Fun with procurement

Last week the ZMan changed tack a little and wrote about procurement in large organisations. It’s worth a read, not least because the comments did not immediately fill up with morons explaining every bad thing which occurred since the Thirty Years War is the fault of (((the Rothschilds))).

For those unfamiliar with the RFP, which is sometimes called a request for quote or even a request for information, it is a document companies produce when they wish to buy a capital product or service. In theory, the document describes the item or service, the conditions that have to be met in order to be considered and the process by which the company intends to evaluate potential vendors. These are popular in government and large corporate environments.

This struck a nerve:

If an organization or government is buying a well defined product or a commodity item, it makes sense, but for something like a complex service, then it is a recipe for failure. Even in the case of well-defined item like a machine tool, I’ve seen RFP’s that appear to be written by enemies of the issuing company. The people creating the document use it to impress their boss, rather than make a sound purchase.

The other thing that always turns up in RFP’s is the underlying assumption that the person who wrote the thing is a genius. The specifications will be hilariously narrow, which results in the request being for an exact copy of what they have now, but newer. My suspicion has been that there is a correlation between the level of specificity and the lack of understanding of the problem to be solved by the purchase. Smart companies buy products and services to solve problems. Stupid companies tick boxes on forms.

When I was in Nigeria, the acquisition form an engineer would complete in order to buy something had space for no less than nine approving signatures. Whole weeks would pass as these documents moved at the pace of a snail from one desk to another. Occasionally we’d get a question or two but they were never sensible, more along the lines of “Do we really need this?” or “Can we use two 100lb flanges instead of one 200lb?” The people reviewing the acquisition and (eventually) applying their signature added no value whatsoever; they were certainly not to be held responsible for any errors therein. But their involvement was important nonetheless, just not in the way you’d hope: it justified their existence in the organisation.

A similar thing happens with RFPs (and many other documents produce in large organisations). Thirty-three departments will all insist on being involved, requiring an endless series of meetings where each person sticks his oar in. You’ll notice this when you design by committee: every department needs to be seen to contribute something, even if it’s completely stupid or irrelevant. If they don’t, they worry they’ll not be seen as important. The result is a jumbled mess of narrow interests, pet projects, hypotheticals, and competing priorities written up by a junior employee for whom English is very much a second language. I was once involved with an integrity inspection and risk assessment project in the Middle East and tacked on the end of the RFP was a single paragraph saying the contractor had to create an entire IT system which allowed each document to be uploaded, accessible to everyone, and modifiable with automatic revision upgrades. It was obviously the bright idea someone came up with at the end of a meeting; that risk and safety consultants probably aren’t the best people to be setting up IT systems didn’t occur to any of the geniuses in Contracts & Procurement. Another requirement you see is for the contractor to train client personnel in some area, giving no guidance as to how many people and to what level you must train them.

The RFP that spawned this post was obviously the result of some serious business problem the company needs to solve. The trouble is the RFP so thoroughly obscures it, no vendor will be able to identify the problem, so they will not be able to solve it.

The arrogance of a modern company is such that they believe vendors are both stupid and liars, and they don’t need to know what the actual problem is. All they need to do is read the RFP, submit the lowest price, and be prepared to do exactly as the client tells them.

This is a good anecdote, too:

A story I’m fond of telling is about going to the initial RFP meeting for a government contract. I was a young guy and still a little green. They handed out the RFP’s and discussed the schedule. An old guy sitting next to me thumbed through the document and found the poison pill in about ten minutes. He stood up, told everyone to look at the specific section. In a few minutes everyone left the room other than me and one other guy. He was the predetermined winner. It was a good lesson.

A lot of times when a company issues an RFP it’s simply for compliance reasons. Most companies have to get quotes from a minimum three (and sometimes five) bidders, even if they have an incumbent who’s CEO is good pals with the client’s MD and they have the job in the bag. One of the first things a contractor or vendor needs to do when they receive an RFP is work out whether they’re just making up numbers on a bid-list. If you’ve never done business with this outfit before and you get a call from someone in bad English expressing disappointment you’ve not submitted a tender and offering you more time, you know the job’s gone to someone else but they need to make it look kosher. I even ran an experiment on this once, and used to turn in bids at ever decreasing prices just to see what would happen. Then I stopped responding and I got a call from a chap in contracts who asked why I hadn’t submitted a bit.

“Because it’s obvious we’re just making up numbers on a bid-list while every job goes to that company you always use,” I said.

He was most indignant.

Share

Manage the people you have

Underneath yesterday’s post, Bardon wrote the following:

I don’t like Ilya either and think that he should be shown the door. How long has that loser being getting away with it, is all I can say about the useless idiot.

So let me elaborate on the situation on Sakhalin Island in 2007, which will be fairly typical of most non-western countries. There is a thing called Local Content Legislation which makes it a legal requirement on the part of all foreign entities to hire a certain percentage of locals. If the locals are uneducated, unskilled, and untrained it doesn’t matter: it is the foreign company’s responsibility to provide the necessary training to allow them to do the job. If there are no locals around because the site is in the middle of nowhere, you must hire them elsewhere and bring them to site. In the early days, it was possible to employ a whole bunch of locals as drivers or in other lowly positions, but the authorities soon got wind of this and started looking at job categories and average salaries.

Even before 2007 companies in Sakhalin were under enormous legal pressure to hire more locals in more senior positions. At the height of the Sakhalin I and II construction projects (which were running simultaneously), there were tens of thousands of people working on them, both locals and foreigners. The population of Sakhalin is around 500,000 of which about a third live in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the regional capital. To say there were serious labour shortages is an understatement, and thousands of Kazakhs, Turks, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Azeris, Brits, Americans, Australians, Nepalese, Dutch, Indonesians, Filipinos and another forty nationalities were brought in to man the projects. Russians were brought from the mainland by the thousand, particularly those from the Krasnodar region who had experience on the Caspian Pipeline Consortium. Kazakhs were also favoured because they spoke Russian and had experience from the Tenghiz and Karachaganak projects.

In short, any Russian under 50 on Sakhalin who was not mental, in jail, or a raving alcoholic was in high demand (so about half the male population, then). Added to that was the problem that foreign companies needed most of their Russians to speak English, which reduced the labour pool even further. This is why all the foreign companies on Sakhalin at that time were stuffed full of teachers: they were the first ones they identified who could speak English, and any technical skill or other competence came further down the list of requirements. Much further.

