CEO's Diary: Rattled

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Man at desk

The CEO reassures the new man he has nothing to worry about

March 31 - It wasn't a quiet week away. Our new man (I still haven't a name for him) called in a panic during the holiday as his existing company said they were going to sue him and us for breach of his employment contract as he had a non-compete clause.

It's just what you want when you're out with the family, isn't it? But, I calmed him down and told him I thought this was all bluster. More than that, as I recalled they had almost not a leg to stand on, not least because he would be moving to take up the new job which did not cover much of his old patch. It had certainly rattled him though, especially as they had at the same time accepted his notice and put him straight on gardening leave. He now saw himself potentially unemployable, but as I explained that was exactly what the law did not allow. He had all the rights in this situation.

I got onto our lawyer. They agreed. Simple sabre rattling, they said. They talked to him and assured him he was fine. They banged off a reply to the company, who had already threatened us (as I had by then
discovered) rather than send a reference.

It's a very silly way to run a business. All their remaining employees will now know they work for a bully. It's not a good reputation to have.

And our new man (shall I call him Newman?) thinks we'll protect him.
That's a reputation I do want.

But it did knock a hole in a day of the week. I can't complain though.

Unexpected tobogganing apart, it was good!

* * *

March 20 - That overwhelming crushing tiredness that seems to precede a holiday hit me yesterday.

I like time off. I take it. I need to. It's the only way I seem able to survive the pressure of this job. I have no idea how people carry on if they don't take holiday - which is why I always require that staff do take their leave when some, like Newc, aren't inclined to do so.

Today I get the formal acceptance from our new guy (I really must give him a name). The relief is enormous. It seems I have spent six months or more with massive team disruption. Now I can go away knowing that the package is, I think, in place, and fairly happy.

My holiday will be all the better for it.

Back in just over a week.

* * *

March 18 - We have got him. He's confirmed.

But I'm trying to clear the decks for a week off.

Why is that so difficult? I have people to devolve responsibility too, but everyone wants me to sign off all and sundry before going.

And today as third Tuesday of the month was also management meeting day at which first cut year end accounts were considered. The only issue I'm concerned about is some debt, which may be doubtful and what to provide for the problems that arose over the year end weekend, almost all of which is now rectified.

As we are on target (or rather, above target) either way I guess I should be (and am) pleased. I did some back slapping today for those who share the credit. I like doing that. It's a good but of the job.

#1 got her share. It was good going to get a pack out by now at her first year end. She had a rocky start, but I think that's behind her.

* * *

March 17 - We've got him, according to Newc.

The second interview of our new manager took place on Saturday. All are resolved he's the right man.

Newc tells me he is as well.

The letter of offer is being emailed about now.

This is a massive relief.

I now think I'll have the strongest team I've ever had. It's remarkable that only two (apart from me) were now here when Ops was. This is a real platform for doing things very differently.

* * *

March 14 - When do you want to speak to an audit partner?

5.30 on Friday night? Well, not usually. But I have to say that these days ours is showing signs of living in the real world. He's just called because he wants to get a bunch of people together next week to discuss some real issues of concern they have on IT and thought I might be interested.

His timing is good. I'll go.

But he's managed to blow apart all the remaining thought I had on things to do in the rest of the day. So I'm going home.

* * *

March 13 - A mad two days.

East had the opportunity to land a really big deal, taken from one of our competitors (and I'm hoping without TUPE risk right now as we don't need their people). I got in on the meetings at his request to speed things to conclusion. That's why I wasn't around here yesterday. Cash is sometimes king!

Looks like we've landed it.

And Newc is also in heavy discussion on a contract for our new style work, in the private sector. That team is really going well. It's not profitable yet, but there's every reason to think it will be, which is great.

In between, the guy who wants the IT job dumped a report in my inbox, and on my desk. It's a simple one. He's gone right to the core of a simple cost saving issue for us, which is how to save on printing, when we have to. Something called Fineprint seems to allow us to print two or more up on a page with considerable ease. He had proven the point by sending me a demo.

It's so simple it's stupid, but if he can deliver the glaringly obvious, who am I to argue? It's not enough to win the job. It's definitely enough to win a bonus on this month's pay.

* * *

March 11 - Our man has said yes. He wants the interview. He wants the job. He agrees the terms (bar details).

East was in first thing. I sat him down straight away. This is decision time for him too. If this man gets the east then East has to go West (this is getting confusing). Did he want to?

Yes, he does, he says. How do I know, I asked? The house is on the market already, priced to sell was the answer.

I pushed my luck. Are you moving together, or alone? Together, he said. He thinks he and his wife's marriage has suffered since their nest was emptied. It's time to make a new nest, together he says. He thinks it's the best chance they've got. He seems to believe it.

I told him when he left the room he was committed. Was he 100% on for this? He said so. I gave him one more thing to think about then. I admitted I wanted him out more in his new role. He'd run the East from this office. I want him to be out of this place three days a week in future. Would he agree? He did. In that case I also felt it right that since it was clear Newc was now taking the stand in, over sight management role that East cease to be my deputy. I would, I added, no longer have one, but did want Newc as Chief Operating Officer as that is what he really is now. Would East agree to this change of role?

He was instant in his response. It was fair, and would let him get on with what he was meant to do. Then he asked if it changed his money. It doesn't. He was sold. I think Newc will be too, although he doesn't know yet.

No one told me that being CEO was playing chess with people. But that's what it is. Don't ever take the role if that's a game you don't ant to play.

