Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Mr. CEO, we have a problem. Would you care to see it? It's in your hiring process.
"HR's main function of sourcing and hiring is getting flawed these days. Not just flawed but widely skewed too..." said one of my old time friends when I met him in Dubai after a long time. I've heard this and more from many when I've come back recently to Dubai after a year or so. I had a chance to cross this charge with some of my past colleagues and also my students who are now employed with companies in UAE and overseas. Majority of them vouched for the same and some even went to the extent of telling me that unless you have someone at the top it's difficult to get hired in UAE. "That was not the case few years back" I replied, but found no backers.
Cherry picking at its best and worst
I remember some years back, when I've joined as the GM for a leading media company in UAE, I had to hire and build a new team. The HR came with a proposal to hire people and shared the overheads budget approved by the board. I could hire with whatever budgets remaining, but I was told that in order to cut down the expense I may opt for a conventional ways of hiring like getting reference from my business circle rather than publishing, which I disagreed forthwith.
I arranged to release a recruitment ad in the Gulf News, a leading daily in the UAE, and a listing in the LinkedIn. My HQ had few apprehensions at the beginning but eventually agreed. Many have applied for the various positions and support roles in our Dubai office.
Applicants lists was so high that my HR person couldn't handle sorting it right. Intrigued so, he came and told me we could cherry pick few candidates for the interview rather than wasting the time searching in a hay. I asked him how. "We will choose applicants coming from the competition" fast came his reply. He added "Will also pick a few who I like" with a smile. Easy... but What a Pity!
Contrary to that with some great effort (but worth it's time), we've scrutinized and shortlisted as many candidates as possible on merit for the interview. I was like an observer in most of the preliminary one on one sessions and have tried to get a feel of the candidates as far as possible. I've put another crew independently under some of my bright line mangers to interview those who have claimed that they knew me personally for years. Only few were found to be true. More rounds followed and then the orientation, training & on-boarding sessions all through out the month. Few were left out due to procedural and visa issues. Alas, my HR was freed from the selection process.
We have now a brand new team energized enough to hit the market in no time. In the next few months to my surprise, they have achieved far more that what our old team could do in the past.
An unique journey called life
I knew how difficult it is for someone to be jobless and tirelessly engaged in continuous a job search especially in the UAE after landing here as a fresh, experienced or redundant. For some of the aspirants job search is part of their routine. Just killing time while enjoying life & touring in Dubai at the expense of their beloved ones. But I also know that there are many who have taken this as a real challenge and a task. To get employed or re-employed and then start or re-start their career and life is their priority No.1.
My HR asked me why this hardship of calling so many candidates for an interview as we are left with little time and just two quarters away for the year to close." We can't offer a job to all candidates who have applied ... but we can always offer them an opportunity to attend this interview" I said firmly. No big deal, but it's more than enough for an aspiring and a talented candidate. "If he is worth his salt, he will soon find his way up here or elsewhere" I poised.
I asked him how many interviews he went personally in his whole career. He said none. A person who had never gone through an interview process by himself is handling HR. No fault of him as he was doubling up as an HR person in addition to his role as an accountant. Another disaster in waiting. This is not a one-off case. In fact most of the companies in Gulf have a similar story or even more to tell as I've found out that after a brief research on this burning issue. Even a dedicated HR person do this mistake very often as the finding goes.
Let's merry-go-round
Sourcing and Hiring by the HR Department is an important function in a company. Of late they tend to become mere gatekeepers than cheerleaders for many inbound talents. Sadly, most of the HR desks turn away the callers who are found to be job seekers. In fact they are the one's who had spent their precious time in searching for the right company to join. They also took the pain of finding out the right contact in the hiring department. But most of the time the HR person thinks the other way and feel it is their duty to scare and turn away people who cold call them. Then they follow up candidates who are actually not interested to work with them.
Calling the candidates from competition or through reference or recommendation is an easier process. But history says they defect most to the competition at the wink of an eye or demand ransom. They exceedingly ride 'merry-go-round' and enjoy the merry at the cost of others. Sticking around is a rarity. If you want loyalty better hire a cocker spaniel, they says gladly.
Knocking on the hell's door
Eventually, the organisation shall miss the opportunity to hire a candidate from a different industry who could have bought a new dimension and a whole lot of dynamism to the table. This is especially true in the case of a leadership or senior management hiring. "Strangely and also sadly most of the CEO's or the person who has the power to hire are not interested... for they believe, its beneath their status and attention span to involve themselves with any kind of hiring process" adds my old friend. "They ignore you or don't reply your email if they find you as a job seeker. They don't even show any courtesy to message back. However, they expect the best recruits - experienced or fresh, to come in a platter, decorated and placed on their desk in tact". I know many cases were CEOs or Business Heads intimidate the HR person or his secretary to act as his gatekeeper from potential candidates approaching him for jobs.
How on earth could a CEO build, improve or restructure his team if he don't give the right attention to talented candidates, especially seeking leadership roles, knocking at his door?
Soft cheats
HR who blindly relies on computer programs like ATS (Applicant Tracking Software) to sort and select candidates for the interview is in fact doing a crime - figuratively though. They are either lazy to do their job or helpless to find a real and practical solution to sort the candidates based on their ability, exposure and experience. Customization of the software may prove otherwise, though. But that is a different story.
Candidates who could cheat the tracking software may find their way up much easier than others. But always short lived. That is why some of the best organizations have best of the fools working for them at the top, middle or bottom. Once a good friend of mine, GM of publishing company, told me his company is equally balanced - with 'smarts' and 'fools' and he replenish frequently. Time to reward mediocracy.
Barbarians at the gate
The technology is so immensely progressing these days that many HR persons are either ignorant or conveniently forgetting that most of their job functions could be replaced by bots (Automated software applications) and robots soon and their job shall also be made redundant one day. HR persons who were exploiting the bots all these days for their convenience were shocked to find that the same is reaching their neck to choke them to death. Boomerang!
That is the heavy price they are going to pay sooner than later. Especially true, if they keep blindly relying on readymade softwares rather than putting their devoted time and undivided attention to detail in the selection process.
PS : CEOs if you already have a strong Human Resources Department and great professionals to mange it effectively, this article is not meant for you.
Rest may pay attention, please.
Antony Konnoth
Dubai, UAE

