Sunday 26 March 2017

Fake secrecy

It is sad to witness the Emirates Group’s deterioration accelerating.  The knee jerk and badly managed actions which I feared (but hoped would be avoided had Herr Mueller managed to get an early and firm grip on the organisation) are well underway, and probably unstoppable.  I am sure that many of you would have seen a video of Herr Mueller’s interview whilst he was CEO at Aer Lingus and been impressed by his genuine understanding of the importance of people in any organisation.  I certainly was.  I felt that if anyone could turn Emirates around, then he could.  But it was a big ask.  He probably has the support of over 95% of Emirates’ staff – essential for someone wanting to make wholesale changes - but nobody would have underestimated the challenges presented within the remaining few per cent.  When I struggled to get Patrick Naef to see (what I was convinced was) common sense, I often felt that I was ‘pissing into the wind’.  Herr Mueller has probably been facing a hurricane over the past six months.

Patrick Naef’s communication (at the end of last month) to EG-IT staff is another example of corporate incompetence and duplicity.  He trivialises events by suggesting that they are just part of a review “on the way we work” and avoids revealing the true size of yet another one of his crusades against loyal members of his department.  He promises openness, yet proceeds in secrecy – some staff had already been forced out before the note was sent.  His communication is so amateurish it would be seen as laughable, if the topic was not so serious.  But I guess everyone would have allowed themselves a wry smile at Patrick Naef’s heart-warming promise to those leaving of his “support during the transition”.  This is like being introduced, just as you are about to enter theatre for major surgery, to someone who will be on hand at all times to give you “every support” and then discovering that it is the Grim Reaper.

Patrick Naef makes a plea to his staff not to “spread rumours”, but what else can anyone do when he is either telling people nothing, or telling lies?  He asserts that rumour spreading, along with making assumptions, will only add “to the uncertainty”.  If Patrick Naef was doing his job properly, there would be no uncertainty – he would tell everyone the truth about what is happening and why.  If the HR department was doing its job properly, they would insist that Patrick Naef should do his job properly.  Patrick Naef also forlornly asks that staff should not engage with those outside the company!

Patrick Naef tells his staff to “ask questions” but EG-IT staff are experienced enough to be very cautious here.  Staff want to know exactly how the redundancy selection process works, who exactly has input and what steps are taken to ensure objectivity is ensured, but anyone who asks questions like that will soon find out the real answer.  I am sure there will be fair minded people involved in the redundancy process, but such voices are increasingly rare in the Group.  When I managed the EG-IT redundancy exercise in 2009, I was challenged by not only the volume and ferocity of attempted inappropriate influences, but also the wide range of directions that they came from.  I even had to contend with an apparently specific ‘nomination’ from Gary Chapman.  Patrick Naef told me that there was one individual in EG-IT who Gary Chapman wanted to see made redundant.  Patrick Naef said that he felt Gary Chapman was seeing this individual as some sort of test as to whether we were doing the job properly, with Gary Chapman even asking for updates along the lines of ‘is xxxx still here?’.  That was certainly a first for me though, of course, Patrick Naef may well have not been telling the truth again. 
I do hope similar scenes are not being played out across the group, though certainly the level of secrecy seems to be a common theme.  It seems that the company has a total aversion to telling staff what is really going on.  Even the news that the President of the airline will be leaving his post is being slowly drip fed – the first loud hint was dropped recently at an industry conference thousands of miles away from Dubai.  Mature staff would feel much more comfortable if they were treated with respect and told the truth, particularly when they already know it.  There are few people in the Emirates Group who do not know what the major problems facing the organisation are.  The once successful business strategy of the airline is now out of date and inappropriate in the current environment;  the Group’s management structure is bloated, inefficient and bereft of the talent necessary to make the changes required for the organisation to survive;  the cost base of the Group is way out of line with what can be afforded.

The first problem is easy to address and will be resolved.  The only casualty will be a deflated ego, but the airline has many capable people who can put matters right.  Indeed, had some of them been listened to in the past (or, one might say, been braver to speak up) the necessary flexibility could have been built into the business strategy.

The second challenge on the list is not just difficult, it may be impossible to solve.  Fundamentally, the problem has been caused by the very structure (and its managers, of course) itself, epitomised by the fact that the two incumbent Presidents have continually claimed it to have been the reason for the apparent success of the Group.  (I say ‘apparent’ because, although huge profits have been consistently delivered over the years, no company that finds itself in the mess Emirates is now in can claim success.)  Normally, badly managed companies are swallowed up by larger ones which are not badly managed.  Then all the poorly performing managers are moved out, problem solved.  But there aren’t many companies out there large enough to swallow up Emirates.  And, while traditional and man management skills are a rarity in the Emirates Group, the functional (technical and industry) skills of the vast majority of managers is very strong indeed.  The company would struggle to operate effectively without them.  The Group has made the most fundamental error (which was widely learnt a long time ago elsewhere) of generally appointing managers solely on their functional and operational skills/experience, with no regard to true managerial expertise, nor applying any proper focus on developing managerial acumen.  Put simply, no-one in their right mind would appoint a highly skilled surgeon to manage a large hospital.

