental impact on their profitability, making them far less attractive and in some cases unprofitable to maintain.
Data used to be the forgotten child of Banking operations with an attitude that “those that can do while those that can’t, do data management”. The trouble is that most of the new regulations strive for greater transparency and a degree of related reporting that is demanding data that has not been collected or stored before. Indeed many of the systems have inflexible data structures with poorly maintained data and significant inconsistencies between data stores. As a result few can have high confidence that what they are reporting or will report is completely accurate, something I expect regulators to pick up on.
Lastly, many banks are driven by market share and client base. They are hugely acquisitive of new business and very protective of old business. The problem is that many of the new regulations require extensive co-operation from those clients, old and new. Not all of those clients are inclined, intent or able let alone ready to do that. Large retail and globally diverse client groups prove the most demanding in this respect and it seems ironic that it is a truism that most client service/relationship teams I have worked with seem reluctant to actually talk to a client about anything and especially not the impact of these new regulations.
It is clearly not an easy task for a large established bank to make and keep itself fully compliant. In contrast new banks, like Metro Bank are starting from a clean base. Yes they are still rather small and may still make mistakes, but they have a better chance of success as they are not held back by the legacies I describe above.
So what? Well it seems logical to me that some of those banks will look to make the “New Bank, Old Bank” split. In this they will create a New Bank that utilises a lean set of well architected modern systems and technologies, undertakes only activities and provides products that fit with the new world and regulations and supports this with higher quality data on a smaller set of current clients that “get” the requirements of modern finance. This would then be their prime vehicle moving forward.
The rest will be left in an Old Bank, but what would become of this? Well it could be managed (and run down over time?) separately, maybe a bit like aspects of Lehman’s are still being managed. I suspect though that it is more likely to follow what happened in the insurance fund world, someone will see an opportunity and there will likely be consolidation of a number of Old Banks by a specialist service provider.
One of the benefits(?) is that it would reduce the size of some of the largest banks, reducing the “too big to fail” concerns, something many regulators and politicians would like to see,
I have spoken about this with a number of people and few have rejected the idea, but it is not without its problems.
One of the main ones is that the split will create an implicit admission that the Old Banks will be less compliant. This will not be an easy message for politicians, but may be the acceptable price. It may also prompt clients to review and update their own business models if they want to work with New Banks and benefit from the related protection.
There would also be huge issues in separating technology, controls, data and staff, but with the “Good Bank, Old Bank” splits we have seen that where there is a will there is a way.
Lastly, once the best and cleanest business is hived off into a New Bank, who will underwrite the risk of failure of the Old Bank? I am sure this is something the smart brains of the financial world can solve…..if they want to.
Though right now this split is optional, looking forward I suspect it will become a “must do” for many organisations if they are to survive without regulatory sanction.
I would be interested to hear the views of others?

11/01/2015 08:24 PM
Find the Right Consulting Engagement
Have you ever taken an engagement that appeared to be a good fit only to have it morph into something less, maybe a lot less satisfying? Well they do say hindsight is a wonderful thing and we can all look back on roles we would not take again, but surely it would be better to assess them beforehand and avoid the (mutual?) disappointment. After all, an unhappy client is unlikely to recommend you to others.
There is a simple review one can perform that will help weed out the less appropriate assignments. In this piece I will outline what that review is, but first in order to keep it simple, I will make some reasonable assumptions
  1. The consultant is smart, a term refers to the many dimensions of intelligence rather than dress ie they can read, write, listen, analyse and generally communicate and interact with others in the top 10% of the working population. I won’t attempt to assess that here, just be honest with yourself and take on board all the feedback you receive.
  2. The client wants “smart” else they would be taking on a standard temporary or contract resource. There is nothing more draining for a person than having their intelligence under-utilised over a sustained period of time.
  3. The client has a good enough understanding of what they want to achieve through engaging the consultant. One would like to think this was a given, but experience shows that it is not always so. If they don’t have the necessary understanding, then your first task, if you want the role, is to help them build it.
  4. We will not consider in this piece the readiness/receptiveness of the client’s organisation to your work and capabilities. These do need considering and will be the subject of a future piece, but not here and not now.
So we come to a classic two-by-two matrix.
The axes in this matrix are “Leadership” and “Experience”.
To expand in these simple terms the leadership axis illustrates the degree of leadership (of the desired outcome) expected of the consultant by the client. At the right hand end the consultant is considered to be fully accountable for delivering the expected outcome/product and is expected to be fully “hands on” while at the left hand end the client retains full accountability and provides all the necessary leadership.
The experience axis is an indicator of specific and direct experience of having delivered an identical or very similar outcome before. It is not a comment on more generic skills and industry experience, but those specific to the engagement in question.
While there is inevitably a continuum of values along the two axes, we will divide each in two to simplify consideration. This gives us the ubiquitous four squares that deserve individual inspection.
Starting bottom left and working clockwise I have labelled the first “Resource”. This is where the client is looking at the consultant as living, intelligent body that can be directed by the client, but does not necessarily bring related experience to the work that will be assigned.
The next one is labelled “Advisory” and is where the client is looking for deep and proven experience/expertise that will inform and/or augment their own resources. They are not looking at the consultant to provide leadership in delivery of the final outcome.
The third is labelled “Repeated Change” and refers to delivering, with leadership and relevant experience and expertise, a change that is the same as or very similar to something they have done before. An example could be delivering the operating model for and the eventual outsourcing of a business function.
The last, and possibly the most exciting, is where a consultant’s intelligence and leadership skills are engaged to deliver a new change; new to the consultant, almost certainly new to the client and possibly new to the industry. The consultant is expected to skilfully navigate unknown waters, bringing others with them to deliver the desired outcome.
I hope you can see the value of this visualisation? Firstly consider where you as a consultant work best and/or want to work and identify that location on the matrix. If you don’t know yourself then it will not be surprising if you end up in the wrong roles. A couple of simple questions will help. Do you like leading or being led? Do you prefer to do and learn new things or repeat what you are familiar with?
Next consider what the client is asking of you and indeed what they need; not necessarily the same thing. If you plot these on the matrix you can start understanding (and possibly discussing with the client) the gap in expectations. As a rule of thumb the greater the gap, the more uncomfortable and possibly unsuccessful the engagement will be.
Does this resonate with you? Are you prepared to share any instances where you might have been mismatched and your account of that experience?

30/12/2014 05:23 AM
Natural Closure
My family has just visited New York City for the eighth time since 9/11. On each trip a visit to Ground Zero has been a "must do" activity. The destruction of the Twin Towers was a defining moment in American history and few adults today don't know where they were when the heard (or watched through TV) of their collapse. Fortunately I did not know anyone who died that day, but I do know people who did.

In 2002, our first visit the site was still, after a year of clearance, one of devastation. St Paul's Church was full of the cluttered reminders of the support given to the rescuers and the railing were still draped completely with all the tributes, memorials and faded hopes that followed the apocryphal event. It was incredibly emotional just to be there and when one read the pleas, poems and other pieces that were left, it was nigh impossible not to shed a tear.

Other the interceding years we have watched the railings be cleared, the pieces in the church become better organised and for new buildings to start rising. Each visit was emotional, yet we felt compelled to visit.

Last year the memorial garden had been opened, but not the museum. There were huge queues to get into the garden, but we then saw the well that marked the footprint of each tower. Around the wells are the names of all who died and in a nice touch they authorities place a white rose on each name on their birthday. The focus had moved from St Paul's and I had a fear that it might be becoming "commercial".

That said I am pleased to report that this year was different. There were no queues into the memorial garden. The museum was open and we did not have to wait long to gain entrance. Inside one has access to foundation area below the towers where the City has laid out a tasteful and respectful display or artefacts, memorabilia and personal tributes. It most certainly was not Disney does 9/11 that it might have become, but instead it felt a fitting memorial to those that died and a place that anyone could appreciate.

At the same time in St Paul's the remaining stands and items had largely been moved to allow the church to make more usual Christmas preparations - there was a rehearsal of a seasonal reading when we visited. It felt as if the church was now free to move on and I have to say that it felt right.

