Nobody ever told me this, it’s something I worked out for myself, but there are two kinds of outsourcing:

1) We have no idea how to do this so we need outside help.

2) We know how to do this, and we could, but we don’t have the time right now.

If you run a capable engineering department in an oil company, you find yourself doing a lot of the latter. Back in Nigeria I ran a team of about a dozen engineers, who had the capability to do pretty much any design we’d need. But we didn’t have the capacity, so we’d outsource – what my lead piping engineer would call “hiring pencils”. Ordinarily I’d say my experience outsourcing engineering work in Nigeria was worthy of a post all by itself, but in all honesty I could turn it into a whole book. Or a broadway musical. But I digress.

I deliberately chose to keep my engineering team small and avoid the empire building so beloved of many modern managers, mainly because I could see the work came in fits and starts and I didn’t want to hire someone only to have to lay them off a couple of months later. In a country like Nigeria that is grossly irresponsible, but it happened a lot. So I ensured we had a core competency and then outsourced the leg work to someone else. This ought to be uncontroversial, because you’re not losing expertise, nor relying too heavily on outsiders to execute your core business (although oil companies do this more than they should). But it’s surprising how often even senior managers don’t quite understand when to outsource and when to keep something in house.

In my first proper engineering job I remember a bundle of documents had to be taken to a client about half an hour away by car. The project manager got a quote from a taxi firm for about a hundred quid, but the director stepped in and said this was extortionate and instead ordered one of the engineers to drive there and back in his car. It didn’t seem to occur to the dolt in charge that having an engineer drive documents about isn’t the best use of his time, for which he was paying heavily. It’s not like everyone was under-utilised at the time, either.

The most memorable example was again when I was working in an oil company, and we we’d just awarded a giant EPC contract to a major international engineering company. The contract document was like War and Peace, hundreds of pages of technical stuff and legalese. Someone in charge decided quite reasonably that he wanted a copy in his office, and ordered the department secretary to print it out. Then someone else wanted a copy, and asked her the same thing. Pretty soon the entire floor’s printers were either smoking with heat, out of toner, or the buffer so clogged up nobody else could print for days. The poor secretary had to send different parts to different printers and run around between them trying to make sure she had the right parts in the right order: the entire contract was 38 separate files, with the commercial part removed for confidentiality reasons. Everyone in the department was complaining they couldn’t print, and people’s print jobs would get swallowed up somewhere in one of the contract sections. It wouldn’t surprise me if in some future court case a lawyer opens what he thinks is the clause on Marine Warranties and finds a valve datasheet where pages 3-5 ought to be. Or a presentation telling everyone to use less paper.

Now oil companies are not known to be hotbeds of common sense, so they could perhaps be forgiven. Also, outsourcing anything – even something simple like printing – was probably not straighforward where we were at the time. What surprised me more was when I turned up to the offices of the engineering contractor in a western city and found their secretary had received identical instructions from her management, with the same side effects. Now I needed a copy of the contract myself, and on the way into the engineering offices I’d spotted a print shop on the ground floor. I put the files on a memory stick, numbered them so they were in the right order, and went downstairs. An Asian chap greeted me at the counter, and behind him was a printer the size of a car. I gave him the memory stick, nodded, and asked me how many copies. Two, I said. Then he asked if I wanted it bound, because he could do that. Sure, I said. He told me to come back the next morning, which I did. Waiting for me were two perfectly printed and bound copies of the contract. He charged me around $75 for them both, which I slapped on expenses.

I put these on the shelf in my office. One was marked to stay in my office, the other could float around a bit. When my manager flew in to visit me, he immediately spotted it. “Where did you get this?” he asked. I told him I got it printed out downstairs. He asked if I could get him a copy, so I nipped down to the print shop and ordered another. Then a week or so later his boss came out, and I got a copy for him too. Soon word got around in the project headquarters that Tim knew how to get proper copies of the contract printed out, and whenever I got visitors they came with orders to bring back one or two with them.

Occasionally, whenever I wonder exactly what it is I’m paid for, I’m reminded of this episode.


Supermarket Sweep

One thing I’m looking forward to when going back the UK is the supermarkets. When it comes to supermarkets, the British are up there with the best of ’em, beaten only perhaps by the Americans who sell heavy weaponry just beside the eggs and milk.

