Globalisation Dispossessed – from Utopia to Dystopia around the Universe

Those who have seen real poverty, hunger and scarcity of resources know that a little of anything can go a long way. The same principle applies to other needs: sleep, affection, support and kindness. “A little kindness goes a long way” as is often experienced; or a good cat nap can help you forget sleep deprivation for a while.

With age, most of us eat and sleep less. Sometimes because we don’t move around as much, or because we are prone to more regular episodes of sickness and are happy to nap in a chair and have little to eat. At other times because we are too preoccupied recalling old memories of those we loved and lost, or what we could or should have done but were not wise or brave enough to do. Or simply asking for more time to do what we must before final departure.

But, by definition, the younger you are, the more energy you have unless you are dispossessed by Globalisation! Dispossessed of your dignity (being forced into pornography for example) your basic human rights (the right to travel freely, the right to a fair and open trial of your (always) complicated identity or ethnicity or religion, the right to attend school without worrying about a grumbling tummy so you can focus on what the untrained but sympathetic teacher is trying to teach, the right to basic health and safety, to playfulness, to storing memories and experiencing love and friendship, experimenting with borders of safety and danger in a protected environment and so on. Under the governance of Globalisation, young and old age “comfort zones” have ended up with certain features in common: anxiety, depression, isolation and sadness.

Those that offered globalisation as a Utopia that would guarantee better standards of living for everyone via complete structural privatisation through “open” markets and an abundance of prosperity for all do appear to have been forced (apart from a handful) to retreat or to resign from it all  (its main engineers have literally been made a joke of) or forced to repeat themselves like a broken record.

Every single promise, declaration and constructed dream has been so visibly violated that descriptions of Dystopian societies or narratives would not adequately sum it all up, unless the narrator spent decades of imagination on what the vast majority of humanity (rich and poor) can see just walking down the road – any road that has not been completely annihilated by it already.

The list of broken promises is too long to mention. So, here are the key ones:

Dehumanisation of conscience, and not solely in “a place made mean by poverty” but around the globe. The globe now encases the very rich and very poor door by door, because this system (call it what you like) cannot afford to survive otherwise. What is the difference between the two groups? The very rich never had a conscience, but the poor always did. So how has their conscience become dehumanised? It is very simple: they have had to find a way to survive. The rise of “disenfranchised” youth all over the globe (some turning into criminals, others into activists) with the old now begging in the streets of global cities because of utter destitution are examples.

Global Warming has made the globe man’s final colony. It is as big as the whole Universe, engulfing lands, rivers, air, plants, animals and every living or dying creature. The biggest polluters still get away with it, but for how much longer?

Within Europe (apart from the whole disgraceful shenanigans around Brexit, costing many billions of pounds across the Continent, not to mention the chaos and confusion), the trophy for the biggest joke in this part of the century must be handed over to Nigel Lawson for his profound understanding of the demographics of his homeland. He will always be remembered for pointing out that “Most British (we still cannot define what groups this includes) live in Great Britain! Yet another trophy should also go to him, because in his old age he sort of forgot to mention that he has secretly applied for French citizenship!

I wonder if he or other members of the global aristocracy have read Le Guin or Romain Rolland? And I have not mentioned hundreds of other European and non-European authors. However, these two are particularly relevant to this particular case.

Gestures of “apologetic” repossession is another key feature of these strange times. The rise in xenophobia across the whole world has led to the most famous museums in the world (the British Museum, the Louvre, and the like) to hand some artefacts back to their original owners in shows for which they still charge a great deal! Special events, guests of honour, speakers, those happy to have a piece of the celebrity cake and build themselves up as saviours of culture and pioneers of reclaiming lost histories and heritage will benefit of course. Indeed,most of them are directly or indirectly attached to the same or similar institutions which train them and funnily enough charge them for the education too!

Symbolic empowerment of bodies and souls continues. Yesterday’s disabled become today’s heroes, if and only if they forget the traumas that originally led to their disablement and run for miles in aid of noble charities. Nobel Peace winners of yesterday refuse to save a single life that exposes massacres that occurred on their watch.

Militarisation of the whole world is an old phenomenon and  exercised by a handful of colonial powers as long as recorded human history allows us to trace. But it is now commonplaceeven in places of cheapened shopping at holy times, the same places that now pay you to buy! So many shoppers will now lose the golden opportunity to “buy one, get …free (the number keeps increasing).

International migration of even more desperate people across continents (just to join the expanding ranks of vulnerable slaves) is unstoppable. It now takes place not just from very poor but from well-resourced countries. Only the boats are getting small, the seas and occasions more perilous, unless the migrants are saved by a TV show! Where there are no seas or occasions involved, but barren lands (Latin and central America are examples) starving migrants in huge numbers set out on journeys to find work, knowing full well that they might never make it across the border or ever see those they left behind again.

Single Issue voting really did mean a single issue conscience! Be it in academia, science or politics. In a nutshell, exceptions aside, Globalisation has – without a doubt – combined the weakest of the East and the West in one space. This, while most of the East is gone or starving as is some of the West. And those addicted to gambling are still betting on the winners and the losers of it all. For experienced gamblers are likely to saddle the best stallion. For them it has always been a win-win scenario.  













Medical Nomads?

It is extraordinary what an honest businessman can tell you if he finds you honest enough. I met X some decades ago on a train station! His English was poor. Why would not it be? He was not English yet worked as the head of a crucial specialist branch of a medical giant of equal stature, namely Johnson &Johnson (J&J). Moreover, he was in charge of contact renewals in what was classified as Europe and the Middle East region. The peculiarity of both regions meant that he really had seen it all… His specialisation was to be present in locations (to gauge the quality of Advanced Sterilisation Products used in order to improve product quality with a view to ensure that the future needs of each client were met, and contracts continued to reflect the changing nature of demand in order to be renewed.

In general terms, it is clear that medicine is culturally and socially defined. What is considered medicine in one culture would be tantamount to poison in another. Even in extremely skilled medical procedures such as surgery, disputes have arisen throughout history as to the best way to treat a broken leg and so on. X had been trained and trusted for a long time by J&J because his main obsession was science (or so he thought). He would calmly observe a mutilation in an open public space or usage of the same or similar numbing or sterilisation medicines in an enclosed hospital. His job was to focus on the effectiveness of the products and nothing else.

He mistrusted men who were a “sob” and considered himself to be a “commandant”. This is the story as he told it.