My wife and I discussed it at the end of our visit and we both felt that there was a closure there for us. We do not feel the compulsion to visit again, well at least not every time. I think that New York is healing. Something like 9/11 can never be forgotten, but neither should it lock a City and its people in a time lock.

I did not know John W Wright Jr , but I just want to wish him belated birthday wishes for the 14 December! I hope that his family and many thousand others are able to find the comfort and closure that we have.

20/11/2014 10:50 PM
A Better End
This weekend most if not all of my childhood train set will sell on eBay. As you can see it is unremarkable and will not raise much money, but I hope that either directly or indirectly it will continue to give someone pleasure.

When I have mentioned to friends and family that I am selling my train set the near universal opinion is that I shouldn't be doing it, but rather keeping it for any as yet undelivered grandchildren. I have also been asked why now?

Well it has been on my mind for a while and last weekend I actually set some time aside to post it on eBay. This followed a round of decluttering earlier in the year and the realisation that this train set has moved in its box between lofts and within lofts for over 40 years. I cannot recall the last time I set it up and have no expectation that I ever will again.

I asked our local model train society if they had any interest and the answer was "No". I always had the backstop to Freecycle it, but decided to try eBay first. As you can see there is now interest in most of the pieces, something that warms my heart.

As I mentioned it is an unremarkable set, but most of it still has its original boxes, albeit well handled For some reason I was particularly proud of the operating Royal Mail coach. This harks back to the 1960's and reminds me of the film "The Great Train Robbery". It is a clever piece that will deliver one mail bag while collecting another from its trackside depot(?). Until yesterday it did not look as if it would sell, but now I know it will go and live on.

This toy, sophisticated for its time, but simple by today's standards brought me joy as a young boy and I hope that through this sale it will bring pleasure to others for a while to come.

Sometimes it is just time to let go of items from your past. I will always have the memories and hopefully my train set can create new memories for others. That must be a good thing?

I titled this post "a better end", but maybe it should have been called "a new beginning", both for the train set and in a small way for me as the responsibility for caring ( yes, it felt like that) for this set lifts from my shoulders.

Update: All but the transformer and a single goods truck now have good homes. I hope that one way or another they bring enjoyment to another set of people.

30/10/2014 11:44 PM
Simple Concepts Can Be So Effective
Last evening I visited the Tower of London to see The Poppies. This art installation is gradually filling the moat around the Tower with 888,246 ceramic poppies, one for each British military fatality of the First World War. Running from 5 August to the 11 November the installation commemorates 100 years from the first full day of British engagement up to armistice day. It is almost complete now and very impressive.
I arrived in time for the daily redition of The Last Post. To hear that sound floating across a crowd standing below a view that mixed old and new was extremely poignant.

If you have not see this and have a chance then I commend it. Such a simple concept, executed expertly that results in a unique and moving monument, albeit temporary.

29/10/2014 10:49 PM
When Something Catches Your Eye.......
......but you can't explain why.

This is an old bill board that I have repeatedly walked by on my way to and from work. I don't know why, but once I noticed it I found I looked for it each journey. Why does that happen?

It is not pretty. It is not intentional. It is not valued or cared for.

Instead it is the product of neglect and the effect of the weather after much layered use. The tattered edges give a clear indication that there have been many posters placed there over time, but nothing new for some while.

There is a sense of inside out about it all. The wireless icon appear to be sunken in, maybe behind the board, but in truth must have been on one of the later postings.

Likewise the use of an ancient technique of bill posting to advertise the modern communication channel of WiFI seems ironic.

Yesterday I decided to photograph it and post it here as a way of capturing what I saw and felt even if I cannot explain it.

Does anyone else see it as interesting or is it just my messed up mind that was attracted to it?

08/06/2014 09:57 PM
RWC 2015 - the run up
This is the first of what are likely to be number of rugby related posts as we start the run up to the Rugby World Cup 2015 (RWC 2015).

I am an unashamed and longstanding (long suffering?) England fan. I very nearly made it to Sydney in 2003, but was between contracts at the time and could not afford the only available route via Vladivostok.

In 2007 I made it to Paris and watched the match on the big screens under the Eiffel Tower.

So this weekend we saw England take on New Zealand in New Zealand. I was up at 8am to watch and left encouraged if not happy.

For most of my life it has appeared that even if New Zealand only fielded seven under-15 players England would still contrive a way to lose. This time though an understrength England pushed New Zealand very close only losing in the last few minutes.

Much was said that this was New Zealand's first match and they always start slow, but in the end they can only play as much as the opposition allow and England did not allow them very much.

I think the England pack shaded it with huge performances from Parling, Morgan and Rodber, not forgetting the front row. Tuilagi looked good and Eastman shows promise. Brown had something of an off day for him and Sharples still worries me. I know he has pace, but he does not work hard enough.

For example when Tuilagi made his breaks where was the man (or men) on his shoulder for any off load? There wasn't. Surely Sharples should have been. Ashton at his best is certainly there so I for one am hoping for something different next week.

Much was made, with justification of Stuart Lancaster's selection choices, particularly his faith in Freddie Burns. Burns certainly had a good game, but I do wonder what Cipriani would have done. He came on and his first move was to make a like break, albeit against some tireder players. He then kicked his first penalty. I know I said Sharples worries me, but I would like to see a little spark of flair at fly half and would like to see what Cipriani can do when he starts.

The All Blacks were rather quiet and subdued at the end. McCaw had a rather anonymous game as player and captain.

I think this augers well for next week, but then as an England fan we have said this before. Farrell, Lawes, Twelvetrees, Ashton, Care, Hartley, Vuniploa and others are back in the mix. It should make for a potent match squad.

31/05/2014 11:07 PM
Help your "audience" find you!
How often do you hear a successful person say, "I am so lucky, I am being paid to do something I love"? Quite a few times if you think about it. If you link this with the wisdom that "once is an accident, twice is a coincidence and three times is a pattern", then the message delivered by these successful people is no accident.
This was brought home to me over lunch the other day when a friend was talking about the extended period she has been looking for her next contract role. In talking about her search and the interviews she has attended her demeanour was a little flat, mechanical maybe. She had constructed a kickass CV and done her best to impress the interviewers, but without recent success.
On the upside she did value the time she has had with her seven year old daughter and that is something any parent will value and is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The problem with compartmenting your life
As we started to discuss other, but still work-related, topics she became more animated. her smile brightened, her pitch lifted, her hands started flying. These were things on which she had an opinion and was developing a voice. I don't recall the specifics, but I did ask her why she was more excited about these things than she had been about her work opportunities. In response she said these were things that she felt passionately about while her "work" was something that would pay her, they were different compartments in her mind and she had not linked them. This I think showed through to interviewers
My challenge to her then was, would it not be far more powerful to combine her passion and her work, to find ways to be paid for what she felt strongly about. It was a little like a light bulb going on in her head.
Of course this is easier said that done and at times one has to earn in any way one can to put a roof over the heads of you and your family and food on the table, but that does not mean one cannot have ambition and a direction of travel. Many of the "over night successes" have been striving for years and what we see is their breakthrough moment and satisfaction and rewards that brings.
I think that trying to find a way to work with my passions is something I have been doing unconsciously for a number of year and am now close to the place I want to be. That it has taken me into my 50's to get there is probably because I was a late starter having followed the path that others prescribed for my first 20 or so working years. Now I am making my own.
Lessons from comedy
Last year I did a stand up comedy course (and did a one-time only gig in Camden). We spent seven weeks learning some of the art of stand up and preparing for our big(?) night. During the first week or so the question of what sort of comedian was it we wanted to be? Many students gave up the names of comics they wanted to be like. Having listened, the tutor made an interesting comment. He said that in comedy one does not select a demographic (eg multicultural, educated, 25-40 year olds) and then build material to satisfy them. Instead the comedian has to find who they are on stage, their comedy personna if you like, and develop that. In doing so their audience will find them. He did warn that this personna may be very different from the comedian they thought they wanted to become.
I think this wisdom can be translated back to the work place. I have spent a lot of the last 5 years, networking, putting myself up to speak at conferences, chair meetings, writing a blog, contributing on Linkedin, sharing my thoughts, opinions and experience, etc. What I have noticed in the last 6-12 months is that opportunities are now coming to me rather than me having to chase job postings or called call agencies and employers. The people bringing the opportunities know who I am and what I can do and, I guess, like what they see. Some might say I have been lucky, but I think it is the reward for a lot of effort.
The truth is I am happier than I have been for a long while and the happier I get the more opportunities seem to appear. My lunch companion even commented on how relaxed and happy I was when we met.
So what can you do to help your "audience" find you?
#1 For a few weeks keep a sort of diary. At the end of each working day rate how you feel about the day on a scale from 1 - 10. 1 being awful and 10 being fantastic.
When you give a score of 1,2 or 3, or 8, 9 or 10 make a note of what it was about that day that made it so good or bad?
#2 Ask one or two friends to let you know when they see you getting passionate about something/anything and what it was?
#3 Armed with the information from (1) and (2) identify up to three things that are "passions" that you can develop, either in work or personally and start looking for opportunities to do so as well as opportunities to share them. Sharing is important as others need to know your passions if this is to work.
#4 Honestly consider if your current line of work can or is likely to give you room to develop and use your passions? I don't suggest any drastic action, like immediate resignation, but rather be better informed and prepared to work out your own direction of travel and to assess opportunities when they arise.
#5 Catch yourself smiling and keep doing it? I don't mean a superficial rictus smile, but one that comes from your heart. They are infectious and others will enjoy your company and want to learn more.