Still on this problem of management, one has to ask how could the necessary skills be brought in anyway?  The airline industry is hardly awash with good organisational managers.  A DSVP once said to me “The airline industry would be the best one to work in, if only it wasn’t so badly managed”.  And who would be tempted to take up an offer?  A stint in Dubai, regardless of industry, has never really been seen as a strong ‘career stepping stone’ for senior people, much more a lucrative lifestyle choice or a means to raise cash for a retirement fund or just a wind down to retirement having taken a redundancy payment from elsewhere.  Such individuals hardly fit the ‘mover and shaker’ requirement that Emirates so desperately needs today.

There is also an additional and pressing, but more tactical, issue that needs addressing and that is the diminishing resources (both in terms of raw numbers and experience levels) on the flight deck.  It appears that Emirates’ reputation in the industry is now a barrier to effective recruitment.  This is in addition to the exodus of many long serving and very experienced crew members, so action is becoming urgent.  Natural forces inevitably apply – bad companies lose their best staff and fail to attract comparable replacements.  But the problem could easily be resolved by properly engaging with those who have not yet resigned, resolving their valid concerns and sending out a message to everyone that the company has got it wrong in the past and has learnt lessons.  A simple message, but we all know how difficult the current management will find it to write!  ‘Resolving their valid concerns’ will cost money but, as I have said before, there is more than enough money wasted in the support areas that could be diverted.

Addressing the Group’s affordability crisis should have been a relatively straightforward, albeit very painful, process had it been given the correct focus at the right time.  Emirates has made the same mistake as many superficially successful companies have.  They have allowed corporate confidence to develop into arrogance and been blind to the real challenges in the world around them.  Making large profits can sometimes just be the result of luck or, as in Emirates’ case, the result of an extremely well managed airline operation which made enough money to allow the rest of the Group to inflate itself with unearned compliments and rewards.  I fully agree with the old adage of ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t try to fix it’ but that does not mean that any part of your business should escape regular reviews in terms of effectiveness and efficiency.  I was bored rigid listening to people telling me how well the company dealt with, and survived, the industry crises prompted by SARS and 9/11, to seeing public statements made that ‘we just do things better’, to hearing Gary Chapman say that when a problem emerges “we will deal with it” (when all he meant was that some people would be fired) and being told that “This is Dubai, we can do what we like”.  I agree that it takes a brave leader to lean towards austerity when the champagne appears to be constantly flowing, but leaders are supposed to be brave, that’s part of what they are paid for.  Without demands for prudence from above, it is unlikely that initiatives will come from those at the next levels – there is always something more interesting and less painful to do.  But, in my experience, the only push to sharpen up support areas to come from Gary Chapman was when there was a genuine cost problem in 2009.  And guess what happened?  We (in EG-IT at least) met his target with ease, and in no time at all.  I can tell you that, had his target been double what it was, we would have achieved that as well.  And more, if it had been genuinely necessary.  The grossly inflated organisation that currently drags Emirates down is the result of decades of a budget setting process where support areas have been allowed to ride on the back of growth figures from the core business.  My first experience of budget setting in EG-IT was interesting.  We had a continuous flow of managers presenting demands for large percentage increases (often double digits) in staff numbers, based on complex business formulae involving metrics that had little to do with IT.  When I had the audacity to ask for some meaningful justification and also to have some efficiency savings identified, I made myself very unpopular.  Just imagine that process, rubber stamped, played out across all support areas and compounded over the past twenty years.

So, as a result of repeatedly singing the same words from the same song sheet, Emirates finds itself in the same position as many others before it – failing, and lacking the necessary acumen to properly manage its way back to some sort of profitability.  When the cost base is so out of line with affordability then the only solution is to drastically reduce costs and, in a heavily labour intensive operation as in Emirates, that means huge reductions in staff.  Ironically, the management team responsible for the mess is the only one available, so the job inevitably gets done badly.  Knowing nothing else, the task is carried out by spreadsheet and, broadly, the wrong people are removed from the wrong areas.  As always, the outsourcing industry picks up the scent and hovers around the company like a swarm of flies around a pile of horse dung.  So, once the dust settles and it is clear that the situation has worsened, rather than improved (because the wrong people were removed from the wrong areas) the company is then easy prey for the outsourcing industry.  Their pitch is always the same and, to a senior manager who is new to this situation and is desperate for a solution, is music to the ears – “Just tell us how much you need to save and we will put together a proposal to fully meet your requirements”.  Naturally, the key words are then mumbled (if said at all) – “As long as you give us a totally free hand”. 

