Thatcher Teachings - 17th April 2013

(Dutch version below; Nederlandse versie hieronder)

Today Margaret Thatcher’s funeral is held, not in Westminster Abbey, the church next to Parliament, but in Saint-Paul’s, the Cathedral in The City, the square mile. Her funeral comes 20 years after Thatcherism was declared dead. But the impact of her policy can still be felt throughout the UK and the rest of Europe today in ways we don’t realise.

At her first election in 1979 she found an economic ruin. The United Kingdom had become the weak link in Europe. British products were avoided worldwide, deemed low quality. The British economy lay flat completely at times. Thatcher’s voters had gone through a winter of strikes without services, work or electricity. Children made their homework by candle light. Many senior citizens died of cold; but barely any gravediggers were found willing to bury them. Thatcher addressed the situation head on. She prided herself on being hard, very hard. She may have saved the British economy from bankruptcy, but at a price. And that price is still being paid today, and not in the UK alone. Her approach had winners but many losers, still today.

She embraced and protected the financial world and lifted regulations. As a result The City boomed, driven by short term superprofits. But she set them free when they crashed in 1986 and saved them with money and her deregulation was free license. As such Thatcher instigated the “anything is allowed and possible” feeling that reigned over The City from then on and which drove other financial centres to behave in the same way. It is that evaporation of ethical and moral boundaries that has led to the financial crises starting in 2008. Those crises are hitting many people much harder than the 1986 one. So, the position Thatcher took in the eighties has an impact today on our bank accounts and certainly on our saving accounts and other financial investments. And also on our shrinking pension funds. Because mass profits for a few can’t happen without losses for a few or very many others.

The grocer’s daughter worked her way up to the top and helped create this new-Victorian idea of upper class, causing a rift in society. She fought hard and ruthlessly to get to the top and considered herself as such the sole role model. Thus she still has an influence on today’s hard and tough style of competing in professional arenas. The economic elite, those with astronomical wages and bonuses, populated her world whilst more and more people failed to make ends meet. She was the longest running Prime Minister so far and the only female Prime Minister of the UK. But in all her nearly 12 years in office and in three consecutive governments, she appointed only one female minister. No Prime Minister since the Second World War appointed less female ministers. As such she stood in the way of a widening of professional happiness and diversity. We are still working hard today to resolve that.

Mines were closed, but thirty years on too little jobs were created for the people who were sent off with benefits. Two or three generations later, children still grow up without perspective on a job and without the example of work ethic. CEO’s worldwide still adore here for the way she silenced unions. But the United Kingdom she is leaving behind is a country of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. It is the ‘haves’ that get noticed around the world and frustrate people, even on average incomes, making them feel like they don’t possess enough and want more.

She left the United Kingdom a lot less united than she found it. The EU is still reeling from her attitude, but she didn’t reserve that for Europe alone. She alienated the Northern Irish and the Scottish. The latter might be voting for independence next year.

The special relationship she enjoyed with Ronald Reagan still lives on in the British-American tandem that tries to control world politics. “When Ronnie and I ruled the world …” was one of her favourite remarks during her dinners with the elite that continued to be her dinner guests long after she was forced out of number 10.

She didn’t keep it a secret that of all her nicknames, Iron Lady was her favourite. Iron is hard; too hard maybe. It is cold. And it rusts. Sometimes slowly.

[Peter Sioen - career & management coach and psychologist in the City of London, author and international TV, radio & news media commentator and author of the management book Superyou]

Thatcher Teachings – hoe Thatcher nog steeds jouw leven bepaalt - 17 april 2013

Vandaag wordt de begrafenis van Margaret Thatcher gehouden. Niet in Westminster Abbey, de kerk van het Parlement, maar in Saint-Paul’s, de kathedraal in The City. De begrafenis komt 20 jaar nadat het Thatcherisme dood is verklaard. Maar de impact van haar beleid voelen wij ook vandaag nog; dat leeft, zelfs in België, Nederland en de rest van Europa.