18/05/2014 09:06 PM
The Power of Music
I know this will sound uncharitable, but I was facing last Staurday evening with some trepidation. Until a week ago the calendar had just said "gig". The plan had been to go to Camden Town to see the band of a friend play - he is the lead vocalist. The "friend" was my daughter's headmaster at her junior school (my daughter is now almost 19) and something of an inspirational character. This is an oft used description, but rarely so well deserved - more of that later.

Just before my daughter moved to senior school this man was diagnosed with (male) breast cancer and has been fighting it ever since. There have been times of hope and "other" times, but through it all his faith, his family and his music have helped see him through. I am not too sure of the history of his band, but having seen them a couple of times they are clearly old friends who have other careers yet enjoy playing together. I am not a music expert or critic, but I would put then in the soft rock genre and they write a lot of their own songs.

This last year for him has been rocky in places, but they decided to put the band together for this gig last Saturday. They had also started recording some of the tracks for posterity.

At the same time he and his wife of 28 years had also been planning to renew their marriage vows later this year. With his future uncertain they felt they wanted to do this sooner rather than later and plans were afoot to make that happen.

Well ten days ago his health took a blow. I won't go into details out of respect and knowing that he has not wanted everyone to know. The things to know are that a) it was a major blow and shook their plans and b) it affected his ability to process words and speak. As a result we and others were informed on Monday that instead of a gig they would use Saturday evening to renew their vows "followed by light refreshments and some music".

Of course one wondered if this would be the end, the last time of meeting. In truth my wife, daughter, sister-in-law and niece (who was also one of his pupils) were much closer to him and more upset. For my self the trepidation was what sort of mood would the evening have and how would it leave all the attendees. I guess I was doing my "man of the family" piece and looking at how to hold mine together in face of the evening and its news.

My niece couldn't go having a major university exam all Staurday afternoon in Canterbury, but around 7pm the rest of us set off. We arrived at a large church in Muswell Hill and were directed near the front as we were "special" friends.

Let me say, and anyone who knows me knows, that church is not a normal place for me. I do have an inner faith, few scientists don't, but I have never related to the established churches for reasons that do not have a place in this posting. That said, the church that evening had a warmth and I am not talking about the weather.

Upholstered chairs rather than wooden pews. Plenty of red carpet and a buzz. People were laying out finger buffet food and uncorking bottles of wine at the back. Up front a number of musicians were practising, almost jamming as one felt that maybe they were learning some pieces for the first time or at least playing together for the first time. This include members of the band.

When he arrived, he had a smile fixed across his face and looked something like a little boy. I will get told off for this, but the fit of his suit reminded me of an old Norman Wisdom film - the jacket seemed too short. While he did say some hellos he was not his usual effusive and verbal self - a sign of what the last week had done to him.

His children had decided that he would not see their mother's dress until they were in the church so rather than the couple walking down the aisle together, his three children, two sons (19 and 11?) and daughter (17?) escorted their mother to join their father at the front.

What followed was touching and uplifting, rather inspirational like the man. The hymns sung were in a modern style - I am still not sure that they are not tunes I have heard in the charts, tho' the words were clearly hymnal. He struggled with his words on occassion, finding it easier to read what was written than to have to think and then speak. His wife prepared a speech of thanks to her husband and to the congregation for coming at such short notice and was then suprised as their eldest son read his father's words in response.

What could have been laden with doom and despair had been lifted.

After the service the wine and refreshments were passed around as the band prepared. As they said, if he couldn't go to the gig then the gig would come to him. They did something unusual in that they played the vocals he had pre-recorded some weeks a go and the band endeavoured to play around them - no easy feat.

At one point he even went up and sang with the band. Considering less than a weak before he could not speak at all this was something of a miracle. His wife was so pleased that he had been lifted in such a way.

I have lost track of which order these came in so forgive me, but towards the end there were two powerful points.

In one they played his haunting vocals to a song he and his friend (best man and band member) had penned and only completed recently. I managed to capture it on my camera phone, but out of respect (and it is not my place to do so) I will not post it. The key was that apart from his singing and the band's light support you could have heard the proverbial pin drop as everyone there was captured in the moment.

The other was when the same friend sang a song he had written just last Monday about and to this man. This was clearly very emotional, but also very apt.

We are told that they had expected around 100 people for the evening - the actual count was over 200. friends had rallied round providing food and drink and making it all possible. His wife's brother had driven overnight from Italy to be there (he did not let on until he walked into the kitche that afternoon). One couple were their with the 4-day old baby as they said they couldn't miss it. This was a sign of the man and what he means to people.

The time came to say goodnight. There had been emotional moments up until then requiring the application of tissues and handkerchiefs, but this ratcheted up as we prepared to leave. He was saying (almost whispering) bye to everyone one, but we don't think many really knew how serious matters are. My girls were red-eyed as they hugged him and posed for picture, wondering if this would be the last time they would see him.

I pondered what to say and came up with "Good night young man". It brought a genuine smile to his face and I guess that was my small gift to him.

So back to the title of this post. The music set a great tone for what could have been a sombre and tearful event, it has clearly brought many good friends together for a long time and it has sustained and lifted this special man through his long and continuing fight with cancer. How long this will go on, no one knows, but I feel was privileged to be invited last Saturday.

Without taking anything from Stephen Sutton and what he achieved in his short life, we should never forget that there are hundreds, even thousands of others who are battling daily and inspiring those around them in quieter, but no less important ways.

12/05/2014 01:06 AM
Authenticity, UKIP and Me
At the weekend I was listening to a popular talk radio show that focussed on the fact that there is now less than a year until the next General Election in Britain and asking people how they would vote and why? The background being the surge in popularity of Nigel Farage and UKIP, the UK Independence Party. As I listened it sent me back to an episode in my life almost 30 years ago.

I should say at the start that I am not a political creature, having never sought public (or private) office and having had little time for the cyclical, manipulative, shallow and self-centred behaviours that have been evident in mainstream politics for most of my life. Nor am I a supporter of UKIP or Nigel Farage, though I will confess a degree of admiration at his willingness to give voice to interests that are clearly widely felt, yet tinged with personal danger. In this I speak of the criticism of being labelled racist when he looks to control immigration. There are some crazies in UKIP, a new party will attract them, but then there are crazies in any party. That does not make it a racist party.

Anyway back to phone in. The context as that UKIP is expected to poll well in the European elections this year, and while on previous occasions this dropped when translated to the national stage, pundits are predicting that they may hold onto up to 55% of that support next year.

