A DUMMY’S GUIDE TO FRENCH POLITICS

Over 200 years ago Napoleon Bonaparte said “In politics stupidity is not a handicap”.

via Wikimedia Commons


To an outsider French politics can be incredibly confusing … just as it is to French people.

The political right in France is not in any way recognisable as belonging to the right side of politics that one would find in any other democratic country, being more accurately only just marginally to the right of the left. The current flag carriers for the marginally right of the left is the UMP (Union pour un Movement Populaire), which is currently very “unpopulaire”, hovering at about 30% approval, and which now could more accurately be an acronym for Unreelectable Maddening President.

Nicolas Sarkozy moved from leader of the UMP to France’s 23rd President in May 2007 on a platform based on the need to revitalise the French economy and need for change, and immediately brought to bear the entire power of the office of the French Presidency to changing his marital status, getting divorced from Cécilia Ciganer-Albéniz in October 2007 and marrying Carla Bruni in February 2008. On taking office he also immediately changed his own annual salary from € 101,000 to € 242,000.

Source: Whitehouse Blog; via Wikimedia Commons


These 2 major changes so tired him that he has rested ever since, though he did find a small burst of energy which enabled him to impregnate his new and attractive wife, who has now given birth to a Sarkozy heiress.

The far left French socialist party (Parti Socialist) has had some leadership setbacks since its first successful run at the Presidency in 1981. Its leader is Segolene Royale … no, it’s Francois Hollande … no, it’s Martine Aubrey … no, it’s Harlem Desir … no it’s Francois Hollande again. The only obvious person who is definitely not the leader of the PS is Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the ex-head of the IMF. He committed the ultimate sin in French politics, which is not the having of affairs, nor the having of mistresses, nor even of being a sexual predator, but is the unforgiveable sin of having it all make headlines in the newspapers thus embarrassing the French populace by being caught by foreigners doing all these things. The reality is that many French people actually admire and envy him his sexual energy, but will not tolerate his lack of discretion.

The far right is represented by the Front National (National Front) founded by Jean Marie le Pen (see “Vive l’European Parliament” posted September 20, 2010), and now led by his daughter Marine le Pen. The FN is a classic right wing party allied to the British BNP, and who wish to stop all immigration, impose stronger law and order initiatives by bringing back the guillotine, drop out of the EU and go back to the franc, build a fence along France’s borders with all other countries, ban all foreign films, make the use of any languages other than French a punishable offence, expel all foreign residents back to their home countries giving their renovated houses back to French nationals, and change McDonalds from serving hamburgers into duck-in-a-crepe takeaways thereby rejuvenating the French agricultural sector. Their popularity is growing daily as France continues, together with Germany, to support Greek lifestyles thus forcing the French to move their retirement age to a staggering 62, leaving an average of only 20 years of being supported by the State in their old age, but whilst retaining the 35 hour work week.

Author: Charles14082011; via Wikimedia Commons


The far far left is mainly represented by the Parti Communiste (PCF) which is still strongly Stalinist as no one has actually told them that Russia has moved away from traditional communism since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990. PCF support has fallen from a high of 20% to about 5% currently as most people in France watch television and know that both Russia and China have been moving away from actual communism towards a more open market form of -ism, whereas true French communists eschew foreign capitalist consumerism and thus are not able to watch television but just keep re-reading old Karl Marx pamphlets for their news updates.

Author: Jaume Ollé; via Wikimedia Commons


There are also a few aging and declining far far far left parties such as Lutte Ouvriere (Workers’ Struggle) and LCR (Revolutionary Communist League), who are giving way to Parti de Gauche (Party of the Left) who actually have 2 seats in the Parliament and the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (New Anti-capitalist Party) who, together with Cuba, are the last who still believe in the pure ideals of collective farms and state ownership of all assets, including berets.

There are some small centrist parties such as the Nouveau Centre which is allied with the right of left UMP, so no-one is quite sure about what it sits in the centre of, as it is hard to position any party apart from those on the farthest extremes. The others seem to be able to float around at will, much akin to the streetwalkers in Bangkok these days. Francois Bayrou (a former presidential candidate) has also formed the Mouvement Democratique, to sit somewhere between the Left and Right and thus spends all of his time trying to work out where they actually are, and what they actually believe would be best for themselves, and maybe even occasionally for the rest of France, so he can actually define where he should sit politically.