Clearly if you have a previous international assignment, that is a positive. We have begun recruiting on cultural basis. Speaking to other expats stationed in early 1990’s, they would basically be sent. Told to go. When I was being sent, we were asked to have a psychological, a cultural profile. A company whose services we buy, sat us down one day and asked us about the history and our knowledge of England, and based on their score, they sent us through one week of cultural training. I found it helped a great deal, at least from the point of view of the English doing business.

In the medical field you have regulatory experts who know the law operating in any part of the world. I have noticed a nomadic or non-national existence. We are setting up a plant to make surgical gloves in Malaysia. A group from Northern Ireland will pack up and go to Malaysia, and work there for two years, and what we want is end product.

Before I came here, I was in charge of a very young man from Thailand who had been sent by his management to learn about sterilization disinfection. For myself as the receiving manager this was wonderful because this person was with me for a period that I knew would be two years. I could give him various responsibilities , I could ask him to do projects, even though he was very junior, only about 21, 22 years old, I thought he was tough. He spoke very little English, no contacts not even to know where to look for Thai food. I felt sorry for the poor guy.

As far as New Technology (NT) is concerned, I think it has made it harder because you have to be accessible 24 hours a day. We have just a global teleconference practice between Tokyo, London and LA. Those cities are 8 hours apart; there is absolutely no way that all parties can interact at a reasonable hour. So somebody is always staying late behind for the booked call. 5 in the morning here is 9 at night in the US, meaning that somebody is staying late. With us it is not a video conference; it is a teleconference. Video is problematic. It is hilarious, because the camera is facing you, and if you are Italian you are trying to speak with your hands. The other side sees this spastic movements and thinks that you are crazy.

My own brother who is in the McDonalds chain has to compare quantities of hamburgers sold on a global basis. The manager in Red Square Moscow has to sell 4.7 kilos of potatoes that day, because that is what the other outlets have done. That is the bit that is difficult; you  might say that’s great technology, but you might also say what a control structure. I know in China they were very concerned about ethics, corruption and so on. They had tried something local but within a year bribery was incredible. The books were being cooked, and things got out of control. But really at the end of the day, the person who is a sob, who sacks people left and right, but who raises your share by 5 or 10 percent, is just as successful as the person who cares for community values.

Take the example of surrey (England), which has a number of American enclaves. The question is how many Americans are here, often without any skills to share, just to be the face of the corporation. And this can be very subtle, but really the office in the US says they don’t trust anybody here. What they are saying is that you are our manager, we trust you, so you go over there because you are my trusted commander.

My opinion is that the senior people are already working for a multinational government type of corporation. So even though they have legal citizenship of one country, they probably have a de facto citizenship of a much broader organisation. This could be an ideological citizenship. It could be Coca Cola, or MacDonald. And this does frighten me a bit. If the corporation said, for example, that you will all live in American houses. After a while, you have allegiance to the Transnational Corporation (TNC).

So, The International Development’ person can work on a “store and forward” basis. He might say this is my design; tell me what you think. The objective of the interaction is to define the quality or quantity of the product. This is a clear objective. But the person doing the peoples’ or soft skills cannot do this. That would amount to writing love letters without ever knowing the person.

What I think is very much the case is that expats do have a great role in determining the political ideology. That could be good, and it could be bad. This came up in one of our “Credo” challenges. It is the list of our beliefs, it is the one that we are challenged with twice a year. One question that came up was how do you feel this has affected local societies? One nice thing about the Credo challenge is that it brings together everybody within the organisation. You could be the Director or the person who changes the oil, or manual labour. We had a gentleman from Brazil, and he said that the best thing that ever happened was that J&J put a factory in Brazil, not because they put the factory in, not because of the jobs, but because in order to get the workers to work, J&J went to the local bus company and taught them how to run their buses.

What I am learning is that basically there is a cultural mismatch between a European and an American engineer. So when you say you have to validate the systems, this has different connotations to different people. It may reflect the degree of technology, but an American will say I’ve validated the thermostat in your house to 20c, if you set it at 20c, it will come up at 20c, because it has a computer in it. A European will say do you have any proof of the computer controlling the thermostat. He will want proof. This person will not permit the purchase of the technology, because they believe in things that can be tested. We’re always trying to understand what validation of technology means to different people. Part of this is the greater advancement and acceptance of technology.

The majority of international assignments are within regions. In the US it’s common for people to move out, in Latin America, it’s common for people to move out, in the Asian sphere, it’s common for people to move around. In Europe and Africa it’s very common. Inter-regional changes occur at a higher level: director, president, vice-president. Also important to note is that most J&J activity is within regions. International Development is typically at the manager level and below. And the role there is that the country of departure will nominate a candidate. That candidate has to go a country or a region where the sending country believes that there is some knowledge that the person will bring back. The assignment is never longer than two years, and the sending country has to agree that the person has a job upon return, from the beginning. These will be say a junior marketing manager who has a great deal to learn say about the Japanese consumer market. The agreement will be that he will come back at least as a marketing manager or higher because of the int. experience. Economically, the sending company will be paying for his education and development. The company that receives him is obligated to train, to provide training, housing, transportation etc. After the two years, the person comes back with very good knowledge. International movement is Director level and above; it is clearly a business assignment where the person being sent is there to teach and transfer. So on one end you have a learning and on the other a teaching and transfer loop. This sort of assignment is open-ended.

At the end of this sitting with Mr. X (prolonged for hours at his request) he asked me what I thought about all this. Did I agree? Disagree? How I saw the future unfolding. In return for his honesty, I would expand further, but he had to face one more question. “How do you feel when you witness your products being used for socio-cultural rather than medical purposes?” Looking down sombrely, he answered “strange”.

I thanked him for his time and simply said I had no comments, but I am sure that one day he might have some soul-searching of his own to do. Business and science might mix and match. But fundamental contradictions and doubts within either a business man or a scientist? I remain extremely sceptical. Ultimately Mr. X had to decide his own citizenship.

Was Your Valley Ever Green?


Was Your Valley Ever Green?


Anyone who has not read the book How Green Was my Valley, should immediately do so! That is to say if they have the slightest genuine interest in concepts relating to hard labour, humanity, solidarity, romance, betrayal, survival and defeat.