The general view from callers was that few trusted the established political leaders, while a number found Farage "a breath of fresh air". He is seen as someone who speaks in a way they can engage with. Of course the chances of UKIP gaining control are about the same as their ability to form a coherent and believable government at this stage, but they are likely to make a difference, one that may impact all of the main parties.

So what has my past to do with this? Well in the late 70's I was an undergraduate at Jesus College, Oxford. I was studying physics, but also played rugby, darts and bridge and I rowed; I was neither geek nor jock, but maybe a little of both. The one thing I had not got into was poilitics. I was and still am a member of the Oxford Union having taken a life membership in my first week as a student, but I have since visited the place only a handful of times, the most memorable being when Richard Nixon addressed the Union.

All colleges have a Junior Common Room or JCR. Not only is this a physical place to meet, read, drink tea, watch TV, etc, it also represents the Junior members of college on various matters, organises a number of social events and sets an overall agenda for the year. Some JCRs are notoriously political, but Jesus was not while I was there.

Each year the undergraduate body elects a JCR President, who then appoints their committee. This is done in the summer term and usually elects a then first year student, who will be JCR president in their second year, before concentrating on finals in their third. As you would expect some people aspire to be JCR President, but it had not crossed my mind.

In my first year election time approached and a number of people were nominated, wrote manifesto's and faced hustings. Frankly as long as the place ran I was OK with that. I had plenty else to do, but with a couple of weeks to go some people suggested to me that I should run for the role. I dismissed this for some time, but with a week to go and a number of other encouragement a I acquiesced on the basis that I would not indulge in the usual "political" stuff or go canvassing.

My memories are a little sketchy as I have hardly thought about this since 1978. I recall it wrote a single sheet that basically stated I was apolitical, that I would seek to focus on the things that made a difference to students in college and not worry about nuclear disarmament (or something similar) and that I was a WYSIWYG candidate, what you see is what you get. I guess in modern speak I was positioning myself as an "authentic" and straight forward candidate. I pinned the sheet on the college notice board and my campaigning was complete.

I was true to my word, I did not canvas or seek votes. So it was with some surprise that I came second by, as I recall, only a handful of votes. There was no prize for coming second other than so,e personal satisfaction. Instead I went onto enjoy my other interests for another two years.

The girl who beat me carried out the position effectively and went on to be the partner in a major law firm. I believe she is now retired while I am still working so you can form your own assessment of our respective success.

That was not the point of this post, but rather I have a sense of comraderie with Nigel Farage. As long as he can control the crazies and stay close to his own authenticity then against our current crop of uninspiring political leaders I think he can do well. He will not become Prime Minister, but he will worry them and mix things up. He may also accelerate the elevation of better politicians within the main parties and he will certainly keep them focussed.

I look forward to seeing what will happen in the next 12 months and I may even consider voting having not bothered for a number of years. I should say that my apathy to voting is a mix of extended disillusionment with all the main parties and their leaders and the fact that I reside in what has long been a landslide Tory constituency.

Maybe the tide is turning?

01/05/2014 05:53 AM
Interesting twists
I have been a little remiss recently in not posting here. Instead I have been trying the new Linkedin facility to "publish" what ends up looking something like a blog. After a period of inactivity there the Linkedin gnomes prod you, reminding you to post and even suggest topics to write about. A recent Linkedin prompt suggesting that I write about a career curveball led me down a strange train of thought; one I thought I would share both there and here.
It was almost 30 years ago and I was just married. I then worked for a major US Bank that had decided to relocate to the south coast of England. It did not feel like the right thing for me so I was facing my first redundancy.
This was in the ‘80s when life was fast and loud – look it up if you are too young to remember and one of the firms that sat at the top of the world of finance was Salomon Brothers, a legendary Wall Street firm and the subject of “Liar’s Poker” by Michael Lewis. It was seen as a hard place to work, but one where you could earn incredible sums of money and many aspired to work there. It was also the year that Salomons in London had greeted their annual graduate intake with a £5,000 cheque and wished them good luck in their future career as the firm had reassessed matters and no longer needed them.
While £5,000 was a lot of money in those days, this was a brutal introduction to the world of financial services for those involved. I sometimes wonder what became of the recipients of those cheques? I wonder if in retrospect it was a good thing to have happened?
But back to me. I was approaching the end date of my employment and had not secured my next role when I was invited to interview at Salomons. I was due to meet the Head of Operations. He is dead now but just in case anyone objects I will refer to him as LD. He interviewed me with his feet on his desk, collar open and tie loose. He advised me that he needed an executive assistant. I am not sure that I really knew what that meant then and am still uncertain now, but it seemed to be his bag man. He asked if I had a dinner suit (tuxedo for American readers), which I did. It seemed that he expected me to accompany him with clients four nights a week.
The day after the interview I received a call from a HR lady asking me if I was accepting the job? I said that no job had been offered, no salary had been talked. Ignoring me, she asked me again if I was taking the job? I replied that until I saw details on the role and package I was not in a position to make a decision.
I am not sure if she audibly sighed, but I was certainly left with the impression that she did. Whatever the case I received a letter in the post the next morning (this was before email!) and within minutes the HR lady was on the phone asking if I was accepting the offer. It felt like she had been watching for the envelope to drop, but I am sure that is just wishful speculation.
This time I thanked her for the offer and said I would consider it and get back the next day. Another sigh!
I guess these days that sort of behaviour might be described as bullying. In those days it was just Salomons. I think it was a few months later that I read “Liars Poker” and the book explained that so many people wanted to work for Salomons, at least in New York, that they would take any crumbs offered, even without formal role offers or salary details. Just to be working for Salomons was reward enough for many young career starters.
Back to my story. It was early December, I had no other offers and only three weeks before I would be unemployed. I felt somewhat cornered. While my new wife was not keen on me being out four nights a week, we had a mortgage and life to support. The role had some interesting aspects and the pay was actually pretty good so with a degree of reluctance and self-doubt I accepted the offer and settled myself to a new start on the 2nd January.
Strangely in the period between Christmas and New Year, a Canadian bank that I had talked to some weeks before called me at home. They were keen to progress matters and when they found I had accepted a role as Salomons, they started a frantic three days of phone interviews and negotiations, many conducted on the stairs of my sister-in-law’s house where we were staying. This culminated in an offer to join their change team. The money was actually about 10% less than Salomons, but the actually role felt better. Long story short, I decided I wanted to take the second role.
Remember Salomons had earlier that year paid off their graduate recruits and kissed them good bye so I felt able to return the favour. I know, two wrongs do not make a right, but at the end of the day only one person was looking after my best interests and that was me; I am sure Salomons were only concerned about theirs. So on New Year’s Day as I drove through central London to visit family I stopped by their offices in Victoria (they were open and operational!) and left a letter that said words to the effect of “ you know I was due to join you tomorrow, well sorry I have changed my mind and will not do so now”.
Not surprisingly I never heard from them again.
Looking back this was the turning point for me into the world of change as it was with the Canadian bank that I was first trained as a project manager. Who knows where I would have been had I been wining and dining four nights a week, but I have to say I am not unhappy to be where I am.
It would be easy to say that the end justifies the means, but I do find myself a tad uncomfortable about that particular episode. I value my integrity and my word is my bond. While I was true to myself I did break a ”contract” even if I had been under a little duress at the time of accepting it.
I am constantly reminded that the world is a small place and one’s reputation often precedes you. I think it is good to have something like this in your past to act as a reference against which other actions can be assessed.
I wonder if anyone else has such an episode they might share?

25/03/2014 11:29 PM
Insights from TSAM 2014
Yesterday I had the pleasure to attend TSAM2014 as a panel member. Of course I took the opportunity to look in on other sessions and network with friends, old and new.

Considering the "TS" in TSAM stands for trading systems, it seemed that the majority of technology represented there addressed client reporting and information management. This may be a comment on the state of trading systems or a reflection of the buyside's current interest.

