Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Office of Chief Executive

What is a Chief Executive? Lets try

The responsibility of the chief executive officer is to align the company, internally and externally, with their strategic vision. The core duty of a CEO is to facilitate business outside of the company while guiding employees and other executive officers towards a central objective. The size and sector of the company will dictate the secondary responsibilities.

Here are a few situations where I feel it is reasonable and right for the incumbent to call themselves or to be called Chief Executive or Chief Executive Officer.

  • The employed head of a FTSE quoted company.
  • The employed leader of a Regional Council. For Ceredigion, this is Bronwen Morgan
  • The employed most senior executive director of a national or international charity. In the case of the Citizens Advice Bureau this is now Gillian Guy.
  • no doubt there are other cases where the title is most appropriate.
However, I have noticed a trend for small charities (or local branches) to make give their most senior employed member of staff the title of Chief Executive. This is no doubt very good for the incumbents moral initially. Longer term, I have only seen it be destructive to staff and volunteer moral and service delivery.

The reason for having a title is to create an impression of gravitas and authority on 1st meeting. In the IT business the same happens, we have a mix of senior/principle/executive/consultant/director/manager/officer/engineer/staff/vice/architect/president (though the most impressive job title I ever saw was Rabble Rouser). Its a game which also applies in within large companies where "there person I report to is more important than the person you report to" game is played to remove(or in put in place depending on your disposition) roadblocks. Indeed, how seriously some groups take previously unknown individuals is inversely proportional to how many lines of reporting are between them and the boss. You see this play out in many organisations I visit.

For small charities I have seen a trend for boards of directors or trustee's (same thing) to suggest the most senior staff member is titled "Chief Executive". This probably does impress in some situations such as meeting government and when meeting other charities, it levels the playing field of every one else at the table has the title of C.E. When I was acting chair of Aberystwyth C.A.B. (great title, it means people sit on you and you have a personal financial responsibility if it goes bust) I went to a meeting (I was wondering round meditating on how to keep the place open) and meet a number of people who were the most senior member of staff in a Bureau no larger than ours and while our most senior employed staff member was titled "Bureau Manager", the equivalent post in some other C.A.B. centers was "Chief Executive".
I got a chance to talk to a few rank and file members who deliver the actual service and their comments were that it was OK when the manager became the C.E. for a few months, but then they started becoming inaccessible and treated people differently.

I was involved for a number of years with a charity as a volunteer. The previous most senior member of staff had the title "Project Leader" which very well described what he did. He was very approachable and the team spirit which included volunteers was inspirational. The "Project Leader" left (very sadly indeed) and a business manager was promoted to "Chief Executive" to run the charity. From my point of view as a volunteer it was fine to start with, little changed. Over the next year the C.E. became less approachable, and the staff had the same experience. The charity became a mediocre run business rather than a team of people all pushing in the same direction with enthusiasm. Given that the charity employes less than 10 people full time, it makes little sense for staff or volunteers to have to make an appointment to discuss matters with the decision maker. The decision maker will then miss opportunities and lack information about what is happening. Staff moral also drops through the floor and good staff leave.

As an example, I am an examiner for one of the I.S.E.B. exams. I get paid for this, but my contract with Sun and now Oracle means I can't take the money. However, I can donate it to a charity. I was unable to meet with the charity's C.E. to arrange for I.S.E.B. to be invoiced (we are talking about 1400 quid a year, so worth 10 minutes of most small charities C.E. time). Such was the difficulty in getting an audience, I ended up talking to the Aberystwyth C.A.B. manager who set the wheels in motion and it just happened with no hassle or need to make an appointment. While my 2nd choice in terms of where I wanted to the money to go, with hind sight I am now pleased it did.

It would take a strong character not to be changed by being given the title of Chief Executive, so in my view over time, it is bound to create a division and alienation between the C.E. and staff and volunteers. The responsibility for this lies with the board of directors/trustees in each instance. A simple fix for this would be to prohibit any government funding for organisations of less than 100 people which have the a member of staff titled "Chief Executive". Important? It probably is a small part of the reason that David Camerons "Big Society" is going to be a rock pushed up a steep hill.

Personally, my decision to give(money,time,expertise) to a small charity in future will be influenced in some part by the title of their most senior employed member of staff. Why? Because I know it has a significant effect on the ability of the charity to engage with its staff and volunteers, keep them happy and delivery an effective service over the long run.

Friday, July 23, 2010

IT NOW - less useful content than The Sun

IT NOW is the British Computer Society "The magazine for the IT Professional". I am a member (fellow) of the BCS, part of the degree scheme accreditation panel and an examiner for ISEB. Thus assume I am broadly a supporter of the BCS as a body.