British supermarkets used to be appalling, but sometime in the late 1990s Tesco really got their act together and overhauled their stores. They made them bright and welcoming instead of looking like a Soviet warehouse with a couple of tills at the front. They started offering products which went beyond what is required to make standard British stodge, meaning they introduced a foreign food section, exotic fruits and vegetables, and a range of interesting ready-made meals. Tesco soon became the number one supermarket in the UK, displacing Sainsbury’s who had to up their game to compete. I’m not sure when Waitrose became popular – Pembroke and Manchester were hardly hotbeds of upper middle class housewives with excess cash – but these days they’re about as good as you’ll find anywhere. Even Asda, which was where the chavs went, was pretty good by the time I left the UK in 2003.

When I moved to Dubai I used to shop at Spinney’s, which seemed to have some connection with one of the British supermarkets because their branded products would appear on the shelves. This was about as good as a British ASDA, except their pork products were in separate section including the bacon-flavoured crisps which some imaginative fellow had assumed contained something related to a pig. I remember using a lot of Dolmio ready-made sauces when I lived there as, sick of club sandwiches in the local bars, I gingerly started cooking for myself.

My grocery shopping experience plummeted when I moved to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk in 2006. There was what called itself a supermarket next to the first apartment I rented. A quarter of the shelf space was dedicated to alcohol, mostly beer and more brands of vodka than I ever thought could possibly exist. I quickly learned you could drink about four of them safely, while really taking your chances with the rest. They sold eggs in polythene bags, a decision perhaps inspired by the British in the 1980s who for some unfathomable reason thought selling milk in bags was a good idea, leaving them on doorsteps in a nation full of cats. When I looked for meat I found a freezer full of unlabeled dark lumps, butchered with a chainsaw. The first time I went I bought a jar of Heinz spaghetti sauce and some pasta and ate that for two days before I found a better supermarket. In fairness, there were two and they weren’t bad. They were at least clean. The problem was stock. One day you’d have something and the next it would be gone never to return, so if you saw something you liked – HP sauce, for example – you’d buy a year’s supply on the spot. This is why most expat houses on Sakhalin looked as though they were preparing for a nuclear holocaust. I managed to get half-decent mince and chicken if I got there early enough but there were almost no ready-made sauces, so I had to learn to make stuff from scratch. This is probably where I first started cooking properly. Because of the stock problems, I’d often find myself in a version of Ready Steady Cook where I had to make a dinner out of some frozen scallops, an onion, and a lump of rubbery cheese because that’s all they had left. The one thing I never found was proper, fresh milk. I saw some cows on Sakhalin and they looked as though they’d been through the horrors of Auschwitz. Grass grew for about two months between the snow melting and the cold coming back. They did produce milk locally but it was disgusting, sour stuff, so I was on UHT the whole time I was there. The Russians do a good range of concentrated fruit juices though, which becomes less of a surprise when you find out tumblers of juice accompany vodka shots during heavy drinking sessions. To be fair, things improved rapidly over the four years I was there, and just before I left a decent, western-style supermarket opened up near the airport which, this being Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, wasn’t very far away.

The only big supermarket I used in Patong was Carrefour, which got bought out by Big C shortly after I started going there. There was an excellent Tesco in Phuket town but I had no car and it’s not worth risking your life in a Thai taxi in order to eat Shreddies. And the Carrefour/Big C wasn’t bad, but it did smell a bit, I think because of all the meat they had lying out on the counters. Decent orange juice was surprisingly hard to find, as was cheese. I’ve been told Asians find cheese disgusting, which is understandable. You take some milk and you leave it to go bad for a couple of months, then you eat it. And we recoil at them eating cockroaches.