My predominant interest was in the OTC Derivative stream, the regulation and developments affecting it. I did come away with three insights/comments that I thought worth sharing.

A number of sessions operated under Chatham House Rules so I won't attribute any comments other than my own.

#1 The "Regulators" who put out a good showing seemed to bleat on about how the buyside does not come to them and contribute. This was a repeated comment and was supplemented by a request that any representations come with the associated quant active analysis.

This seemed to highlight a delusion that the buyside is homogenous. The audience pointed out that the buyside is in fact many different interest groups and that the final asset owner caught by the regulations may not be a FS company and may well be in a third country.

There were requests for the buyside to speak with one voice, but this feels as likely as continental Africa having a single economic plan.

There also seems to be no thought for the resourcing required; resources that are seriously constrained.

Now I am not saying this is easy, but as the regulations are complex and multi-territorial so the regulators need to up their game and understanding. It seems they still think about their remit being neatly defined geographically and organisationally. Anyone charged with implementing the torrent of rules knows that is certainly not the case.

#2 I challenged the regulators that if they wanted better behaviours from the buyside then they needed to make better delivery to the community, proving clarity in good time, not making late changes and helping prioritise the torrent of regulatory change being heaped in firms. They are part of our critical path.

The response was a robust report of under-resourcing. Apparently the European Commission only has four (4) people working on this. It was claimed that each was working 80 hour weeks, but then look at what the industry has to do too!

The creation of ESMA was to try and address the shortfall, but it too is under resourced.

When I pointed out that if I excused late or poor quality delivery on only having four people assigned to this critical regulatory activity, the regulators would hang me and the firm I was working for, out to dry. I must point out that my teams have met every regulatory date and requirement so far, but only by extreme prioritisation that had seen the whole development and testing team dedicated to the regulatory cause for extensive periods.

#3 The room was advised of a shadowy group who are now "coming out of the closet" - not my words but a quote from the event - called the ODRG, or OTC Derivatives Regulatory Group. This seems to have been an informal, undocumented group of regulators who have met frequently to discuss the cross border issues created by various regulations. This is critical given the duplications, inconsistencies and conflicts the market is faces implementing the rules.

It appears that this group has just issued its first report to the FSB. The conference was advised to read between the lines as the report could appear a little anodyne if read literally. I will certainly look out for the is report on the FSB site in due course.

The work this group is undertaking is hugely important to any firm with an international or gloabl business. I just wonder why it had to be clandestine until now?

13/03/2014 03:25 AM
A Useful Tool - The Change Formula?
Yesterday I was talking with a friend and mentioned "The Change Formula". They had not heard of it and were interested to know more. They asked me if I had written about it in this blog and I was sure I had, but when went to look I could not find it, so here we go (again?).

The Change Formula is broadly attributed to Robert Gleicher, though I have seen other claims to have been the creator. Whatever the answer it is a very useful tool for anyone looking to mobilise and lead change.

The formula is written as

C = D x V x F > R

One can read this as
(C)hange happens

The level of (D)issatisfaction (with the current state of affairs) amongst those involved
A clear (V)ision of how the future should look
An understanding of the (F)irst steps to be taken
is greater than
The (R)esistance the change will face
The "times" functions in the formula are important as in the absence (value = zero) of any of D, V or F then Change will fail in the face of any Resistance.
The value of the formula is both in preparing and communicating change endeavours and in diagnosing troubled undertakings.
For new endeavours it is useful for a leader to understand the existing levels of dissatisfaction and work to ensure they are widely understood . This may require either exposure of issues or the amplication of implications, but is often the starting point for successful change.
Put simply unless people are or understand why others are sufficiently dissatisfied they are unlikley to actively engage with the proposed change.
Following this and assuming there is sufficient dissatisfaction (ie why they are changing), people repond best when they understand where they are going (ie why and how it will be better), especially if it will be uncomfortable for them along the way. Vision in this context is an articulation of what they will see and experience at the end of a successful change.
The importance of first steps is to help people set out on the journey, individually and collectively. by anology, if I told a Londoner he was going to France, I may tell him the first steps are to buy a train ticket to Paris and pack a bag for a week. These are things that start the process.
First steps can also give early feedback and help build belief and commitment.
In terms of resistance the key is to consider why people my resist and how strongly. The nature of the resistance is most likely financial or emotional. By considering these causes of resistance a change leader can a) assess how strong their DxVxF has to be and b) how they might reduce the R.
The other use of the formula is when a change is in trouble or at least not progressing as expected or desired.
If as the leader you cannot get a change moving it is worth looking at the D or levels of dissatisfaction amongst your stakeholders. Possibly your people are too comfortable where they are and how they work now? They may not understand why it is important (to you and them) to change.
If a change keeps starting, but faltering it is possible that people are lacking sufficient vision of where they are going. They get excited about a first step but then do not know what to do next.
If a project is spinning its wheels ie doing a lot of work with little in the way of results, then maybe the team don't have a clear understanding of the first steps? They maybe caught in analysis, not able to see how to deliver the vision.
I could go on, but I hope I have shared the essence of the change formula and that you, the reader, can see ways it may help.
I can't believe that I have not blogged on this before!!!!

04/03/2014 10:57 PM
Why wouldn't I be professional?
A large part of the workforce in the City of London are contractors/consultants many of which stay with firms longer than permanent employees. Not surprisingly, an oft asked question is, "What is the difference between a contractor/consultant and a permanent employee?"

My answer is usually that a permanent employee doesn't know that their job will come to an end ...... yet!

Well yesterday I was advised that my current role is coming to an end. Without going into details it is a budget issue that has led to this, rather than anything else. Currently I am half way through the latest six-month renewal having been here almost two years. I think my client was nervous about breaking the news to me and left it until 4:30 pm, only inviting me to the meeting 10 minutes before.

When I sat there, accepted the news and then assured him I would work to manage the transition of work, he thanked me for my professional approach.

The fact that he felt moved to thank me for being professional surprised me more than the news of the contract break; for perspective I should say that I had no inkling of the break. But why would I react badly to the fact that a client exercised their rights within a contract - in truth I could have done the same.

There would be no value in throwing my toys out of the pram. As independents we rely on our reputation. The world of business is very small and news of unprofessional behaviour or below par performance will travel, often ahead of you. That is why I and many others strive to ensure that performance is recognised and appreciated, value my integrity and protect my reputation.

Now starts the exciting part of being independent and that is the uncertainty of the next challenge and opportunity. Right now I have no idea of what that is. While I think I know why I will be attractive to a client, experience has shown me that their interests and perceptions may be very different. The trick is to have an open mind and be prepared to re-evaluate your skills and experience against new possibilities.

Experience has also shown that one cannot predict where the opportunity will come from - this current work came through an agent that found my details and called me. It was in a field that I had been researching, but would not have claimed expertise and went from first call to onsite working within 12 days, the offer came after three with the paperwork and inevitable reference checks taking the rest.

Where will the next opportunity come from?

As one who thrives on change and enjoys variety, this is part of the non-financial rewards this employment choice offers. I hope I find something interesting!

17/02/2014 09:52 PM
Doing the Write (sic) thing.
I noticed today that this blog is now approaching 400 entries and that according to the google statistics there have been over 60,000 page views.

Now there is no-one more surprised than me that I have found so many things to write and that so many people have taken time to read them - and some have felt moved to comment too. All this from a boy whose Headmaster described him as an "intellecual philistine" and took it upon himself to provide additional tutoring in the art of writing. I remember slogging one summer over an essay I was set entitled "A man is what he is, what he thinks he is and what others think he is; discuss". This was long before word processing and had to be drafted and written long hand. I seem to recall it was 10,000 words, but my memory may exaggerate. I know it felt like that. As I write this I think I may still have that piece in a briefcase at home and I am feeling tempted to pull it out and see how bad it was.

My Headmaster did concede one thing towards the end of our time working togather and that was while (in his assessment) I had no style, when he read what I had written he could always hear me speaking it. It was something of a personal stamp.

He also had me write poetry, but that is another story for another day.