Plato summed it all up over 2000 years ago when he said

“Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are not.”

via Wikimedia Commons


GLBT IS NOT A DUTCH SANDWICH

Catherine Deneuve said “I think anything that has to do with sexuality makes people very interested.”

Author: Rita Molnár 2000; via Wikimedia Commons


I first heard the sexual orientation term “GLBT”used by a guest speaker in November 2011 at the inaugural meeting in Zurich of “AtelierSAP”, a congress for ex-SAP executives which I attended with 100 ex colleagues.

My first thought was that it should refer to a Dutch sandwich “Gouda, Lettuce, Bacon and Tomato” (which I felt was a reasonable combination) when it was used in one of the panel discussions we held, this one on “The Future of Work”. It turned out to be an acronym to describe people who fall into the “Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Transgender” camp, and it came up in the discussion on diversity.

According to the speaker, it appears that the GLBT category represents about 20% of the population and yet very, very few executives who are “openly” GLBTers sit on the boards of Global Fortune 1000 companies, or any other large companies generally.
Obviously there are no statistics on how many board members exist that are secret GLBT adherents, though these numbers, one could assume, are considerably higher.

GLBT History Museum; Author: GKoskovich; via Wikimedia Commons


Despite being the forum moderator which meant I was supposed to keep an unbiased and non-partisan position I just couldn’t hold myself back and felt that I had to wade into the discussion.
I didn’t struggle with any part of the idea that GLBTers should be senior executives or sit on boards, as I have long believed that most boards are pretty ineffective and could therefore do with some serious help so why disqualify 20% of possible candidates (See “Why many company boards are ineffective” posted July 4, 2011), but I did struggle with the idea that these people could only be considered legitimate when their sexual preferences were out in the open.

In my 45 year career I have interviewed hundreds of candidates for a variety of different roles, and I have never actually considered asking anyone about their sexual orientation … not only because I don’t care about it, but also because it is no concern of mine as it has absolutely no relevance to their ability to do the job, and that is all that I have ever considered. At the same time I have never expected interviewees to suddenly make announcements like “… by the way I am a heterosexual” or “… my wife and I belong to a swinger’s club”.

Author: Martin Strachoň / Wikimedia Commons


I also don’t delve into their marital status or their parenting as whilst these may give me some clues to their sexual orientation, even this is not 100% accurate as I have homosexual friends who in their past have had conventional marriages and have children that they remain extremely close to, despite their subsequent change of sides.

What does any of it have to do with anyone else ?

In my personal life I do not expect my heterosexual friends to tell me about their sex-lives, even though I do have some friends who not only seem to remember their love making bouts, but have actually graded them to a point where they can list their Top-10 in the same way that I can do with restaurants. Whilst this seems to be critically important to them, I actually find it tedious and irrelevant.

Similarly, I have absolutely no expectation or desire for GLBTers to tell me about their sex lives.
However, I do totally understand that there are people and companies out there that may make it hard for GLBT members to advance in their careers, and that have a glass ceiling for them which can be as impenetrable as that for women.

This makes no sense to me at all !

When we are so desperate for competent managers (see “Business leadership isn’t changing quickly enough” posted October 10, 2011) why would we disqualify people based on either their sex or what they do with their sex lives in their own time ? I am sure that there are successful male senior executives out there who secretly wear women’s clothes, wear lacy underwear under their pinstripe suits, pop the occasional satsuma in their mouth or run naked through their hobby farm once a month baying at the full moon.I am also as sure of the fact that there are many female senior executives who have their own versions of sexual kinks. Most of us do !

For heterosexuals, forgiveness for “sexual kinks” is always easier, and sometimes can even elicit admiration. I know of one highly successful CEO/Founder whose company allocates a sizeable amount of money every year budgeted for defence and settlement of his sexual harassment suits, and many men see this as just being an acceptable part of his overall aggressiveness and drive.

What a load of bollocks !

Why is it so easy to accept that senior executives can have strong and sometimes different secret sexual habits, but find it hard to accept senior executives if they decide that their sexual differences should not need to be hidden, whatever they are and when they are legal, victimless and a matter of self-choice ?
The only acceptable criteria should be whether they can do the job well.
After all, surely the best and most desirable sexual preference should be “often”.

As was said by English stage actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell (1865-1940) “Does it really matter what affectionate people do, so long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses”.

Mrs. Patrick Campbell; via Wikimedia Commons


WHO WANTS TO BE A CEO ?