IT NOW has less useful content for the computer professional than toilet role. Every month it arrives, I feel duty bound to at least flick through it and each month is has zero useful content. It is worse, they wasted my time when I could have been reading something that has content. They do pick some current and useful topics, but it contains so little depth or insight, that you feel it is being written by a failed marketing droid who just can't be bothered. They do however have lots of nice picture of people in smart clothes smiling or pretending to get on with each other. It does not have to have deep technical content, just some insight into the topics it covers by people who actually know what they are talking about.

On monday I intend to contact the BCS and ask for them to stop sending IT NOW until it stops becoming a waste of shiny paper which probably means a dramatic change to the editorial team.

I like the police

As a general rule and in principle, I like the police. They have a very difficult job clearing up after the mess society in general has left. If you wonder why your average police man is about as friendly as a despondent Jack Russel Terrier, they have had some bad experiences with "their customers" and regrettably apply the principle universally to us all.

I don't like being disturbed when sleeping in my car for a few hours when I have spent the 1st part of the night running over some hills as part of my BGR training. The statements that "anything could be happening" is rather strange justification for being curious. On the flip side we have a very good local officer Hefin who gets the big picture and the difference between people who want to see the Police as a service to work with and those who see the Police as stopping them doing whatever they want.

There does need to be a prosecution by the pushing Police Officer over the death of Ian Tomlinson for ordinary people to have trust that Police misconduct will not be covered up. The outcome of such as case is up to the jury, but that a case must be brought against the officer in question is very obvious. Other members of society have been before a jury by now, the Police can't be left off when appearing to step so far out of line. If the case finds the officer innocent, then its is an end of the matter.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

low flying and hearing loss : correlation != causation

This Plaid article discussing Elfyn Llwyd MP comes across as looking for something to complain about.

Which is more probable to cause long term hearing loss in young people in north Wales in 2010?


or a Eurofighter
I have no doubt at all that low flying aircraft can cause hearing loss in the passive bystander, but to imply (as the article does) that it is responsible for the hearing loss of a specific group of children, but leaving a little wriggle room, is just poor politics. Is this an example of using an issue to promote a wider cause? Maybe!

I would expect better than this from any M.P., no matter what party they came from. Nadin Dorris is an obvious exception where I would expect even less sense.

Commenting, Mr Llwyd said:

“We must have an urgent rethink of this situation. More jets than ever before are now being trained and in no way are the people of north and mid Wales being compensated for this.

“In my constituency, a high percentage of those living in Dinas Mawddwy and Llanuwchllyn who were children in primary schools there, now have problems with hearing.

“Research by German Professor Isling proved beyond doubt that when jets fly at low altitudes, it does indeed have a detrimental effect upon an individual’s hearing.

Naughty W.A.G. pays it servants more

Now this is a bit naughty. Most of us in the private sector have not seen any pay rise for a number of years and the public sector is about to have the skin taken from its bones, suggests this was not well thought out. Even if the pay rise was agreed in advance of the pay freeze, it was obvious such as freeze was on its way and W.A.G. should have been able to assess the future well enough to know that this was inappropriate. This is an interesting quote

The strategy says the Assembly must aim at being an employer of choice and “be able to recruit and retain staff with the skills required to deliver best services”.

I have dealt with W.A.G. staff who are great, cleaver and focused on advancing Wales and quite a few who are clearly only holding out for their pensions. If pay is the issue, then mean quality and output (as measured by success of the Welsh economy and society) needs to rise.

Naughty is maybe the wrong word, but the right word is somewhere between irresponsible and thoughtless.

Friday, July 16, 2010

ECrime Wales Conference

Mention Celtic Manor and depending on your outlook on life it is probably famous for one of 2 things
  1. The venue for next years Golf Rider cup
  2. The venue from which Andy Powell commandeered a golf bugger for a trip down the M4
I had not been there before and while a very good venue for the event, as a place it feels false and superficial. It was the type of place I hate on principle.

The Master of Ceremonies was Jamie Owen, who I had a chat with at the break about the welsh coast with reference to last weekends little outing and how those who live in Wales often don 't visit their local coast line. He was a very good M.C. it has to be said and while he may have earned it, I am sure I could find a very good home for his fee.

Most of the talks were excellent (other than the advertising pitch about Verizons Clould computing services). Lots of sensible people giving big picture sensible stuff. The top 3 speakers I thought in particular order were
  • Robert Hayes from Microsoft
  • Richard Hollis from Orthus
  • RIchard Cox from the Spamhaus project
Richard Cox was perhaps the most interesting in that he was able to articulate specific gaps in legislation which would bring real improvements in fighting ecrime.

