Thursday, April 26, 2012

Managing Management

My son Sebastian, who owns several clothing stores on three continents, called yesterday, all upset. Apparently he had to fire three people, and the process had upset him greatly. I told him that being a trifle upset was normal, but that letting a bad situation continue would make him even more upset. Weeding out thieves and downright criminals is not that difficult (and certainly not upsetting) but letting the simply incompetent go is never a pleasant activity.  Yet if you are managing something, it goes with the territory.

All of which is a little segue into Simone's Theory of Management.

First. Try not to get too big that you as manager lose sight of all that is, or might be, going on. A recent case of just this error is Wal-Mart, and the massive bribery that occurred in Mexico. Such a happening would have been impossible in a 50 or even 100 person operation -- senior management would have spotted the mess almost as soon as it occurred. Unless, of course, senior management was in on the whole thing. If this is the case, however, we are not talking management theory, but criminal behaviour, something a bit beyond our present topic.

Second. Keeping an enterprise small is good, but not really practical if you are serving a global market. Hence 'bigness' will be the business, and a single manager or Chief Operating Officer (CEO) will be unable to oversee and control all aspects of the enterprise. The solution in this case is still smallness, but here it applies to a management team charged with oversight of all operations. The key aspect above all others is the selection of the members. You as CEO must have absolute confidence in their ability, and the selection process must be as rigorous as possible. Even then, this approach is not foolproof, but the odds of your enterprise succeeding go up considerably. Beats nepotism every time.

Third. Here I draw on my own experience with my sugar beet plantations, and my firm belief that all workers should be encouraged to see themselves as critical to the success of the enterprise, AND BE PAID ACCORDINGLY. I mean, why are we in business in the first place? When a CEO is paid about 50 times what a secretary in the firm makes, something is seriously awry. And an added benefit to this approach is that a union becomes not only unnecessary, but irrelevant.

Finally, I sent Sebastian an e-mail containing an excellent paragraph on management. It originally was directed to the military, but serves a similar purpose where running an enterprise is concerned. I have mentioned this quotation before, but the piece can well stand repeating. It is taken from Lord Lovat's fine book, March Past, where he cites General von Hammerstein Egord:

Officers are divided into four categories. There are those who are brilliant and industrious; these are suitable for the highest staff appointments. Then there are those who can be brilliant but are lazy; these will rise to the highest level of command. Use can be made of officers who are stupid and lazy, but those who are stupid and industrious should be ruthlessly eliminated.

(Note to Stephen Harper: The last of von Egord's categories would seem to apply to Peter McKay and Bev Oda. Deal with it.)

All for now.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Hyping Holiness

Just back at the Manor, all refreshed from my (all too) short stay in Marseilles in the company of the Compte de Rienville. In catching up with what had been going on by reviewing various newspapers, I was stunned to come across the following.

 It appears that subway posters have entered the field of mythology -- er, sorry -- religion. Thus we read of one such poster, approved by the Toronto Transportation Commission (TTC) which goes as follows: "There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his Prophet." What disturbs here is that the poster originally included links to fundamentalist Islamists that were hell bent on the total destruction of non-Muslims, as well as any Muslims who, summoning their intelligence, made a decision to leave the religion entirely. After an outcry, these links were taken down, but still....

Not to be outdone, Christians have just submitted their own poster for approval. It states, "The way to the Father is through the Son, Jesus Christ." So much for Allah, although the tenor of the poster is the same; that is, there is only one road to salvation, all others being evil cul de sacs.

Where, I wondered, will this all end? I have since learned that the Hindus will be formulating their own poster. This will then encourage Sikhs to do the same thing, and might even spread as far as Judaism. In the latter case, I have the ideal example. I see a picture with Mount Sinai as backdrop, and a bearded Charlton Heston-like figure pointing at the viewer and shouting, "MOSES WANTS YOU!"

I then toyed with the idea of submitting my own poster stressing the benefits of resuming worship of the Olympian Gods. Adherents would be taught by Zeus how to handle a few of the smaller thunderbolts, Thor would give instructions on the proper use of his hammer, and Hades' advice would be invaluable in the area of home heating. I mean, what's not to like?

Mind you,  atheists were the first to use the poster as a means of communication, and I'm sure readers will r4ecall their simple message, to wit: "There probably is no God, so get on with it and enjoy life." Or words to that effect, stark in their simplicity and good sense.

And it is always wise to conclude on a sensible note.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Needed Reunion

It had been three weeks since I had last been with the Compte de Rienville, with only two short phone calls received. Not satisfactory at all. The last call, however, lifted my spirits. The message was terse: "In Marseilles. The Radisson Blu. Come."