Once the contracts are inevitably signed (there is often no other choice), that’s it, the company is effectively dead.  Of course, it still exists but it is nothing like it was.  Very few people actually work directly for it, nobody really cares, every activity at every level is driven by the desire for immediate personal gain and profits are scattered far and wild into tax havens.  You know these companies well as you contact their call centres regularly, you visit their medical facilities and you may even use them to bury your relatives.  This familiar ‘race to the bottom’ seems inevitable for all companies other than the very small, totally independent outfits run by capable and, importantly, decent people.  I did everything that I could to stop such mad carnage in previous companies (I am proud to say that I never outsourced any activity in my career, I even brought some activities back in house) but it is pretty well an unstoppable tidal wave.  When I joined Emirates I honestly thought that this was one company that could possibly buck the trend, given its unique position and set up.  The cynical company boast of “This is Dubai, we can do what we like” should have been replaced with “This is Dubai, we can do what is right”.  Instead, the Presidents of the company have blown it and I wonder what their views are of the scale of the mess.  A lot of people are now suffering, and will suffer, as a result of the acute and continued mismanagement of the Emirates Group.

But life goes on and many people reading this will sadly be preparing to move on from Dubai.  There is little I can do to help I am afraid, but I would say that many people who have left EG-IT (for whatever reason, some even truly voluntarily!) have told me that they are now so much happier and fulfilled career wise.  In the past I have given some people feedback on their CV’s, which I hope was of some value to them, and I would be more than happy to do that for anyone now if required. 
For those of you who have been in Emirates for some time you will know the rules by now.  It is the company that can do what it likes in Dubai, not you.  The next few paragraphs will be of varying relevance to readers, depending on your circumstances.  But this first reminder is relevant to all - you will not get your end of service benefits unless you follow the company rules to the letter.  The disaster (for the company) of the ‘truth about Emirates’ blog is a reflection of the level of intransigence the company will reach to satisfy the obsession to always be in total control.  One conciliatory telephone call would have nipped that blog in the bud, but ‘conciliatory’ never fits with ‘control’.  You will want to get every dirham that the company owes you and the only way to ensure that is to dance perfectly to the company’s tune.  You also need to get the company service certificate (which should be no problem) and don’t forget to obtain a police clearance certificate well before you leave Dubai.  Many authorities now demand these and it is much easier to get one while in Dubai than after you have left.  If you have to deal with the company’s accommodation department prepare yourself for some challenges.  We found them extremely difficult to deal with, they even arranged for our exit to be blocked until a full examination of our accommodation had been carried out.  When we moved to Dubai I was impressed by the levels of security around residential areas, only to soon realise that they were actually in place to deny access to un-favoured contractors.  As we departed at midnight on our last night, I discovered that the guards are also employed to lock staff in!  But, overall, there are plenty of decent and competent people within the HR department who should make leaving the company as painless as possible.

For those of you lucky enough to have escaped this first round of cuts, you will be aware that it will certainly not be the last and, if you work in EG-IT, you will fully appreciate your own level of vulnerability.   One assumes that Patrick Naef will have disposed of just about everyone who was in his ‘black book’ by now, but we all know that his book is never put away and his pencil is always kept sharp.  And whilst members of the infamous ‘fan club’ within EG-IT may feel secure, they ought to note that joining the club will have been significantly more difficult than being thrown out of it.   Also, one of the golden rules of life – ‘make sure you know how to get out’ – should be pushed up your priority list.  Someone who fully understood Emirates and Dubai once told me that he had a detailed escape plan for his family “should something ever happen”.  That is a perfect example of prudence, not paranoia.  When planning around the financial aspects of a future departure from Dubai I would urge you to be clear on what you can count on as certain and what is vulnerable.  Any personal contributions into the provident fund are probably the most secure and best protected.  Final salary and end of service benefits (as long as you obey the rules, of course) should be safe, but do not forget that any company which is in financial trouble can find itself struggling to meet its commitments.  I am not sure how protected the company’s contributions to the provident fund are and whether any of that could ever be at risk, but certainly do not make the same mistake as I did in thinking that I would get a large chunk of it after five years, and all of it after seven.  I had not planned on the company breaking its contract with me just a few months short of the five years and not getting one dirham of it.  They were in Dubai and they did what they liked.

Regardless of how secure you feel, I think everyone should recognise that the Group is heading downhill pretty rapidly.  Obviously, Emirates will survive but I am unsure how many of its loyal employees will.  The company has done nothing to demonstrate it has the capability to put things right and I believe that, even if it did have the capability, it could now be too late.  Looking at the outside world, it is very difficult to see anything but threats to Emirates on every horizon.  Demand, as well as the appetite, for air travel is down as stability in all regions of the world is worsening.  Today my daily newspaper has a double page advertisement for holidays to numerous destinations around the world, but the one to Dubai is the only one discounted, and heavily discounted too.  In my opinion, a significant hit on global financial markets is overdue.  Yes, stock markets may look healthy at the moment, but is this because of genuine confidence, or because there is virtually nowhere else to invest (e.g. negative bond yields) or because companies are borrowing money so cheaply (virtually free, after tax relief) and buying their own shares?  More locally, the competition in Qatar (from where, incidentally, I have always had a solid reader base for some reason!) is making significant inroads into Emirates’ business and there are numerous and realistic threats emerging from other carriers around the globe.  The antagonistic goading and belittling of US carriers in the past few years may have been fun at the time, but tangible retribution is now underway.  Originally, the US attack on the ME3 was never going to really bite when it was coming from a nation which claimed to have free trade and openness as part of its core approach to business.  But the recent presidential election has changed all of that and now the ME3 is fully in focus from the US again, but this time with added venom.  The different (for Emirates) action taken recently by the US, compared to the UK, in response to an apparent terrorist threat is a clear indication of things to come.  Emirates is now feeling the effect of a ‘this is the US, we will do what we like’ approach.
I believe the next few months and years will see an inevitable chain of events in Emirates.  A few rounds of wholesale cuts, as well as progressive company mergers, or ‘consolidation’, or however they want to dress them up.  First flydubai, then Etihad – it is very difficult to see how all three will be able to afford separate support functions going forward.  And of course, outsourcing.  As an aside, in EG-IT do not ever let Patrick Naef tell you that he thinks an outsourcing deal is either good for you or good for the company.  He does not, he never has.  I can only think of a few individuals I ever worked with who were as strongly opposed to the principle of outsourcing as I was (and still am).  Patrick Naef was one of them.
As usual I can be reached at hot mail, tomb80 dot co dot uk.