Then I went to Lagos. Nigerian supermarkets are an experience in themselves. It depends which one you go to, but they generally have several things in common. One is that the baskets and trolleys haven’t been cleaned since the Biafran War. Another is the mass of people outside hassling you for money, offering to help you carry your bags the whole twelve feet to the car, or generally up to no good. You have to fight your way out the door of some Nigerian supermarkets like it’s the last helicopter out of Saigon. You also have to pay in cash – nobody is daft enough to use a credit card in Nigeria – and supermarkets tend to employ people on the checkout with the attention span of a toddler in a toy shop. You hand over a fat wad of naira and stand there patiently as she giggles with her colleague and has to start the counting all over again, and again. That said, the supermarkets in Lagos had pretty much everything you’d want. Lagos is a big, commercial city and importing stuff wasn’t a problem. I remember the potatoes being bad, which is why I only ate pasta and rice, and again there was no fresh milk so I drank UHT for another three years. But you could get a litre of untaxed Wild Turkey for about $12, which more than made up for it. For meat I used to go to a Lebanese butcher who sold beef from those local, long-horned cattle with the big hump on their backs, and there was nothing wrong with it at all.

The supermarkets in Melbourne were excellent, right up to the point you came to pay and realised you need a scalpel and the assistance of someone who can swiftly remove a kidney. Australia is famous for several things: dangerous animals, thrashings at the hands of the All Blacks, and cosy duopolies in which ordinary people get utterly shafted. A mediocre bottle of wine costs around $20-25 in a supermarket (about 12-15 Euros). This is where the Australians all pile in and say no, if you sign up to a special web service and go online at the right time and buy fifteen crates of the stuff it only costs $19 per bottle and gets delivered in under a month, so f*ck off you whinging pom. In any random corner shop in France I can get a decent bottle of wine for 5-6 Euros. The difference is tax.

And finally we get to France. The French were pioneers in supermarkets back in the 1970s, and that’s where they’ve remained. True, they sell an array of cheese that could keep a mouse convention occupied for months and as I’ve said, their wine is good and cheap. The quality of meat in a French butcher is unparalleled, but even their low-end supermarket stuff is pretty good. And if you want to make something French, you’re in luck. However, the French only eat French food (and occasionally Italian). If you want something foreign other than soy sauce, you need to go to one of the giant supermarkets and even then you might come out empty-handed. But what’s worse is the overall state of the shops. Labour laws in France don’t allow shelves to be stacked at night, so they do it when the shop is open. This means that when you’re shopping you often come across an aisle blocked by a pallet and cardboard boxes strewn everywhere. Sometimes there’s even a member of staff nearby. And the places aren’t clean. Monoprix is about the best of them, but going into Auchun or Intermarche is a bit like going into an airplane toilet. You know you have no choice and you’d rather be using the nice porcelain on offer in the lobby of a Grand Hyatt, so you try your best not to touch anything or think of who else might have been there before you. And you try to avoid stepping in whatever the hell that is on the floor.

French supermarkets also have stock problems. My local Intermarche is huge, yet it regularly runs out of milk for a few days. They used to have a decent fridge full of meat, but they decided to fill it with a job-lot of cheese nobody wants to buy. As in Sakhalin, you get the impression they’re trying to shift whatever they’ve been able to lay their hands on as opposed to what the customer actually wants. The service on the tills isn’t much better, and I reckon the cashiers undergo basic training in Lagos. They seem to be split between haggard old women who look as though they wished they’d married someone else and young men who, were it not for the filthy, wrinkled supermarket waistcoat, you’d assume were about to sell you a stolen car radio rather than scan your fruit juice. The young men seem don’t seem to last long, possibly because their court date arrived curtailing their liberty. The women, on the other hand, are likely to be scowling at customers until the earth is swallowed by the sun. Understaffing (another product of high labour costs) is chronic in French supermarkets, which is why long lines at the counters are common. The look of total uninterest on a supervisor’s face when, loafing at her special desk, she spots a twelve-person queue at the solitary open checkout, is so perfect it must have taken years to master. And nobody knows despair like the desperate souls behind the person in the queue who not only uses chèque déjeuner to partly pay for his items, but whips out a chequebook to pay the remaining balance. In 2019.

So yes, I’m looking forward to once again shopping in the cathedrals which are British supermarkets.


Size Matters

I found this interesting:

The owners of porn streaming site Pornhub are profiting from “revenge porn” and failing to remove videos once reported, BBC News has been told.

One woman, “Sophie”, said she felt “violated” after a video featuring her was viewed hundreds of thousands of times when it was uploaded online.

Campaign group #NotYourPorn said such content allowed Pornhub owners MindGeek to make greater advertising revenues.

And not for the reasons you filthy-minded people are thinking. Tsk!