I admit, this one is going well right now. We'll be better for this.

* * *

March 10 - I think it was a good weekend.

Met the chap we're chasing on Saturday morning at a 'neutral' venue. I knew him already. He knew what we were meeting about, so we could cut to the chase.

I wanted to know what he could really bring, what problems this might cause with his existing company and what management style he'd use. The last was especially important.

He wanted details of a package. This was relatively easy. We have a pattern here that is not inflexible, but which has to be right within limits. It met his expectation as far as I can tell.

If it does Newc, North, Office and #1 will also meet him. They don't know him. That adds some objectivity. But I was convinced. He is our man if he accepts our terms.

I deliberately left him to muse on it. He has until Wednesday 10am to say if he wants the formal interview. I think it best he have some time, but I'd rather he didn't use it all. It's a test of his power to deliver that he can decide on this ahead of schedule.

* * *

March 7 - Just too tired and it's too late to write about today.

And not much happened.

Trust me, I'm a chartered accountant.

* * *

March 6 - One of our operational team asked to see me today. Newc had previously seen him, and recommended I agree.

The chap in question asked to be our IT manager. We haven't had one for a bit, getting by on a mix of some in house resource and support contract. When we last had this role it was not a fantastic success, mainly due to the reclusive character of the incumbent.

Now I was presented with a person who says he's an IT whizz, has had enough of being on the road, knows he can save us cost (and there is some real evidence of positive input from him in the past) and wants the job.

I said I'd consider it. It was impossible to say yes or no immediately. But I also decided on the spur of the moment to issue him with a challenge. We need to replace kit (again). We need to provide software for its use. Of course we could roll out the usual products, like Office and Outlook. Is there an alternative I asked? If so, can the risk be justified? What would it cost to be non-standard given that 99% of what we do is internal or sent as PDF? What would he recommend?

I made clear this is a job application. I want it to be a good one. If he doesn't get the job though and I use what he writes I said I'd pay him a bonus anyway. He's not doing this wholly at risk.

Did he want to rise to the challenge? He jumped at it.

I wonder what I will get. If he can communicate on this and reason his case then I have a winner. I'm intrigued by his initiative. I'd like it to work. He made my day.

* * *

March 5 - We have good news. East has had a discussion with the person we agreed that he should approach for the vacant manager's post. He's agreed to meet me on condition that it is the job in the east that he is applying for (I do wonder if East set him up for this, although the truth is that this should not require radical relocation of his life, so it might be true).

Rather than face the risk of raising work time suspicion he has requested that we meet on Saturday. Another weekend work commitment will not make me popular on the family front - and I'm going to miss an important football match for my eldest as a result - but this is too important to quibble. I need this post filled and this guy has appeared to have all the skills we need from past meetings.

* * *

March 4 - Heaven know's how (and I'd like to find out) but our trade rag has learned of this weekend's remedial operation. Office phoned me whilst I was out at a meeting to warn me that they were after me. It gave me the chance to capture my thoughts before deciding what to say, knowing that if I said nothing they were pretty much bound to talk about it anyway.

When the call arrived I tried to give the most positive spin I could. Yes, I said, it was true that we had discovered a fault in our implementation programme. These things happened with any company dealing with technology, unfortunate as it might be. What really mattered, I suggested, was how you dealt with them. We had agreed without delay to replace all components subject to query to ensure no risk of failure in the customer's system would occur. This had required some effort and weekend working to expedite the process and minimise disruption for the customer but I was pleased to note that the whole operation had gone well, the customer was, I thought, pleased with the outcome and our commitment to quality that this demonstrated.

Will it work? Who knows? But you try putting a spin on the impossible at short notice. It's harder than you might think.

Now, do I need media training? I think I'll put that low on my list of things to worry about.

* * *

March 3 - Not the weekend you should write home about, but successful, I think.

The audit side went well as far as I know.

I started here helping coordinate the replacement programme on the installation that's gone wrong. In the end I spent time in a van driving parts to those who needed them as I was the one available to do that - and when things go wrong it's best to show that all hands are on deck, mine included.

We made massive progress on this as a result of a team effort. OK, there's cost, but it's already clear that the customer accepts this was innocent error and I think goodwill has been retained. And there's always that Dunkirk sort of spirit that these things bring out.

I also like driving vans. Why is that? They are really quite fun, and so well equipped these days. #1 and the AM looked on amazed as I departed for East Anglia with bits, all of which blew some of the stock taking apart (hence their presence on Saturday) but right now I think I'd rather my role than be back as FD. It's odd to realise how far I have moved on.

* * *

For previous installments of the CEO's Diary, see:

February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003


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20th Mar 2008 17:25

Enforcing staff vacation is actually an important control. Staff who are committing fraud are usually reluctant to take vacation since this is when they are most vulnerable to being detected.

Most people who don't take vacation are just work orientated, but the fraudsters hide in the woodpile...

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10th Mar 2008 08:54

trust me
don't you mean Chartered Accountant?

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14th Mar 2008 14:37

Fineprint is a good product, although nothing new - it's been around for years (I'd guess since the late 90s), and a 2up/4up capability is built into a lot of printer drivers as standard these days anyway, as is double-sided if the printer is capable.

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06th Mar 2008 11:32

Get him to meet you at the football match. No chance of any suspicions of his motives, your son still gets to see you at the game, he gets to see you're a good family guy deep down and you'll probably increase the crowd by 25%.

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