Friday 23 December 2016

Gary Chapman

I have previously provided my thoughts and experiences of the other four members of what I affectionately (honestly!) call the ‘Gang of Five’, so now I turn my attention to Gary Chapman.  Like most people who have worked in the Emirates Group, I have heard many stories about, and views of, Gary Chapman.  This is natural, given his position.  But I will base what I write solely on my own experiences.  Gary Chapman was happy to see me fired based on second hand information which was not true, but that is no excuse for me to alter my standards.  I will cover my personal experiences with him later on in this update, but I will first make some observations on what we can all see.

The Emirates Group is in disarray.  Profits are down, Group headcount is far in excess of what can be afforded and staff morale was low even before the redundancy programmes commenced.  For a number of years everyone has seen the need for serious change, but all we have observed at the top has been a serious case of paralysis.  The situation is now so bad that someone from outside of the Group has been brought in to sort out the mess.  The acute problems in the airline cannot be laid directly at Gary Chapman’s door and I am sure that the Group has enjoyed a steady flow of income thanks to Gary’s business acumen, but the performance of support areas for which he has responsibility has been a major contributor to the problems that are now evident.

Bringing in a highly experienced fresh pair of hands is a good start, but I wonder how the obvious changes that are required are going to be implemented.  When I was in the Group, I did not meet anyone who had experience of complex and major change programmes.  There was limited depth in terms of day to day man management skills and, apart from the late Sir Maurice Flanagan, nobody was seen as a traditional ‘leader’.  Combined, these issues posed a significant risk so the Leadership Development initiative was launched.  But what has that achieved?  Demonstrably very little as the Emirates Group management structure remains as it has been for many years, just layer upon layer of supervisors, each ascending level proudly boasting an even bigger capital S.  Who has responsibility for Leadership Development?  Gary Chapman.

And what about staff engagement?  Communication in the Group has been top down, with no serious interest in what staff think.  Lip service has been paid via the odd forum where views are either ignored or shouted down (on one famous occasion even recorded and presented to the amazement of the outside world!) and then, when a bigger box needed a tick, time and money was wasted on formal surveys.  But the last survey responses were so bad that even the usual sanitisation exercise could not mask the level of unrest, so it has been lost.  Though it has not been forgotten.  Who has responsibility for staff engagement?  Gary Chapman.

And there is the issue of staff productivity.  The growth of staff numbers in the Group is alarming.  The company has enjoyed dramatic growth so, inevitably, large numbers of additional staff were required, but not necessarily in all areas.  Support functions should not have the right to just ‘follow the curve’ created by the real part of the business.  Unfortunately, managers in the Emirates Group have worked on the ancient ‘job evaluation by recruitment’ principle – ‘keep adding staff to your empire then, inevitably, your job is big enough to justify a grade increase for you’.  When taking delivery of new aircraft, it is obvious that proportional increases to crew and maintenance staff are required.  Other areas will also justify near proportional increases.  But support functions should be aggressively managed, with staff numbers contained.  In every company that I have worked (except Emirates), every support area had to increase productivity year on year – 5% p.a. was a typical figure.  The uncontrolled increase in headcount across support areas has occurred on Gary Chapman’s watch.  Now the Group faces a massive cost problem.