Back when The Economist was written by experienced adults rather than noodle-armed hipsters called Jeremy, they ran a decent article on the perils of being number one in any industry. They pointed to McDonald’s being the poster child for all complaints about junk food, while Burger King was barely mentioned. Coca-Cola would get bad press about everything from brainwashing kids to murders in Latin America, but few such claims were made against Pepsi. Environmental campaigns in the US tend to focus on ExxonMobil rather than Chevron, just as Shell seems to be the main target for European protesters. When politicians and campaigners are on a supermarket bashing spree in the US, it’s always Wal-Mart which gets singled out, never Publix. The article listed several examples and said that on occasion it pays to be number two.

There are probably at least half a dozen giant porn sites out there, but Pornhub is the biggest and best known, so that’s why it’s been singled out here. I confess I had to do several weeks of selfless research to bring you this information (ahem), but most porn clips are not exclusive to one site. In other words, this particular piece of revenge porn would have been shared across dozens of sites, many of whom would not take the approach of Pornhub:

Pornhub said it “strongly condemns” revenge porn.

It added it had “the most progressive anti-revenge-porn policy in the industry”.

Revenge porn is pretty disgusting, to be honest. I know a young woman who split from some shithead of a boyfriend and he started posting videos of her all over the internet, and contacting people on her social media accounts. She had to go into hiding while her brother-in-law trawled the internet finding where they were hosted and asking for them to be removed. Of course, it is monumentally stupid for a young woman to allow her boyfriend to video her during sex, but young people do daft things, are easily manipulated, and nowadays everyone walks around with an HD video camera in their pocket.

So while Pornhub is coming in for some flack here, at least they appear to be doing what they can to avoid hosting revenge porn; I expect lesser-known sites are quite happy to do so. So why am I sticking up for Pornhub here? Well, as I explained before, one day we’ll all be on Pornhub as it’ll be the only free speech platform left.

“I’m on there for the message boards, honestly!”


Charity Work

This isn’t an actual post, I’m just helping a pal boost his website in the search rankings.

Meastim will monitor the condition of your machinery online 24×7 with the new generation of vibration monitoring MEMS sensors, carry out the greasing of your machinery online and remotely based on data and run hours, and finally we will supply smart upgraded rotating equipment when a replacement is required to ensure that a high availability is achieved.

I think this qualifies me as an “influencer”. Expect to see bathroom selfies posted on here in due course, and endless plugs for supplements.


Unprincipled Agent Problem

This is causing somewhat of a stir but it’s mostly meaningless guff:

Nearly 200 chief executives, including the leaders of Apple, Pepsi and Walmart, tried on Monday to redefine the role of business in society — and how companies are perceived by an increasingly skeptical public.

Breaking with decades of long-held corporate orthodoxy, the Business Roundtable issued a statement on “the purpose of a corporation,” arguing that companies should no longer advance only the interests of shareholders. Instead, the group said, they must also invest in their employees, protect the environment and deal fairly and ethically with their suppliers.

This is nothing new. The idea that there is any major western corporation which thinks shareholder value is not maximised by showing a degree of consideration towards employees, the environment, and suppliers is laughable. From the statement above, one would think modern corporations are operating like a mining company in 1890s West Virginia, paying workers in scrip exchangeable only at the company store and if one gets killed they send the widow a ham.

They might have a point about the treatment of suppliers, but I suspect it’s not the one they’re making. When people think of the poor treatment of suppliers by large corporations they conjure up images of grubby children in Bangladeshi sweatshops, sleep-deprived Chinese launching themselves from windows, and Africans hacking at a piece of concrete-like soil with a hoe designed in Roman times. Executives will fall over themselves to stamp this out because to the degree it happens and is under their control it’s an easy promise to make. Similarly, I would be quick to make a promise not to double-park my Ferraris. What they’ll be less keen on rectifying is the utterly unethical practice of allowing suppliers to go bankrupt because they’ve simply not bothered paying invoices that are months overdue.

“While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders,” the group, a lobbying organization that represents many of America’s largest companies, said in a statement. “We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.”

Again, this is nothing new. The realisation that companies operate best in a stable, functioning society took place at least a hundred years ago, which is why a lot of early industrialists engaged in philanthropy.