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Who blew my Trumpet?

Who blew my Trumpet?

The last time I wrote something was when Steve jobs bid adieu to this world prematurely. He still lives in our heart.

Now let me do that again on this occasion when Trump triumphs the world by getting into the echelons of the White house as an outsider - as a pure businessman rather than a senator or a military person.

I’m part of the media industry for several years and keenly follow all major and important happenings around the world. Press celebrated his victory by pulling in more pages as specials in their daily. Press had plenty to write on Trump than senator Hilary except that she would have been the first women president if got elected.

I’ve searched in most Indian dailies to find out the takeaways for the business community from this election. Many wrote about how he won, his strategies, his wealth, family, controversies etc. but very few wrote on the lessons we could learn from his election sweep from a marketing and business perspective.


This is the most important among all ideas Trump has put forth in his election campaign. America and its citizens are second to none. Country first and all others come after that. His campaign slogan ‘Making America Great Again’ (MAGA) & ‘Making America safe again’ (MASA) created waves. Though democrats have ridiculed this at the beginning but soon found it difficult to cope with the spread of this message in the country. Clinton countered this by telling “America is already great” didn’t go well  with the voters.

In a corporate environment if an employee treat his work as paramount and has an ‘ORGANISATION FIRST’ attitude, the results will be tremendous. All successful people understand that and are implied in their approach and culture.


His opinion and stand on the blue-collar workers, minorities, gays, Hispanics, religions, immigration and all other sensitive topics all were crisp and clear.  Many felt that it was more from his heart than from the head. I correct that - it was from his gut.

White-collar people were eagerly watching on how his policies are going to affect the blue collar rather than them. When they found it’s not going to affect them, they didn’t make an issue.  It was a reverse approach by Trump.

These days’ people are smart and look for the benefits others get so that they can adjust their demands. Trump sensed this and Hilary missed it.

Strategy is more important than process.


Trump didn’t expressly try to please Blacks or other minorities in US but kept them at par with the whites. Whereas Clinton deliberately tired to give her an image of a pro black and minority messiah. This has upset the white majority in America and later she fall on her face. America is meant for the Americans as India is for Indians.

Trump knew the basic principle in business that he can’t please all. Clinton once again bite the dust.  