I am often asked about what characteristics I believe are needed to be able to become a successful CEO. It’s not an easy question to answer as there are so many different aspects that one can address, and libraries of management books have been written in an attempt to quantify some reasonable directions for those that are keen to see whether they have the wherewithal to get to the top office.

By Raysonho@Open Grid Scheduler; via Wikimedia Commons


I understand that a CEO needs to be able to drop the “I” in favour of “We”, have a good strategic mind, be creative, be able to build a great team, be able to delegate and cascade responsibilities through the organisation and possess many more elements that are key to all senior executives, but I also believe that there are some characteristics that are at the heart of, and are specific and critical to, being a great CEO.

Here are just a few that I consider to be mandatory.

1. While you don’t always have to be right, you do have to always appear to be certain.

Once you have all the needed input from all relevant areas, you have to be able to make a decision, come up with an idea, a plan, a strategy and act quickly to make it happen, taking your team with you. I understand that “consensus” is important in the leadership team (See “Stupid Management Ideas” posted 29 August 2011), but the role of the leader is to ultimately choose a direction and pull the team together to achieve it. You cannot allow the organisation to flounder through indecision at the top.

2. Being a business leader is not just about being able to paint a wonderful picture of what can be done, but means that you are able to keep a watchful eye on the business, ensuring that everyone has an understanding of where they fit in, what is expected of them, and how they need to go about successfully fulfilling their role, all driven with a sense of urgency to make it happen.This means that you need to have a real understanding of what is happening in every part of your own business as well as within your external ecosystem. It means understanding what behaviours are being reinforced at all levels, rather than just a belief that “If it is stated, so it shall be”.

3. You really do have to fully understand the numbers.

It’s not enough to be able to read, understand and decipher the P&L and the Balance Sheet, but you have to get to a point where you have a solid feel for what is happening in the organisation from every aspect of the business, and to be able to use the numbers to drive needed change. Great CEOs can “smell” things that are starting to fester before they go bad, and will act immediately to drive initiatives to attack areas of potential weakness.

By Hooton99; via Wikimedia Commons


4. A CEO needs to be passionate about identifying and solving problems, and being able to understand the ones that s/he needs to specifically focus on, and those that should be delegated to others. There will always be too many things to do in the time available and the most successful CEOs know which problem areas s/he should attack with passion, these being the most critical for them to personally address for the success of the organisation. CEOs must learn to manage their time expertly by making sure that they understand how to focus their energies on the important issues rather than just the urgent ones.

5. You will need to have a highly developed sense of farsightedness, even prescience, to be able to understand what has to be done for the future health of the business. This means that you will need to be at “expert” level in what is happening in your industry, in your competitors and most importantly with your customers’ changing needs and expectations. You will also need an ability to look around corners as well as just looking straight ahead. What can appear as a tangent to others can also be an important business direction for the future needs of yourmarketplace.

By Jupiter75 (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


6. You have to be a great communicator, rather than just a great public speaker, though it does help if you can develop and hone this skill to an art form as well. You will need to ensure that people have a clear understanding of what needs to be done and their roles in achieving the set goals, and to do this well CEOs need to have highly developed written and oral skills. This means being concise, specific and non-ambiguous. You will also need strong communication skills to be able to build confidence in staff, investors, partners and customers not only when the business is humming, but also when the company is facing challenges, which even a great company gets to do from time to time.

7. You have to learn to skilfully sift reality from bullshit.

By User:Anynobody; via Wikimedia Commons


“If it sounds too good to be true it probably is” is a great starting point, and commitments that are not built on valid, measurable and reliable data (such as a strong pipeline supporting an aggressive forecast), should be relegated to hope rather than substance. The higher you climb, no matter how approachable you believe you are, the harder it will be for people to tell you any really bad news. You have to ensure that people understand that the sooner weaknesses can be identified the sooner they can be addressed and rectified, and you cannot have people around you that do not help you drive the business based on all realities, not just the pleasant ones.

As Peter Drucker said “There is nothing that is so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

By Jeff McNeill; via Wikimedia Commons

COME BACK E.T. EUROPE NEEDS YOU

Here we are in November 2011 and despite efforts by the Greek Prime Minister to personally derail the rescue, the Euro has been resolutely saved … yet again.

This time all that was needed was to increase the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) bailout fund from 440 billion to one trillion euro, which represents a mere € 3000 per person in the Eurozone, which is made up of about 350 million now thankful and relieved residents. These large numbers just roll off the tongue now that we have all come to regularly confront numbers that go well beyond the familiar 6 zeros for 1 million to 12 zeros for 1 trillion.