All you have to do is to look at the Welsh flag, and the distortion of its standing, including the dragon that cannot be erased – unlike the Welsh language. Language remains – as has always been the case in history – all history –  the most important signifier of identity. For it is language and language alone that orders our lives. The Welsh language was almost completely erased some 500 years ago. Those who spoke it were punished, beaten, negated and tortured. It also represents, uniquely perhaps, the most interesting case of revival by a young generation who refused to let their ancestors down.


The book above all is a thrilling narrative of valleys – one of the valleys.


I remember reading the book as a mere child and being eternally marked by it without really knowing exactly where Wales was or whether I would ever get to visit it. But I did, only some years later. No, I never had the opportunity to go at a time of peace or greenness. To the contrary, I ended up in a community centre run by Welsh coal miners and their wives at the time of one of strangest strikes in all human history – when the whole of the Welsh mining community was starved to death and destruction by a Conservative regime popularising the idea that Welsh coal was too expensive compared to the more expensive Polish coal (! ) and that the best way forward was to import it from Poland.


Joining an official international delegation of well-wishers from all over the world as a translator, I was stunned not only by the resilience of the men who had been on strike for some months, but by what dawned on me immediately as we entered the big hall. I was the only woman there! In the presence of an all-male delegation and an all-male audience! Even more stunning, was the extraordinarily progressive attitude of one the strike leaders. In his beautiful Welsh accent, my gender and my age were the first two things he noticed, and he addressed me with the following words “ Welcome to Wales. We are truly grateful to any delegation who visits us, or any donations or messages of solidarity, for any recognition of our struggle. And you young woman are very brave to stand amongst us! Actually, to be honest, without our women we would have starved.”Where were the women?”I asked after an uncontrollable sigh of relief.  “ In the kitchen, preparing our dinner. Please stay to eat with us, if you have the time”.


Anyone who has ever experienced the horror of instantaneous translation will immediately recognise the man-made divide between literal translation, interpretation and body language. To the bewilderment of the people I was supposed to be translating for, the conversation between me and the Welshmen continued and came to a halt when the whole hall burst into laughter. The delegation then relaxed. “ What was all that about?”Oh, nothing really, they are asking us to stay for dinner if we want.” This was then, as it is now, followed by a long speech of solidarity written from a note book and read in a language totally alien to the Welsh. English was the mediator.


Outside, I did see some women. And, no, they were not the family of the strikers. They were special Riot Control Police women saddling oversized horses alongside their fellow male officers. As the night had approached, the officers would be stationed there until the hall lights went out and all the men left.


The bitter cold nights of the region, plus the truly scary presence of so many armed police that surrounded such a friendly community are all well-preserved memories. Associated memories of striking Welsh and other miners in the region being forced to shout “scab” at fellow (hired, de-unionised) miners as they went down to choke under the ground all day, are wishfully asked to vanish.




















First in Shell – Or was BP First?!

The following is an extracted account of a meeting with the first gentleman from Shell on an international assignment, some 25 years ago. The answers are illuminating and self-explanatory.

We have operations in 120 countries, and we are selling in 122. We employ 110,000 globally. I am an expat on my first assignment.

In my case, we had a very specific need for doing a lot of acquisitions, specifically in finance and I have a lot of experience in the States with that. So in Shell’s worldwide resource pool of finance staff, I had the best experience that just happened to come from America. Technically, I could just as easily have come from Malaysia, Indonesia or Argentina. But that’s not likely. In the fields of finance and economics many of the new theories and evolutions emanate out of North America, particularly from US. So we are keen to have people from the US who are more advanced than some of the other countries just by nature/the maturity of capital market in US. So for Shell, Americans tend to be more skilled because you are living in a country in which the latest understanding of financial instruments/technology is developed.

In Shell we have something called Shell Cores/Values, which we have had for the last 50 years. It used to be called The Conduct. We changed that a year ago and it is now called the Shell Shared values/principles statement or something, which is very unusual. We do not lie. For example even if it is somewhere where that is customary, we won’t lie. We would operate under environmental standards up to the standards of the developed countries. So in developing countries we will operate at a higher standard than they would expect. It is something that can complicate things, but it is a standard way in which Shell will operate. And that is critical. To really have an international operation you have to have some shared things that people believe in. But they have to be institutionalised values. So many companies fall on that. They say here are our shared beliefs/values. Some people, maybe the Chairman, writes them. But to get people from 50-60 nationalities, all behaving the same way, believing in the same values is very difficult. It is a self-selection process, so you veto yourself out before you select yourself in. So you say to yourself the way this company operates, the kinds of behaviours that people enforce upon each other, and support it or not support it. Generally, you’ll find that people either deselect or select. Actually, anywhere, in the military, any company, or non-profit organisation, or school, they all have to operate under some set of principles of what they stand for. You can’t make progress or stick together if you don’t.

There is an informal network within Shell, where managers are expected to develop staff, high quality teams, and in doing that we are all accountable for spotting people and ensuring they are the same in having experiences in other settings. So part of the process for me was that I spent 3-4 years around the guy who runs the group finance controller/ director before I came over. We had an expat manager in the States who was the chief financial officer, who said you really ought to spend some time with Steve Rogue. So Steve came to visit us, and then this assignment became available. Steve is British, but he has worked all over. I would be very untypical. The typical Shell executive would have spent time in at least 10 countries. There is now a new generation, and this is changing due to a lot of reasons, technology is one. Mainly the changes are changing that. When they started 30 years ago, they just did it and that was what you did.

From the point of view of Shell, my success would be judged on: did I bring in a new perspective? Did I close a number of transactions that perhaps would not have gone without me?  From my point of view it would be: did I built a more unique set of skills and capabilities, which I would not have the experience of had I been in another environment? Am I more capable now than I was 2 years ago? Did international exposure give me more skills? Yes, I am leaving them but that’s a part of the new employee contract. Shell, like all other similar companies, cannot meet all our professional or family needs every time. They can most of the time. The Chairman of the company came and spent hours with me when I said I was leaving. We agreed that I am going to go to this job, but they’d love to have me back at anytime and at a higher level. So their view on this is that it’s just another assignment, it’s just for another company. That is OK. I have some specific needs about where I want to live, and I am going to develop a specific set of capabilities around the power industry that I could not get in Shell. So I go to this new assignment and within 3 years I will know more about power and power development than I would have ever known in Shell. It will give me deep experiences in chemicals, in oil, in gas and more deep experiences in power. So I would have worked in a deep way in all these industries. And it specifically meets some location needs that my wife and I have. So that to me is perfect. It’s probably naïve to think that Shell would meet my family and professional needs every time. But we have the right cover arrangement. There are good model industries to look at, like the construction industry. 