The shift comes at a moment of increasing distress in corporate America, as big companies face mounting global discontent over income inequality, harmful products and poor working conditions.

I’d believe this if the source of discontent were impoverished labourers with callouses on their hands instead of pudgy middle class westerners who wouldn’t know a rake from a wheelbarrow. To the extent a shift has occurred, it is that much of the left no longer see corporations as a problem but as a power to be harnessed in order to bring about their desired political goals, bypassing the political process that has thwarted their ambitions for so long.

What these CEOs are doing is signalling to the American left that they are open to doing their bidding provided they get left alone financially: we’ll sign up to Pride Month and let our HR department fire anyone who posts wrongthink on social media, just don’t look too closely at our lobbying efforts regarding NAFTA and our tax exemptions. As I’ve said before, we might even have reached the point where the senior executives of major corporations actually believe their job is to act as moral guardians of the nation, rather than just pay lip service to the latest woke fad in order to placate the SJW hordes and hoodwink the dim. In that case, what we might be seeing is an attempt to justify progressive CEOs virtue-signalling at the expense of the shareholders. For example:

The CEO of Gillette said he does not regret his company’s controversial marketing campaign inspired by the #MeToo movement, despite losing some loyal customers over it.

Gary Coombe called the loss of revenue from those customers a “price worth paying” in a Monday interview with Marketing Week. Procter & Gamble, the parent company of Gillette, announced Tuesday they had taken over $5 billion in losses for the quarter, after Gillette had an $8 billion noncash writedown after its market share for razors fell over the last three years.

In other words it’s a principal-agent problem, which is nothing new either.


GM Props

This article is a good example of the phenomenon that Tim Almond likes to point out:

GM becomes first major auto company in history to have a female CEO and a female CFO

Let’s be clear: there are many, many women working and thriving in the global auto industry. Quite a few are also on leadership positions, with titanic responsibilities.

But as a whole, the business has long been thought of as a bastion of “car guys.” That’s why Wednesday’s news that General Motors’ CFO, Chuck Stevens, would retire and be succeeded by 39-year-old Dhivya Suryadevara was astounding.

GM now has two women running the show, with Suryadevara as CFO and Mary Barra as CEO.

Firstly, good for the women concerned; I’m sure they’ll do a wonderful job. But General Motors is a lumbering behemoth which was saved from bankrupcy only by government intervention involving Barack Obama tearing up the rulebook on debtor hierarchies to benefit his union chums. GM hardly represents the organisation of the future, and very much looks like a dinosaur which should have been put out of its misery a long time ago. That it should now be run by two women to much celebration supports the theory that high-flying businesswomen are more likely to take over long-established organisations than start and grow their own, and that the companies they run are well into the tail in terms of industry life cycles. In other words, it would be a lot more newsworthy were two women selected to run a biotech company than a car manufacturer (it was an appreciation of this fact which undoubtedly contributed to the excitement around the now-disgraced Elizabeth Holmes). Or, to put it another way, where is the smart money going these days and who is in charge of it?

This ties in nicely with my dissertation research, which looks at the percentages of women at the senior level in fast growing companies and compares them with those in the largest companies. I’m still collecting the data but the early signs are that smaller, fast-growing companies have a lower percentage of women in top positions than the largest companies. In other words, companies put women in charge only once they are established and have reached a certain size. This uplifting story about GM now being run by two women appears to support this theory. See also this post.


Death by a thousand suits

This is a good article on a merger in the 1990s which goes a long way to explain the organisational failures we’re now seeing at Boeing. The standout passage:

The key corporate protection that had protected Boeing engineering culture was a wall inside the company between the civilian division and military divisions.

Have a guess what happened? Then there’s this:

In 2005, Boeing hired its first ever CEO without an aviation engineering background, bringing in James McNerney, who got his training in brand management at Proctor & Gamble, then McKinsey

Uh-huh. I urge you to read the whole thing.

Staying broadly on topic, this Twitter thread is fun too.


Pride before the stall

A couple of readers sent me the link to this story:

It remains the mystery at the heart of Boeing Co.’s 737 Max crisis: how a company renowned for meticulous design made seemingly basic software mistakes leading to a pair of deadly crashes. Longtime Boeing engineers say the effort was complicated by a push to outsource work to lower-paid contractors.