But the waste in terms of staff productivity pales into insignificance when you look at management inefficiencies.  The Emirates Group still works on the archaic organisation principle of (approximately) 14 grades.  In fact, when you examine the management segment of the structure (G9 and up) there are even more levels – a result of the incessant creation of additional management titles (‘padding’) – so, in practice, one grade can cover two levels of management reporting.  Properly managed companies in the real world dealt with this issue many years ago, generally slimming down to about seven levels.  Board – level 7, senior managers (associate directors, SVP’s, etc.) – level 6, managers (plus highly technical staff) – level 5 and supervisors (plus the bulk of technical staff) – level 4.  But that was not simply a top down setting of grades, it was the reflection of a pragmatic management structure.  Functions within large organisations need as few managers as possible, as long as they are competent of course.  The board ‘shapes’, the directors ‘direct’ and the managers ‘manage’.  It really is as simple as that.  If someone were to look properly at how the Emirates Group functions on a day to day basis (by ‘properly’ I mean by carrying out a traditional added value analysis of each role), I have little doubt that they would recommend an organisation with about seven levels.  Certainly, one does not have to look closely to recognise that there are about twice the number of management levels that are actually needed.  From what I saw in EG-IT and other areas I worked with, the large numbers of management layers were only in place to satisfy the non-negotiable thirst for daily updates of minute details of information from above.  I must be clear that what I say next about my view of the Emirates Group management structure is focussed solely on roles and grades, not on any individuals.  To me, the President and EVP levels made sense – they were, in other parlance, the ‘CEO and the Board’.  The next layer, DSVP’s, also made sense.  These were very senior management roles – each heading up perhaps thousands of staff and areas critical to the business.  Personally, I would have called them SVP’s (or Associate Directors).  One down, there was the SVP level and I felt that these roles were, in most cases, ‘non-jobs’, just ‘padding’.  The exceptions were seen in slightly smaller areas where there was no DSVP and an SVP headed up a large, but not enormous, unit.  Below that sat the VP level and I felt that this was a perfect example of ‘non-jobs’.  I sometimes found it difficult to see what incumbent VP’s were being asked to do, other than feed orders down and information up.  (After I left, an extra level called DVP was conjured up.  I have no idea what the business justification could have been for that.)  To me, the G10 management roles were ‘proper jobs’ assuming, of course, they had been given the appropriate authority.  These would have responsibility for hundreds of people and a fairly wide area of functional influence.  Another level that made sense to me, was at G9.  These were what I would regard as ‘departmental managers’, normally with responsibility for tens of people, or more.  But the G8 level often carried, in my opinion, pretty vague roles, sometimes with inferred management responsibility (even if the title was not evident).  They were similar to jobs you would see in civil service scenes from the 1950’s, existing mainly to keep irritating and unpleasant tasks (and people!) away from the department manager.  A good ex colleague and friend of mine called these “The pox doctor’s clerk” roles!  So, in summary, without the G8’s, VP’s, DVP’s and SVP’s you would have a much more efficient management structure.  Of course, incumbents at the remaining levels would require both the capability and autonomy to carry out their jobs.  I stress again, I am referring to jobs, not individuals.

The performance of the Group HR department is poor.  As in other departments in the Group, the many good and committed individuals have been stifled and let down by senior managers who do not appear to be capable of anything other than executing orders from above.  It has never mattered that HR have got things hopelessly wrong, as impacted individuals have no voice or protection.  Examples of both their invincibility and their incompetence, can be found in the FAQs document issued alongside the recent announcement of redundancies in Dnata.  Once digested, one realises that the document could have easily been reduced to just two questions – “Am I going to be worse off?” – “Yes.  We are going to use every instrument available to us to either make you redundant or reduce your remuneration”.  “Is there anything I can do about this?” – “No.”.  One of the bombshells identified under the ‘we are going to get you somehow’ umbrella is the bold statement that “some roles that have not been made redundant may be regraded”.  As anyone with any HR experience will know, roles are supposed to be graded in line with a company’s job evaluation process.  If the role changes, then it will be re-evaluated but, unless Dnata is saying that they have made errors in grading roles in the past, there can be no justification for arbitrarily downgrading roles.  Obviously, Dnata (along with the rest of the Emirates Group) has a serious issue regarding costs to address and it may need to revisit the salaries (which of course are set by market conditions and affordability) paid for each grade, but that is a fundamentally different thing than just downgrading roles.  The document also refers to all “roles being reviewed based on their performance . . .” It is the performance of people, not roles, that can be reviewed!  If staff reading this nonsense have been confused, they should not be concerned – clearly the author was confused and given no effective support.  In any organisation that I have worked (other than Emirates), that woeful HR Q&A document would not have seen the light of day, not even as a first draft.  Yet, incredibly, it has been signed off by all concerned and sent to impacted staff at what, for many, will be the most difficult time of their careers.  And, thanks to the ‘Truth about Emirates’ blog, the whole world has access to the document.  That is the blog that was initiated by a typical Emirates chain of events, where staff are abused and then discarded. And, when it finally boiled down to a straightforward end of service issue, the company obsession for control over individuals obliterated any thoughts of applying common sense and pragmatism.  The content and the continued existence of the ‘Truth about Emirates’ blog perfectly reflects the core of Emirates Group HR department - bullying, arrogance, insularity and incompetence.  It has been interesting to observe how that blog has developed into a useful platform for frustrated and isolated Emirates staff, a platform ironically denied them internally.

And we read that, among the first people to leave the Emirates Group, are those involved in recruitment.  If true, this is the sort of mistake that a school leaver would make.  One can easily see the logic – the company has to shrink considerably, so it can lose the recruiters straight away.  But not so.  Pretty well the last (not first) people to go should be those with recruitment skills which ought to be in big demand during the company-wide redundancy selection exercises.  It may appear that recruitment and redundancy are poles apart but, done properly, redundancy selection is a replay of the recruitment process.  Carrying out such an important job requires assessment skills which abound in Emirates’ Recruitment department.  But, if true, a decision to immediately dispense with valuable recruitment expertise would not surprise me, as I doubt if there is a serious appetite to do the job of redundancy selection properly.  If the normal Emirates approach of ‘look after my relatives, friends and the sycophants’ is taken then, regrettably, the Group will find itself in an even weaker position.  When I left the Group, compared to other HR departments, the recruitment team were probably the strongest in terms of capability but weakest in terms of political strength, so an early cull in that area would not surprise me.

