The Desert Sun Podcast #013

Once again I am joined by Mike in Switzerland, with the recording this time taking place in his mountaintop fortress. In this episode we talk about corporate HR and the blurring of the line between work and private life.

You can listen to it on iTunes here, Player FM here, download it here, or listen on the blog by clicking the link below:

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More Sado than Macho

According to Met Chief and Slaughterer of Innocent Brazilians Cressida Dick:

The macho image of male police officers dealing with terrorist attacks and the Grenfell Tower disaster could be putting off women from joining the Met, Scotland Yard chief Cressida Dick said today.

She said the terror attacks in London in 2017, when mainly male firearms officers were deployed on the streets, and the Grenfell fire in the same year had led to a mistaken view of policing as a “very physical service”.

Ah yes, who can forget the macho image portrayed by Craig Mackey:

The acting Metropolitan Police commissioner locked himself in his car as he watched terrorist Khalid Masood kill one of his colleagues in Westminster because he had “no protective equipment and no radio,” he has told an inquest.

Sir Craig Mackey, now deputy commissioner of Scotland Yard, said that despite witnessing Masood “purposefully” lunge at everyone in his path with a butcher’s knife, he realised that had he got out of his vehicle, he would have been a target.

Instead, he remained in his black saloon car, within the Palace of Westminster, and witnessed Masood, 52, fatally stab PC Keith Palmer.

I expect more women are put off joining by the abject cowardice in the Met’s leadership than images of tough-looking blokes out on patrol.

Ms Dick told the Standard: “People have got it into their heads that you have to be supremely fit or strong when actually the vast majority of our officers, most of the time, are not using huge amounts of physical strength to get the job done. They are using their communication skills, their problem-solving skills and their analytical skills.”

Indeed, what use is physical force on the streets of London:

Violent suspects could be released by police if officers do not get “backed up” by members of the public, a federation leader has warned.

Ken Marsh spoke out after a video of officers being attacked was shared widely on social media.

The video, taken in Merton, south London, on Saturday, shows a man aim a flying kick at a female officer, who is left clutching her head just yards away from a passing bus.

Another male officer is dragged across the road as he tries to stop a second suspect from running away.

The male officer suffered cuts and the female officer was left with head injuries.

Every few months a video circulates on the internet showing a feral thug getting the better of a policeman in a physical confrontation, but apparently the problem is they’re a bit too macho.

The Met commissioner said more had to be done to challenge the “stereotypes and myths” of policing as a macho culture.

Oh, don’t worry, that myth is dead and buried. The current perception of the Met police is they’re a mix of vanity-ridden wannabes who bully people from behind a computer screen and the paramilitary arm of the social studies department of a third-rate former polytechnic. And none realise this more than the knife-wielding criminals who operate in the capital with impunity.

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Observer observed

I’ve written before about Britain being a country where hi-viz vests have proliferated among a bewildering array of jobsworths with official-sounding titles but who do none of the work traditionally associated with such attire.

The photo below is a screenshot from the chaos that ensued when Tommy Robinson turned up to campaign in Oldham over the weekend:

Does anyone have the foggiest idea what a legal observer is, who appoints them, and why they would be wearing a hi-viz vest on the streets of Britain?

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Israeli Thought Crimes

This isn’t surprising:

Israel Folau’s contract has been terminated by Rugby Australia after he said “hell awaits” gay people in a social media post.

The Waratahs full-back, 30, was sacked in April but requested a hearing, which was heard by a three-person panel.

They found him guilty of a “high level breach” of RA’s player code of conduct and have upheld the dismissal.

It’s not the first time Folau has got into trouble for expressing views consistent with his unapproved and unprotected religion.

The fundamentalist Christian posted a banner on his Instagram account in April that read: “Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators – Hell awaits you.”

This is another example of tolerance and diversity only extending as far as government-approved opinions. Note that Folau is not demanding homosexuals be punished, nor is he refusing to play with them. Instead, he is expressing his religious views that homosexuality is a sin for which they will ultimately pay in the afterlife. A charitable interpretation is he’s not even being malicious, he genuinely fears for such people and wants to save them. His opinions on the fate of homosexuals are derived directly from his religion, which in theory he has the freedom to practice. But as far as Rugby Australia are concerned, he’s free to practice Christianity provided he doesn’t pass remarks on what that entails. This doesn’t sound like an organisation which embraces diversity or practices tolerance.