Bij haar eerste verkiezing in ’79 trof ze een economische puinhoop. Het Verenigd Koninkrijk lag op zijn achterwerk; het was het zwakke broertje van de Westerse wereld. Britse producten werden wereldwijd vermeden. In het VK zelf lag de economie soms helemaal plat. Thatchers kiezers hadden een stakingswinter doorstaan zonder diensten, werk of elektriciteit. Kinderen deden huiswerk bij kaarslicht. Voor de velen bejaarden die stierven van de kou vond men geen werkwillige grafdelvers. Tegen die situatie is Margaret Thatcher hard in gegaan, zeer hard. Daarmee heeft ze de Britse economie misschien van een ondergang gered. Maar dat kwam tegen een prijs, voelbaar tot ver over de landsgrenzen. Haar aanpak had winnaars maar ook heel veel verliezers, tot vandaag.

Ze heeft de Britse financiële wereld in de armen genomen en een hand boven het hoofd gehouden. En schrapte regelgeving die die sector in goede banen en onder controle moet houden. Daarmee kende The City een echte boom, gedreven door korte termijn woekerwinsten. Maar ze heeft ze ook vrijgeleides gegeven en toen ze in ’86 crashten. Ze heeft hen vrijgekocht. Ze heeft hen geld gegeven en nog meer gederugaliseerd. Daarmee heeft Margaret Thatcher mee de toon gezet voor een “alles kan, alles” mag cultuur in de Britse bankenwereld die wereldwijd is overgeslagen. Het is die ethische en morele normvervaging, die ons globaal naar de crisissen van 2008 en daarna geleid heeft. En die crisissen komen voor velen nog een stuk harder aan dan die van ’86. Dus Margaret Thatcher heeft door haar opstelling van toen, vandaag nog een impact op onze bankrekeningen vandaag, maar vooral op onze spaarboekjes en andere beleggingen. En dus ook op onze krimpende gemeente- en pensioenkassen. Want woekerwinsten voor enkelen gaan niet zonder kleine en grote verliezen bij vele anderen.

Als kruideniersdochter die zich opwerkte heeft ze mee het nieuw-Victoriaanse idee van een professionele upperclass uitgebouwd, en zo een kloof in de maatschappij geslagen. Ze had zich hard en hardvochtig naar de top gewerkt en vond zichzelf daardoor het enige rolmodel. Een kleine incrowd feestte mee terwijl steeds meer mensen uit de boot vielen. Daarmee bepaalt Thatcher ook mee tot op de dag van vandaag de keiharde competitieve stijl in de bedrijfswereld. De grote heren met de hoge lonen en astronomische bonussen bevolkten haar wereld. Als enige vrouwelijke Britse Premier heeft ze zelf slechts een één vrouwelijke minister aangeduid in de bijna twaalf jaar waarin ze drie opeenvolgende regeringen heeft geleid. Daarmee heeft ze verbreding van werkgeluk en diversiteit in de weg gestaan, iets waar we vandaag nog hard aan werken om dat opgelost te krijgen.

Mijnen werden gesloten maar dertig jaar later zijn daar nog geen nieuwe jobs. De mensen werden met een uitkeringetje in het riet gestuurd, en twee, drie generaties later groeien hun kinderen en kleinkinderen nog steeds op zonder uitzicht op werk. Zonder gevoel voor werkethiek mee te krijgen. Bedrijfsleiders overal ter wereld adoreren haar nog steeds omwille van de manier waarop ze de vakbonden heeft klein gekregen. Het Verenigd Koninkrijk dat ze achterliet is verdeeld in “haves” and have “nots”. En het zijn de “haves” die internationaal in de kijker lopen en zelfs mensen met modale inkomens frustreren omdat ze voelen dat ze niet genoeg hebben en meer willen.

Ze heeft dat United Kingdom ook een stuk minder United achtergelaten dan ze het vond. Haar eigengereide Engelse houding, gestuurd door dat typisch Engelse (niet Britse!) meerderwaardigheidsgevoel, bewaarde ze niet enkel voor Europa, dat daar nog van nahijgt. Ze vervreemde ook de Noord-Ieren en de Schotten ermee. Die laatsten stemmen volgend jaar misschien voor onafhankelijkheid.