The major problems in the Emirates Group - a bloated structure, a serious lack of management capability, ineffective HR function, etc. - lay at the door of Gary Chapman.  He has had responsibility for all areas in question for a very long time, during which the only change witnessed has been one of steady deterioration.  Now, sadly, many staff will be losing their jobs as a direct result of this mismanagement which has let them down badly.  I fear that, as always in Emirates, a savage knee jerk reaction will be applied to the symptoms, leaving the cause to fester.
But what about my own experiences of Gary Chapman?  Gary Chapman demonstrates quite a laid-back style and, in large groups, does not normally show much emotion.  He certainly does not outwardly exhibit the behaviours seen in most Presidents, CEO’s, etc. – arrogance, impatience and a lot of arm waving – but, equally, I personally never saw any signs of humility.  I assume that there have been instances of Gary Chapman changing his mind on a topic, but I suspect they will have been very rare.  When a few of us were sat with him discussing the EG-IT redundancy exercise in 2009 I felt that, given I had experience of over a dozen such exercises in a dozen or so countries across several continents, I may have had some input which would be relevant.  But Gary Chapman had no interest in what I had to say.  When I suggested that we should be open to staff about what we were doing, he simply played my words back in a somewhat ironic tone and never referred to them again.  Gary Chapman’s non-negotiable requirement was that we had to carry out a redundancy exercise without using the word redundancy.  My point about being open to staff was that, in my experience, there are very few positives that result from such an exercise but, if management are consistently honest about what they are doing, particularly during such difficult times, then staff will eventually realise that we all share the same ‘hearts and minds’.  I do not think Gary Chapman understood that phrase.

Gary Chapman once said to me something along the lines of ‘It is all very well staff expecting the company to treat them well and fairly, but it works both ways.  It annoys me when staff are not willing to give anything back.’  I agreed with him.  I have worked with a number of good employers and was frustrated when I encountered (rarely, I must add) people who were willing to take, but very reluctant to give.  But, in time, I realised that whilst we shared that view, our reference points were poles apart.  Gary Chapman’s view of where the balance of power between company and employee should sit, is nowhere near mine.  I concluded that if Gary Chapman were to ever feel that an employee had in some way ‘got one over on the company’, then he would not sleep very well that night. 
When Malini Johnson explained that I had a right of appeal against my dismissal she managed to do it with a straight face, something that I could not achieve.  We all knew that Patrick Naef, the master manipulator, had already received guarantees from everyone that there would be no replay on his decision to get rid of me.  The so called ‘appeal’ would be considered by the President, Gary Chapman.  It was going to be a waste of time so there seemed to be little point but, equally, there seemed to be little to lose, so I appealed.  It turned out to be a bigger waste of time than I could have imagined.  I had expected a simple and courteous rejection from Gary Chapman by email after an appropriate delay to suggest a modicum of diligence.  But I was as pleased as I was surprised to be invited to meet with Gary Chapman and I very much looked forward to telling Gary many things that, at the time, I was certain he did not know.  I had no expectation that the decision would be reversed but I thought, wrongly as it turned out, that this was a signal that Gary Chapman may have realised that things were not as they had been presented and was at least going to gather a bit more information about life in the land of the duplicitous Patrick Naef.  I was told that, immediately after my dismissal, a very senior business leader wrote to Gary Chapman voicing concerns about my departure – maybe that had prompted him to at least find out a bit more?  There was no doubt in my mind that Gary Chapman had been lied to, what I did not know was to what degree and how much he had believed.  Nor did I know how much, or little, he cared about the truth.

But the meeting had been arranged solely so that Gary Chapman could persuade me to resign and sweep the matter under the carpet.  He had no other interest in me, nor in anything I had to say.  Incredibly, he started the meeting by telling me how lucky I was to be invited in.  He said It was not standard practice, as appeal results are normally delivered by email.  What was I supposed to do with this information, thank him for his gracious gesture?  He then explained that my appeal had been denied, pointed to the confirmation letter on a table and asserted that there was not going to be any discussion on the topic.  He said that he was not going to go over ‘all the old ground again’ by replaying ‘who said what’, etc.  I explained that we had not been over anything properly, but that was totally ignored.  He assured me that the decision to dismiss me had the full support of HR and Nigel Hopkins, reminding me how thorough Nigel is!  I asked how thorough Nigel Hopkins had been without even speaking to me, but this was ignored too.  Nigel Hopkins may be thorough with the finances but, when it comes to people issues, he is nowhere to be seen.