The other daft thing is Heaven and Hell are religious concepts, and Folau is clearly using the term “hell” in it’s religious context here. So unless you’re religious like Folau, the whole idea of Hell ought to be meaningless. In which case what’s the problem? Homosexuals seem to be taking offence that Folau is condemning them to a fate in an afterlife they don’t themselves believe in. They might as well fret about stepping on cracks in the pavement.

Rugby Australia is a foundation member of Pride in Sport Index (PSI), which is a sporting inclusion programme in Australia set up to help sporting organisations with the inclusion of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community.

And to the exclusion of practicing Christians whose views have brought no problems whatsoever to the game (unless you count Michael Jones refusing to play on Sundays).

“We commend Rugby Australia, as well as New South Wales Rugby Union, for their leadership and courage throughout this process,” said PSI co-founder Andrew Purchas.

Chucking outspoken Christians under the bus to appease the gay lobby is hardly courageous. What would have been really courageous is for Rugby Australia to state that Folau is entitled to practice his religion and express the views derived from it on his social media platforms.

“Their swift and decisive actions shows that homophobic and transphobic discrimination is not acceptable in sport and individuals – irrespective of their social or professional stature – will be held accountable for their words and actions.”

Held accountable for their actions, eh? Funny, these are the precise sentiments which have just got Folau fired. What we’re seeing here is new quasi-religious dogma pushing out the old. Only Christian societies had a 2,000 year run. How long do you think modern society will last in its current guise?

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Trans Forms

There are many problems in society that are inevitable. There are others which are wholly of their own making. This is an example of the latter:

When the man arrived at the hospital with severe abdominal pains, a nurse didn’t consider it an emergency, noting that he was obese and had stopped taking blood pressure medicines. In reality, he was pregnant — a transgender man in labor that was about to end in a stillbirth.

“The point is not what’s happened to this particular individual but this is an example of what happens to transgender people interacting with the health care system,” said the lead author, Dr. Daphna Stroumsa of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

“He was rightly classified as a man” in the medical records and appears masculine, Stroumsa said. “But that classification threw us off from considering his actual medical needs.”

No, she was wrongly classified as a man, hence hospital staff assumed she couldn’t possibly be pregnant. I suspect Dr Stroumsa is treading on eggshells here.

Transgender people often run into problems getting gender-specific health care such as cervical cancer screening, birth control and prostate cancer screenings.

If they were honest about their sex, rather than insistent upon the entire world changing their systems to align with their personal preferences, these problems would not arise.

More needs to be done to improve medical awareness and recognition of diversity because “the consequences can be so dire, as this case shows,” Branstetter said.

So scarce resources should be diverted to cater for a statistically insignificant minority who wish to interact dishonestly with a system designed for tens of millions. Alternatively, we could just regain our sanity.

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Head 1, Hunter 0

This is an old post which I’d made private when it was sensible to do so. Now I’m studying HR it serves as a handy reminder as to how bad things are out there, so I’m reposting it.

A few months ago I received an email from a manpower agency representing an independent oil company that was looking to recruit an Engineering Manager to be located in a West African country. The reason why I didn’t just hit *Delete* as I do with most of these emails is because, for once, the agent had named the company and provided a job description. This is unusual in the extreme, most of these clowns email you with an exciting opportunity with a company they cannot name in a vague location with a job description “to follow”. Uh-huh. I’ve written about this before.

So I replied that I was interested, just for the hell of it, and the agent responded with an outline salary and benefits package, which looked pretty good. So I became more interested. I wasn’t exactly looking to move company, but I think it’s always wise to keep an eye on what’s out there, know what the market thinks of you, and get in some interview practice (you never know when you might need it!) And if my current employer was only going to offer me a role in a filling station as my next assignment…well, you get the picture.

Firstly the agent interviewed me, just to make sure that I wasn’t a complete Herbert. Then within a couple of weeks I had a phone interview with the HR bloke, who was about 25 years old and recently recruited from…a manpower agency. This was a pretty standard HR interview, but near the end I queried the part of the salary package which made reference to a “hypothetical tax deduction”. All oil companies do this for various reasons: deduct taxes from staff salaries in one place and actually pay taxes wherever they’re working. This is fairly standard practice, but the tax rate is usually pretty low. In this case, the HR chap told me I’d be taxed at the full UK rate.