So while we had some very good Russians working for us, we also had some pretty average ones who you couldn’t do much about because the law didn’t allow a foreigner to do the job and there were no better Russians available. It is in such situations a manager is really tested. Any idiot can fire someone and hire another, but it takes skill to manage a team with a whole range of individuals and understand that these are the people you have to work with. A common mistake a lot of modern managers make is to believe replacing people is a bigger part of their job than effectively managing those they have. When a new manager of Plymouth Argyle football club takes over, he doesn’t sell the whole team and demand the club buys Ronaldo and Messi. Instead he looks at the team he has and tries to get the very best out of them, and he’ll only sell a player once they’ve been shown they can’t fit the team and a better replacement is available. Now I understand some managers have the luxury of being able to fire people and immediately replace them, but let’s not pretend this requires any great talen t.Another way of putting it is you manage the team you have, not the one you wished you had; I was stuck with Ilya and had to work with him. In the main he did a reasonable job, could be relied upon for the most part, and brought in more money than he cost us. Indeed, by the standards of Sakhalin Island in 2007 he was a pretty good employee.

The other thing every manager had to be wary of on Sakhalin was the labour law. The Russian labour code is notoriously strict, and getting rid of people for performance issues required several steps with the involvement of HR, each properly documented. Even then, local employees used to take foreign companies to the local labour courts, who would delight in ruling in favour of their own (this was in stark contrast to when a Russian would take a Russian company to court, and get laughed at). This meant you would only fire an employee as a last resort, when the damage they have wrought is so great you have no choice. Usually, the way of getting rid of a bad employee was to make their job a bit rubbish and, with the labour market being what it was, wait for them to get a better job with another company on more money. The exception was if they were drunk at work, in which case they would always resign rather than have the reason for dismissal entered in their labour book for future employees to see.

In summary, firing Ilya on Sakhalin Island in 2007 wasn’t really an option, even if it were a good idea. Instead I was required to manage him. Imagine.

Share

Offshore Clerks

Back in the days when I had a career and was running a team of engineers, a job request landed on my desk regarding the replacement of a valve in the depths of an offshore platform. According to the process, this request was born from a problem identified by the offshore operations and maintenance team, who then discussed it with their onshore counterparts to consider what should be done and with what priority. The offshore team consisted of the Offshore Installation Manager (OIM), the field operations supervisor, the maintenance supervisor, the marine operations manager, plus a whole host of operators, technicians, maintenance personnel, and safety officers. Onshore, the team comprised a production manager, a deputy production manager, a maintenance manager, a safety manager, plus a load of engineers and other support staff. All were involved in the discussions surrounding the problem – the valve was seized – and they decided to replace it. Were it a straight-up replacement it would have been handled by the maintenance team, but because they wanted to move it to a different location nearby, it became an asset modification and needed engineering to get involved. As per the process, every manager and supervisor both onshore and offshore had to sign off on the request for engineering support, and each was given space to append their discipline comments to the form. These managers and supervisors were mainly western expats between 35 and 55 years of age, and considered some of the best the company had to offer. For this reason they were well paid.

So the request lands on my desk, I look at it for a while, then turn it the right way up, then call my lead piping engineer, a grizzled Scotsman who I’ll call Fred. Fred had more brownfield engineering experience than I could hope to acquire in three lifetimes, and I decided early on that he was someone worth listening to. I handed the request to Fred and asked him to take a look, and a few days later we sat down and discussed the job. Fred said the valve was enormous, it was very heavy, and the area it was in very tight and congested. It was therefore going to be a rather difficult job, but not impossible. However, he said he’d know a lot more if he could get out to the platform and take a look for himself.

I usually insist on a site visit by discipline engineers on any brownfield job because the drawings, even if properly updated to as-built status, can never give you the complete picture. 3D scans and PDMS models are very useful, but everything must be verified with a site visit. For all you know, someone’s built a temporary structure right in the area you thought was free; temporary modifications in the offshore oil industry have a terrible habit of remaining in place until the facility is decommissioned. Some managers are only too happy to have engineers visit the site to allow them to discuss the precise problem and proposed solutions with the operators, and some OIM’s insist on such a visit. But often visitors are not welcome offshore due to a lack of bedspace or seats on the helicopter. In this particular case, it was easier to get an audience with the Queen than get a guy offshore as the accommodation was permanently full of essential personnel who couldn’t be spared for a single day. However, I’m a stubborn sod and I refused to move forward with the engineering until Fred had gone offshore and looked at the job in person; I was of the opinion that if the OIM cannot accommodate an engineer for a couple of days, the job can’t be that important. I learned that management don’t like it when you put it like that in meetings.

So eventually Fred got his offshore visit, much to the annoyance of the offshore team. When Fred got there and had undergone the usual safety inductions, he stepped out of the living quarters to find the operations area like the Marie Celeste. He walked around  the whole platform and barely saw a soul, but when he went back to the living quarters and stuck his head in the offices, he found it stuffed to the gills full of people. It stayed like this for the whole two days he was out there. In the company of the most junior operator on the platform Fred descended into the bowels of the platform and found the valve that was seized. It really was huge. He spent an hour or so down there, taking measurements and working out what could be done. He then went back to the living quarters where he was summoned to the meeting room by the OIM and asked to present his findings. Around the table were all the senior people on the platform, who lived there 24/7 for 4 weeks at a time.

Fred began. “I think we need to look at a repair, rather than replacement.”

He was immediately interrupted by the OIM. “No, we have decided it is better to replace it.”

“Replacing it is going to be very difficult,” said Fred. “It’s a huge valve and…”

The maintenance manager cut in. “Yes, it is big but it needs to be replaced.”

“Then that will be a lot of work,” said Fred. “And I’m not sure how you’re going to get a cutting torch down there.”

“A cutting torch?” said someone.

“Yes,”  said Fred. “The valve is too big to fit out the entrance door, even if we dismantle it. The valve body won’t fit.”

“Are you sure?” asked the OIM. “I don’t think so.”

“Okay,” said Fred. “A show of hands, please. How many people around this table have actually been downstairs and had a look at the valve?” The room fell silent. Everyone looked at each other. No hands went up. “Okay, well I have and I’ve measured the valve, the valve body, and the size of the hatch and there is no way we’re getting that valve out without cutting it up, and that won’t be easy down there. So I recommend we dismantle it and repair it in situ.”

