The FD's back at work
November 28 ' Back to work with a bump.
No, I'm not really only going to have one week off. Our policy is two weeks paternity is automatically allowed, and I am going to have it. But, I'm experienced at this game, and that experience is that, relatively speaking once the first week of socialising is done then if (as we have) the in-laws, or some other help,then exploit it. The enthusiasm wears off. They go home. Your euphoria/adrenalin runs out and by week 3 or 4 your wife needs all the practical help she can get. So, I'm here for this week and next and will be part time in baby's weeks 4 and 5. I assure you ' take it from me, this works. Then it's Christmas, and that will extend the whole process quite nicely.
What's the bump? Well, actually that one of our people had a quite bad accident on Friday in one of our vehicles. He's OK (in the sense that the prognosis is a full recovery) but is still in hospital. We gather it wasn't his fault. But the other party, who we're told was to blame, is still in intensive care.
So, the bump is dealing with insurers, the police, proving insurance cover, that the operators licence is up to date, that driver hours were in order, that the vehicle was in good order (thankfully, under a year old so not too difficult) and so on, all of which falls on me as company secretary and person responsible for all this admin.
Sobering stuff when all you want to talk about is the baby and yawn quietly. Ops has dealt with all the personnel issues though ' so it least I'm a stage removed from it ' and everyone is oohing and aahing over the photos ' which feels good. But I'd rather have come back to something better than this.
I haven't even asked how the budget is going ' but #3 at least has told me not to worry about the accounts ' she says it's under control, and I believe her.
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November 23 ' Life is a whir of grandparents, aunts, uncles, getting children to school and back, friends with best wishes and tending to Baby O's needs.
Work? Will there ever be time for it again?
But I do have one suggestion. If I ever do this again (and I won't ' I promise everyone) I will ban all visits in the first week, bar those who come to prepare meals, do washing or clean the house. We've hardly had time to cuddle the little girl ourselves ' except in the night that is. Not that we've even had much chance to assess that yet ' I seem to recall baby's middle of the night hunger does not start for a few days. Well, it's either that or she's going to be a great sleeper on current progress. You can what my hope is!
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November 21 - It's happened. Baby Olivia made it into the world on Sunday morning. 8.15am, 7lbs 13oz, had her first cry before even finally exiting her Mum, and both are doing just fine. In fact, give it another hour or so and I'm on my way to bring them home.
For those who have not been through the process of childbirth I'll share the gory bits, actually because on this occasion, compared with previous deliveries, all seemed to be remarkably uncomplicated. Late on Saturday afternoon Mrs FD's waters broke (sorry - some might think that gory) at which point the midwife was consulted and the in-laws were called. The latter dutifully arrived, the bag was re-checked, but few signs of labour were present so we went to bed with little optimism that a full night's rest would be enjoyed. At 2am Mrs FD said she thought things were under way, so off we went (no home births planned here, thank you!). It's an expectant father's nightmare that something will go wrong on the journey to hospital, but I have to say doing it at that time of the morning has much to commend it. All the daytime issues of traffic jams, car park queues and more besides simply evaporate.
It's also said that our maternity hospitals are under stress. I don't doubt it - but all I can say is we had the most fantastic care from the moment we arrived onwards. Indeed, the midwife who was due to go off duty at 8 stayed with us, not just to see Olivia arrive but to ensure the immediate follow up care. There's someone I must remember to thank again.
And once there things cracked on well. It's true that at one point I thought Mrs FD might have been more subtle in her request for pain relief - but I suspect such language has been heard before - and she wasn't always willing to share the gas and air with me (ever tried it?) but in all seriousness, I could not have been more relieved that all went so well.
Mrs FD has always told me the best drink to ever be tasted is the first cup of tea after giving birth. The fact that on this occasion she and it parted company soon after its ingestion appears to have not changed her view. Nothing, but nothing compares with the sheer joy holding a new born child can bring (at least that I know).
Actually, in Olivia's case that joy might not have lasted long. In built deep in my memory of lifting up children is recall of the enormous bundles they quickly turn into. As a result I nearly threw her straight over my shoulder the first time I picked her up. I think it's the first entry in her little black book of her father's soon to be innumerable failures, all to be recalled some 15 years hence, but right now I recovered well, and she snuggled in for her first doze and whimper.