Whilst working in West Africa on a residential basis.

I didn’t say anything at the time, but when a 50% or whatever tax is applied to the salary package it didn’t look anywhere near as attractive. I called up the agent, told them I was no longer interested, and they said they’d “look into it”.

I was therefore quite surprised to be invited to another phone interview, this time with the Head of Engineering & Projects (who would be my functional line manager). Having nothing to lose, I went ahead and did it anyway, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. With no pressure to actually get the job I was myself (blunt and opinionated), and had a good discussion with the chap on the other end who clearly knew his stuff. It was far more of a technical discussion than the previous one, outlining the role, who I am, my experience, my management style, etc.  And I came away thinking that the role was a lot larger and more interesting than anything I’ve yet had, and with a lot more responsibility. Now I had no interest in doing another stint in Africa, but if the right position came up and they were throwing money at me…well, I can be persuaded.

It turned out I impressed them enough for me to be considered their front runner for the position (so the agent told me), and they arranged another phone interview (which would be the fourth, if you include the one with the agent). This one was with the Regional Manager, and during the conversation much was made of the benefits of working for a smaller, more flexible company which exercised common sense, made quick decisions, delegated responsibility, and kept procedures to a minimum. This was in contrast to a supermajor, which makes even the army look slick and efficient. I have to say, this prospect alone did appeal. Needing line manager’s authorisation to hang a white board in your office, and waiting 9 months for expenses to clear a 6-stage approval process, does tend annoy after a while. Like the previous interviewer, this chap was also pretty switched on and we had a good chat. I didn’t change my approach – blunt and opinionated – mainly because I don’t know how to be any other way, but I came out of that round still as the favoured candidate.

It had occurred to me that we would need a face-to-face interview before they’d make me an offer, but I assumed this would take place in London or some other half-normal place. So my expectation was that they’d send me an offer subject to a final interview, and if I liked it I’d jump on a plane to see them, spend a few hours sizing each other up, and then make a decision one way or the other.

This turned out to be far too sensible. Instead HR took the lead and said, through the agent, that I should go to this West African country to see the place and “meet the team”. Now if this can be done easily, then fair enough. If I was working in London, there’s no reason why I couldn’t jump on the plane to Aberdeen to meet a few folk and scope out the office. But almost nobody goes to these sort of locations on a scoping visit, they just jump aboard and hope it’s okay when they get there. I signed up for Sakhalin knowing nothing about it, and turned up in Nigeria for a 3-year assignment having never set foot in the place. It’s just the way it is, standard practice in the oil business. So I explained that I didn’t need to see the place, anything will be an improvement on Nigeria, and can we just get on with it please? Time was running out, as I would need to start talking about my next assignment with my current employer, and I don’t like to fanny people about too much.

Then word came back that I needed to go to this country because the Country Manager, Production Manager, and Maintenance Manager (or something) all wanted to interview me. So I looked at how I could get myself over to this country without my current employer knowing (they’d twig pretty quickly I wasn’t there on holiday). After a bit of research, it turned out that I couldn’t. It is not possible to lie about which flights you’re taking in and out of Nigeria, because we get taken to and met from every flight directly for (very sensible) security reasons. And I didn’t even know how I’d get a visa for this place, and if the agent or the company HR people knew they were keeping it to themselves. Checking the internet, I needed to apply for a visa in advance, but I had to find even that out for myself. HR were about as proactive as Israel’s Iron Dome.

So I went back to them with a proposal: the three people who want to see me can select one person to come and meet me in London on a certain Saturday, which I can plausibly claim is a brief trip home. They have their headquarters in London, so it shouldn’t be that difficult. Or all three could come, I really didn’t care. The agent took this proposal to the young HR chap, who seemed reluctant to pass it to his bosses. Instead he came back with a rather pompous repetition of his previous demand that I show up in this bloody country. So I told them, once and for all, I’m not sodding going. I’ve made a proposal, either answer it or leave me alone. And still nobody was any the wiser as to how I could get a visa.