At some point, I was further patronised by Gary Chapman telling me that “being right is not always everything”.  I wondered how many times Gary Chapman had ever had his views challenged in this grand office, but was clear that he was not going to let it happen on that day.  We then got to the real point of the meeting – asking me to resign.  I have covered this in earlier updates and described why I decided to accept this offer, how the terms of it changed over the following days, how an assertion made by Gary Chapman was not honoured and how the offer was soon withdrawn.  I said I would consider and was now eager to get out and stop wasting his and my time.  Within five minutes, my enthusiasm for a discussion had moved from intense to zero.  Yet I had so much that I wanted to discuss with him.

I wanted to talk about Mercator.  According to Patrick Naef, Gary Chapman was very keen to grow Mercator but I was curious as to how Gary saw the balance, in terms of priority, between growing the Mercator business and serving internal, i.e. Emirates Group, customers.  I wanted to be certain that Gary Chapman was aware of the level of negative impact Mercator had on the Emirates Group.  As I have stated in earlier updates, with sensible targets and logical rules of engagement Mercator could have worked well for the Group.  As we all know, a lot of Group money was lost by continuing with the flawed plan.  I very much doubt if a quick conversation back in 2010 on Mercator would have done any harm.

I wanted to understand how much Gary Chapman knew about the culture in EG-IT and the impact it had on our ability to deliver a decent service to our customers.  Did he think that Patrick Naef’s bullying and ‘no debate’ approach to management was conducive to making the necessary improvements to our performance?  Was Gary Chapman happy with what had been achieved so far in reducing the prevalence of cronyism in recruitment and promotion processes, or did he prefer the old method where merit had little influence in proceedings? 
I wanted to talk about ethics.  Obviously, in the real world, playing totally by the rules may not result in the optimum solution for all the involved stakeholders, but I strongly believe that instances of breaking company rules, not adhering to laws, working outside of accepted moral codes, etc. should be extremely rare and only occur when there is demonstrably no other option.  Clearly both Gary Chapman and Patrick Naef wanted me out of the Emirates Group, but I wanted to hear from Gary Chapman directly his reasons for the tactics, which included the use of blatant lies, that were employed to achieve their goal.  I wanted to ask him why nobody had actually sat down and discussed this desire to remove me in a constructive and amicable manner – but he did not want to talk to me constructively either!  Also, some months earlier, it had become evident that there was confusion within Mercator about where the boundary between ethical and unethical business practices sat.  I was quite clear in my own mind, as indeed was Patrick Naef – we shared the same view, or at least that is what Patrick Naef had said.  I suggested that we should give a clear and unequivocal message to staff and Patrick said he would first seek clarity from Gary Chapman (note, no mention of Nigel Hopkins!).  The message relayed back from Gary Chapman was disappointing for me and, so he said, also for Patrick Naef.  But, when your information comes from Patrick ‘duplicity’ Naef, you really do not know where you are.  Was Patrick Naef correctly representing Gary Chapman’s views, did Patrick voice the same opinions to Gary as he had done to me, did Patrick even talk to Gary at all?  I wanted to engage in a discussion with Gary Chapman on the subject of ethics, as I am sure we would have both learnt something.
As the meeting concluded (not that it had really started!) I said to Gary “I wish you knew more”, but this was ignored.  I was obviously very disappointed that Gary Chapman had no interest in anything that I may have been able to tell him.  Does that mean that, as a senior member of his management team, I had absolutely nothing of value to contribute, or does it mean that Gary Chapman felt he had no need to learn anything?  Whatever the reason, there was to be no discussion about anything meaningful.  I would have liked to have consoled myself by concluding that Gary Chapman had a very busy schedule that day and five minutes was all that he could spare me.  But he did not say that, there was no queue at his door and, once he realised that I wanted to get out of his office even more than he wanted me out of the company, he initiated some incredibly inane small talk.  He did not appear to be under any time pressure.

I have had virtually no contact with Gary Chapman since.  The only time he has ever been triggered into any action was to generate an immediate (and terribly rushed, it seems) response to an email I sent to the Chairman just before I left Dubai.  I do not know who actually wrote it (the prevalence of misinformation suggests the strong involvement Patrick Naef) as I am sure Gary Chapman is capable of producing a more professional document than what I received.  But, it came from Gary Chapman so he has to accept ownership for it.  Here it is, cut and pasted so it is complete, with typo’s.

I appreciate that it is difficult to lose one's job. It is a universal truth that no one who has ever been fired from their position believes that they deserved it.  However, your contract of employment was terminated and it was terminated for good cause.  The reasons for your dismissal were set out in your notice of termination and in your rejection of appeal letter.  Summarizing the content of those letters, Patrick Naef is the head of the IT Department and you could not accept that, nor could you work with him in an effective way.

The company has treated you fairly and you have received (and continue to receive) all of your contractual pay and benefits.  Had you complied with the directions of your line manger and EVP, and had met with them as directed on the morning of the 28th September, there would have been no need for HR to ensure that your were escorted out of the building. Your inability to follow the reasonable instructions of the company led to your dismissal in the first place. You were given every opportunity to exit gracefully.  However, your continued insubordination following dismissal resulted in the only reasonable action the company could take.  As an SVP-IT, you must surely be aware of the measures a company is required to take to secure confidential material from an employee with full access.