So what’s my point? The situation described in this anecdote might not be typical, but it is certainly not unusual either. It is almost inconceivable that an oil company would pay hundreds of thousands of dollars per month to have people sitting on an oil platform (with all its inherent risks) who limit their interaction with the facility in order to do bureaucratic tasks which could just as easily be done onshore, yet it happens. It is common, especially in big companies, to have an organisation staffed by ostensibly experienced and qualified people who are well paid, but simply decline to do their jobs. Instead, they busy themselves with other activities, often under the direction of a manager who never properly understood what they should be doing in the first place. It’s what happens when an organisation’s processes become divorced from the goals they are supposed to achieve, and managers are rewarded solely for following the process regardless of outcomes.

Share

Time for a Change

As of today I am effectively no longer working in the oil industry, although in the strictest sense I still am as I’m on gardening leave. That said, in an even stricter sense, I’ve not been working in the oil industry for quite some time. After something like fifteen years it’s time to call it quits, and for two reasons.

The first is that there is simply no work around. Back when I started out in 2003 there was a mountain of work and it picked up exponentially as the oil price rose. My biggest problem back then was a lack of experience, but once I’d got a few years under my belt I landed some half-decent positions with exposure to serious, major projects. But when the oil price crashed in 2015 the entire industry came to a screeching halt with projects being cancelled en masse and thousands of people fired. Since then, from what I can tell, the industry has adopted a holding pattern until the oil price picks up and things return to how they were in the boom years. This is a bit like the dinosaurs waiting for the meteor dust to settle down so the climate goes back to how it was.

From where I’m standing the oil price didn’t so much crash into a trough than return to normal from a ludicrous high; the lowest it got was around $36 per barrel, higher than it was when I joined the industry, and soon stabilised around $50. The problem was the oil industry had forgotten how to function at such prices, and if they’ve since remembered they’re keeping it secret. The other issue is that even when prices eventually rise the oil industry will look very different than in previous eras. National governments will enjoy the majority stake in any sizeable future development, with private oil companies being lucky to retain operatorship and not reduced to a partner in an operating consortium or simply paid a service fee much like any other contractor. in addition, the competency gaps between locals, low-cost engineering centres abroad, and western expats are closing rapidly, and even if they’re not the industry is happy to accept lower standards. Looking down the road, I simply don’t see much opportunity for well-paid western-expat positions on oil and gas projects. There will be some for sure, but nothing like how it was, and with nothing like the pay either.

The second reason is even if major projects were being sanctioned and positions created, I have reached the conclusion there’s no place for someone like me in the modern oil industry. This isn’t just my opinion: I’ve had various managers tell me they’d made a mistake in employing me, and they’d probably be surprised to hear I couldn’t agree more. I’ve worked for several companies right through the oil and gas industry’s contracting chain and on many occasions I’ve wondered why they hired me. If I’d lied on my CV and claimed a competence I didn’t have, the fault would be mine. But it was more a case of the interview process selecting someone who is task-orientated, responsible, reliable, and can work independently then putting him in a role consisting of menial admin work micromanaged to a degree you’d not think possible. Like many industries with too much money, the oil business recruits for brains and character then put them in positions where the former is not required and the latter a severe handicap. I have no objection to the oil industry creating process-driven roles that serve little purpose other than to keep people employed, but they ought not to fill them with people who are manifestly unsuitable. I’ve been around long enough, and seen enough outfits big, small, and in between to know the part of the oil industry which employs western expats places a high value on keeping your mouth shut and showing blind obedience to the immediate hierarchy and not much on anything else. Why the hell anyone would think I’d fit in there I don’t know, myself included, and after 15 years of trying it’s time to chuck in the towel and do something else.

What that will be is a subject for another post; you’ll find out soon enough.

Share

A Shell of their former selves

Yesterday I received an email from Shell containing more diversity mumbo-jumbo than I thought possible:

We have just celebrated International Women’s Day, when women are recognized for their achievements regardless of age, race or beliefs.

This sentence reads as though it was written by a committee. Why not just stop after “achievements”? What have age, race, and beliefs got to do with women’s day?

The value that women have in the workforce is truly immeasurable.

Is it? Could you not apply the proportion of women in the workforce to the overall value added by the company (“profits”)? Cross-reference this with the total women’s wage bill and you’d have an order of magnitude at least. You could refine things further by assuming whichever women (and men) were involved in writing this press release represented negative value to the tune of their salaries.

At Shell, the unlimited potential in each woman is considered one of our greatest resources.

Considered by whom? I bet investors are a lot more interested in your production rate, reserves, and cash pile. And “unlimited potential in each woman”? Does each man have unlimited potential? Or only those who went to Delft?

They then provide links to various webpages, which contain such gems as:

Shell promotes a culture that is gender balanced. This extends to the way we hire and develop our female talent. We run leadership workshops designed specifically for women.

Nothing says gender equality quite like leadership workshops designed specifically for women.

In the last five years, Shell has increased female representation on our Board of Directors from 8% to 33%. We have also seen the representation of women in senior leadership positions rise from 16% in 2012 to 22% in 2017.

I for one will be extremely interested to see how this pans out. It’s not that I don’t think women can be leaders, it’s that when a company adopts progressive initiatives based on politically-driven social science papers originating in the lunatic fringe of western academia, they’ve lost all perspective. Pepsi’s CEO is Indra Nooyi, an Indian woman, and they pointedly don’t make a big song and dance about it because she is undoubtedly there on merit alone. I worked in and around Shell organisations between 2004 and 2009, and there were plenty of capable women doing very well there, some of whom were in senior positions. There didn’t seem to be any impediment to women back then, they were just fewer in number for the most obvious and natural of reasons. If Shell now believes it’s necessary to artificially inflate the number of women in senior positions in the way they’ve described above, it’s a sign they’re less interested in oil and gas production than social engineering.

For us, this is just the beginning.

The beginning of the end, I suspect. Shell will survive for a long time on its legacy production, reserves, and vast cash pile, but I’d hazard a guess that very little it has done or will do since the oil price crash in 2015 will contribute to its long term future. Applying the “clogs to clogs in three generations” analogy, Shell’s latest generation of whizz-kid managers are eyeing up their next Ferrari while the factory falls into disrepair.

I’ve an inkling I might yet be young enough to write the obituary of Big Oil. As many predicted, their demise won’t be due to a lack of oil in the ground.

Share

Statoil’s Folly

This is making me all misty-eyed with nostalgia for the late ’90s/early ’00s:

The board of directors of Statoil proposes to change the name of the company to Equinor. The name change supports the company’s strategy and development as a broad energy company.