De speciale relatie die ze had met Reagan, leeft nog steeds voort in de Brits-Amerikaanse tandem die globaal de internationale politiek probeert te bepalen. “When Ronnie and I ruled the world …” was een van haar favoriete opmerkingen tijdens haar dinners met de elite nadat ze was buiten gebonjourd uit Number 10.

Ze maakte er geen geheim van dat van alle koos-en bijnamen die ze kreeg, Iron Lady haar favoriete was. IJzer is hard; misschien te hard. Het is koud. En het roest. Soms langzaam. 

[Peter Sioen - career & management coach and psychologist in the City of London, author and international TV, radio & news media commentator and author of the management book Superyou]

Does London Rule Your World? 27th Dec 2012

In more ways than one, the financial world of London behaves like a state in itself. It loathes interference and prefers to design its own ways of working.  The Square Mile is a state within a state and as such even older than the UK itself. You can see a comprehensive and funny explanation of this historical background here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrObZ_HZZUc and here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1ROpIKZe-c

As a financial centre London operates on a global scale; they claim to be the leaders. As such they are in direct relationship and in competition with Hong Kong, New York and the other big financial centres. London seems to have a lot more in common with those other main financial cities than with the rest of the UK. Ethnicity, background, language, culture and salaries are different from those in the rest of the country.

Those financial world centres set trends; they lead the way, also in corporate culture. Attracting highly competitive and often the most ruthless personalities, they have created a prototypical culture. It is shiny and attractive; it radiates success. And their success inspires people and companies all over the world to copy this culture. The London/New York/Hong Kong style can be found in language, looks and behaviour all over the world in companies, probably more than most realise. Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko, American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman and Shame’s Brandon Sullivan, the tamest sex-addict in the world, may well inspire through their madness, if only for their suits and offices

This spearhead corporate culture in the top office cities may be showing the way forward, but their relevance within their unique setting should not be overlooked. Copying outside of this limited reality leads to mere copy cats. And copy cats are poor performers. The London way works excellently for London. If you don’t work in a global centre like London, it is good to learn from this example and mould it to your own style, background and culture, and incorporate other influences as well.

London leads the way, but doesn’t rule your world. By staring yourself blind on a model that isn’t yours could well be a sign of weakness. Inject your personality, local strengths and other international influences and you will create a unique corporate culture that works excellently for you. Therein lays your competitive strength, not in being blinded by the big boys.

[Peter Sioen - career & management coach and psychologist in the City of London, author and international TV, radio & news media commentator]

The Pulling Power of Corporate Culture - 6th Sep 2012

Certain sectors and certain jobs attract certain personality types. That’s a normal organic and dynamic process that evolves with changing culture and changing demands from professions. Having helped to train police officers for many years for instance, I have seen the culture change in the police force. Subsequently I have witnessed how the police force started to attract a different type of personality as potential recruits.

Business, and certainly finance is changing. Scandals are nothing new; they are as old as banking. In the past 40 years in the UK we have seen a string of scandals in the 70’s leading to the Gower report and the Financial Services Act; again in the 90’s culminating in the collapse of Barings Bank and leading to the creation of the Financial Services Authority; and more recently with a double dip recession, PPI missselling, Libor rigging etc.

Corporate Culture in finance has not steered away from popular media to show off. The young bankers choosing to televise their champagne parties in the 80’s have made a compelling PR case for their sector attracting a certain type of professionals looking for the fast buck and the next big party. They learned quickly to be more discreet and the sector became even more competitive. Extreme competitions have attracted the most extreme talents. They have also attracted the media again in the past five years, and raised eyebrows in the public opinion and the discussion about self-regulation flared up again.

The party seems suspended for now. Banking, and its corporate culture, has been forced through an evolution. It will therefore attract more subdued personality types with more ethical behaviour The appointment of Antony Jenkins captures the zeitgeist in banking. The Guardian editor called him “refreshingly boring” in http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/30/barclays-meet-new-boss-editorial . We might be heading to a more meritocratic culture, with room for diversity over aggressiveness, experience over swagger, and respect over competition. At least for a little while. For me as a management coach, such perspective is refreshingly exciting.