The Max software — plagued by issues that could keep the planes grounded months longer after U.S. regulators this week revealed a new flaw — was developed at a time Boeing was laying off experienced engineers and pressing suppliers to cut costs.

Increasingly, the iconic American planemaker and its subcontractors have relied on temporary workers making as little as $9 an hour to develop and test software, often from countries lacking a deep background in aerospace — notably India.

In May I wrote a post about how I thought the cause of the Boeing 737 Max crashes was as much organisational failure as technical fault. The Devil’s Kitchen reposted it on Facebook and someone appeared in his comments:

His response is pretty much what you’d expect from an engineer: appeal to his own authority and then dive head first into the details of his own area of expertise thus missing the broader point. Nobody is saying that diversity policies at Boeing caused the technical failure. Instead, I am talking about organisational failure whereby a company which is prioritising diversity to the extent they have 42 councils devoted to the issue is likely to lose focus on other areas. This in turn leads to poor practices being adopted and standards dropping in certain places, which combine to deliver less than optimal outcomes. Sometimes this manifests itself in higher staff turnover, other times a less efficient production process, others lower revenues, and so on. In such an environment, the risk of a problem going undiscovered or kludged increases, and the more complex the organisation the greater that risk. This is organisational failure leading to technical failure.

One of the biggest hazards a complex organisation faces is losing control of its supply chain. This is what I think happened in the Miami bridge collapse: there were a lot of subcontractors and nobody seemed to be in overall charge. It’s not that the engineers were necessarily bad, it’s just the management didn’t seem to have an idea what was going on, let alone were in control. So getting back to the story of the Indian software engineers on $9 per hour, I doubt the root cause of the 737 Max malfunction was some ill-trained programmer tapping in the wrong code because he was distracted by the cricket. But what it does tell you is that Boeing appears to have lost control over its supply chain to the degree that practices are popping up in it which probably shouldn’t be there. This is organisational failure, and although it is not caused by having the top management so focused on diversity, the fact that the top management is focused on diversity is a reasonable indication of organisational failure. Which can be denied – right up until planes start dropping out of the sky.


Subcontract Bridge

Readers may remember my post about the footbridge in Miami which collapsed onto a road full of cars during installation. A Twitter follower sends me an update, and the first thing I notice is this:

The plans for Florida International University’s pedestrian bridge included an innovative design approach by FIGG Bridge Engineers.

So the bridge was designed by FIGG; the original news reports said the engineering was carried out by Munilla Construction Management (MCM). This link provides some clarity:

FIGG Bridge Engineers, Inc. is the designer of the bridge, working for MCM.

Ah. In my original post I said:

A lot of companies have subcontracted out the actual work – designing, building, manufacturing, operating, maintaining – and instead busy themselves with “managing” the whole process. This involves lots of well-educated people in nice clothes sitting in glass-fronted office buildings sharing spreadsheets, reports, and PowerPoint presentations by email and holding lengthy meetings during which they convince one another of how essential they are.

In such an environment, it is inevitable that the quality of work suffers, errors go unnoticed, and – occasionally – catastrophes occur. Now I don’t know if that was the case at the Munilla Construction company, but somehow they’ve gone from an outfit who could deliver a project with their eyes closed to one that has just dropped a simple footbridge on eight lanes of highway. If I were investigating, I’d want to know who did the actual design and where it was done. I’d be willing to bet a hundred quid the calculations and finite element modelling were done outside the US to save money, or subcontracted to another company, and supervision – which involves expensive Americans – was at nowhere near the levels it should have been.

So I got the subcontracting part right. Were the calculations done outside the US? Well, FIGG is a US-based group but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a design office in Mexico employing number-crunching engineers on the cheap. But given the lead design engineer is called Denney Pate, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt here. Back to the article:

Bolton Perez & Associates, the project’s construction engineering and inspection contractor

It is possible that the project’s prime contractor, MCM, and its post-tensioning subcontractor, in attempting to fix the problems, made an error that caused the bridge’s single truss to crack and give way.

So here are two more subcontracted bodies. Now it’s not unusual to bring in specialist inspectors and technical services, but it does add to the complexity of who’s in charge and where responsibility lies meaning the project management needs to be spot-on.