Then it was home with first pictures, to make the calls to all and sundry and to take the children in to meet their new sibling. All, to mutual relief, seem delighted with each other.
And now, what KPI is on my mind? Oh, there's no doubt about that. I well recall my personal best for changing a dirty nappy. Give it a week or two and we'll be looking to break that. This is not a Parkinson or Ramsey household. Dad deals with the mucky end of things here.
She's worth it.
They're both worth it.
(Remind me of that at 2am tomorrow morning will you?)
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November 16 ' A chance to breath, for a minute. I feel like I have to go home each night with my desk clear at the moment ' and that's not always possible ' especially as I'm having to also try to manage some after school activities for the existing offspring as my wife hardly fits behind a wheel any more.
The board meeting was the usual stressful experience this week. I wish we could do without them. The CEO is so utterly predictable in his concerns ' it's cash, cash and cash ' but only as far as its available for him. And Mrs CEO as ever (with her adviser) in tow, as usual, seeks to object to nay payment to him not in their original agreement even if we could afford more (and if we used more finance we definitely could).
The pressure on Ops and me was therefore to justify why the new business plans will generate more cash and when that will be. The brief time we had spent working on plans before the meeting paid off in this context ' we could explain with some degree of confidence that we were expecting labour savings based on the new kit next year.
Mrs CEO then sheds crocodile tears for our hard hearted people management ' but since we have an acceptable staff turnover there will be no redundancies. In fact, those who stay and want the opportunity will get extra training ' and we're allowing for that in the budget (well, I am ' since I'm beginning to accept this is my task now).
And it just goes on like that ' with the blame for things batting backwards and forwards between the two of them and not a note of thanks or notice for the fact that the dividends are flowing and they're not working (which avoids arguments about acceptable salary rates with the Revenue I guess).
When all was said and done I think we made just one decision ' that the shareholders reward could increase by headline inflation. And that was it. But I guess it keeps us on our toes.
As if nothing else would.
Now ' to meetings with customers who want new terms for new supply arrangements. If I can crack one this afternoon there's a chance I can roll the same solution out to the other.
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November 15 - Had a board meeting. Have to do the minutes. Have to talk to the bank. Need to meet two customers wanting revised terms for new deals. Have just about finished the nursery. Baby still on board Mum. Ops is happier. Need to deal with finance on some new vans. Need to talk to one of the divisional managers on why his figures are so out of line for October.
And you think I've got time for a diary as well? Not today I haven't.
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November 10 ' Just for a change, today was interview day for the new credit control post.
AJ and #3 had interviewed six for the job and the short list they presented to me was of just 2. That saved so much time.
I started early to see one ' the other came at lunchtime ' and I've got to say my team have done well to select these two.
Either could do the job I suspect. But one really stood out for me. Her attitude was to seek ways to stop the problem ever getting as far as needing her services. The other concentrated in what she said on how to get the debt once it was overdue. Prevention not cure won the day ' and it looks like #6 is on her way. She liked the terms and she's met most of the team, who like her ' so I have another woman in the department. Best thing is ' she could start in 3 weeks ' we won't be so flexible once the trial period is over.
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November 9 ' Another session with Ops today ' and he's admitted the problem, at least indirectly.
He really hasn't got the faintest idea how to do this, and he's also pretty poor at Excel ' something I've discovered when I've found him retyping data that could either be copied and pasted or just linked in the past.
I got in an opportunity for two things. I did suggest he needs an Excel update course. And I confirmed I was happy to do the processing if he'd check the thinking.
Headway was made as a result. But it's a painful lesson for me that asking people to think anything out of the ordinary is just not a reasonable request. They have to be lead to such things.
Still, #3 and AJ delivered management accounts on time with remarkably little input from me, all things considered. That is a coup! It's clear #3 is up to this challenge ' and is motivated by it. I don't like people doing much overtime, but when it's personal development I don't mind, and she did, I know, work on this over the weekend to get herself more familiar with what is needed.
Which still leaves me mildly annoyed that Ops did not.
But with a board meeting now confirmed for Monday and the inevitable request for more money from the ex CEO on the table (yet again) I have to have data by then on some outline cash projections ' and we're a long way from that yet. What's really going to be interesting is to see whether Ops talks to the plans or not. I think that's another quandary for him. He wants to be seen to be in charge by the shareholders ' and they want to see him that way ' but he's not got his head round the planning, and so is relying on me. I'll have to do some careful thinking on how to approach this. I need his support right now ' so it looks like I'll have to give him credit even if I do the talking.