The criticism I received from my Headmaster probably set in my mind that I was not good with words. Certainly in my early career, at interviews, this was  the "weakness" I would confess to. I certainly disliked writing long hand and indeed still do. It seemed as if my mind worked faster than I could write and I quickly grew bored of editting and redrafting my work.

It is possible that one could trace my rebirth back to my Amstrad 8512. This was pretty much the first retail word processor and personal computer. It came with a word processing package and printer as standard and a fully integrated processor screen and disc drive (two, I think). I have since moved to PCs, owning one with word processing since the late 1980's. I have used them for my studies and so much more. I have even attempted to write a book a couple of times, but without conclusion so far.

I took up blogging at around the time my career was making a detour. I started looking at how I could create more of a personal brand. I had no idea what was involved with blogging, but thought I would give it a go and see. Initially I did it through another identity in order to protect myself if it was a disaster. The question was what to blog about?

I thought about this for a while without finding a specific topic, so in the end I decided to blog about things I found interesting in the hope that other people would too. I used the moniker "Tales of an Active Mind" and started posting and eclectic mix of things - indeed much the same as I do today.

Last year I came out of the blogging closet and pooled all my material under IanJSutherland and have only used that name since.

As noted in a recent blog I have also entered a short story competition and am slightly nervous to see how my debut effort stacks up against the other entrants.

All in all I guess I need to recalibrate my thinking about words as a weakness.

I did adjust elements in the past, but referring to words as being "relatively weak" compared with my fierce abilities with numbers and patterns. This was partly to play the interview game, but also followed three realisations. The first was that many project managers were coming to me to help them write the textual elements of their plans and reports - I was seen as being pretty good at communicating with stakeholders. Linked with this was the realisation that my generation were given a much sounder education in grammar and English than the following year groups, giving me an edge over many younger managers. The last was when being assessed for a senior job and my verbal reasoning result placed me in the 98th percentile of those involved in Finance. OK that is a skewed sample as it would not include the naturally artisitic, like true writers, journalists, actors, etc, but was still something of a wake up call.

So back to today, I plan to give myself a pep-talk and remove "words" from my list of personal weaknesses. That is not to say I can or will become complacent, or stop striving to improve, but there is no reason to put myself down when the evidence suggests the weakness is primarily in my head and not in any rational assessment.

I am far from being a writer, but I can write; I just need to remind myself.

17/02/2014 09:03 PM
Why don't people comment on blogposts more? The power of ERS/XX.
In the last couple of days I have been talking with friends about various aspects of social media and blogging. Two topics came up that seemed to be linked. The first was whether a tool like Linkedin really generates employment opportunities and the second was how to generate comments/debate on blog posts and other contributions.

In relation to first I am sure that Linkedin does generate opportunities, but often indirectly and that probably the more selfless one is, the more likely one is to benefit; a touch of karma if you like. Undoubtedly Linkedin is a data source for many recruiters, that of course is its commercial model. I do get quite a few requests to connect to (and related calls from) recruiters who have seen my profile up there. Many seem to have real opportunities and some progress further, but to date none has actually led to employment for me.

I tend to monitor my profile stats both profile views and appearances in searches to ensure that I am still “in play”. As they say you have to play if you want to win. For me the number of people looking at my profile averages around 35 per week and in the last three months has ranged from 23 top 75. Now this is a mixed population and I don’t get fussed about whether it is new viewers, repeats, friends or anyone else. Instead I take it as a measure that I was top of mind, if only briefly, of a good number of people each week so when I am looking for work they will be aware and may be able to help.

The appearances in searches is also useful as I take it as a measure of the effectiveness and content of my profile against skills and experience sets that recruiters are looking for. This is averaging a little over 200 per week and if it starts dropping I take a moment to reflect what I might add or change to freshen my profile.
Throughout all this I will happily try and help anyone I can, through brokering contacts, passing on opportunities or just being a constructive critic of their efforts. I do this unconditionally, expecting no specific or direct return other than maybe the odd beer or two. One could say I am investing first and that would be correct. I expect and hope that my reward will come in time, but most likely indirectly and without traceable links.

My current role is an indirect result of such effort. In this instance it was not Linkedin, but through eFinacialCareers (eFC), where I also maintain a profile. I think my eFC profile benefited hugely from the work I was doing on Linkedin with the feedback I received being a major contributor to an agency I had never spoken to before calling me for a role with a company I had never worked for. That was out of the blue and the deal was closed within 48 hours!

I believe that helping others first in a rather selfless way actually makes it more likely that someone, probably unconnected, will help you in future. In contrast if all you do is clearly about you and only you, ie very selfish, then the amount of help others will give is soon limited.

Moving on to question about blogging and comments on entries, this has been something that has puzzled me. My blog is over three years old with over 300 entries and over 45,000 hits, yet the number of comments it has elicited is less than 30. If you look through my blog I don’t think it is not because the subjects are all safe and boring.

I have looked at entries in other blogs and on Linkedin to see if I can understand why some receive a torrent of comments and others do not. I think I have something of an answer.

Before I do it is worth stripping out the sycophantic element that is clearly present amongst the comments on “celebrity” posts. Celebrity in this instance not limited to media stars, but covering prominent, public individuals. These are typified by “well done”, “good post” or similar and add little or nothing to the debate.

The second strip out are the clarification questions. These suggest that something was left out of the original article/post and while they may help complete the post they do not move things forward.

The level of real comments and debate seem to come when something like the following exists.

For blogs that received large numbers of comments one can see the following elements:
· (E)ngages the readers and usually communicates, implicitly or explicitly, something of the author’s values and point of view
· Is a topic that is (R)elevant to a significant number of readers.
· Tends to evoke a (S)trong reaction (either for or against the content of the post – one the reader can share)
· The thing that seems to hold people back, at least I think so, is if the reader perceives a personal risk to e(X)posing their own views or position. They will think twice about posting.

This suggests that the number of comments is a function of (E x R x S)/(X x X) . The top line (numerator) is a product because if any of these are absent (or near absent) then the chances of comments is pretty much zero. I have suggested that the denominator is the square of the perceived risk that would result from posting a comment. I use the square as is suggests that in the face of any risk all three of the numerator elements have to be significant if there are to be comments.

I have no scientific evidence to support this, it is purely derived empirically and from thinking about the issue, but I feel there is more than an essence of truth in it.

If you look at Facebook many items are commented on as there is engagement and relevance (to the audience at least) and little perceived risk related to commenting. In these circumstances it does not require any great strength of feeling for people to comment.

What do you think?

14/02/2014 12:55 AM
The Value Of Good Advice
And so my career as short story writer starts - and may indeed stop.

I have entered the NYCMidnight annual short story competition that kicked off this week. With 963 entrants from around the world though largely from the obviously English speaking work I was given an assignment last week and submitted my entry today.

Entrants have been split into 40 "heats", with 23 other writers (am I writer?) in mine. Last Friday midnight we were given the following brief

Genre: Drama
Subject: Stealing
Character: Retiree

and a limit of 2,500 words.

My entry is called "The Value Of Good Advice"

and it can be found below. Please do let me know what you think? On the off chance that I get through to the next round (five of us will) I need to take every opportunity to improve.


I can see the flames of the open fire dancing through the golden liquid that swirls around the glass in my hand. I have just subsided into my favourite chair in the small house that has been home for more years than I can remember. The two up, two down terrace house is not the sort of home many expect a bank manager to have, but it has suited me until now. In the corner is an archive box with the contents of my desk drawers and on the table is my longtime companion, an aspidistra plant. Flowers on an aspidistra are quite rare and pretty ugly, but for some reason, the plant chose to flower today.

Maybe it is a portent that things are changing.

My name is Archibald James. I am 65 years old and today was my last day at Greenfields. I worked there for fifty years, literally man and boy. I joined from school on the 1st September 1963 as an office junior. Greenfields is one of the last of the old-style London Banks. It offers banking services, safe keeping and utter discretion. In 1963, it was the epitome of pinstripe suit, rolled-up umbrella and bowler hat.