No resentments at all. They understood this opportunity.  Entergy gave me an opportunity all round, not just financial, that Shell could not beat. The most important at the moment is that we will be near my wife’s family at a very important time in their life. Her father is very ill. Her mother is getting very old. It’s very important to us to be around them. The professional challenge is not quite good as Shell, but it is quite good. An older Shell manager told me if you get 90 percent of your family and 90 percent of your career right you are doing very well. In this case 100 percent of the former and 90 percent of the later is right. We think this is great living and we would like to come back say in 5 years time, when we are a little older. At the moment I want my children to know what it is to see themselves as Americans.

Shell has a big network of people. Particularly with technology now, the network is deeper and broader. A manager in Beconfield might e-mail or video-conference with a manager in LA. We have what is called “open resourcing”, which means that all the jobs within shell are advertised on the intranet, worldwide. If I am a young pressure engineer in location A and see a job for an engineer in location B, I can e-mail the employing station and say these are my qualifications and I would like to come.

The dominant flow of expat direction is via disciplines. In my case for example, the centre for finance is possibly London, Houston and Melbourne. There are a few others, but you can’t really get into very interesting finance without being in London or New York. Sure there is a Malaysian around, and I am sure that one day he will be running Shell.Another Malaysian-American will be the next Chairman after the current one. We do have a strong British, Dutch overprint, and have said that we would like to have four core nationalities: American, British, Dutch and some South East Asians. But I’m not quite sure myself, because, for example, from the business skills point of view, some South Americans are quite talented. We just had our Leadership Group meeting in Holland where top managers met from all over the world, and you couldn’t really see a dominant nationality. Americans were 20%, the British 18%, the Dutch 15%, then we had Brazilians and so on.

In terms of the movement, years ago, we had that sort of outdated colonial attitude. But we killed that now; that model was a neat, smart model 100 years ago. Now we purposefully have nationals running the locality, because we think they know the local market better. In practice too most, though not all, senior, for example, chief executives are nationals. In some places, e.g., S-E Asia, they almost have to. The same with, e.g., Canada. In other places, e.g. Oman, while the CEO is not Omani, the Finanace Director is an Omani woman. That area was, for years, run by the British. Gradually the British managers were charged with the task of developing local Omani talent. So now, for example, one of the things we ask when assessing our resources is what have you done to develop this talent. 

Global managers are a new phenomenon, more prevalent now than 10 or 15 years ago. I think, though, that the requirement to actually live in the country is now less intense than it was than say a few years ago. This doesn’t mean that you can really do the job from outside. Amongst our senior executives there is still a thinking that you will never do it unless you live in the country. But this is dying, due to other societal changes, process. Certainly in the generation after mine the issue is that my wife or husband has a great career here; I like playing Polo, and they don’t have that game in Nigeria, so I am not going. This sort of attitude would be unheard of 10 years ago. You would have just said where is my ticket? Now I think we do expatriation in a smarter way. We have a terrible term called “grass widow”which means that your family can stay in London and you spend one and a half weeks in Hamburg come home and work from home. The women in Shell have complained about this term being sexist.We have been doing this for years; I could do it. I could have said to Shell my wife and children wish to stay in Houston; give me a house here and pay for my visits home, every month. Then I would go back home for a week. Actually we have been doing this for years; for, something like 50 years. When I was back home, I had people working for me on what we call “extended communte” or sometimes “distance commute”. We have a lot of such cases.

The difference though is that now it’s about choice. In the past, I might have gone to the Congo, where the work would have been, and come back to the US to do all my health check ups and so on. Also my family would have been safer back home. Now we choose to commute or move. If my son is in the 10thgrade, we might decide that we are not willing to move him. Cost is not important; the cost is probably around the same. Yes, I have just sent a guy to Hong Kong and what will happen is that he will be based there for 3 weeks and back here for one. We do that a lot.

There used to be no women in expatriation. Although it is difficult to find talented womenwho are willing to be long-term expatriates. There are a few, but not many. Now we recruit a lot; the managerial population is almost 50-50 recruitment, but for societal reasons, they do not stay with it. They will often elect to stay in a geographical boundary. We have a lot of women who will say America or Europe only. But then more and more men would say that. In fact my own profile is at the moment close to a woman’s in Shell: I would have elected to go back after this assignment, because I want to be near ageing parents and I want my children to be Americans.

When I finish this interview, I am going to go three houses down, to say good-bye to a friend of mine in Shell, who has four children. And that is fairly expensive; I have three children, and their education only has been costing Shell £36,000 per annum. If you multiply that by 3 or five years, that is a lot of money. 

When I came down here, nobody had a clue how many children I had; no one asked; no one cared. And I think that is very fair. If you have the right talent, that is what matters. The incremental cost of a few children and so on is nothing, especially on significant assignments. Do not get me wrong. Shell is a cheap company. It is Dutch, and it does not waste money. To consider the cost of families would be to be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

The whole privatisation and liberalisation of the Airline industry and technology, the impact has been unbelievable. There is a clear substitution effect, because you do it as projects. I have been doing some projects in Nigeria. Now I’m sure that 15, even 10 years ago, the model would have been to move me there to stay. Now I spent a week there, got a feel for what is going on; understood the issues; and came back to London. I can then video-conference, e-mail, and so on. Also I can send around what I come up with.

I think the impact of technology on expatriation has been two-fold. I think it has been a substitute and an enhancer; both processes have occurred. It very, very clearly enhances an expat assignment in that you do not feel disconnected. Again in the older days, older managers used to be proud. They used to say, “I just disappeared.” But now you have to check in at least once a year. I have to go to the US once a year. In my old job, I used to check British expats, in London, once a year. My own boss it a master at this: in about 30 minutes with the expat he could find out what the challenges had been, in Japan, e.g., how the guy was doing in terms of health, and so on.  Finding these things out is part of the networking. Companies need to find out how expats are doing.