Back in the days when New Labour were sneering at anything traditional and wrecking institutions that had worked well enough for centuries, the business world was going through it’s own version of similar self-harm. British Airways replaced the Union Flag on its tailplanes with tribal art, reversing the decision a few years later. Having spent £75m on branding experts, PricewaterhouseCoopers changed its name to Monday, which proved to be a mistake. Sun Alliance and Royal Insurance changed their name to More Than, which it keeps to this day. British Petroleum switched it’s name to BP, getting rid of the shield logo and replacing it with some sort of flower. They also adopted the tagline Beyond Petroleum, despite sales of oil, gas, and petroleum products making up pretty much all their revenues.

It’s this last example which I’m reminded of the most by Statoil’s rebranding, for obvious reasons. Have a read of the guff they’ve come out with to justify it:

The world is changing, and so is Statoil. The biggest transition our modern-day energy systems have ever seen is underway, and we aim to be at the forefront of this development. Our strategy remains firm. The name Equinor reflects ongoing changes and supports the always safe, high value and low carbon strategy we outlined last year,” says chair of the board in Statoil, Jon Erik Reinhardsen.

Basically, Statoil doesn’t want the word “oil” in its name any more despite oil (and gas) production being their core business by a mile and a half. Yes they do other things, including renewable energy – as all the major oil firms now claim – but these activities are negligible in terms of revenue when compared to the production of hydrocarbons and their derivatives, and always will be. If you want to invest in a solar energy company, invest in a solar energy company. Don’t invest in an oil company that has bought some solar energy capability for PR purposes. I noticed a few years back that Porsche now makes luggage and sunglasses, or at least licenses their brand to someone that does. What Statoil’s doing is the equivalent of Porsche rebranding in the hope nobody notices their core business is still making cars.

“Equinor is a powerful expression of who we are, where we come from and what we aspire to be. We are a values-based company, and equality describes how we want to approach people and the societies where we operate. The Norwegian continental shelf will remain the backbone of our company, and we will use our Norwegian heritage in our positioning as we continue growing internationally within both oil, gas and renewable energy,” says Sætre.

A values-based company. Uh-huh. Which company isn’t these days? I’m sure the good folk who dropped a bridge on innocent motorists in Florida claimed the same thing, but what does it actually mean? If values are something you need to consciously adopt and then advertise, perhaps you don’t have them. A friend of mine recently switched employers and one of his first assignments was to attend a three-day workshop with the senior management to decide what the company values would be. This is the same category error as when a CEO stands in front of his staff and says “we need to adopt X culture”. Values, like culture, is something you develop organically, intrinsically, personally. They cannot be imposed by decree, and a company’s culture or values is simply the aggregate of the people within it. If you were to send someone into a modern corporation with a copy of its “values” and tell them to report back when they found the first instance of a manager acting in a way which completely contradicts them, you’d barely have time for a cup of tea. As I’m fond of saying loudly in meetings, if you want to change the culture in a company you need to employ people who already subscribe to that culture, put them in charge, and fire those that don’t (this suggestion doesn’t always go down well.)

“Equinor is a name that is forward-looking, and creates a strong platform for engagement and dialogue with a broad set of stakeholders. We believe it will create internal alignment and pride, and help attract capital, partners and talents,” says Reidar Gjærum, Senior Vice President for Corporate Communication in Statoil.

Here’s another anecdote. I once worked for an outfit that wasn’t doing very well, and the reasons were obvious. The best thing the CEO could have done in terms of helping the company was gas himself in his garage, but instead he decided the company name and logo should change. He hired a consultant to tell him the name and logo was holding them back, but the consultant returned with the message that, on the contrary, the name and logo were probably the best things about the whole damned outfit. The consultant got fired on the spot, but the name and logo remained. The episode taught me that if a company is looking to change its name and logo (slightly updating the latter is fine), it’s got other, more serious problems that aren’t being addressed and the name change is merely a distraction. To their immense credit, RoyalDutch/Shell has retained the latter part of its name and the Pecten logo despite both being completely outdated and irrelevant in terms of what the company does. Coca-Cola never changed its name or logo, despite the company branching out far beyond cola production. And Chicago Bridge and Iron (CBI) famously isn’t in Chicago, doesn’t make bridges, and uses no iron.

Many people are as unimpressed as I am at Statoil’s name change:

The firm, the world’s 11th largest oil and gas company, released a video on Thursday announcing that after 45 years of operations, it is changing its name to Equinor.

The video is perhaps not what you’d expect from a company with assets worth more than €100 billion.

Starting off with the scream of a woman echoing through a forest, the video then cuts to her giving birth, before shots of a little girl doing gymnastics, a classroom of children learning that “to learn is to change”, and a spotty teenager looking in the mirror cross the screen.

Does this sound like an oil company with its eye on the ball? This doesn’t help, either:

Oil majors aren’t famed for their pranks, but Statoil ASA had analysts checking it wasn’t April Fool’s Day when it announced a new name that turned out to have been acquired from an Oslo veterinary practice specializing in horses.

When people think your company’s proposed name change is an April Fool’s joke, you might want to reconsider. Note the disparity between the earnestness of the Statoil CEO and the degree of seriousness on display from the journalist in this passage:

“I don’t expect Equinor to be love at first sight for everyone,” the CEO told reporters in Oslo on Thursday. “Give it a little time, let it mature. I feel very confident that this is right and important for the company to do.”
Statoil declined to disclose how much it paid the veterinarian, who will soon be offering services from equine dentistry to castration under the name of Equina.

And this is illuminating:

The name change is bound to “stir up some emotions,” said Frode Alfheim, the head of Industry Energy, Norway’s biggest oil union. But what counts is that the company remains 67 percent state-owned, stays in Stavanger and focuses on the Norwegian continental shelf, he said.

Basically, a state-owned oil company doesn’t want to be branded as a state-owned oil company; they’re embarrassed by who they are and what they do. How very modern.

Share

We’ve agreed an agreement is necessary

Years ago I was an engineer working with a team that was being sent to site to carry out a load of construction works. Nothing too major, but no matter what the workscope any  company showing up on site has to have in place a Site Safety Plan, which is a document identifying all the risks associated with the works and how they intend to manage them. Any contractor working in the oil and gas business will have a procedure describing how to prepare a Site Safety Plan, and it will typically contain prescriptive instructions such as:

– A hazard identification workshop and risk ranking exercise shall be carried out prior to mobilisation.

– A risk mitigation plan shall be put in place detailing how each identified hazard shall be managed such that the residual risk is as low as reasonably practicable.

– Tool-box talks shall be prepared and tailored to address the residual risks associated with the works.