You had been offered a standard senior management exit package, subject to your signing a separation agreement.  You breached the terms of the agreement, you breached your duty of company confidentiality, and the offer was withdrawn.   We believe the Emirates Group IT Department will, in fact, survive without you.

I wish you the best in future endeavours.

The patronising opening lines sum up one of Gary Chapman’s problems perfectly.  Based on what happens in the Emirates Group he will obviously believe it, but he is wrong - it is certainly not a universal truth that no one who has been fired thinks it was deserved.  I know of many, many people who have accepted that their termination was appropriate.  But all those people had been dealt with by a manager who handled the case impartially, who gave the individual a fair hearing, who properly investigated every aspect of the case, who had been assisted by a competent and independent HR department, who followed company rules and adhered to local employment laws.  And those people all had the opportunity to have the decision properly examined in an independent appeal process.  Indeed, it is a universal truth that people fired by the Emirates Group are not happy, because they were universally dealt with in one of Emirates’ ‘kangaroo courts’, where no evidence can be called by the ‘defendant’ and where the decision has been made before any so called ‘hearings’ and ‘appeals’ are heard.  These ‘courts’ are the responsibility of Gary Chapman and they are seemingly the only ones he has experience of, or interest in. Yes, I did receive my contractual benefits, albeit until Dnata broke its contract with me.  Aside from those statements, and the bizarre comment about EG-IT surviving without me, the rest of the document is made up of lies, or references to lies.  In the document, Gary Chapman chose to introduce issues which had never been raised before, such as ‘not accepting that Patrick Naef was head of the IT department’ – where on earth that came from I will never know, that had never been suggested to me by anyone before, nor has it since.  I have never challenged the rightful authority of anyone in my life, but suddenly that had become a reason for me being sacked!  However, the sudden revelation of a ‘meeting’ which he claims I refused to attend (but actually knew nothing about), providing a convenient excuse for me being escorted from the building by security guards, gave me some cause for hope.  This was so far from the truth that now surely Gary Chapman would realise that he had been misled by Patrick Naef.  As I stated in an earlier update, this so called ‘missed meeting’ was, at best, the result of a misunderstanding, but it could have been fabricated by Patrick Naef who was desperate for an excuse to keep me away from everyone, thus allowing his campaign of misinformation about me to continue without challenge.  The time of 07.00 had only been referred to as a deadline for me to advise if I would be resigning.  Towards the end of my termination meeting, I stated clearly that “If you haven’t heard from me by 07:00 tomorrow morning, you will know that I am not going to resign”.  I repeated those words as I left the room.  I find it extremely difficult to understand how any one of Malini Johnson (VP), Patrick Naef (DSVP) and Nigel Hopkins (EVP) could possibly say that I left that meeting believing that I had been invited to another one the following morning.

In my reply to Gary Chapman I set out my position regarding that ‘meeting’, citing it as an example of the continuous flow of misinformation emanating from Patrick Naef.  I was confident that any reasonable person would at least ask a few questions, given the strength of assertions I had made.  Clearly, it was one word against three, but a quick check of calendars would have revealed no meeting.  That would seem odd to me if I were investigating, as all other meetings in the company are scheduled in this way (to avoid confusion and people missing meetings!), just as my termination meeting had been.  I would have also asked when a phone call was made to me asking why I was not at the meeting - 7:05 perhaps?  When told that no call was made until 7:40, I think I would have begun to smell a rat.  (And in that call Malini Johnson actually made no reference to any ‘missed meeting’, she just asked me where I was.  Reading about it in Gary Chapman’s email, three months later, was the first I heard of it.)   In my reply to Gary Chapman, I also asked for explanations and ‘evidence’ to support the lies referred to, but Gary Chapman did not (because he could not, without compounding the lies) reply.   

The very strange comment (in Gary Chapman’s letter above) about EG-IT surviving without me still confuses me.  At first sight, it appears that Gary Chapman was attempting to make fun of me, but I cannot believe that he would do that.  Surely, no self-respecting manager at any level, certainly not a President of a large company, would be so childish, indeed churlish, to attempt to mock someone he had just fired?  Maybe it was in response to another blatant lie from Patrick Naef, who perhaps had claimed that I had said something to that effect?  Or possibly the vindictive Patrick Naef had slipped the comment into the draft and Gary Chapman missed it?  But it certainly is a very odd thing to say in such circumstances.  I cannot imagine anyone taking pride in putting their name to such a statement.

Naturally EG-IT has survived, but is it the EG-IT that Gary Chapman wants?  There is no Mercator of course and there is continued confusion and dismay within the IT organisation.  But there is sadly no confusion about what EG-IT staff still need to do to progress their careers or, much more importantly at the moment, to survive.  EG-IT staff who have found themselves in Patrick Naef’s black book, or have failed to gain entry into what has become known as the ‘fan club’, are understandably feeling very nervous at the moment.  Is that what Gary Chapman wants?  I am afraid that, based on my knowledge of him, I do not think he will have much of a problem with it.