I did feel like asking the question to one of the panel sessions alone the lines "To what extent would we reduce my risk of being a ecrime target by banning Microsoft products from our organisations". It would be a very fair question, but not from someone with a badge that said Oracle. Also I doubt you would get an informed or straight answer. To Microsoft's credit they do appear to be taking security very seriously, both commercial and retail. Interesting that Robert Hayes from Microsoft suggests moving your Windows systems to 64 bit would result in a improved security profile.

I don't play in the security world a great deal or do "windows", so there was a lot to learn from the day.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Badger cull in Wales : doing something ends up in the right thing being done ?

I was out running one evening in the hills to the east of Llandinam in mid Wales and came across a Badger which in day light (about 8pm in June) is unusual, but it was quite a remote area. We looked at each other for about 20 seconds and then went our separate ways. I have seen lots of Badgers, mostly at night, but never been that close to one and had time to share (we wondered what each other were and if we posed a threat to each other and how we should react). I wonder what its view on the cull of Badgers in Wales was?

I have tried to read as much of the science as I can find. What I did find was inconclusive either way. It gave little force to any argument about a cull or vaccination or do nothing or do something else. What is clear is that it is costing a lot of money. What I don't understand is if there is the potential for TB as carried by Badgers to jump to Humans. There is no right and wrong decisions, just a set of tradeoffs where many parameters are either ill-understood, or qualitative.

I think we are seeing a strange kind of democracy at work here. Elin Jones via the Welsh Assembly Government does something "orders a cull", the Badger Trust use that rather hard to aim democratic tool called "legal review" which exposes possible flaws in the original plan (or just perhaps the implementation), judge says STOP and we go round the loop again with a new plan being put forward, attempts made to chop it down ........

What is worrying is the time taken for "something" to happen. Once round the loop takes at least a year. If this became a threat to human health (maybe it is, I don't know, thats what comments are for) and Murdocks Empire started calling for a Badger cull, the UK would be near Badger free in a couple of weeks.

We should be positive about what Elin Jones and W.A.G. are trying to achieve in terms of reducing the incidence of TB in cattle, they are doing something. I am not a Badger lover myself, but there is credit due to the Badger Trust and friends for questioning both the tactics and strategy. Their currency is a healthy badger population, in contrast W.A.G. is driven by the great British Pound. As a society we need a more timely method of deciding how to overcome these sorts of challenges where head and heart are at conflict and the science is partial, rather than legal challenge. It expensive and time wasting, but at least in its own way it is democratic.

Why Silicon Valley is not in south Wales

This is worth watching if you are thinking about why the UK (and Wales) has not got past the qualifiers in terms of developing technology.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Most of Ceredigion Coast Path in a day

I feel this has wider interest than just for runners, so putting a link here to saturdays run from Aberystwyth to Aberport along the Ceredigion Coast past. Absolutely magical (except New Quay)

Friday, July 9, 2010


I went to a seminar on using Bonds in pension funds yesterday in London run by SPS as part of my training as required by the Pension Fund regulator. I can say with some certainty I was the most informally dressed individual in the room and I thought I had dressed up for the day.

At the start I knew 1 thing about Bonds (or fixed interest) which is that I knew nothing about Bonds.

At the end of the day I learned quite a lot about Bonds, the most significant of which were
  • If you play with fixed interest, you better have a solid grasp of macro-economics
  • Forget shares, this is where the big children play
I was expecting to feel out-gunned in the discussions over lunch and coffee, but that was not the case. Maybe I have learned something in my 3 years as a Sun Microsystems Pension fund trustee. What I did find surprising (actually no it is not) was the absolute and vindictive hatred that professional investors and trustees have for Independent Financial Advisors or bank tied advisors and the consensus was that an individual investor had a higher probably of making money by not doing what they suggest.

The editor of the Sun may have a small penis

I spent yesterday at a pensions trustee seminar in London. I travelled to London on the train and in the cafe opposite Marylebone station I had scrambled egg on toast for breakfast. Someone had left a copy of the Sun on behind on the table, so I had a quick flick through it, though it proved a depressing experience regarding the quality of journalism.

Raoul Moat is a very serious subject, but a short article about the possible below average size of Mr. Moat penis was an archetypal Sun article and suggests the editor needs to get a grip himself (or maybe he already has).

While on the surface it is a trivial article written on a rag, it does reinforce to me the concerns about the expanding media empire of the Sun's owner.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Book review : Completing the Eurozone rescue

This EBOOK from here is well worth a read if you want to get some idea of either
  1. where the euro might go next
  2. what needs to be done to fix the current euro predicament
It raises many questions about the way the EU is run, but that have been raised before, this just brings them into shape and urgent focus.