[by Peter Sioen - mentor, psychologist & management coach in the City of London, and international TV, radio & news media commentator]

Management Coach in the London Rat Race - 26th June 2012

Translation of an article by Patrick IJzendoorn for De Volkskrant [Netherlands] & De Morgen [Belgium]. Originally published 11/05/2012:

First he worked in Brussels at the nether regions of society. These days the fast-paced City-boys in London call for his help.

Tate Modern. A foggy morning. Outside art lovers are queuing to go see the sharks, diamonds and drug cabinets by Damien Hirst. On the sixth floor, psychologist Peter Sioen talks about the rat race, the Ferrari’s and the need to psychoanalyse the London business world, on which the members’ lounge offers a magnificent view.

“There is lots of shaming about the greed in The City and it is true that things got out of hand, but we should not forget that there are also many talented and creative people here, who need a bit of a hug.”

And for that hug, a mental one to be clear, they can count on Peter Sioen for the last 8 years, sometimes in the museum amongst the breastfeeding mums but mostly in their offices. Discretely, outside office hours. He supports financial professionals in their 30’s and 40’s who have made fast careers but are now banging their heads against invisible walls.

Sioen: “My clients are mostly creative people with unusual profiles. They are on the verge of being excluded in the tough business culture. They are the odd ones out in The City, whose commercial value is still too little recognised, let alone rewarded.”

 

Outsiders

Working with outsiders was not a new experience for Sioen. In Brussels he worked for years as psychologist in the world of street prostitution, on which he was to write a book later. “I worked with people at the underside of society; they could neither read nor write. They were the ‘out-of-the-boat-fallers’, even in this world, because they had such unusual profiles, certainly the male prostitutes. I felt it was my task to pull them back on board and keep them there.”

Following an advisory role for the Public Health Minister he was hired by the railroad company to work on the employees’ wellbeing. “That’s where I discovered how much influence management can have on corporate culture.”

8 years ago he came to London where his partner works as a consultant. Sioen thought finding work easily, but that turned out to be difficult. “To British standards, I had an unusual CV. They are going to find that interesting, I expected. Not. So I started working for myself and decided to do for the hotshots what I had done in Brussels for young people on the underside of society.”

“What I uncovered? Well, as a small town boy I found myself in The City. At first it seemed I had arrived on a different planet, but in the end these are people like you and me. I was struck by the cattle mentality. Everybody looked the same. If green ties were fashionable, everyone wore a green tie. Everybody seemed to think the same, all those perfectly dressed boys and those girls on high heels, the supergirls. And when somebody shouted “sell share X” that share would indeed get sold massively.

That surprised me. All those hardworking highly educated people, but no one going against stream. Understandable, because these are young people, who work with enormous amounts of money in a complex world. That will lead automatically to conformist behaviour. Still, I had expected a bit more wilfulness.

Pre-crisis the trees and the skyscrapers grew up to the skies, Sioen remembers. “Anything was possible, it was one big party. Everybody dreamt of a Ferrari and retirement at 45. And all in all, they didn’t work all that hard. One of my clients, an excellent trader, used to spend 10 hours a day in the office, but only worked 4. In the morning he followed the Asian markets for two hours, and in the evening two hours Wall Street. And in between he gambled on horses.”

“It made him depressed and I would get depressed too. I advised him to develop himself, for instance by reading the Financial Times from time to time, and study his Asian girlfriend’s native language. And to look people in the eyes when talking to them. I normally start my seven sessions by weeding out the unnatural jargon; certainly with British clients that’s a hard task.”

Those days, there was a certain admiration for The City, but the credit crisis has turned that around. Sioen realises his clients have an image problem as well. Not totally unjustified, because many of the big boys don’t realise they have gone too far in their greed. But Sioen points out that too much attention goes to a few masters of the universe, some super rich who seemed to have walked out of the pages of the book by Tom Wolfe, Bonfire of the Vanities. Sioen: “they create a poisonous corporate culture , in which they cheat on their own customers.

Scared rabbits

Sioen sees that the cattle which, back in the days, depending on the rumour ran left or right, are now all scared rabbits sitting still with their little ears flat. They have gone through the personnel with a broom. Those who are left can get fired any day. The taxi stands waiting already. They get five minutes to put some stuff in a black bin bag. Blacksacking is meant to secure corporate secrets, but intimidation is part of it too. People work harder in fear.”