By en:User:Eugene van der Pijll; via Wikimedia Commons


It was also decided to let the Greeks off paying back 50% of their sovereign debt, which the European banks will just have to accept as their share of supporting the Greek standard of living. This was considered to be an easier solution to implement than getting the Greeks to actually pay taxes. It is important to understand that this cannot be considered a “default” as that would spook the markets and create a global financial meltdown, but should just be seen in the same light as retail pre-Xmas sales discounting, meaning we can all sleep more easily knowing that our savvy leaders have saved us from a “fate worse than death” … or should that be “a fate worse than debt”.

China was immediately identified as being ready to contribute to the EFSF bailout fund with an amount of about € 100 billion euro which is less than 5% of their foreign exchange reserves currently sitting at about € 2.3 trillion, so really “just a drop in the China Sea” ( as we will all now have to describe small amounts).

The EFSF themselves have agreed to take a “junior tranche” of € 200 billion and thus take the first 20% of the risk away from other investors, in a very similar way that the U.S. banks were able to convert high risk toxic mortgages into AAA loans up until 2008, when it all started to unravel.
Credit Rating Agencies immediately confirmed the EFSF Fund’s AAA rating so everything must be OK this time around, as these Agencies have all proved themselves to be so accurate and believable.

The Chinese are keen to invest in the EFSF, even though it will not give them a great return, as it will establish them as a responsible major world power and will also enable them to protect their export markets, as there is little benefit to the Chinese economy to have a bankrupt Eurozone. It is also important for the Chinese to keep the euro alive as a counterweight to the US dollar, thus ensuring that no one currency can overwhelm the Chinese Yuan (Renminbi).

Author: Elyyo; via Wikimedia Commons


It will also be an opportune time for the Chinese to ask for the removal of the European arms embargo, as it would be hard to keep denying our benefactor access to life’s basics such as modern weaponry.

As China will still have over € 2 trillion to play with, it will also put them in a strong position to buy up some interesting European assets as Governments try to raise much needed funds from some serious privatisation moves.
Not bad for a communist regime which only recently started moving towards “free market” reforms.

The only question that now remains is … Where does the other € 700 billion come from ?

If we look at the foreign exchange reserves of other potential investors we see the following in the top 5 … Japan € 800 billion, Russia € 370 B, Saudi € 325 B, Brazil € 250 B, India € 220 B.
These 5 therefore have a total of about € 2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, and if they were willing and able to invest an average of say 5% each (also for very little return), the EFSF could raise another € 100 billion giving them a total of about € 400 billion.

I know that my calculation is just a simple layperson’s view of the problem, and that it would take some serious economists to work out the real numbers. I also know that even though € 400 billion is a decent number, but even allowing for a large error factor to compensate for my simplicity, we do seem to be a little bit short of our € 1 trillion target. Even if Germany and France could contribute another € 100 billion on their own (about 30% of their combined foreign exchange reserves of € 280 billion) we would still only be about half-way.

This would mean that as the money is not readily available here on earth, the only way to get it would be that we find some extra-terrestrial life-forms who might be keen to buy up some interests in Europe as part of a longer term colonisation program.

E.T. where are you when we need you ?

Author: Inyuki (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


However, finding E.T. may be hard to do quickly, and as the markets are still jittery and will not accept any long delays for an acceptable solution, I recommend that we should just sell Italy and the “PIGS” (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) in their entirety to the Chinese, rather than forcing them to buy up these countries in a piecemeal fashion.

This sale of the “I-pigs” ( to give it a more modern name and as a tribute to the late Steve Jobs) will also get rid of Silvio Berlusconi, who is embarrassing all of us, raise significant amounts of capital and remove the need for a bailout fund anyway as we will have gotten rid of Europe’s sick little piggies. We can then distribute the proceeds amongst those of us who are left in the 12 remaining Eurozone countries and who have been almost-nearly-just-about living within our means. This will then enable us all to rush out and buy significant amounts of Chinese manufactured goods making sure that the economic system which we have built over the last 200 years is perpetuated.

Sadly, Gerhard Schroeder called it correctly in March 1998 when he said “The euro is a sickly premature infant, the result of an overhasty monetary union.”
It should finally resolve itself when we all adopt the Yuan.

By: SPD-Schleswig-Holstein; via Wikimedia Commons