In short, prior to mobilising to site, the Safety Manager leads an exercise in identifying the risks and mitigating against them, which usually involves compiling (or writing) numerous procedures related to the execution of the works (e.g. excavations, lifting, vehicular transport, etc.) This will all be collated in the Site Safety Plan and communicated to everyone involved, including the owners of the site, and demonstrates that the risks involved with the works have been properly thought about and are being managed. (Bardon will know all this stuff backwards and inside-out, as would anyone who’s spent time on a site.)

Anyway, our Safety Manager was given several weeks to prepare this document, and a few days before mobilisation it was passed to me for review. This is what I read:

– A hazard identification workshop and risk ranking exercise shall be carried out prior to mobilisation.

– A risk mitigation plan shall be put in place detailing how each identified hazard shall be managed such that the residual risk is as low as reasonably practicable.

– Tool-box talks shall be prepared and tailored to address the residual risks associated with the works.

Rather than doing the tasks required, the Safety Manager had simply repeated what we were supposed to do prior to mobilisation. He had completely failed to understand that now was the time to do what was required. Or he had no idea how to, and just winged it. I suspect the latter.

I was reminded of this when I turned on the TV this morning to see Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker telling everyone a deal had been struck such that Brexit talks can now move forward. But when journalists asked for details, such as the shape of the final agreement on the Northern Ireland border, the response was that they’d agreed than an agreement must be reached. Via Gareth Soye on Twitter, I found this excerpt from the report which supposedly gives us more detail:

Since the result of the Brexit vote was known, the question was always how to reconcile a differing regulatory regime either side of the border without putting in place a hard border. This was supposedly something that had to be agreed before the talks could proceed, but in the finest style of a modern corporate manager they’ve just said:

“We will not have a separate regulatory regime for Northern Ireland nor a hard border. Now, moving on…”

I suspect the intention of both May and the EU is that this issue will never come up for serious discussion again because, one way or another, the UK will remain in the EU in all but name.

Share

Deepwater Fishing

Bayou Renaissance Man brings us this report:

BEIJING has discovered a major threat to its new aircraft carrier: swarms of deadly jellyfish. Now it’s racing to develop weapons of mass destruction to beat them.

Masses of the creatures can be sucked through the warship’s water intakes necessary for cooling the vessel’s engines.

Once in the cooling vents, they get mashed into a thick, sticky soup.

This blocks the cooling system, causing the engines to overheat and bringing the warship to a halt.

It then reportedly takes days to clear the pipes.

Thus the urgent need for countermeasures.

The new jellyfish shredder consists of a net, several hundred meters long and wide, which is towed by a tugboat ahead of the carrier.

This funnels whatever falls within towards an array of steel blades.

What comes out the other side is no larger than 3cm wide.

The effect is so brutal researchers report the waters the shredder passes through become murky as the jellyfish — and other marine life — corpses begin to decompose. It takes up to a week to clear.

Bayou Renaissance Man adds:

I’m afraid the deliberate destruction of marine life to accommodate the ship is characteristic of attitudes towards nature in, not just China, but most of Asia.  The prevailing attitude in many of the countries and cultures there seems to be that nature exists to serve human interests. If it doesn’t, it must be tamed, reshaped, or removed until it does.

There are some folks in my industry who concern themselves with the design of subsea equipment, basically kit that we stick on the seabed to aid in the extraction of oil and gas from the reservoir. In shallow waters, such as those in the North Sea, they have always had to design them such that trawler nets can pass over them without becoming snagged (I heard one story from decades back that a fishing vessel snagged its net on a pipeline, turned the winch on max, and promptly sunk sank itself). In deep water, which is anything over about 600m, this hasn’t been a concern as the nets don’t go down that far. However, I heard a couple of weeks ago that a Chinese fishing ship operating offshore Angola passed its nets over some equipment a mile down.

I get the impression we’ll soon be shown that Africa’s environment, like so much else in the world, is a concern only of wealthy, middle-class white folk who are chiefly troubled by the activities of other white folk. This would explain why you don’t hear much mention of Chinese fishing boats in David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series.

Share

The Myth of the Petrodollar

In the comments beneath this post, Bardon remarks:

But there is another complexity here the Kissinger instigated Petrodollar.

The US economy would collapse overnight if this mechanism stopped, hence they need the Saudis and they need that Aramco IPO on Wall Street. BRICS are anti petrodollar and are working very hard to undermine and replace it, its the kind of stuff that starts wars.

The systems is such that non oil producing countries that want to buy oil must buy it in US$. So lets say Greece wants to buy Kuwaiti oil, it will do this in US $ which is neither the currency of the seller nor the buyer, meaning that it has to have US$ in the first place.

If the petrodollar system collapsed and remember the US could not even touch the sides with supplying oil to meet market demand, and no one buys it in US$ anymore then the demand for US$ would stop and it would absolutely tank overnight. Iran can’t wait to sell it in anything other than US$ and it looks like the BRICS nations are a likely taker, so they had better be quick in stopping Iran making any trades.

This theory is frequently brought forward to explain geopolitical developments involving the United States, and while others (Mr Worstall, for example) has dealt with it in the past, I might as well do so again.

The reasoning goes something like this. The US needs to ensure a demand for its currency, and therefore insists all oil around the world is sold in USD. If a country were to switch to selling oil in euros or another currency, the USD would nose-dive and destroy the US economy. The reason the US deposed of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi was because each were about to start selling their oil in euros or gold. This theory even beats “wars for pipelines” into second place as an explanation for American foreign policy, and it is a persistent one. Sadly it’s not just the preserve of cranks on Zerohedge, I’ve actually had an MBA graduate insist that a country trading oil in euros presents a serious threat to US financial hegemony. And here’s a recent article in The Huffington Post telling us:

Non-Dollar Trading Is Killing the Petrodollar — And the Foundation of U.S.-Saudi Policy in the Middle East

It’s nonsense of course, and here’s why. According to this site, the value of oil traded is $1.7 trillion dollars per year. Looked at another way, oil production was about 97m barrels per day in 2015; let’s call it 100m making 36.5bn barrels a year. Assuming a sale price of $100 per barrel, annual production is worth $3.65 trillion dollars. Assuming $60 per barrel, it’s worth $2.19 trillion dollars. The exact number doesn’t matter, we’re just after an order of magnitude here.

Now according to this site, total foreign exchange (FX) transactions are valued at $5.1 trillion dollars per day. Trade in USD accounts for a whopping 88% of that, i.e. $4.49 trillion per day. According to another site, total FX was $5.3 trillion per day in 2013 of which USD trades accounted for 87%, i.e. $4.6 trillion per day. Again, we only need orders of magnitude here.