I soon acquired all three even though my first job was mostly about making tea and running messages. In truth, I think I was only offered the position because my father knew the manager, Mr. Stevenson, from their service days. The Bank Manager had been a navigator while my father was a pilot. There was a bond between them that was never discussed, but when my father asked if there was a job for his “average” son, there was no hesitation. That is how I became a city “gent”, well clerk initially, but that soon changed.

My father may have seen me as “average”, but Mr. Stevenson saw something else, and soon I was promoted through the ranks, so to speak. I was made a cashier and then assistant manager. The role of Assistant Manager had both good and bad aspects. On the plus side I was a City gentleman with the authority to approve loans up to £100, a large sum in those days. On the downside, my name took pride of place on the rota to open the bank at the start of day and close it at the end.

With the position of Assistant Manager came an office and a large mahogany desk with a green leather inlaid top. I felt very important and satisfied with my success and it was at that time my mother gave me an aspidistra plant. It had long leaves and sat in an ugly Victorian aspidistra pot placed on matching dish. My mother advised me to water it regularly, wipe its leaves once a month and make sure it was well drained.

At the time, the advice sounded much like, “Always wear clean underpants, never wear brown shoes in the City and mind your manners.” That is, it was good common sense advice that works, so much so that it was the very same plant I brought home almost 50 years later.

While my elevated position was one of trust it also meant many early mornings. In the middle of winter I would pick my way across Bank junction, walk up the side of the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street (the Bank of England, if you don’t know) and up to Greenfield’s large bronze doors that looked out onto Moorgate. There I would meet a messenger, usually the Head Messenger, and together we would open up. I did this right up to the robbery of ‘69. That was a turning point for the bank and for me personally, but more of that later.

Back to today.

My retirement day had been perfectly pleasant. That is the best and only term for it. I had lunch with the Chairman in the Boardroom. The faces of old Greenfields’ bankers looked down on the two of us from their gilt frames on the wall. The best silver was out for use along with the fine crested china. A decanter of good wine, just good, accompanied a traditional meal of roast beef followed by apple pie and custard. It was very pleasant though after 50 years, I might have expected more.
In the afternoon, there had been the obligatory speeches, leaving cards and presentation from the proceeds of a collection among the staff. I am not sure that I needed another clock for my mantelpiece, but that is what I was given.

In his speech, Mr. Spencer, the Head of Risk, made mention of my long service, my immaculate dress sense and my great patience. He said all the nice things one might expect without really saying anything and certainly without any genuine warmth. As I also expected he did not talk about “the robbery”; no-one talks about the robbery when I am around.

So let me tell you what happened.

As per usual, on the morning of Monday 6th October 1969 I was due to meet Alf Bennett at Greenfields front door at 7:00am. The process demanded that it was always two people who entered the bank first even though there was only one, very large lock on the front door; a lock that had been there over 100 years and whose key I carried. My key was one of only three known to exist. Why was there just one lock with one key? Well, the thinking at the time was that everything of value was locked inside the vault at night. Even if someone could break in then they would also have to breach the large steel door or 3 feet of stone wall to find anything of value. In light of this, the Greenfield family liked the impression of confidence that the old bronze doors gave and accepted the single lock.
By 7:40, Alf had not arrived, and I knew I would need to decide what to do. As one would expect there were a few people passing like shadows in the street as I pondered my options. I noticed that the doors were not quite closed, there was a small crack between them that was not usually visible. Tentatively, I pushed against the right door and to my surprise it moved, just a fraction, but it moved.
On reflection and as was pointed out to me many times by the police, the insurers and my manager, I should have called for help or found a policeman. Remember this was long before mobile phones so there was no possibility of just standing there and phoning for help. What I actually did was push the door wider and entered cautiously. I saw the banking hall was a mess with desks and chairs upturned. The door to the teller’s counter was open and so was the wooden door leading to the basement ….and the vault.

They say that it was just after 7:45am that Florence and Agnes, the two cleaners, found me out cold lying on my back in the banking hall. I understand that I was then taken to St Barts Hospital, and it was there that I awoke the next day with my head swathed in bandages and a policeman sitting beside the bed. Not surprisingly they were keen on questioning me, but I was not much help. I told them that I had no memory after first entering the Bank. I had no idea how I came to be out cold and really was not much help.

It seems that the Police think that someone had hidden in the ceiling above the vault and looking down through a small peephole had watched the vault being opened and made a note of the combination. They had then emerged at the weekend, opened the vault and had plenty of time to rummage both the Bank’s valuables, including a stash of gold bullion, mostly smaller bars, and the safety deposit boxes.

The criminal then left the Bank through the front door. The lock I mentioned earlier could be opened from the inside without a key. It had not been designed to stop people breaking out, only those breaking in.

The Police found a mess in the vault. Mostly, the interesting, but only personally valuable items from safety deposit boxes. You may not believe me, but this list included one left plimsole, an old banana skin and the signed photograph of twin sisters, stars of the Hammer Horror films, dressed in diaphanous nightgowns.

For some reason no one was ever able to explain there were also a number of pieces of jewelry and gold coins scattered around. Whether the criminal was limited in what he could carry, a bag burst or maybe he was interrupted  -  by me possibly – we never found out, but the fact was a small number of valuable items were recovered from the floor of the vault.

Another interesting fact is that Alf Bennett was never seen again. This of course cast suspicion on him or at least on his involvement, but it could never be proved. Unfortunately, it also cast a shadow of suspicion over me. I could see in their eyes that the Police and my managers suspected that my amnesia was convenient, wondering if maybe I had been part of the gang and possibly the subject of a double cross that left me on the floor.

I believe that the insurance claim was for well over a £1million, but no one ever truly new how much had been taken as not all clients wanted to own up to what they had kept safe from prying eyes.
No matter how I protested my innocence the taint was there. To many people I was thought a hero or at least a victim of the robbery and the Bank would have appeared churlish had they sacked me, but my promotions stopped. I also knew any reference I received would include some coded elements that another employer would understand. Thank goodness for the unspoken debt owed to my father.
Initially I was angry and frustrated, but in the end I decided to be patient and work my time at Greenfields. At various points, I was put in charge of Office Services, the Charity Committee, disaster-recovery planning and other safe, but unexciting roles. I was never given the keys to the Bank again nor was I given access to the vault. The public argument was that I had done my bit and the Bank would ask no more of me, but I knew I was marked, as did everyone else.

All through this I would smile and perform my duties such that there were no grounds for complaint. Wherever I went - oh yes, I never had an office again – my aspidistra went with me. I watered it, wiped it and checked the drainage. It even flowered once in a while, just as it was doing today.
I know many questioned why I stayed at Greenfields, on what was increasingly a modest salary. I just told them that I knew better days were ahead, and that I was comfortable being where I was.

But as always, good things come to an end, and my retirement day approached. I could put off leaving Greenfields no longer. I sorted my fully funded, final salary pension scheme. Ask any banker and they will tell you that you don’t see many of those these days. I sorted my other affairs and just this afternoon I walked out of the Bank and into a taxi. While I carried my plant, two colleagues carried my box of personal effects and the mantle clock. I know I had a smile on my face, but few would or even could guess why.

And here I am now. My house was paid for long ago and my pension means I will never go without food and heat. It also allows for the occasional bottle of good scotch and one holiday a year.
As I said the flames of the open fire flicker on my whisky and I start to dream of a house on one of the Greek Isles. The gentle waves lap on the beach to the back and the sun beats down on the front while a housekeeper looks after my still modest, though very comfortable needs.

It is time to draw upon my real pension, the one that has kept me smiling all these years. It helped me put up with being overlooked for promotion. I can now admit to myself that I do, in fact, know most of what happened that fateful day in October 1969, well until I was knocked unconscious.

I entered the Bank carefully listening for any sound. It did not appear that anyone was there as I stepped over scattered pencils and broken crockery. I had moved towards the vault and found it was also ransacked. The safety deposit boxes hung out of their holes, lids open and contents either scattered or ignored.