Very few understand this statement well. Jack Welsh, Iconic GE man, is the propounder of this great belief. If your gut instinct is right you seldom fails.

Trump was a man of ‘real’. He had his opinion on everything and that was his own. He never asked anyone to subscribe to it. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. So is he. Trump always expressed his opinion straight and upfront. He ended up in several controversies. All short range. People sensed it. Trump presented himself to his voters as he is. In the same way as he is a human being, husband, father, son, divorcee, business man, billionaire, tax evader (legal), womanizer (who is not?) and what not every kind of avatars. Hilary’s was a canned life and sounded artificial in her approach.

Americans live in a most advanced society. They know what is right or wrong in a defined context and also know to take decisions in any adversities or otherwise. They were looking for a true American and didn’t care if he had any flaws. They know that as long as it’s not impacting their country and citizens it’s perfectly fine. Clinton miserably failed to understand that as she was under a false belief that one should always be 100% perfect to rule America. May be her experience from her own husband while he was the president might have made her to take such a stand.

Corporate world has no place to accommodate personal feelings or allegations of anyone. As long as an employee steer clear of this head wind and continue contributing towards the growth of the company he or she should be declared as a winner.


This is the most difficult thing to do. Virtually impossible to do both simultaneously especially if it’s on a long rope swing and at that too at a good pace. Trump knew it well in advance. He preempted his competition and focused on the core areas. Swing states like Florida, Ohio, Virginia and couple of other states were under Trump’s radar from the very beginning. All his campaign efforts were focused on these Swing States. He knows if at least 3 of the swing states decide to vote for him he will win the elections. He practiced well on how to sing while on a swing. Most of those swing states went for Trump and he tasted victory. Clinton failed to understand the pain points and she focused on other majority states ignoring swing states hoping that they will go all out and vote for her - Mistake # 5.

In business it’s better to have a fall back plan from the beginning. Your existing customers might change their mind anytime and shift loyalty to your competition. Don’t ignore your customers or depend too much on your prospects.


Clinton had the best of the advantage against Trump on various parameters. Had she won, she would have been the first women president and the past ‘First Lady’ becoming the president in the history of America. Backing of his husband as a former president, backing of the outgoing president, experience as a former secretary of state, senator – Some how all didn’t work.

I read somewhere “Donald Trump is a reminder that you should just apply for that job you want even if you don’t have the experience”.

He is an outlier - a true outsider with no backing even from his own party and without any military or diplomatic experience. He was neither a Senator nor an ardent party worker. But he is a businessman – one who understands what a country/company needs and what keeps him on his toes.

Come and blow the Trumpet and let the party begin!

Antony Konnoth

Saturday, 12 January 2013

With the CEO of Kompass International & Coface International

Mr. Bertrand Macabeo, CEO of Kompass International and Coface International was in Dubai last week and visited 'Express Print Publishers LLC'. During his visit new business plans and strategies for Kompass were revealed and also reinstated the business relationship with the Express Group.

Mr. Abdul Qadir Mohammed, Chairman of the Express Group received him at Express HO and welcomed on behalf of the Board of Directors. Mr. Abdul Wahab, Director was also part of the discussion. Mr. John McIssac, CEO of the yellow pages division of the Express offered a view of the market conditions prevailing in GCC and also opined to explore ways and means to co-exist and inter leverage the opportunities available for Yellow pages and Kompass directory.

I had the opportunity to present the 2013 Business & Campaign plan for Kompass in UAE. Mr. Bertrand has shared some of the successful business models and best sales practices of the Kompass associates in other countries and were able to gather a global overview on all related areas.

Mr. Bertrand also invited me for the Global Meet planned for Kompass associates in March 2013 in France.

Antony Konnoth

Saturday, 1 September 2012

2nd in series of the article sent to GN for publishing in their properties section. First view exclusively for my friends and followers....

2nd in series of the article sent to GN for publishing in their properties section. First view exclusively for my friends and followers....


"Neighbours envy owners pride" was a celebrated punch line of a famous television brand (ONIDA) for several years. If streamed again it is highly unlikely that the same reverberations may happen with the ad viewers these days. We have gone past those 'envy-bubble' days and no one considers their material possessions as true luxury or worth any real praise. A gentle reminder-- it is high time they value the true worthiness of their neighbours these days.