So, the demand for dollars driven by oil sales equals around $2-3 trillion dollars per year. Meanwhile, the overall demand for dollars equals around $4.5 trillion dollars per day. From these figures alone one can conclude that the currency in which oil is traded makes no difference whatsoever to the value of the USD. Reasons for going to war and bringing about regime change vary, but it is unlikely anyone would do so to protect one-three-hundredth of its currency demand.

So what would happen if a country switched to selling oil in yuan or euros? Well, those who hold USD would go to the FX market and buy yuan or euros at the prevailing rate and then use them to buy the oil. No need for any wars when you have a large and functioning FX market. You’ll notice that those peddling the myth of petrodollars driving American foreign policy never go into details of how all it is all supposed to work. There are good reasons for this.

Share

Des: Oil & Gas Contractor

I’m at a seminar and away from a keyboard until Thursday evening, so in the meantime I’ll leave you with this tale I wrote in 2010 about a bloke I worked with in the Middle East. Enjoy!

I first met Desmond – let’s call him Des – on the first night I ever spent in Abu Dhabi, 12th June 2003.  I remember the date because it was the day I emigrated from the UK (even if I didn’t know it at the time), and you remember dates like that.  Des was the offspring of an English father and Swedish mother, and thanks to the latter sported a head of perfectly bleach-blonde hair with not a speck of grey, despite being in his late forties.  It was because of this hair that his colleagues nicknamed him Billy Idol.

Des, me, and a South African called Phil had come to the Middle East to join a consultancy carrying out risk and safety analysis work on various projects in the UAE and Oman.  I had transferred from the consultancy’s UK operations, whereas the other two were outside contractors.  As it happened, we all arrived in Abu Dhabi on the same day.  My flight got in late and by the time I’d checked into the hotel it was already dark, although still stiflingly hot.  It was a heat that I would quickly have to get used to.  I met up with another engineeer from the UK who had been to Abu Dhabi before, and we both went to a bar called 49ers where one of the Australian engineers was enjoying his stag do along with the rest of my new colleagues.  The 49ers bar in Abu Dhabi is one not to be forgotten.  It is situated way up in the upper floors of a skyscraper, I forget which floor, but plenty high enough and out of reach of any ladders.  The bar is accessed via a tiny, underpowered lift which can hold a maximum of 6 people.  The bar itself is decked out in a wild west theme complete with wood panelling, and features an open flame grill.  The place was packed with over 200 people when I arrived, jammed in cheek and jowl and barely able to move.  The lift was the only means of egress.  There was no fire escape.  This visit to 49ers was my first and only.

I met up with the others and enjoyed a round of handshaking quickly followed by a round of beers.  It was way too noisy to speak to anybody and, feeling a bit homesick, I was quite glad when after a while somebody decided on behalf of us all that we should go to a nightclub across the roundabout, behind – indeed part of – the Le Meridien hotel.  It took all of us about twenty minutes to get out via the tiny lift and congregate on the pavement outside, leaving me to shudder at the thought of a fire in the place.  I found myself with the others in a smart club filled with people who were anything but.  Dozens of low-class Chinese and Central Asian hookers lined the bars and the dancefloors, perfectly matched by the generally fat, sleazing expatriates and few locals for whom they were the sole reason for being there.  I remember being seriously tired and wanting to leave, but having no local money on me and no idea where the hotel was, or even what it was called.  It was a miserable experience, but I do remember meeting Des in the Foyer, shaking his hand, and him being very pleased to tell me we’d be going to Oman together on the Saturday (today was a Thursday, hence a weekend in the Muslim lands).

I didn’t know Des then, but by golly I knew his CV.  He was recruited on the basis that his CV was probably one of the finest anyone had ever seen in the oil and gas business, and I’d read it when I was still back in the UK.  I still have a copy of it, and it is in front of me now.  Des was fluent in three languages: English, Swedish, and German.  This much was true.  Des held 5 higher education qualifications (including 2 bachelors and 1 masters) in no less than 4 disciplines.  He was a chartered engineer twice over, a member of an additional 5 professional bodies, and had another 15 professional certificates to his name.  He had been the safety manager for all of Shell’s offshore facilities in the Dutch sector and a senior safety specialist for Sakhalin Energy, which caught my attention even back then.  He’d held senior positions with Fluor Daniel, Kvaerner, Occidental, Statoil, and Mobil.  And his overseas experience covered the UK, Holland, Sweden, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Iran, and Pakistan.  On the basis of his CV, you’d be stupid not to hire him.  On the basis of his CV, you’d be equally stupid not to do some rudimentary verification of even a fraction of it.

On his first night with his new colleagues, none of whom he knew, Des borrowed the equivalent of $120 from the Australian stag and left the club in the company of a ropey Chinese prostitute.  I hitched a lift back to the hotel with the engineer from the UK, thankful he knew where he was going.

Des and I caught a Gulf Air flight from Abu Dhabi to Muscat the following Saturday, arriving mid-morning in heat equally as oppressive as that which we left behind.  We found our way to the apartment which would be our home for the next two months, buying some basic groceries on the way, and after a few more hours of getting ourselves kitted out with safety gear and other admin tasks we drove to the Mina Al-Fahal refinery situated on the coast just outside of Muscat.  Our job, as I remember it, was to carry out a risk and safety assessment of the refinery, most of which needed to be done at the facility itself.  The project schedule allowed two months for this phase of the work, so I was somewhat surprised when Des confidentally told me it would only take a couple of weeks.  However, Des was the lead engineer and I was his junior, so I trusted he knew what he was doing.

Now at the time I was delighted to be on this project with Des.  Here was me at 26 years of age, finally abroad and visiting a proper facility in a hands-on role with a chap whose experience was so impressive that I could not fail to learn from him.  And even though I was a bit homesick in those first few days and weeks, I did enjoy the experience.  It was roasting hot outside, and anyone sensible or not unlucky enough to be incarnated this time around as an Indian labourer stayed well indoors.  But Des and I had a job to do, so we walked down every pipe and vessel and piece of equipment in that refinery, crawling over hot pipes in an already oven-like temperature, me writing down every hazard that Des pointed out.  As a method of getting an up-close look at a refinery it was a good one, and it was even better at making you appreciate the Middle Eastern climate and the wonders of air conditioning.  As a means of doing the job we were contracted to do, it was almost worthless.  But this I didn’t know at the time, and we went on our merry way for the rest of the week.

