Saturday, March 31, 2012

Eurantica





Eurantica, a set on Flickr.

Been with a good friend at Eurantica today. Of course items were quite expensive for the riches of the world but even these became stingy and didn't show up. One of the traders, a German selling exquisite prints of the nineteenth and twentieth century mainly from Japan (Hiroshige, Hokusai, and more like these) told us that he estimated 70 percent less attendance than the previous year. Pity because I found the exhibits a lot more interesting! It was so bad that every visitor, handing in his/her ticket upon entrance, received a new one for a later visit. I'll be damned! mind you, entrance is not free here. Don't know for a fact but it costs way above ten euro to indulge the pleasure of a visit in a sphere of fine art and human craftmanship.

Tere's still time today and tomorrow. The Fair closes its door this Sunday, April 1st. No April Fool's joke involved...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

About a-holes and good wine...

Yesterday afternoon was one of the rare moments of sharing wisdom I have had for a long time. I met NS, you see, a friend in recent years, who managed  for many years the R&D organization of a well-known US multinational with a reputation of only holding and exploiting market share leading products in any business they decided to pursue. NS is now past 60 and retired, meaning, he's sitting on the BODs of several companies, mainly focused on molecular biology and genetic engineering. For the rest he's having a good time enjoying 'retirement'. 
He told me about Biosceptre, an Aussie startup, with a promising technology for curing all sorts of solid cancers, moving into clinical trials for a set of their proposed products; it's actually those used to cure a category of skin cancers. The specifics are pretty hard to grasp unless you are an expert in molecular biology and cell chemistry, but it simply gets down to the fact that Biosceptre discovered that certain biomarkers (receptors sitting on regular cell membranes and found to be non-functional in cancer cells) get activated by attaching to them purpose designed antibodies, and by becoming functional again they initiate apoptosis (cell death). NS showed me quite a few pictures 'before' and 'after' applying the antibodies to the receptors of cancerous cells, and if those shots were genuine, my God, I still feel my skin shivering. Someone once told me that in about 20 years there won't be any deadly deceases left in the world (I mean, non-curable); by seeing those shots I'll start believing this. Good news for the generations to come. 
The best part of our conversation though was about NS's philosophy of life, and that happened over a glass of beer at the Place Luxembourg, in Brussels, in one of the square's packed caf├ęs, filled with EU civil servants after a day's 'heavy' toil.
"I live by two rules", NS sez. 
"Rule Number One!". 
I leaned forward. I was really dying with curiosity! 
"I don't work with ass-holes. Done it for too long; I'm sick and tired of them. So that's it!" 
I hardly had the time to react, and there he goes again... 
"Rule Number Two", he utters! 
"I only drink good wine! Not that cheap shit that pretends to taste like wine, neither the top expensive stuff that's only good for the show-offs. Just good wine. Good people drink good wine. Drinking good wine brings you closer to good people. Agree?"
I couldn't agree more. The simplicity of such words of wisdom coming from a man, whose life in the corporate hallways of his own company and many other Premier League business players was good for a couple bestsellers on management practices, simply overwhelmed me. Many of us who have been or still are active in middle to top management positions forget far too often to listen and summarize/conclude what we learned. I have personally tried to listen as much as possible, especially to those with more extended experience than mine. I feel lucky to have done this. On the downside, I also worked for a guy for (thankfully under) one year, a lot younger than me, who displayed a supreme arrogance pretending he knew it all. And he was much less exposed than even myself to corporate experience of any sort. He actually never worked in any large corporation, US or Western European. Nevertheless, he thought he knew it all. I hate attitudes like that!
The other interesting thing NS said was about the feeling many at top positions indulge, pretending they are better people than anyone else. "The fact I found myself at a certain position for a period of time doesn't make me a more capable person than anyone else with more or less the same qualifications", he said. "It's all about a few lines of position titles on a business card that we carry in our professional lives. The moment you walk out of your position and retire, it's all gone. You are just like anybody else". This statement is so fundamental... but unfortunately, many folks in corporate top positions (quite a few among them in their Peter's chairs indeed) think of themselves like the 'salt of the Earth'. They keep texting and emailing even in their sleep. I used to say to my folks long ago, "do you believe the world will stop spinning the day you pass? C'm on, get a life". Remember folks, humility never killed anyone. Trust me on this...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Flower Feast May 1971, Alex/Polis

