Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Making impressions

Yesterday I was asked to give a presentation at an internal conference for one of my client's business divisions. Roughly twenty minutes, some Q&A, and then small break-out groups to discuss what the audience had learnt from my session.

My aim was to 'demystify sales' for a largely technical, operative and services audience.

I took my cue from their overall divisional head (my peer) who mentioned, as part of his introductory speech, that "sales is easy!"

"Sales is easy!" I agreed. "You only have two things to deal with: the customer and the product."

"And guess what?" I continued, "There are only two things that can go horribly wrong: the customer and the product!"

From there it was a fairly ad-lib presentation covering changes, plans, vision, engagement, communication and collaboration. What works, what doesn't; how to change it, how to challenge the status quo; developing the business, investing where it will pay dividends; motivating and empowering people and aiming higher.

It was great, I thoroughly enjoyed it and the feedback was both constructive, informative, insightful and poignant.

However, the best comment by far came from one of the attendees during the break-out session.

"We have called you 'The Wolf', after that character in Pulp Fiction!" she told me. "It's like you have come in, seen the mess, come up with a plan, and got on with sorting it out!"

Excellent. A new nickname.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Kevin's Olympics

Kevin is very excited. One of us is actually going to be taking part in the Olympics this year!

And no, it's not me in my wetsuit, but thank you for asking.

The Lovely Radiographer is going to be a crowd leader, yes, a CROWD LEADER during the opening ceremony.

(pause for thought)


The Kevinettes, too, were curious about what such a role entailed.

So the conversation went something like this.

Belfast Blonde - "Are you one of the sheep?"

Lovely Radiographer - "No"

Botanical Artist - "Do you sing?"

LR - "No."

Doctor of Psychology - "Will you be dancing?"

LR - "No."

Wine Writer - "Do you have to wear a costume?"

LR (rolls eyes) - "Uhmm, yes."

LCM - "Ooooh! What's it like?"

LR - "We will look like retards."

Doctor of Psychology - "How does that fit with being a crowd leader?"

LR - "I will be responsible for a section of the audience. I will be in charge of ensuring their participation."

LCM (still thinking about the costume bit) - "Do you have to dress up like those idiotic mascots Wendilocks and Murderville?"

LR - "That would actually be better."

Botanical Artist - "Can you wave at us?"

LR - "No. And with some eighty-thousand people in the stadium, fifteen thousand volunteers and hundreds of TV cameras, I don't think I would know where to look, or when. Plus I will BE BUSY leading my section of the audience."

Belfast Blonde - "You could hold up a sign!"

LR - "Saying what?"

LCM - "Kevin? And a big arrow?"

We moved on to discuss the book after that, eat a lovely meal and drink more wine than was wise - as ever - on a week day night. We even managed to select two books for our next meeting.

Nonetheless, we are all hopeful that the Lovely Radiographer will somehow, somehow, manage to stand out from the crowd at the Opening Ceremony.

Just keep an eye out for an individual leading a section of the audience in a ridiculous costume with 'Kevin' in day-glo ink scrawled on her back.

That'll be her.

That's more like it


Sunday, 1 July 2012

To Lie-bor or not to Lie-bor

Right, time to get a few things cleared up.

Since the advent of the latest banking 'scandal' (and I use the term very loosely), I have had a number of conversations/arguments/explanations going on with various people.
Friends, colleagues, family, employees, members of the household cavalry...

Okay, maybe not the last one.

Anyway. What has struck me most is the horror some people (ie Cameron, Miliband, Lord King, the FSA, the tabloid press et al) have expressed that such a practice could even exist, let alone been a modus operandi for some time (read: since forever).

Let's set the record straight then.

As a former investment banker, and one who worked on the corporate sales desk of some major banks in the City for over a decade, this is not news.

It is not even old news.

It is not even newsworthy news.

It is - and let's call a spade a spade here - how the money markets work.
Always have done, always will do.

The whole LIBOR (that's London Inter-Bank Offer Rate for the unfamiliar, or the rate at which banks will lend to each other) rate-setting system is far from complicated. In a nutshell, LIBOR is an average of the middle values submitted by the contributing banks every working day and then published to the market after 11.00am London time.
The rates serve as a benchmark only. The actual rates at which lending takes place between banks continues to vary throughout the day.

Still with me? Good.

So, get this then.

Every morning in the dealing room, around 10.30am, we would check with the money market traders what their underlying positions looked like. In fact, we didn't really have to ask. The rates on offer for our corporate clients were totally dependent on whether the traders were 'long' (ie 'in the money', with funds aplenty) or 'short' (ie 'out of the money', or about to break the piggy bank for some loose change). Subject to these factors, the quotes we would be given for our customers would be totally skewed towards ensuring the bank was (preferably) in a position to profit from its transactions, because - amazing but true - that's what the whole game is about. Making money.

Based on a number of additional factors - economic statistics being released, liquidity, hedging strategies, risk assessment, gut instinct, colour of the tea-lady's hair - the chief money markets dealer (in one bank she was a frightening individual known as The Beast of Bishopsgate: scary but very, very successful and highly respected for running a profitable trading desk) would submit their contribution to the pool of rates used to calculate LIBOR.

The rate was, and is, totally subjective.

There is no hard and fast supervision. There is no 'law' enforcing rules and regulations. There is no clear-cut way of ensuring that the perceived liquidity of the bank submitting its contributory rate reflects reality. Furthermore the notion that LIBOR could be unduly influenced by 'rogue traders' (here we go again) is far-fetched. The whole point of taking the medium average of the submitted rates - some sixteen for sterling - means that the extremes (highest and lowest four) are discarded. So any attempt to massage the rates would already be a fairly moot point.

Want an analogy? Speed dating. The person you are sitting opposite for all of three minutes might have a dazzling smile, bright eyes, nice manners and effusive charm, but how are you to know if he has holes in his socks or has a tendency to fart in bed? Does it matter? Do you really care? Surely at this stage what counts is that they can hold a conversation, look you in the eye and conjugate their verbs properly? If matters progressed further, I could understand.

Although by then you might start to reassess your own unsavoury habits and realise that you too are not beyond reproach.

So, in conclusion, to quote the FT:

"The reality check is that Barclays only admitted it had tried to game Libor rates, not that it had succeeded. So far, no other bank has confessed to anything as damaging. No one has yet reliably estimated the detriment of rate massage, some of which will have been borne by banks implicated in the scandal themselves. These are questions regulators and law enforcement agencies must collaborate to answer as they hunt further scalps."

Oh, and those 'names' in the supposedly incriminating emails? Big boy? Common vocabulary. Along with Flash (as in Gordon), Diamond Geezer, Goldenballs, Hosepipe, Sprinkler, Teflon and Spewy.

All the females were just referred to as 'Doris'.

(c) Scott Adams


Yadda yadda yadda...