Now Des liked to talk, and he especially liked to talk about himself, and most of all he liked to talk about how damned good he was.  At first, I quite liked his tales of the various jobs he’d been on and countries he’d visited.  I’m a gullible fool even now and generally believe what I’m told until proven otherwise, and I reckon it’s made me more friends than it’s got me into trouble so I’ll stick with it for now.  Des had been there and done it, and here was I on a job with him.  Yeah, this is all right, I thought.  We even talked about the next project coming up, the big one in Kuwait which would go on for a year, and we’d go together.  But as the week wore on, Des talked less about where he’d worked (tales which were suspiciously devoid of details, I saw in hindsight) and more about how great he was in other walks of life, especially his prowess with women.  Des was on his (if I recall correctly) fourth wife, the second of which had run away with his best friend and business partner, the two of them clearing him out completely and disappearing into the night.  The third wife was an Iranian whom he married for a joke, or convenience, or something.  He had a son by either the first or second wife.  And his fourth wife, who was a coloured South African, was living in his house in Holland with her two children (neither of whom were his own).  Describing his various marriages took up an entire evening, and his conquests with several dozen other women two or three more.  Then came the stories of when he was in the army and he was the best at shooting, driving, camouflage, escape and evasion, and every other aspect of soldiering which I can think of.  Next it was how he was almost shot to death in Pakistan, and how he saw a man executed in front of his eyes for some misdemeanour, and by that point I think even I’d stopped listening.  I used to scurry into my room, which unfortunately I shared with Des (who used to smoke in bed!), leaving a colleague assigned to another project but living with us, a chap called Chris, to make his own escape if and when he could whilst I lied and said I had to make a phone call to the UK.

By the end of the week, this had all got pretty tiresome, and so I was glad when Des told me we’d be going back to Abu Dhabi for the weekend for R&R.  I have no idea how we got the tickets, but when we got back the regional boss, whose villa we were now for some reason all living in, was somewhat surprised to see us.  He thought we were supposed to be down in Oman on the refinery tomorrow.  I looked bewildered and said I was following Des, who was supposed to be in charge.  It was all very confusing so Des, me, and another Brit called Steve who was also living in the villa set off to a bar somewhere in Abu Dhabi.  Within a remarkably short time we all found ourselves in the infamous Al-Ain Palace, or the Ally Pally, a low-down dive of a place known only for its abundance of cheap, third-rate Chinese hookers.  To cut a short story even shorter, the three of us ended up going back to the villa in a taxi with a huge Chinese prostitute with a smashed front tooth whom Des had picked up.  Steve and I weren’t interested in doing likewise, which seemed to annoy Des, which he showed by pretending the girl was actually with one of us even when she stopped at a McDonalds and came out with an armful of burgers which she presented to him as some sort of weird tribute.  I remember the four of us sitting in the villa around the nice, pine breakfast bar table (which, incidentally, I later took ownership of and it saw action in two of my apartments in Sakhalin, before I gave it away to a friend a week before my demobilisation in return for – ironically – a Chinese meal) with Steve, Des, and a huge Chinese girl with a smashed tooth who wouldn’t shut up or stop eating burgers.  Des had the bright idea of them going for a swim (in what was a family compound where hookers, much less nightswimming ones, were frowned upon).  She leaped from the stool, whipped up her dress to show a pair of large, sweaty, polyester granny pants and told us that she didn’t have a swimming costume.  However, she told us loudly in a comical Chinese accent, she could “go down for five minutes, no need come up for air”.  I have never laughed so hard.

Until, that is, Des thought the better of watching her perform strokes in the communal pool and took her to his bedroom, albeit for much the same purpose.  Within a few minutes Steve and I were stood outside the door listening to a Chinese girl screaming blue murder, an English-Swedish halfbreed grunting like a boar, and bedroom furniture testing the very limits for which it was manufactured.  This went on for about twenty minutes with all the subtely and finesse of a rock through a window, before the villa fell silent, Steve and I stopped laughing, and we went to bed.  The next morning, the Chinese girl safely paid off and sent packing before sunrise, Des denied having sex at all and insisted they were “just talking”.  Believing anything Des said after that was nigh-on impossible.

Once again Des and I took the Gulf Air flight down to Muscat to continue our work in the refinery.  The stories continued in the same manner as before, with each one of his exploits being better and more impressive than the last.  It was getting embarassing.  Before he’d even start recounting how he and a whole group of people had to do some very difficult test, Chris or I used to pipe up “Let me guess: you were the only one that passed?” in the vain hope of saving half an hour by cutting directly to the inevitable conclusion.  By this time his previous wives, girlfriends, and lovers seemed to have caught up with him because the apartment phone started going and he’d sit at all hours of the night talking and smoking.  Then, to my complete surprise, my UK mobile rang with some woman asking for Des.  Assuming it was important, I passed him the phone and he giggled like a schoolboy and launched into a twenty minute chit-chat with some ex-lover of his.  My UK phone was on roaming at a cost of over a pound a minute, and I was seriously unimpressed.  The cheeky sod had given her my number because he was too damned tight fisted to buy his own SIM card, and was now busy running up my UK bill whilst he relived one of his affairs.  Eventually I got the phone back from him, but he couldn’t see the problem.  He’d pay me back, he promised.

And that was another problem with Des.  He was a tight-fisted old sod, refusing to pay for anything and expecting the company – or failing that, his colleagues – to pick up the bill for everything.  He didn’t see why he should have to pay for his food even when on a per diem; when everyone in the villa went to the supermarket and chipped in, he’d be nowhere to be seen until he was spotted guzzling the beers we’d all just bought; and he certainly wasn’t going to pay a few dollars for a SIM card so his tarts could call him in Oman, not whilst he had my number to dish out!  And he was pulling the classic contractor’s trick of claiming destitution on arrival and needing an advance on his salary, which the boss gave him out of his own pocket.  Despite all this, Des would boast that back in Holland he owned a huge house, a yacht, and a Merecedes SUV.  Once I got the phone back from him, it stayed in my pocket and I’d told him the credit had run out.

Then halfway through the week he probably wished he’d not picked up a phone.  He had called his wife back in Holland on her mobile and from the music in the background it had sounded as if she was in a bar or nightclub, but she had told him she was at home.  I think there was a man’s voice in the background as well, I can’t remember, but Des got very agitated.  He called her at home (all of this using the extortionately expensive apartment phone) but there was no answer.  He called her again on her mobile, but she didn’t pick up, and nor did she answer her phone for the rest of the night.  Des was beside himself, confessing to me almost in tears that he thought his wife was having an affair.  By that point I’d lost all respect for the man, and just sloped off to bed leaving him to brood by himself (until he went to bed and smoked his way through five or six cigarettes on the other side of the room).