A good example is my neighbour in Houston, who was a specialist pump engineer; they would place a camera in some geography at the refinery and a camera in his living room. He would be sitting at home and telling them how to remove a stuck joint. He would diagnose the problem. Yes, you could do it to reviews, for example. We used to go and physically be there. Now we can tele-conference or video-conference. You network a lot; we share files and information. So part of the expatriate management role used to be to gather information by recording and then interpreting it to the locals. Now the young account in the remote geography will see the Chairman’s letter at the same time as everyone else. So we have had a long-term decline in expatriation. Not because of policy, but due to technology, and individual choice arising from societal change. The reduction is something like 15000 to 5000 over the years. Most of it is technology.

You see, we have already been in China and that is the difference. We have been there for 75 years. We are so far ahead.We have had to be. If you read about the globalisation of business, the example that is always given is the oil industry. You have had to go after and with oil for over a hundred years. We started over 100 years ago in the Far East. The oil cartel started expatriation. We have actually written books on it. Shell wives, who keep journals, write the most popular books and then after a few years they write books. The Shell spouses are amongst the oldest networks. We have an expat web page, an expat magazine, and so on.

I think, finally, that expatriation will go down. I think that in some industries the cost issue will be a factor. In our industry it is not, because labour costs are very small. For us the issue of me versus a national is nothing, when we spent a few billions per year in countries. If you were running a McDonald franchise, the difference between a national in Hong Kong and an American in Hong Kong would be significant. Also I am a great believer in technology, and also importantly my kids’ generation will be very different. They are independent about what they want and insubserviant. If they do not want to go to China, they will not go to China. I think these societal changes are positive.It is not like my agreement with Shell or anybody else, based on a patronising employee-employer relationship – it will be much more adult to adult. 

Does Shell really mean Hell? Feel free to decide.




Luxury Cars, Manufacturing, Morality and Militarism  

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The following interview was conducted in 1988 with the Head of International Manufacturing (HIM) at the Headquarters of Rolls Royce in Derby. The location is the factory where production/assembly work was being carried out. The following is a transcript of key points from our day-long encounter and observations on production sites and around the whole area.

H.S.:Could you please explain how many countries RR produces cars in? And the nature of your relationship with key producers and/or their agents in each locality?

H.I.M: We have a whole spectrum of relationships around the globe. I cannot pinpoint how many countries we actually produce in, but our relationship with the globe ranges from a purely sub-contractual basis to revenue-sharing programmes, where partners actually buy a share of our programme. We have a growing ambition. We operate on a very broad basis. They could be on the supplier side, on the design side, or any combination. Three broad categories of how we do international business:


  1. Subcontractors :
  2. Joint ventures
  3. Revenue and risk sharing partnerships


H.S.: Can you be a little more specific about each of the above categories?

H.I.M.: Each arrangement is quite global. The majorityof revenue sharing partners are in the off shore of industrialised countries. This is technology and region specific, but it is difficult to establish global employment figure. Debate as to whether subcontractors should be included continue and whether offices for sales, marketing, spare parts and after-sale support should be regional or country specific. For example, where should RR Canada, or US operations staffed and run by Americans fit? Contracts are usually three to four years long, and  at the end of the four years, concern arises as to where to put the expat back into a meaningful job. Many choose to go overseas again, following a positive experience. 30 percent of total product value manufactured is in Derby. 70 percent of the engine comes from other places, maybe UK manufacturers. But a huge proportion comes from overseas.  We buy material from Russia, and China.

There are extensive discussions of political issues surrounding and impacting on our work. Factors such as political sensitivity (e.g. the UK objecting to raw materials from Russia or China, or to military intervention in Middle East). Personally, I would question the morality of the connections with regards to military equipment and aircraft purchases.

H.S.: So, how does your expatriation policy, politics and sales fit into the greater puzzle?

H.I.M.: RR has technical world class excellent expertise. But, with joint ventures (JVs) much more likely able to handle bureaucracies and cultures. Taking a JV as an example, one day they will come and say to us we don’t know anything about aircrafts or engines, can we please have a factory? And we say:  we’ll give you some land, money, machinery, but we retain operational control regardless of our share in the JV. We must control the business. It is our reputation that’s on the line. Here expat managers have an absolutely important role. They perform two tasks. They are accountable to us for profitable operation. We are not going to do business for a hobby. If this business is going to be a world-class business, it has to be run along RR lines, a recognisable RR factory. The expat manger knows all this. He has to be good. We will train the local workforce to our standards, our methods. So as far as we are concerned it becomes just an extension of RR’s way of doing things. So, basically there are two aspects, one is technical expertise and the other is general business know how.  The expat needs to apply these to local red tape.

H.S.: Is it possible to have a general cadre of global managers/global knowledge?

H.I.M.: I would question that.There are very different ways of doing things in different areas, and the problems are very different. We are not very keen to have people on protracted careers overseas, being away too long from the centre (Derby and Bristol). An expat who is successful in America might be a total disaster in China.

H.S.: Is it possible for somebody in Thailand to head up a Chinese operation?

H.I.M.: Theoretically, yes. But not always. There is always adanger of people staying too long, becoming localised and not coming back to the Centre.What we usually use are existing experienced RR managers. We don’t use it to train young lads.

H.S.: So, how are your managers actually selected?

We would normally use experienced RR managers. Typically, a manufacturing manager would be somebody with experience.  We are not like McDonalds, seeking identical operations everywhere. We are happy toflavourour production. There will be core of standards, core values of course.  But international exposure and advantage must be combined with technical competence and good management.  Our mangers must have the ability to solve problems at a remote location. We emphasise duty of care and technical competence as absolutely essential.  We link day to day decision making powers to core values associated with technical competence for a successful expat.

H.S.: But, how does this actually work in practice?

H.I.M.: We have an obligation to train. We will either train in country or will bring them over here. And judgement will be made on the day as to what’s more effective. Those coming from other geographies are not necessarily senior. For example, in the case of China, operators might come over and we have had to do extensive training in manual crafts and basic management skills over the years. New skills and more advanced skills are populated on the factory floor including basic skills wherever we have a JV. From our Centre, our reputation and control systems will travel back in the form of a General Manager and Human Resource Manager. Finance can always be done locally, as can management at lower levels. We do have an obligation to teach our standards and our way of doing things. Training can be in country or we might bring them over here, depends on numbers. Training is at all levels. China is a good example. Over the years a lot of training in manual labour, from basic craft skills to basic management skills has taken place, as I emphasised earlier.

But technology itself becomes a barrier. Our business is about ever improving technologies. Aero-engines are constantly improved. It demands a very high level of technical skills. Big learning curves are involved. People in JVs may become very expert on a smallpart of the engine. Here at the Centre though, we try to equip people with a broad range of skills.