The agent then kind of got shoved to the side and I spoke directly with the oil company, an HR girl who was actually quite nice but clueless. I told her that before I get on a plane anywhere I need a firm offer to discuss when I get there. Meanwhile, she was trying to persuade me that I really did need to go for an interview in-country. So I decided to give her a bit of training in How Oil Companies Normally Interview Candidates In A Sensible Manner (later, my colleagues thought I should have invoiced them a consultancy fee). I said it’s fine to want a face-to-face interview, that part I get, but it’s mind-bogglingly stupid to expect candidates to present themselves in the developing world for the purpose. Every other organisation arranges for candidates to come to a logical transport hub – Dubai, London, Singapore (where I had the main interview for my Nigeria job) – and a panel of managers spend 2-3 days conducting interviews and having a bit of a jolly. Nobody – not even blitheringly idiotic major oil companies – bring candidates to the arse-end of nowhere. In my case the Nigerian interview was conducted over the phone once the chaps I met in Singapore had given me the thumbs up. All of this seemed to be new to her.

What also seemed new to their entire organisation was the impracticality of flying between West African countries. They approached the whole thing as if it was a simple hop from Paris to London. For a company which prided itself on its African operations, they seemed to know little about how the place works.

Anyway, they came back with an offer. By this stage I had given them precise details of my current package, to ensure we’d not be wasting our time if they were only paying peanuts. Their offer matched my current package almost to the dollar, only more of theirs was wrapped up in discretionary bonuses. I was still being taxed at full UK rates, even though this money wouldn’t be handed over to HMRC and I’d have to remain a tax exile. Bearing in mind this company is very much smaller and far less well known than my current employer, the question of why the hell I would leave for the same money did spring to mind.

When they rang me back, for what was to be the last time, I asked them this. They said they considered their offer to be competitive, which I suppose it was if they were hiring somebody unemployed and not trying to poach somebody from a much larger and grander organisation. But these small independent companies have to poach people, and that means giving them an incentive to jump ship. Paying the same money isn’t going to interest anybody.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. She repeated the request, now backed by some manager or other, that it was “their policy” to conduct the Stage 2 interviews in-country. Stage 2?!! I’d had four interviews over the course of 2-3 months, and we were still not out of Stage 1! They couldn’t do the interview in London because “all the managers cannot come”, and they could not select one to make the trip because “that’s not how we work”. This was an outfit whose main selling points were quick decisions, flexible operations, efficiency, common sense, and a disregard for procedures.

Also, it wasn’t just the in-country managers who would interview me, I needed to present myself to my future colleagues as well and secure their approval. Which I admit was a first for me. Normally your management hires you and you meet your new colleagues on your first day in the office. This lot seemed to hire via some kind of star chamber.

In withdrawing my candidacy, I pointed out that if I wanted to experience indecision, nonsensical policies, managerial dithering, and general incompetence I could simply attend any random meeting in my own organisation. I didn’t need to change company to get this sort of thing. That pretty much burned the bridges, with them and the agent.

(Incidentally, they told me their other candidates had no problem going to interviews in-country. Which if true, and they find someone suitable, shows them to be doing things right after all. But I am curious to know who these other candidates were: lordy, if I’m the front-runner they can’t be that great! And I can’t imagine too many decent candidates leaving a major oil company to take up this role. So it wouldn’t surprise me if I get a call in 6 months time saying the position has magically reopened and would I be interested in reapplying?)

As things turned out, I did get other agencies calling me asking if I wanted to apply for this same position over the course of the next two years. And by pure coincidence I found myself a few years later in the same meeting as one of the managers who’d interviewed me. I decided to give him a little feedback on his company’s recruitment methods and he (unsurprisingly) got very defensive and said “well, that’s the way we work”. So I asked him if they ever managed to recruit anyone and he said they did, but within two months it was obvious he wasn’t suitable so they got rid of him. Then they hired another guy who walked about before six months was up, but which time the oil price had crashed and they didn’t need anyone there anyway.

“That’s the way we work.”

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Vet Unvetted

This story is amusing, in a grim sort of way:

Where does an alleged war criminal accused of torture and directing mass executions look for work while living in the United States? For Yusuf Abdi Ali, there was an easy answer: Uber and Lyft.