my late sis with filming husband...
Bamides & Niki Vafeiadou

41 years ago, in my birthplace. Under the colonels junta, a flower parade with fake flowers - real flowers in earlier organized parades were long dead by the time the show started... Really funny to watch!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Incompetence pays off

Far too often have I participated in management meetings of commercial companies, when I've been stunned by how many managers out there are earning humongous salaries, while sitting squarely in fabulous Peter's chairs. I believe this is the reason that, when business is slow, company management implements various degrees of rightsizing without the company actually experiencing any real performance challenges after the haircuts. On the contrary. I used to work for a company that fed half of the available headcount as company 'fat' so that each time quarters were missed a small percentage of the fat was burnt and numbers corrected. However, the whole process seems 'unfair' to good people who do their best and add value. Thoughts like "it's not bloody fair" crosses their mind. All I had to tell them is what a New Yorker colleague once told me, one with a rabbi wisdom: Never say "It's not fair". Who ever told you life is fair? Always tell them, "it's not good for the company".

Even so, if the top suckz there's not much you can do about it. Until the BOD, if there is one, decides to take care of the problem and sends C-level officers homewards. Unfortunately, in the US this is done far too often and in Europe almost never ever. You can even 'shag' the chairman's spouse and still stay in place. Especially then... They might put a contract on your head, but they will never shack you.

On a serious tone, maybe it is due to the reigning incompetence in companies that European Economy is up for grabs. Even at the level of sovereign countries. Because, those managing public administrations, on top of being managerially incompetent, are also (party) 'political'. Meaning, they are used to lying in their face, nepotist, live on kick-backs and quite often range from mildly corrupt to extremely corrupt.

How do you solve such a problem? A colleague mentioned recently to me, simply and honestly: Where there's a will there's a way, he said. First, there must be a will and compelling reasons to have a will. Like people in the streets really start beating the living sh*t out of their politicians for being so incompetent and corrupt. Already started in Greece. Happened in Rhodos (a crowd attacked authorities reps attending a parade), and the far North (Evros, an old man beating with his cane Ntolios*,  an ex-vice-secretary of Interior). These guys need to start running for their lives instead of thinking that will always get away with murder as they are used until now.

Once there's a will, like in Mario's Italy more or less, then you need action on both the short and the medium/long term. The obvious short term remedy is actual punishment (effective jail service and large fines to return misappropriated capital) of those guilty. This almost never happens in Greece, for instance, as many judges are often among those unfair fraude 'game' participants. The longer term solution is education reforms to start telling the youth a different role model story than is the case today, especially in the GIPSI countries, and also in some not yet inside the club of Euro desperados. Even so, it will take whole generations, if ever, before the system gets corrected.

The other way is of course the Plato Utopia way, but this is not sufficiently democratic and therefore politically incorrect. Let's wait for a Wall-e society then... in the year 2525!

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* It was quite unfortunate that this happened to Ntolios, as he is one scarce example of political integrity in the current times in Greece, compared to his notorious peers and colleagues active today. This shouldn't have happened to him really, and, as it turns, he behaved as quite a gentleman handling the incident, as the footage showed on Youtube later on. On the other hand, there have been others, holding until over a year ago leadership positions in the local Administration (Prefecture), who were also beaten up in the streets, but they in particular deserved every bit of it. And more. The Mafia practices of one such character related to gambling, womanizing and extortion made him an ideal target for a gang payback attack. He's lucky he's still alive. This is the kind of functionaries the beloved PASOK party selected to lead the country for far too long. Socialists, my ass!