“Nobody dares rear their heads any more, to talk or take initiative. Risk is more than ever not taken. The questions I receive these days are different: now it is in many cases just about survival. I get many questions regarding career change, clients who want to do something completely different. And I see lots more depressions. In the past I saw lots of confusion and misunderstanding of their own situations. Now many of my clients are really down.”

According to Sioen many of the outsiders who have a go at bankers forget that behind de greedy egoist there’s also a creative professional suffering under the culture of fear and intimidation.

Sioen: “My clients have tried to play the game to end up giving up or fading away. It’s a question of time for the top people to recognise that ethical entrepreneurism and a larger diversity are necessary. Because the loss of talent, of creative people is damaging to companies as well.

“That won’t happen overnight. It can’t be forced upon by legislation, as there are always backdoors and loopholes. I try to add my small donation by helping those who are not keeping up in this rat race, by changing the unwritten rules of the game. Everybody benefits form a healthy economic model. Not just my current clients, but also people at the underside of society.”

If you’d like to know more about how Peter can help you, just click here: Profile and contact details

What Bosses Need to Know - 23rd Apr 2012

“We didn’t know that!”, “I wasn’t made aware of that!” “I didn’t see that email!” “I didn’t hear about that!”, “do you know how big my company is and how many people work for me?” the Murdochs kept on arguing. It was during the life-televised session of the British Parliamentary commission looking into phone hacking in the late tabloid “News of the World” owned by Murdoch’s News International, part of News Corporation. The investigations into hacking are still going on but the News of the World has been shut down in the meantime. “We didn’t know that” they claimed their innocence when confronted with old emails and even past convictions of their reporters. It surprised me that none of the MP’s in the commission pointed out that that sounded awfully similar, if not identical to the shameful failed excuse “Wir haben es nicht gewusst”. It was the standard excuse given by German civilians but also Nazi-leaders captured at the end of the second world war when confronted with evidence of concentration camps and what went on in there: “We didn’t know about that, we didn’t know that existed!”. I guess the German phrase is too little known here in the UK.

In that part of Europe that was occupied by the Germans in WWII, those five words have made it into the vernacular, not just as a mantra of terror but as a clear sign that lessons have been learned and that such excuses are not accepted any more. That balloon has been pricked. Ignorance is not innocence.

It was also in that part of continental Europe that 12 years ago I set up one of the very first anti-bullying structures. It was for a state run company of over 40.000 employees. The company was old and therefore old fashioned in corporate culture. I immediately dumped the limiting bullying label and called it an employee well-being structure. Through it, each year my team dealt with hundreds of cases of bullying, harassment, conflict, emotional and physical aggression on the work floor.

Standard part of our mediation and problem solving process was that we had meetings with the direct managers of the employees concerned. They have the authority over their team, not an external mediator. They are the ones who need to lay down the law, so I needed them to end the issues and prevent new ones. And it struck me how I always got that excuse: “we didn’t know that sort of thing was going on in my team” referring to an employee being beaten up weekly or one getting the contents of all the bins of the work floor thrown out on her desk every day. The boss was sitting two desks away, “but he had never noticed any problems”. If it happens on your watch, you are responsible, even if you have happened to have looked away for just a moment.

I started concentrating on management and unions in that role, explaining how every conflict is a management’s responsibility, and the management’s management’s. That’s how I worked my way up, all the way to the CEO who issued a very strong company-wide charter explaining that certain behaviours would not be tolerated or accepted in the company. It was the days that the word “inappropriate” was still fresh and new and not so tired and overused as it is now. The charter became the cornerstone and reference point for our work in problem solving and building a better corporate culture.

I have a feeling that a deliberate absence of such strong top-management attitude can be a consciously used tool to create a harsher corporate culture. When employees are valued on what they bring in rather than how they do it, I am sure corporates might secure the highest short term profit, but at a human cost. It seems that some companies are measuring the monetary value of setting employees up against each other. I feel that should be a thing of the past. Such corporate culture, in my opinion, might have contributed to the previous and current economic crises, the costs of which are not only human, but financial as well.

So back to the Murdoch’s: it’s not whether they did or did not know about questionable practices going on in their companies. It’s that they should have known!