Within a couple of days of applying to be a ride-share driver, Ali said he was approved to shuttle passengers from place to place. He’s been doing it for more than 18 months, according to his Uber profile.

Ali’s work as a ride-share driver raises new questions about the thoroughness of Uber and Lyft’s background check process and the ease with which some people with controversial pasts can get approved to drive.

Ali has not been convicted of a crime, but a basic internet search of his name turns up numerous documents and news accounts alleging he committed various atrocities while serving as a military commander during Somalia’s civil war in the 1980s.

I think David Burge puts it best:


Oh, and it gets worse:

Ali entered the United States on a visa through his Somali wife who became a US citizen. In 2006, his wife was found guilty of naturalization fraud for claiming she was a refugee from the very Somali clan that Ali is accused of torturing.

I’m half-surprised he’s only an Uber driver and not in Congress.

In 2016, CNN reported that Ali had been working as a security guard at Dulles International Airport near Washington, DC.

Yes, clearly it’s Uber who’s at fault here.

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Recruitment Consultants

I’m thinking of doing a post on recruitment consultants, and people’s views of them. So a poll is necessary.

Has your overall experience of recruitment consultants been:

  • Generally bad with some exceptions (59%, 102 Votes)
  • Generally good with some exceptions (24%, 41 Votes)
  • Very bad (17%, 29 Votes)
  • Very good (1%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 173

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For those of you who like to comment, please share your experiences below.

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Overload!

Sorry folks, but this week suddenly got busy. I’ve got a rather intense exam to prepare for on Friday, plus some mid-week assignments, and I have other stuff on my plate. Blogging’s going to have to take a back seat until I get this lot cleared.

In the meantime, feel free to chat among yourselves. Thanks for your patience.

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One Man, One Vote

The financial press have a certain fetish about Total’s CEO Patrick Pouyanne. Here’s another gushing article:

Patrick Pouyanne pounced after Occidental Corp trumped Chevron’s $33 billion bid for Anadarko in April with an offer that includes raising financing by selling some of Anadarko’s operations worth up to $15 billion.

By keeping those in the know to a minimum, the French CEO was able to stay flexible in negotiations, take a swift decision and ensure there were no leaks until the binding deal worth $8.8 billion was announced on Sunday, a Total source said.

“Pouyanne proceeded in the same way he did with previous deals: a restricted task force, no bankers and no external counsel,” another source, close to the deal, told Reuters.

Throwing out the rulebook that expects CEOs to be surrounded by investment bankers and other advisers when dealmaking has become a trademark for the 55-year-old CEO and chairman of Total, who took the helm of the French energy major in 2014.

He has surprised investors with his acquisitions, such as buying Maersk’s oil and gas business in 2017 and Engie’s upstream LNG operations in 2018, setting one deal in motion after an unsolicited phone call with the controlling shareholder.

Shouldn’t we perhaps wait a little to see how rushing headlong into major deals while consulting almost nobody plays out over the long term? Look at this bit again:

a restricted task force, no bankers and no external counsel

You’d not hear this from fawning financial journalists, but Pouyanne has a reputation for yelling at anyone who doesn’t tell him what he wants to hear and demanding absolute obedience from all those around him (he’s a product of a grande ecole, after all). And here he is doing multi-billion dollar acquisitions in record time without involving bankers or outsiders. What could possibly go wrong?

For all the praise heaped on him, thus far Pouyanne is reaping the rewards of projects sanctioned by his predecessor. He has put considerable personal investment into Total’s Uganda project but that’s not exactly going according to plan:

French oil and gas major Total’s chief executive said on Thursday that the firm’s Ugandan Lake Albert oil project will be a personal priority this year after setbacks led to a delay on a final investment decision (FID) in 2018.

The project, which was expected to have been cleared last year, has been delayed due to disagreements over field development strategy, tax disputes and a lack of infrastructure such as a refinery or export pipeline.

Indeed, it has all the hallmarks of a development someone jumped into feet-first without carrying out proper due diligence and ensuring the right legal structures were in place. I don’t know if Total’s acquisition of Anadarko’s African assets is a genius move or not, but financial journalists should be asking questions over how decisions get made in that company, not blowing smoke up the CEO’s arse.

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