It wasn’t just the personal stuff that was going wrong with Des, the work itself was fast falling to pieces as well.  After a week on the site, and consulting the programme of work, it became clear that Des had not the faintest idea what he was doing.  He barely consulted the scope of work or project execution plan, and breezily dismissed my concerns that we should be doing certain tasks in a certain way with a wave of a cigarette-filled hand.  As it happened, the regional boss didn’t have much of a clue either (and if you want to extrapolate that across the entire company feel free, I’ll not stop you), so things just carried on the way they were for another week, with me doing what I was told and getting more confused and disillusioned by the day, until we were summoned back to Abu Dhabi.

Upon arrival, for no reason which I can remember, a decision was made that the work on site had been completed, I was to go to Dubai to prepare for the Kuwait project, and Des was to stay in Abu Dhabi to do the desk work associated with the refinery job.  Within minutes of Des having sat down in the office, a huge problem arose like a mushroom cloud.  Des’ bags had gone missing on the flight from Muscat to Abu Dhabi.  One or two of the old hands in the office swung into action, made a few calls, and told him not to sweat.  Happens all the time, they said, they’ll show up in a day or so.  But Des was beside himself.  He demanded to be driven to the airport and a search for his bags begun immediately.  The boss told him not to worry, he could buy some clothes in the M&S over the road, toiletries he had spare in the villa, and it would only be a couple of days.  Des refused to calm down, and would not do any work until something was done.  Smelling something a little fishy, the boss asked what exactly was in his missing bags.  Des flew into a rage during which we learned that in the bags he had checked into the hold of a Middle Eastern airline were the keys to his house, the keys to his car, the keys to his boat, the ownership documents for his house, boat, and car, his birth certificate, his bank documents, and seemingly every essential document a man will possess.

“Why the hell are you carrying all that about with you, Des?”, asked the boss, reasonably.

It turned out that Des did not trust his wife and had to carry all his worldly documents around with him to stop her from selling up and absconding in the same manner as his second wife.

“Why the hell did you put all that into checked baggage, Des?”, asked the boss, again reasonably.

Des didn’t know.  Nor did we.  But we did wonder if Des was half as well travelled as he, and his CV, said he was.

Des’ bags turned up a couple of days later.  But the problems didn’t stop there.  I was the youngest person in the regional office by about 20 years and most of the expat employees were middle aged with a wife and family somewhere, so the degree of compassion offered at that time was probably greater than you’d find in most companies, and certainly greater than that displayed a few months later (but that’s another post).  In short, Des wanted to see his wife and step-children, presumably to make sure the former was still around and not still in a nightclub somewhere with her phone switched off.  It is not easy to get a visa to the UAE for South African nationals (which is what his family was), it is more time consuming and requires more documentation than for, say Brits, who just turn up and walk in.  Rather than being grateful for the efforts the company was going to, Des was raging against the company for taking so long and not having enough power or connections to just get them all in.  Eventually, enough paperwork was collected to submit an application, but the immigration authorities returned a rather surprising decision:  Des’ wife and younger step-daughter were allowed a visa, but the older step-daughter, who was 12, was not.  The reason: the elder girl did not appear to be anything to do with Des, hence she could not be admitted as his family.  The boss asked a few basic questions, which Des, poor chap, did his best to answer.  It transpired that Des and his wife had sensibly decided some years ago for Des to formally adopt her children as his own.  The adoption of the younger girl went well enough, but at the 11th hour the elder girl – who had a mental age of 7 and a whole heap of behavioural problems and learning difficulties – decided she wanted to be with her biological father, who was some sort of bum or criminal or loser down in South Africa, who was long separated from the mother.  The adoption couldn’t proceed without her consent, and so she was never formally adopted by Des, even though she reversed her decision mere days later and came to live with the rest of them in Holland.  The result was that the company couldn’t get a visa for his elder daughter.  Des went bananas, bellowing that the company was useless and had no power or influence.  The boss’ exasperated reply is immortal:

“Des!  It’s not the company’s fault that you didn’t adopt your daughter!”

It was agreed that his wife and younger daughter would come over anyway, and so Des awaited their arrival.  In the meantime, he continued to demonstrate incompetence of impressive proportions as he burned through the remaining manhours allocated to the project.  Nothing that was supposed to have been done was being done, and sitting at my desk in the Dubai office I received several phone calls from the boss asking what the hell had happened down in Oman.  What I told you was happening, I replied.  The guy doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing.  Chris, a good mate of the boss, backed me up and I was in the clear.

Things also got a little complicated for Des when he was asked to provide his degree certificate in order to get his work visa.  Des replied that he didn’t have it, even though on his CV it says, as I have pointed out, he has five such qualifications which would suffice.  The story Des told was that the University of Gothenburg had moved and the records never moved with it.  Later the story changed to the records having all been lost in a fire.  Either way, he could not possibly get his hands on a degree certificate.  None of us was convinced, except possibly Des himself who was turning out to be a pathological liar.  Meanwhile, they decided to get Des working on something else until they could figure out what to do, and asked him to help write the method statements for some proposals they were putting together.  Des refused point blank, said it wasn’t his job, and put his feet up on the desk until his wife and daughter arrived.

Which in due course they did, and the company – in a rare display of generosity – put them up in a nice hotel with a beach in Abu Dhabi.  Des seemed to perk up when his family were around him, and although I wasn’t there I heard that they all went out for some nice meals in the evening and enjoyed themselves.  That is, until the Dutch embassy called the office with the news that Des’ neighbours had alerted the authorities because a 12 year old girl had been left home alone whilst her mother had cleared off to Abu Dhabi with her other daughter.  The daughter was now in the care of the authorities, and the mother really should get herself home pronto.  At this point, Des’ colleagues just shook their heads and wondered whether to laugh or cry.

The boss wasn’t sure what to do with Des.  He was lined up for the project manager’s role for the big job in Kuwait, but he had proven himself useless, unreliable, and uncooperative both in work and in every other way we could think of.  But we were short of people, and mobilising expats on short notice is not easy, and the boss was considering keeping him on.  Fortunately, Des made the decision for us.  His colleagues in the villa woke one morning with Des saying he was sick and would stay in bed.  By the time they came home after work, he had disappeared along with all his bags.  He never paid the Australian the $120 from his first night, I never saw the money from my phone bill, he owed the boss a few hundred dollars and the company even more.  He just upped and left.

We heard from Des a few months later.  The boss received an email from him saying he was working in Iran, the job was terrible, and could he have his old job back.  The email went unanswered, but it gave us a laugh.

Share