H.S.: Please explain the importance of actors affecting your expatriation or circulation decisions. I have things like cost, dual careers, and children in mind.

H.I.M: Depends on what is on offer. When people see a big promotion, they tend to sway their domestic concerns, if they are ambitious. Suddenly, they don’t mind a wife giving up her career because of huge possibilities.

H.S.: Have you notices any changes in the profile of your managers so far?

H.I.M.: International assignments are particularly popular with very young (22-25 years old) managers, but that is not what I would want. Projects such as JVs are too big and too important. We have to send somebody of some stature. We do try to act as a catalyst for personal development, but not when too much is at stake in a fundamental job. That is not the profile we want for somebody who runs a factory. You will find that the profile of ages is older for those outside the UK than those working in the UK. This is particularly so in the case of manufacturing. We do not seek these as early career development opportunities, but there are more young guys in marketing.

H.S.: And your final thoughts on the role of new technology?

There is a given framework that we need to work within wherever the parts are produced.  Not having a common denominator is not an option. Products have to be absolutely identical in terms of branding, and reputation. Global trouble shooting via extensive teleconferencing, fax, email.  We are not keen on video conferencing.Video conferencing may be used in America and Germany, but not really where other JVs have taken place. Email is wonderful, breaking time zones. We started using emails ten years ago. Transfer of knowledge around the globe is dependent on locality, and type of business venture. A cultureof communication develops. For example, Indians are long report maniacs. Much time is spent on what words to use and how to write the report. They are really concerned about what they say in a very hierarchical society. Americans are quick to pick up the phone. The transfer of information on technical specifications, design and electronic engineering is more central to us. This information can be shipped out down email. This is more difficult in certain areas, such as China. There you take a floppy disk and stick it in the mail. Communication takes place flexibily at whatever level is appropriate using appropriate hardware. This does not replace face to face communication though. You have to be on the ground and also think of the careers of those you sent over. Cold communication by fax, email is not sufficient. Travel is expensive. We are always conscious that there is a huge travel billand do ask ourselves if we really need it. But the important thing is to keep that personal contact to stay like a family. Even for our suppliers, it will not be appropriate not to get a visit from RR. That means asking for trouble. No hard and fast rules. Judgement is made according to circumstances. If travel and communication were not so easy, we probably would not do the same sort of ventures. New technology has affected the speed of development.

H.S.: Any other comments you wish to add?

If you ask me a similar question in five years’ time, the answer will be very different. It will be much more difficult to say whom an expat is, because we are becoming a much more international company. We have had non-British (one) chief executives before, but it’s becoming more common. We need to reflect RR customers more globally.

H.I.M. was an exceptionally honest man. From a working-class background, he was entrenched in matters of production and locality. He happened to be called Love. He is probably retired now, but a big thank you to him for the honesty and the tour.


Over the last few years since this interview, senior figures of RR in key areas of production, have been forced to accept liability for fraud, corruption and mismanagement, obligating the company to pay huge sums for illegal activities. Its vast areas of operation and production did eventually lead it to places as far-fetched as Asia and Kazakhstan and to militaristic activities. And only today its chief executive announced that foreign skilled labour was leaving the UK over uncertainties surrounding BREXIT, this on top of thousands of other jobs already lost or about to be lost globally. Yet, RR remains a very popular car, and shares in some branches of the company are soaring! 



An Initial Metamorphosis of Economics

It is only in the real world that one gets to practise what one has learned. Lasting concepts and investigations, the likes of which were described earlier on, were the beginning of learning about global  systems and their failures.

The little success that they may have been achieving even back then, was, alas, temporary! Unless, of course, you belonged to either developing economies or established ones on the verge of collapse or disposed to undeniable repeated corruption. The failures and the exceptions never leave your mind, not even decades later.

If you were strong enough or stubborn enough or needy enough, or a combination of all three, you would stay for a long period of industrial training until you produced your final year thesis.

For me, this was a truly amazing period of time. Not because I had already decided that Economics was no science at all, but at the very best, a guesstimate of reality and predictability. But simply due to its highly political nature. The separation of politics, economics, culture, wealth, gender, poverty, and psychology is indeed like the separation of the body from the soul. In the final analysis one or both are likely to die.

At the Headquarters of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), you were lucky enough as a research student to ask the senior Economists any questions of mutual interest, or to challenge them regarding your own research work. And dilemmas. In such discourses, the senior Economists would often reflect on their own experiences, achievements and regrets, on the hopes for the future and the future of their clients. The world economic system had not yet been so globalised as to make ethnic investments almost irrelevant. Each senior Economist would have members of his own (all were men) client group to meet in person or to advise on the phone in the relevant language. Younger Seniors were relatively fluent in English, but the older ones could hardly speak more than a limited amount. Therefore, each would have a secretary (all women) who spoke both the native and the native languages to deal with the relevant paper work in English and to arrange meetings and pass on messages to their boss in the relevant ethnic-specific languages.

Mr. Ishiyama was a Japanese Economist. He was extremely polite and would treat you like his own daughter. He was always the first to come to work. In fact, he was so disciplined that you would feel ashamed when you were a few minutes late. The only problem was that his English was very poor, and as he had to read the latest finance-related morning newspapers before he could meet his clients during the day, you realised that, contrary to most scripts and reading habits around the world, the Japanese appeared to read upside-down. So, by mid-morning you were so dizzy, that you had to leave your desk to take a break. All you could gauge from a few meters away were the headlines and names of very important newspapers printed in English, for example the FT, the Economist and so on. At that time it seemed that complete translations of such papers into Japanese was not possible. Once you got used to the repeated vertical movements, you realised just how beautiful the actual writing is.

Omar Miranda was a Latin American Economist of a relatively young age, who spoke English well. He was a family man and very astute at Economic analysis. He welcomed a good, critical discussion. Our biggest dispute was (and for me remains, but not for him I believe) whether regulation of the economy by the State was a good thing, even under dictatorship. In other words, was it not better to have a dictator who ensured the basics of everyday life for the majority of his citizens rather than an open market economy where the majority might end up starving, as it is now the case in the Mexico-USA case?