I did notice that the usual small pile of gold ingots was gone, but was surprised that a number of small bars lay on one of the inspection tables. I noticed the sparkle from a handful of necklaces and earrings that seemed pushed to the edges and corners of the floor. To sparkle in that way they had to be diamonds, mostly set in gold fittings. My banker’s eye could not help estimating the value I could see and judged it to be about equivalent to 20 years’ salary.

I was never shown the inventory of what was recovered by the Police, but I know that many of the pieces I saw would have been missing.

How I ended up out cold is the memory I have genuinely lost. I think that as I went for help, I must have trodden on those scattered pencils and lost my footing, falling backwards heavily, but I can't be sure. But then, neither can anyone else.

With this self-confession over I pick up a hammer and swung it at the aspidistra. If the flower could yell it would do so for as the china breaks into a hundred pieces the plant collapses in a heap. I have not watered it for a week or so, and it is very dry.  As I reach for a handful of dirt the glint of wealth winks at me from the base of the pile. My Greek home becomes real as a handful of gold and diamonds appear in my fingers after the remaining soil has fallen away.

As my mother once said, one should never doubt the value of good drainage.


This entry received an honourable mention in its group, so not too shabby for a first attempt. I will consider entering next year and see if I can improve.

05/02/2014 09:32 AM
The 5 C's of leadership
I have just had an enjoyable evening at the first MAG-net City event of 2014. The main talk of the night was given by Benny Higgins, CEO of Tesco Bank. In this how explained his vision and pride that was not just another bank doing what the rest do but one where decisions were based on what was right for the customer, something learned from Sir Terry Leahy, the then CEO of Tesco's the retailer.

What I found interesting was the framework he laid down for effective leadership. This was what I will call the 5 C's.

Competency related to the skills and knowledge for the particular role. He spoke about the fashion to look for transferable skills from another industry, but advocated that leaders should know the business they are in, putting. Job they lack the competence for is a recipe for disaster.

Curiosity was about not only an interest to look at new things, but to be able to assess, prioritise and act upon what has been found.

Creativity was about doing the right thing, stirring things up when they are calm and calming things down when they are manic.

Communication is about the ability to listen rather than shout. To understand and be understood, something that is needed every day in so many ways.

Lastly courage was about being ready and able to make the decisions that are needed, big and small.

Benny is clearly proud of what he has achieved with Tesco Bank and excited about what he is still building. I wonder how many other "leaders" in banking can come cross as well and if they would stand up to the 5 C scrutiny?

28/01/2014 02:38 AM
Who understands "Conduct Risk"?
Conduct risk seems to be the focus of every regulator this year and not unrelatedly the opportunity of choice for many management consultancies.

As a term it was something I became aware of in late 2013 and I am still trying to work out what it really means. Maybe I shouldn't say that, but it is true and if there is one thing that annoys me, it is something I don't understand.

I am not sure who coined the term first, but it is something that the Financial Conduct Authority adopted early on - probably not surprising when you think about it. It is also some the OECD is urging its members to bake into their regulation and most recently I have seem the Bank of England / Prudential Regulation Authority also make a play.

Googling the term does not bring out a clear definition, at least not one I can find. There is the "FCA Risk Outlook 2013" which contains many references to conduct risk , but does not seem to define the term other than indirectly when referring to
"A range of inherent factors (that) interact to produce poor choices and outcomes in financial markets."
The factors are then illutrated as
A quick look shows this to be anything, but a simple topic in the eyes of the FCA.

The FCA has also referred to conduct risk in the context of “consumer detriment arising from the wrong products ending up in the wrong hands, and the detriment to society of people not being able to get access to the right products”.

This feels like something that benefits hugely from hindsight. It reminds me of the Official Secrets Act that I signed many years ago and am still covered by! It was put to me simply that it meant that "they" could "get" me if at some point in the future they chose to do so and I didn't need to read all the detail.

My search then expanded to include the OECD and found the following
Principle 6: Responsible Business Conduct of Financial Services Providers and their Authorised Agents
Underlying assumptions
1. The principle of responsible business conduct is important in order to ensure that financial services providers and authorised agents act fairly, honestly, professionally and with due skill, care and diligence when dealing with consumers. Duty of care is necessary in addition to improved transparency because consumers have bounded rationality and therefore cannot be expected to always make decisions that are in their own best interest.
2. Responsible business conduct entails the following elements, where financial services providers and authorised agents:
a. avoid as far as possible or adequately manage conflicts of interest, in order to prevent detriment to the consumer.
b. have the necessary resources and procedures in place for safeguarding the best interests and ensuring equitable and fair treatment of their consumers.
c. communicate with the consumer in a timely and accurate manner, and their language used is clear and comprehensible to the consumer.
d. have appropriately qualified and trained staff to sell the products concerned and/or provide advice to consumers and execute the contract/transaction.
e. have remuneration designed in a way which encourages responsible business conduct.
3. Financial services providers and authorised agents have a duty to be responsible for the actions of their staff and agents acting on their behalf and therefore ensure that their staff and agents maintain appropriate standards for conduct of business to ensure compliance with laws and regulations and fair treatment of customers.

The items listed under (2) feel like something I can work with. Points (d) and (e) also explain why in the organisations where this is already a major issue it is HR that seems to be running point, but it is clear there is much more.

I can see why the consultancies are keen on this. Just tweaking the current norm is almost certainly not enough. I have heard of firms who are addressing a lot of this through systems ie IT, but that seems to miss the point. This really needs to be business-led, and not sidelined or delegated because it is too difficult. It seems that to be effective a leader in this field will have to demonstrate that they understand:-

Does anyone else have a better definition, understanding or point of view that can be shared?

21/01/2014 07:25 PM
Herding Change!!!

I wish I had a pound for every time I have heard someone involved in managing change comment that it was like herding cats! But maybe that is just what we need to do and instead of invoking the thought at moments of frustration it is something we should be embracing and learning to do better.

Readers of this blog will know that I have commented on how we need to find a better way to deliver business change in this modern world where the speed, complexity and scale of developments keeps growing and is clearly outpacing the ability of traditional methodologies to deliver and adapt. Along the way I have often commented that I play human chess, getting the right people in the right places at the right time to do the right things. In this "game" there will always be some "strays" that have to be brought back to the main group (or maybe left to go their own way!).

This feels more like "herding" (hence the image above) than "managing" in the traditional sense. The trouble is that most of the "herding" metaphors I have come up with have as many undesirable connotations as useful ones. In using a "cattle herding" analogy I will doubtless upset stakeholders who will take offence at being considered as cattle while project staff  will probably resent the label "cowboys" and the behaviours associated with that term.

In contrast if I liken the management of projects to herding sheep, I can offend stakeholders again(!) and invoke a central control model where "shepherd" controls all the project workers (dogs).

Despite these risks I would like to examine the analogies a little further as there are some very relevant parallels.

Let me look at the cattle herding parallel first. It seems to me that the "trail boss" performs the role of project manager, understanding where the herd has to end up and making the key decisions about route, stops, managing risks and directing the response to issues as they arise. In estimating the resource they need, I doubt if they planned from the bottom up working out day-by-day what each cowboy would be doing. Instead he (or she) uses their experience to assess numbers and of course he never forgets the necessary support services, ie the chuck wagon, that will feed his men and additionally act as a contingent resource.

Each day the trail boss would send out the "cowboys" to move the herd forward, assessing and adjusting to the terrain and then deciding where and when to stop at night. He would probably also send  out a couple or outriders looking for better routes and potential trouble, thereby collecting information that is over his "horizon" and currently out of sight.

Some of the herd (read as "benefit" in project terms) maybe lost along the way, often there are competitors and other groups out to impede the progress of the herd and success can only be assessed once the herd has been delivered (and sold).

Are you sensing the parallels? There are many days in the office when I feel like a trail boss and think that acknowledging that can help solve many of the problems I am employed to solve. Maybe I do herd change as much as I project manage.

Please let me know what you think? Is there something in this? Can and should we build on it?


As a close, if you fancy a smile, watch this Youtube recording of an EDS advert.