Very insightful. Here is the summary
The Eurozone’s life-threatening crisis in May 2010 was halted when Eurozone leaders and the ECB to strong measures in May. But these were palliatives not a cure.
The crisis is not over, according to the dozen world-renowned economists whose views are contained in this eBook. The Eurozone rescue needs to be completed. More needs to be done.
The Eurozone ‘ship’ is holed below the waterline. The ECB actions are keeping it afloat for now, but this is accomplished by something akin to bailing the water as fast as it leaks in. European leaders must very soon find a way to fix the hole.
This eBook that gathers the thinking of a dozen world-class economists on what they need to do on banking-sector clean up, fiscal discipline, structural policies, and more.
summary, there is a big hole in the EURO boat and it is in no single nations interest to fix it.

Good idea to know have a understanding of the between monetary policy and fiscal policy before starting to read this ebook.

Welsh Rural Broadband event

For those who don't get Broadband in rural Wales, this event in Buith Wells might be of interest.
Not sure a grand will make much impact on BT's will to replace lengths of cable.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bias : No Parks in the World have Statues to Committees

I am reading a book on how Hedge Funds work (or don't) and it discusses as part of making investment decisions are made about running committees and comes up with these manifestations of the groupthink disease.

  • Collective rationalisations of shared illusions generally believed.
  • Crude, negative stereotypes of out-groups
  • Shared belief in the group's inherent morality
  • Illusions of invulnerability to a risky course of action
  • Illusions of unanimity and suppression of personal doubts
  • Subtle group pressure on dissenters
  • Self-appointed mindguards who protect the group from thoughts that might damage their confidence
  • Docility fostered by charismatic, previously successful leadership
  • Free-floating conversations in group meetings
  • Lack of standard risk analysis using methodical procedures
The only defence is awareness.

I am on a very multi-national conf call while writing this and making a real pain in the arse of myself by questioning some assumptions which are making some people quite uncomfortable. All I am doing is suggesting that a plan might fail :-) The more open I am about the ways it might fail the less chance it has of failing.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Bible according to Rupert Murdoch

I copied this poem from here

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was Gotcha! And
the Lord Rupert said let there be a Royal Family, and let enormous
quantities of trivia and drivel be written about them, yea even unto
the point where a mentally subnormal yak couldn't possibly find it
interesting any more, and let babies be born unto this Royal Family,
and let the huge swathes of nauseating sludge written about them
surpass even that written about their parents, even though these
babies and their parents are about as interesting as a wet afternoon
on the terraces at Selhurst Park.
And the Lord Rupert said let there be soap operas, and let each
of these soap operas be so mind-numbingly moronic as to make a
wet afternoon at Selhurst Park seem a truly uplifting experience,
and let entire forests and the ecological balance of several continents
be destroyed in the endless vistas of retarded outpourings about
these unspeakable transmissions.
And let there be enormous breasts, and endless bonking, and
hours and days and weeks and months and years of chauvinistic
right-wing propaganda so that the brain-dead prats who like the
bonking and the soap operas and the breasts and the royal stories
get the politics as well.
And let any journalist who tries to stand up to the proprietor and
editor in the name of truth, and intelligence, and integrity, and
journalistic standards, be summarily dismissed, and cast forever
into a bottomless pit of decomposing chimpanzee smegma, and let
those journalists who suffer this fate rejoice at the great career move
they have just made.
And the Lord Rupert looked at his work, and even he saw that
it was a load of crap, but this was the enterprise culture and it sold
millions so it was good. And on the same basis he decided to take
over the television too, and the earth itself wept, and little robins
vomited, and cuddly furry animals threw themselves under trains,
and the whole thing was filmed by Sky Channel for a horror nature
programme, and the most awful thing of all was that this was just
the beginning...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Apollo 13 : what really happened and its implications for education

You may have seen the film, I was even privileged enough to hear Gene Kranz (4000 people in a room and you could have heard a pin drop), but what about the mechanics of problem solving used by the NASA engineers at the time. This pdf is worth a read to find out more.

I have been using and teaching the process described in the pdf above for 12 years now. It has been life changing.

This and this are also worth a read. Reassuring that they involve Nuclear power plants and things going wrong!

For children to leave school without being fluent in these skills is a travesty and I ask myself why the various Secretary of State's for Education (or derivative there of) have not made getting fluent in this type of problem solving, core to the school 6th form curriculum. Answer I think is that few members of the political class see problem solving, decision making and risk management as important(do they want the great unwashed to be able to do it for themselves, a cynic might suggest so). Teachers don't see it is important as they don't have the business background.

I deal with people on a regular basis who have good degree's from Oxford and Cambridge being paid by banks at least 2x my salary, but when confronted by a set of problems, attack them with a complete lack of structure, rigour and direction which end up costing their company money and reputation.

Thank you Mr. Sun for training me to become a KT Programme Leader in 1998, it changed my life.