He would insist, for example, on pinpointing the long queues where people had to wait long hours to receive the basic supplies, where not too much choice was on the menu, etc. Long queues are worse than hyper-inflation, then? He would insist that the longer queues represented a kind of suppressed inflation, an invisible one. I think, that until this very day, Omar and I will continue to agree to disagree. But, given the situation (on all fronts not just in his part of the world, but globally) I would stick to the long queues any day.

It is difficult to forget about unforgettable faces and characters. While Mr. Ishiyama embodied all key characteristics of the Asiatic cultural, and Ms. Choi did too, she was not an economist, or business minded or indeed at all intersected in business affairs. To the contrary, she was a scientist from China. Humble, quiet, private and always in the lab. A single mother on a state-sponsored Doctoral programme, she visited her family, which included a little girl once a year only. The days of intense desk work at the Headquarters of BCCI, followed by a long journey back to Brunel meant that Choi and I would pump into each other in the early hours of the evening and would gradually become close. She spoke very few words of English. How could such a committed scientist endeavour on a heavy programme without the language? How lonely she must indeed be to spend hours and hours alone at night. How could she continue to work on her results recorded on large pieces of paper even when she returned to the dormitory? Where and what did she eat? Had she made any friends, or did she ever go out of the University complex?

She did not. She just worked, worked and worked. She immersed herself in work and looked forward to her annual return to China for a family reunion and a chance to see her toddler and her family in charge of her only daughter’s upbringing. Would she like to eat together sometime? Certainly, provided I let her pay! In the end, we settled on free food and a barter system of friendship for food, and food for friendship and some conversational English. Did we like anything about our experience at the University or the larger context of the England? We did, and we did not. Technically, the University was great. Culturally, it was alien and alienating unless you drank a lot and were into having intimate personal relationships with some of the professors…I did not understand the technicalities of her work, and she did not of mine. All we like about England was Fish & Chips!

Choi is likely to be in her 80’s now, and I am sure that whatever she is currently doing or not, the results of her hard workwould have been passed on to her daughter for whom she wanted the freedom to study what she chose to. I hope that over the years Choi believed my repeated assertions that English was an easy medium of exchange, and all she was lacking was confidence and everyday contact with the natives. Many years later in an academic conference in Germany, I met a very young woman from a university in Chinacalled “Normal”, making a criticalpresentation of the sad state of affairs in her country and what globalisation has meant for different groups, classes and regions. While I had delightedly approved her well written abstract for the conference, I found her lacking in confidence about her English and almost trembling with fear in anticipation of failure to do well in a 15-minute time slot. With a little encouragement and some backdoor practice, the young woman did extremely well.

If I ever meet MM again, I would only ask her “Neemnoga Parousky Znayish?” and advise her to attend the Alumni Parties. They seem to offer a lot of fun, good international food and they do all seem to speak perfect English, but of course they could be lying!

From BCCI, which closed down shortly after we graduated from Brunel due to corruption, money laundering and fraud, I have a book, which I did intended to return back only to encounter absolute chaos there due to the main research library hours changing, and various notices shifting from board to board.

For an inclusive analysis of key concepts, projections, and realities, PLEASE readWorld Population and Development – Challenges and Prospects(1979) paying particular reference to the last concluding paragraph: “ At this juncture of history, the all-embracing challenges to humankind is how to preserve and increase added years of life while adding life to years-especially for the predominant proportion of the world’s population resident in the less developed countries. Failure to meet this challenge may well guarantee the advent of Doomsday rather than Dawnsday.  

While this book, written so many decades ago, makes extremely realistic predictions about today’s state of the world, I would add just to couple of points. Firstly, the whole concept of countries being labelled as “more” or “less” developed has always been problematic in my mind. The concept of development is socio-culturally defined.

Secondly, some decades into this so-called globalisation era, the two scenarios indicated by the book, as well as all concepts and facts of relative measures coincide and co-exist in an increasingly condensed form and space all over the globe. And this where the West and the East meet again.

It is difficult not to return to one’s distant past, especially as time goes by. Isambard’s memories will probably linger on.




Courtesy of Their Lordships – Then and Now


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“I am opposed to the laying down of rules or conditions to be observed in the construction of bridges lest the progress of improvement tomorrow might be embarrassed or shackled by recording or registering as law the prejudices or errors of today.” – Isambard Brunel


Courtesy of Their Lordships – Then and Now


It is extraordinary what one’s name or signature can refuse to reveal.

When you drop a “Mc” or an “ov” from a name – if you, for example, were to refer to Sir Peter Alexander Ustinov simply as Sir Peter – no one would ever realise who he was or recognise him for half the genius.


Brunel, which does represent an extraordinary history named after an extraordinary Isambard Kingdom Brunel, has indeed produced distinguished scholars and secured employment opportunities for the learned bourgeois, talented or hard-working students alike. And it does continue to produce innovations that are outstanding by any measure.


Lord Vaizey (of Greenwich) was an enlightened professor. Born Ernest Vaizey, he was a prominent economist, who had served at various high-ranking positions ranging from the United Nations to Oxford, until he obtained a newly created professorship at Brunel, just for himself. Here, too, he was at the helm of the School of Social Sciences. Until his departure from this world in a strange manner, just a year or so after Peter McKenna, I and others in the group graduated.


What was even stranger was how, when certain essays were referred to him for second opinion or direct consideration, he would sign his name at the end of the essay as “V of G”! His comments were always extremely short, just like his signature. I once asked him what the “G” stood for. He said “Greenwich”. So, Ernest was OK for a Baron and a Lord. He was generous enough. He owned a very large and beautiful town house in London to which he would treat 1st year students for a weekend just to socialise and to get to know each other – for a small charge of course, but if I remember correctly, there were a few “free” bottles of champagne, and the accommodation was subsidised.


His Lordship leaves behind a son, who is currently a member of the Conservative Party with a long history of service. He, however, was reportedly disgraced recently for sniffling off through his household expenses an illegitimate claim for a very expensive sofa, plus some other furniture for personal use. Like father, like son, you might ask? One can never be sure, for while the father also had connections with the elitist art worlds and died of a heart attack shortly after discovering how his close friend with similar connections had passed away, the younger Vaizey seems to be carrying on unabated. Like the vast majority of rich powerful politicians, diplomats, lecturers, spies and other careerists, this particular duo attended public schools and the great British institutions of Oxford and Cambridge.