That baby needs to hang on for several days as yet though to get ready for this ' but even I have to admit I doubt my wife can expand much further!
* * *
November 7 ' Heck of a weekend. Mrs FD seemed to head into labour ' but then stopped, so that was a false alarm ' but the bag's paced and ready now.
Then I spent some time musing on Friday's problem, which included a long session with my 'wise friend' to whom I turn for counsel and without whose assistance (along with that of Mrs FD) I think I'd occasionally go mad.
He made clear that if I really want to plan ' then plan I should. It's not that Ops is not committed to this ' I think he really is ' and I also think he's been a real party in (even driven) some of the decisions along the way. But, and this is the key thing that my wise friend pointed out, I'm pushing him way out of his comfort zone when I ask him to commit his plans to writing ' or even numbers come to that.
Writing might be my therapy, and numbers my everyday tool of trade but that's far from true for Ops. He hates them ' which is why he gets things done ' hence the appropriateness of his title.
So I came in today, ate a bit of humble pie and asked if he'd like me to create some templates for his section of the budget which I could then talk through with him to see if they're right and on which we could then have a discussion as to the real consequences.
My guess is he'd been reflecting too ' but he took that fairly graciously and even thanked me for the offer. After which I apologised for being stressed and I think things defused somewhat.
Well I hope so. And to be candid ' now I'm working on it, the templates aren't that straightforward so perhaps I wasn't being fair.
Good job #3 seems to be going well. Though even she's said it has been a couple of days to keep out of my way. I'm not sure I'm not heading to be a grumpy old man as well as a new father, all at the same time.
* * *
November 4 - Met with Ops to discuss the budget.
I am depressed about this - again. He's meant to be MD of this show but it seems he's not willing to take the responsibility for it right now.
I explained what I thought we needed to do, and what that would require of him to work out the implications of our plans. If we're going to install the new kit it needs a plan - both for equipment, people and ancillary resources. Then it changes the type of people we need to do the work on visits, which changes recruitment plans and costs that are associated - so fewer people do higher quality work. And that will also mean changes in vehicle budgets, the spares and replacement budget, which we hope will fall a lot, and so on.
But does he get this? If he does he gives no impression of it. And he basically said if I thought that this would happen then I had to do the planning.
This is really worrying - we have to change the way we're working - following the change in our supply routines from Belgium we basically cannot continue to support the old style of installation or supplies will eventually fail.
I think he gets that point - but just doesn't want to address it.
I want to be thinking budgets - but he says I wanted the time to do planning and now I'm asking him to do it for me. That's crazy. I'm asking him to simply take responsibility for his own department. No more.
I decided to withdraw before blowing a fuse - but I think he knew I was really annoyed.
Is this just pre-baby nerves? Or is it trying to do what seems to be right? I think this company can really improve its performance - and I want it to, but I'm really not convinced Ops can be bothered. I want to know why not. What's up with him?
What really worries me is we also have a board meeting the week after next. These have only worked on the basis of us pulling together. Can we?
* * *
November 3 - Mild panic is beginning to set in. #3 and AJ seem to be getting on with the month end accounts, but what has occurred to me is that if I don't get the budget under way soon then work on it won't start until I'm back from the baby. I think it takes months to get a budget under way if it is to be done properly. I might appear to have four months available (our year end is end February) but with Christmas and a new baby to happen in the meantime I need to start now if others are going to do what I want of them whilst I'm away.
Thankfully we established a budget process pretty much the way I wanted last year, but there are some real changes that must be made this year. I want the managers to do more of the thinking, I want sales to definitely take a stronger lead on their part of the forecast - and not to understate things as all salespeople seem to do most of the time when it comes to budgeting. And I want people to think how they can add value, and not just to do the 'same again + X'.
This is a real challenge. It needs Ops to buy in as well, so much so that I'm scheduling a meeting with him tomorrow. He has to get the idea that the new ways of working have to be reflected in this budget or it's not going to be in any way realistic.
I can sense a little discomfort is on its way.
Perhaps I'm not going to avoid stress by doing this after all.
In October the FD tried to put his new plans into place, and found real life is not work like an organisation chart.
For previous installments of the FD's Diary, see: