Archive for April, 2012

Fighting coruuption

24/04/2012

This is a classic –

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This particular office was full of exhortations in odd English to cast aside fraudulence and corruptingness. I’m not sure if it made me feel confident or worried.

Spargelzeit!

22/04/2012

A great article here about Germany’s asparagus season.

I remember being astonished whilst staying in Rahden in 1996, when the grotty local punk/hippy/crazies bar I used to go to, went Spargel crazy.

Georg, who ran the Klimperkasten, had a load of people over for a Saturday afternoon of eating apparatus, cooked up in a huge outdoor pot, with tonnes of hollandaise sauce and (if I remember correctly) new potatoes. It was delicious. The time of year was just right – Georg’s power had been cut off and his generator had fallen apart, but the ambient room temperature meant the crates of Herforder Pilsner were still cold enough. Fortunately it was warm enough to cook outside, so the place didn’t burn down.

I can’t imagine any of the English equivalents of the characters that haunted the Klimperkasten having a clue about seasonal vegetables, or particularly enjoying eating them.

I must dig up the photos…

The Germans do seem more in touch with ‘real food’ than we are.

I pay for the fountain

19/04/2012

Discovered yesterday that in addition to the fact that our developer will be completely ruining the whole area with the hideous new lamp posts they’re installing, I have actually contributed to pay for it.

The ‘Master Community Levy’ is a figure apparently plucked from thin air to land on our service fee invoices. It is used by the developer for various things. This year’s fee is currently being contested by the residents’ associations – a process made extremely lengthy by the fact that the developer has split the area into many small associations, forcing them to deal with the same problems over and over again, as the process appears to start from scratch with each association. One association will agree something – another in exactly the same sort of building will have to go through the same endless discussions, rather than the more practical approach of sharing information or standardising decisions across the development.

As mentioned here before, our service fees have been paying for the souk and for the gym which was meant to be for residents’ use but was privatised three months after we moved in.

Most stupidly of all, the MCL has been used to contribute to the maintenance of the Dubai Fountain! This means if you live in our area, you pay money towards a tourist attraction attached to the mall. This is like paying for the upkeep of the Tower of London because you live near it.

We’re also in the process of replacing the fridge (broken due to the cupboard it’s installed in not being adequately cooled), bath (broken as support under tub not installed properly), AC blower in the kitchen (noisy, local supplier provides substandard parts with no warranty as parts were chosen from a company with no local representation).

So why not sell up and move?

Because it’s a great place to live. But just because it’s better than somewhere else and some of it’s great, doesn’t mean I should be forced somewhere else due to other people’s incompetence.

There is some light – or rather lack of it – at the end of the tunnel. An advertising hoarding for the developer sitting on top of one of the towers has had its lights turned off by one residents’ association. The developer complained, but not surprisingly the association felt that since the lights are paid for by them, they’d prefer to use the money in other ways. Ho ho.

Old Beirut

03/04/2012

Boggingtwitterfacebook friend Bluey posted this link to blog Old Beirut.

Wow.

I don’t really have anything original to add about Beirut – it’s all been said before.

These photos are incredible though – they make you realise how Beirut today is exactly the same, yet totally different.

I haven’t visited a city that mixes the old, new, decrepit and modernised together in such a way. One moment you’re outside an abandoned bullet ridden hovel with one shop open on the ground floor selling dirty stationery with French brand names on the dusty covers, but with a brand new Range Rover parked outside – the next you’re walking out of a brand new bank HQ, with a decrepit 1970s Opel outside.

Not sure if I love Beirut yet, but I am warming to it.

ps I love this Opel Manta. But why is it still being driven? How does this car make economic or practical sense? It’s cool but not, cheap but expensive, simple yet impractical. How Beiruty can you get? Shoo habibi, why you drive it still?

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The joys of integration

03/04/2012

Dell are going to buy Wyse.

If you don’t know anything about the IT industry, think large lumbering corporate giant that does all sorts of things, buying small, nimble, focused company that does one thing very well.

On paper it all looks great – small, nimble company brings cool technology to lumbering giant, lumbering giant able to offer a more complete solution offering under one roof to customers.

So far so good.

In my experience of technology acquisitions, here’s what actually happens. This experience comes from watching how Sun behaved, how Oracle behaved and from observing how other companies have fared.

The best people at many companies work there out of choice. There’s another layer underneath that have some choice in terms of where they work, with a layer below who are lucky to have a job and can’t jump ship easily – or can’t jump ship due to family commitments, obligations to stay in the same location, etc.

Here’s how things unfold.

The majority of people who work at small, nimble, focused companies tend to be there because they don’t want to be part of lumbering corporate giants. They leave.

Once the integration begins, staff who are used to being free to make decisions and go their own way, start to get suffocated as they are forced to use a new set of processes, expense tools, etc, rather than focus on what matters. They leave, or become ineffective.

Staff who are used to following up on projects and deals using their own knowledge and expertise are suddenly overwhelmed with millions of unqualified opportunities coming from all over the place, sucking up time and delivering very little revenue. Nothing they do makes anyone happy. They leave or become ineffective.

Managers who were in senior positions and who could make a difference become irrelevant contributors whose revenue numbers aren’t big enough to feature on anyone’s radar. They leave or become ineffective.

Key ‘informal contributors’ lose their jobs, as no-one needs two finance departments, two sets of receptionists, etc, thus killing the office atmosphere and creating a sense of resentment. By ‘informal contributors’ I mean people who might not be directly responsible for ‘busting the number’ but who keep an office together. Think ladies (and they often are, in my experience) who always remember whose birthday it is and get cake, who help people out during tough times or emotional moments and generally provide human support that can’t be measured in dollars. When they leave, that indefinable something that made the company a nice place to work at disappears. More people leave or become ineffective.

The small, nimble, focused company typically has various alliances with various vendors, resellers and customers. The acquisition means a period of turbulence during which vendors, resellers and customers experience periods of negotiations, uncertainty and so on. Whilst lumbering corporate giant issues statements proclaiming ‘cohesive synergies’ no-one buys anything, and top performing people whose pay is linked to financial results aren’t able to earn money, through no fault of their own, so they feel resentful and look elsewhere. More people leave or become ineffective.

The lumbering corporate giant essentially ends up with with some source code and design documents (think a blue-print for a house but no-one who knows how the house was designed or how to actually build it) as well as a demoralised workforce missing its star performers.

Cue mediocre performance, the death of a great brand and legacy and a less than stellar return on investment. The results are the husk of a company and a bit of human spirit crushed under a mound of press releases.

This all sounds very negative. Perhaps this acquisition will be a successful one. The point I am making is that this sort of thing is incredibly difficult to do in a way that delivers good business related results. It will be very interesting to see how Dell handle things. My experience is that big IT companies need to do this better.

My view, from my position of ignorance here in the corner of the business world, is that the best way to benefit from these sorts of acquisitions is to begin with an ‘arm’s length integration’. Own the company, but leave them independence and let them keep their brand – you might have two sets of receptionists, but the acquired company has investment and capital to give confidence to customers and you have advice to give your newly acquired ‘cousin’. Keep things at an arm’s length so that you can leverage existing agreements and partnerships and don’t scare people off through too close an association with your brand, or by introducing disruption, change and uncertainty. The EMC and VMware model springs to mind.

I know people who work at Wyse and at Dell, covering the same solutions and product set. I wish them all the best and hope that my dire predictions above get proved wrong!