What is truly confusing about British education is this: how can a private school be called “public”? How can you get a postgraduate certificate from Oxford or Cambridge without studying for one or taking further examinations to obtain one? In a state that claims to be fair and democratic, all you have to do is to demonstrate that you have not divorced your spouse or committed a crime for a few years! That is all. The certificate will be delivered to your doorstep whatever else you might have been up to. Nonetheless, these are institutions that have produced great men and women.


Back to Brunel times, one must remain indebted. Where else would one be tutored in philosophy by a progressive, young, religious American woman against her father’s wishes because they disagreed on class issues while agreed on religions?! Learn about Kant, Nietzsche, Drake, and many other great philosophers of historical and global stature, and sit through extremely soul-searching questions about moral issues that primarily have little to do with Economics, Econometrics, Finance, etc. Where else would one get such rich, varied and compact education anywhere now? As a favourite Hungarian lady of mine always emphasises, “How strange is that?!” I must, one day, narrate an even stranger story to her – that of the pond jumping ritual performed to celebrate the end of the academic year after heavy boozing mostly by young Conservative men with smart black suits, white shirts and ties only to be thrown around the freezing water by way of showing liberation from the heavy schedule. But not as strange as the same men, almost half naked now, walking back to the pool to collect their clothes and going their merry way, presumably to sleep in wet form in their rooms.


During our years, in addition to the compulsory Economic and related subjects, we had to have industrial placements for a minimum of three years. Visits to various banks, financial institutions, and so on were, therefore, a natural part of the selection for our future careers. Each student would be matchmade with an appropriate employer as a trainee. The Industrial Placement Office, run by a mighty Mrs. Margrett (MM) and a string of secretaries, advisors, and administrative staff responsible for the matchmaking. She had to be truthful about our results, character and potential, and sell these off to potential purchasers. I remember being called to her office several times and being treated in various totally contradictory manners: once being called a “liar” about my visa status (MM simply did not comprehend the difference between permanent residence and British citizenship); once being rendered an apology; once delivering a private lesson to her and her key staff about the differences between ethnicity, place of birth, place of residence, public and private students; and the matchmaking being a two-way process with some form of dignified choice by a private student. No matter what interests the likes of Shell, BP had in my (accidental) country of birth, I was damned if I worked with them no matter how much they paid me. These placements were paid and tax free, as in those days students were not supposed to drown in debt-related tsunamis. “Oh, I see, that’s why you are learning Russian! I did wonder as you had no formal qualifications in Russian before you joined us. I was concerned how you would catch up…” Another lecture had to follow. “You see Mrs. Margret, familiarity with a language is key to mastering it… Look, I am already ahead of the few natives with prior formal training in Russian… Yes, Russian is a beautiful language. It is the accent that matters. Vocabulary can be extended through hard work, and yes, Uzbek, the language of the country whence our lovely supply teacher came, does have a lot in common with one of the other languages I know well. Her English is not good enough for lecturing in English to English students, so I play translator via connections we make with Uzbek…”


However, some initial viewings of potential Finance and Economics-related institutions were highly recommended, if not compulsory, each guided by the specialist key lecturer. The London Stock Exchange (LSE) was one place, which explained immediately why our Finance Lecturer was a self-professed alcoholic! The FT in one hand, and a small hidden bottle of whisky in his briefcase, he would strongly encourage us to learn the tricks of gambling, becoming rich and pursuing our own dreams. For us to pass the Finance course, we had to keep track of stock movements of our choice for a minimum period and argue our case for any gains or losses we had made.


You were left wondering what he, who was addicted to both gambling and drinking, what was doing teaching a bunch of undergraduate students. Still, when he accompanied us to the public gallery of the LSE, all became clear in one long day… The traders, mostly young and dressed in similar clothing, were wheeling and dealing left, right and centre. They would use body language to alert someone in the crowd to buy or to sell at extraordinary speed, running around a very small space like bees in search of honey. They would sometimes whistle in desperation, sometimes wait, suddenly jump in anger or joy, look at constantly changing screens with thousands of numbers changing at the speed of light. At very short breaks of no more than a few minutes, they would rush to a phone for a quick consultation presumably with majority shareholders of some stock somewhere in the world and come back only to start their miserable chase around each other again until the very last second when the final loudest whistle would be blown by the chief, declaring the close of the trading day. And then the board would be completely dark – for a while anyway. Trading would be passed on other parts of the globe in other time zones. At the end of the day, the competing dealers were so exhausted that they really did look like they could do with a drink or two, like those who have just left the funeral of a loved one. They left behind the stuffiest space you can imagine, and a floor littered with little notes and figures torn to pieces. The stench of the global financial system, the total stillness of the large black screen and the completely white floor, made you wonder how many people had actually died in one day and where…



As someone who remains a great believer in the closeness of all living creatures (humans, animals and plants) I am particularly grateful for a heavy two-year course in psychology which confirmed childhood observations through scientific formalisation. Visits to the London Zoo, dream interpretation, language development, nature versus nurture, and the key determinants of all that make or breaks us for who we are or not, continues to make perfect sense and increasingly so up to this very second. Moreover, a formal study of psychology as a Social Science tested to the T would reveal why engineers become the best businessmen, but can never remember their dreams even if you wake them up during the Rapid Eye Movement, why social science students may have haphazard dreaming habits, why left-handed people have different learning experiences, how language and different parts of the brain are related and develop, how twins separated at birth could be completely different in character despite being identical, how unidentical twins could experience telepathy even if separated, how sleeping patterns develop and role of insomnia as routine to some would be deadly for others, how people and animals react very differently to different types of music (soothing music helps both relax and flourish and loud intrusive music makes them both depressed and so on…) One must bear in mind that these experiments (conducted by students on volunteer students) were taking place some 35 years ago and sciences (natural or social) have made significant progress since then, mostly backwards in my view, in the sense of causing more trouble and destruction of pre-historic mayhem to both humankind and nature, not to mention poor animals.


The complimentary references from Mrs. Margret on one’s intellect and social character, have brought me back nothing over the years of extremely racist and ignorant characters who know nothing about anything.


But one must, without prejudice, simply admit that real genius has always grown out of poverty – absolute or relative as in Brunel’s own case, who was thrown from country to country and continent to continent simply because of his ethnicity. If I were in his place, I would be turning in my grave at the current state of my university and its Freshers’ Week alone, never mind the rest, while staying proud of some of the continuous achievements. Potential readers are advised to look up the history of Brunel for the man he was, and at the cheerleaders who now dominate the Freshers’ Fair.