Well, I thought, if the mountain wouldn't come to Mohammed, then Mohammed must come to the mountain. Of course these days Mohammed wouldn't go near the mountain, but would send any number of jihadists, bombs in tow, and blow the thing to smithereens. What a sad fate for a religion that gave us our alphabet, and stressed science, art, mathematics and medicine, to say nothing of giving their women far more rights than those offered by the 'Christian' regimes of the day. Alas, over time, all too many Imams and Mullahs fell into the power trap, thereby debasing all and relying upon the hate for others rather than tolerance for all. T'was ever thus with crazed lunatics -- [enough digression. Ed.]

So it was off to Marseilles, and the excellent Radisson Blu. The Compte was never one to pinch pennies, and upon my arrival found that he had booked a lovely suite in my name. All fine and dandy, but where was he?

Having had a good sleep courtesy Air France, and not being one to sit around and mope, I had a quick shower, changed into a black woolen sheath my son Sebastian had designed for me, and sauntered forth to see if this shining hour could be improved.

I went to the bar, where I was the only patron, and was soon enjoying a grey goose on the rocks. The bartender was a retired lawyer from Paris, and admitted that he enjoyed his present job at the bar far more than practicing at the bar. We became deeply engaged in discussing some legal niceties regarding the Dreyfus Case when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

It was the Compte. On crutches.

"What on earth happened to you?" I asked, after a prolonged and much needed kiss.

"A bad sprain," he replied. "I must also admit to an error. I forgot the truth of the saying, 'There are old agents, and there are bold agents. But there are no old, bold agents.'"

"Actually, I think that first applied to RAF fighter pilots, but I quibble. You going to tell me what really happened?"

"No, but I can tell you that a goodly number of jihadists are now with their beloved 72 virgins."

"Yes, and after the first four or five," I remarked, "they'll be screaming for a pro. But enough. Upstairs beckons."

I paid for my drink, along with a hefty tip -- the conversation with the lawyer/bartender had been enjoyable. As we approached the elevator, I said, "Good of you to admit the error. Admission is always a Good Thing."

The Compte replied, "Well, one must always keep the Duc De La Rochefoucauld in mind."

"And what did the good Duc have to say?"

"Only this: 'That if your prepared to admit it, it's not the worst thing you ever did.'"

Now THAT I must think about.

Friday, April 6, 2012


Although still making an all too slow recovery from that 'Walking Pneumonia' thingy, nevertheless a quiet period, something to be treasured. What with Sir Harry temporarily out of commission, his aide Sir Peter Crapp doing God knows what in Beijing, and Tilly Hatt assigned to a desk in Langley after the incident in Kenya and her use of a wildebeest stampede (don't ask) -- all this allows some time for reflection.

I have noted, for instance, a growing tide of public opinion against immigration. There is some heft to this point of view. No country wants to import those who are bent on its destruction. What gets forgotten is the wisdom that different cultures bring to the social table, as it were. I give five instances of this, drawn from five distinctly different cultures, in the hope that more judicious thought can be focused on the topic.

1) From our first immigrants, the First Nations Peoples. Here I recall the scene in the film, Little Big Man, where Chief Dan George is asked to end a severe drought by enacting a traditional rain dance. No rain occurs, however, and the Chief calmly replies, "Sometimes the magic doesn't work." From this I took a good dose of humility: not everything attempted will automatically succeed. Or, to use the modern vernacular, 'Shit happens. Move on.'

2) From Africa. In his fine novel, Cry, The Beloved Country, Alan Paton writes that "Fear destroys, sorrow may enrich." I had to think long and hard about this, and discovered that Mr. Paton was bang on. In the trade, a bit of fear is healthy, and sharpens ones' instincts. Too much fear, however, can paralyze, close you down, leaving you helpless. Sorrow, while not the most pleasant of emotions, opens you up, and you become more aware of your own being, as well as becoming more empathetic to the plight of others. So my thanks to Alan Paton. Go well, umfundisi.

3)From Germany.
It was the German General Helmut von Moltke who wrote "No battle plan ever survives first contact with the enemy." Self-explanatory, really, and invaluable to those in The Trade. If only Cheney and Bush had....oh, forget it. Fugitive speculation.

4) From Japan. A Japanese proverb goes as follows: "Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare." Again, self-explanatory, and again, Cheney and Bush raise their dandruffy heads.

From Spain. In Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote we read the following: "Too much sanity may be madness, and the maddest of all, is to see life as it is and not as it should be." Step forward, Syria. Step forward, most of Africa. Step forward, the Pakistan tribal areas. This in a sense links back to #4, where there is nothing present other than hatred toward anything or anyone that is in the least bit different from the tribal point of view. This is not vision but lunacy.

There. I feel much better now.