I once worked for a despot who exercised his power with excruciating cruelness. One particular episode is still very vivid in my mind when we were invited to an off-site meeting, with about 10 of the senior managers of the firm. It started off well enough with a nice breakfast and we engaged in idle chit chat, but as I glanced at the face of our tormentor I knew the good times were over. He began to berate us for the disappointing results for the year, our inability to implement his vision and the poor morale amongst employees. It mattered little that all of these things were borne of his own making, which was painfully obvious to everyone but him. So, to teach us all a lesson, we proceeded to re-engineer the trade settlement process.
For those of our readers who would now look away in horror, let me just make it clear that there are a mere 12 steps to the equity trade settlement process, all of which are highly procedural, and mostly automated in today’s age of technology. To spend 13 (!) hours dissecting every crevasse, analysing all the functions and having to articulate every word to describe the various actions was a special hell indeed. Imagine having to describe brushing your teeth one circular motion at a time and you can understand the absurdity of this endeavour. But then when the clock struck 22:00 and we were all done and looking forward to getting home to our families, having survived for yet another day at the office, our boss had one more particular cruelty lined up for us.
As he turned to his assistant, who had been charged with taking notes and had eagerly written dozens of pages recording our discussions, he asked that she summarise the day’s proceedings. She knew nothing of finance, she just set up calls and answered emails for whatever instructions she was given. It mattered little, and as the frightened young girl frantically read through her notes to answer the questions of her gleeful tyrant, another two hours passed by, that none of us will ever get back. It was without a doubt, the most horrible experiences of my (corporate) life. Not only had we just spend tens of thousands of corporate expenses on an ego trip so epic in proportion, but the long-term damage on the employees was enormous.
One by one, many of the senior people quit. Not only did years of precious experience walk out the door, but also the company had wasted many years and millions of euros, recruiting and training these valuable resources. But to my surprise, two things happened. One, the company didn’t care and just hired a new set of minions. Two, some of the employees stayed and from what I can see are still there some 10 years on. Doesn’t this fly in the face of every textbook and anything you have ever learned about how to build a successful business, manage your employees and build an effective corporate culture? Clearly, we have entered the twilight zone, and nothing seems to matter anymore. Let’s make America great again.