An official with FIU asked a representative with Bolton Perez their opinion of FIGG’s presentation analysis. Bolton, Perez said they could not comment at the moment, but would “expedite” a response in 2-3 days, according to the notes.

It’s telling that there is no mention of MCM in this exchange. What were they doing, then? Getting ready for Pride month? This is also illuminating:

Rice, the Georgia forensic engineer, remains most perplexed over the designer’s use of a single truss. “That just blew me away,” he says. “To have a single truss like that is violating one of the first tenants of structural engineering—provide redundancy. If you’re going to make a truss bridge, you have at least two trusses,” he argues.

Okay, so this is what FIGG say on their website:

Bridges designed by FIGG are purposeful works of art, functional sculptures within the landscape, that are created through a careful analysis of the site, contextual and environmental sensitivity, and a regional approach that encompasses a community’s particular needs, as well as the realities of funding and maintenance.

By capturing the powers of imagination, function, and technology, we build bridges that improve the nation’s infrastructure, while enhancing the appearance of communities across America and the quality of life for the people who live in them.

So they look nice but collapse during installation in a manner detrimental to the quality of life for those passing beneath them at the time.

There are two points to make here. Firstly, MCM seem to have been adding little value; the fact their name doesn’t even come up in descriptions of the engineers’ discussions speaks volumes. This supports my original theory that they were an outfit which is good at winning projects via connections and box-ticking, but cannot actually execute any meaningful work nor adequately supervise those that do. This is modern business in a nutshell.

Secondly, the whole thing points to colossal organisational failure in the face of serious technical problems. There are a lot of people involved without clear roles and responsibilities with everyone talking, sharing opinions, and a*se-covering but nobody in charge and accountable (I suspect the investigation into the Boeing 737 MAX will reveal similar patterns). This represents a regression in terms of organisational and technical capabilities.

Now granted I am speculating but the incontrovertible facts are cracks were detected in the truss structure before the installation attempt and the engineers knew about them, but they went ahead with the installation anyway without bothering to close the road to traffic. It then collapsed and killed people. If this isn’t massive organisational failure then I don’t know what is.


HR Case II Answers

Following on from my previous post, the recommended course of action is:

1. Remind the employee that he must refrain from all involvement in politics in countries where he has no civil rights and the company is operating.

2. Reiterate that respect for human rights, including freedom of expression, is a fundamental company commitment.

3. Draw the employee’s attention to the fact that he may be perceived from outside as a company spokesman.

Ultimately, the company has signed up to international labour codes which respect freedom of expression. This is why they can’t just rush in and sack someone who has published something which the middle management don’t like or find inconvenient, e.g. a blog post which doesn’t mention the company name. As I said, it’s a large multinational with a reputation to protect and plenty of people wanting to see it come to grief in a courtroom. If you were some two-bit outfit nobody’s ever heard of then you’ve probably got more room to manoeuvre, but giant corporations have to watch their step.

In my earlier post, I quoted this part of the company code of conduct:

By virtue of international Human Rights standards (notably the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), every individual has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The right to freedom of opinion guarantees that no one should be harassed due to their opinions. All individuals also have the right to freedom of expression, which includes the freedom to seek, receive and disseminate any kind of information, provided that the privacy and reputation of third parties and the company are respected.

This is important, as it means it’s not a question of management deciding on some vague measure that an employee has brought the company into disrepute and therefore must be disciplined. Instead, the employee can claim he acted within the company code of conduct and it’s up to the employer to demonstrate that he did so in a way so egregious that his rights are forgone in this instance. That’s not something I’d want to convince a tribunal of in the case of an employee’s Twitter comment which incited a mob to bombard the HR department with demands he be sacked.

This is really the basis of Israel Folau’s lawsuit against his former employers. If the code of conduct specifically allows people to practice their religion, how can he then be fired for effectively doing just that? I expect over the course of the next few years we’ll see a series of court cases which determine the degree to which corporations can sanction employees for expressing opinions in a private capacity which the management find inconvenient. Note that this wasn’t really a problem until Twitter came along and allowed SJW mobs to form. My guess is we’ll see a few silly rulings by progressive judges before higher courts containing more sensible judges point to commitments to human rights and freedom of expression in corporations’ documents and tell them they’d better start living up to them. The James Damore lawsuit will be worth watching.