UAE is a country where the age-old mantra of unity in diversity is practically visible. Perhaps no other country can boast of nesting this cultural dynamics of different communities. A typical residential building in UAE may possibly contain different nationalities from around the world. Though community living among expats is minimal in this country many are constrained to live in apartments and high-rise buildings. Due to work commitments and job timings many of us are isolated from our neighbours. It is quite strange that many of us keep only a HB (Hi bye) relationship with our neighbours. An ideal neighbour relationship may help one at the time of a crisis. A case in point is the recent fire accidents in some of the high-rise buildings.

1.    Establish at least a talking term relationship with your neighbours. Probably your children can start of the relationship process with their friends in the next door.
2.     It is always better to exchange the phone numbers (Office & Mob) based on the comfort level you mutually enjoy. This will help to alert one another at the time of any impending crises.
3.     If the building has got a common meeting place you may frequently exchange pleasantries during a walk around. Meeting outside home are always advisable for a free flow of talk. A Gym, Swimming pool or sometimes parking space in the building would be an ideal choice.

A strong relationship with your neighbours will only payoff in the long term if you have exercised your options carefully to choose them. Keep in mind that when a hell like crisis strike, a known devil relatively will be rescued faster than an unknown angel. Don't play stranger with your neighbours. Neighbours envy is no more owners pride.


Saturday, 4 August 2012


First view of an article i had sent to Gulf News for publishing. Read below. 


A job or profession becomes a career only when it is followed as ones lifework. An employer or an agent can only offer you a job not a career after a successful interview. After all we apply for a job and not for a career and we don't even go for a career interview but only job interviews. But It is up to the aspirant to pursue it further and transform his job to a full fledged career. Jobs are short lived and careers oftentimes outlive jobs when one follows it religiously.

Give it a test by yourself and find out the real situation. Have you reached your optimal career growth or still at the cross roads and doing the 'jobs'?  You may be surprised at the findings. Check it out.

  1.  How many times you changed your company or Industry in the last 3 years? If it is 5 or more then you are career disoriented. 
  2. Do you contribute to your department regularly apart from your routine job requirements? 'Blame it on time' attitude will take you nowhere. 
  3. Where do you keep your job in the priority list? Number one, two or three? Beyond this a disaster awaits in the form of a life long job doer. 

One need to set his/her career goal at the beginning itself. Your choice of education, industry, company and the job itself will be a deciding factor. Once that is aligned with your desire and needs, you will seldom seek and do a job. Instead you will always live your career.


Saturday, 12 May 2012

Olympus Corporation Scandal & its aftermath ?

Olympus Corporation is a Japanese manufacturer of Optical equipment and is considered one of the leaders in the industry. It flagship products include Cameras and Endoscopes in addition to all other related products. For the year ended 31 March 2011 the consolidated net sales were US$ 10589 million. The total shareholders’ equity is US $ 3281 million. The group employs close to forty thousand people around the world. Its assets were estimated at US $ 13295 million. On the remarkable aspect is the good will of Olympus Corporation which is valued at US $ 2194 million. Another significant achievement until recent is the ability of the management to sustain the profit level relatively constant at 35 billion yen for several years.


Being a Japanese company, Olympus used to have a clear strategy in all the areas of operation. The management has come up with a new idea called FINANCIAL ENGINEERING where they look up the financial aspects from a different angle. The objective of the exercise is to maximize profits for the company from all departments. Olympus Corporation relied on investments to boost profits. There were instances that the investment arm of the corporation was inclined towards financial derivatives and other risky investments. The aftereffect of this strategy was very evident from the books. In 1991 Olympus lost 2.1 billion yen on the value of its investments. By 1998, it suffered sizable trading losses on derivatives. Share market responded unfavorably and the value eroded to a great extent. Score card says the shares plunge by 11% at that time.

In September 2011, Olympus announced it had written off a part of 45 billion yen investment in emerging market bonds. The company also revealed that it had lost a significant amount from interest rates and currency swaps.


Bloomberg reported that the annual financial reports of Olympus showed a US$ 201 million prior period adjustment entry for “loss related to the purchase of preference share from a third party”.

Financial Times commented that the equity ratio of Olympus is the lowest and at below 14% when compares against the peer group. Olympus is the only Nikkei 225 constituent whose intangible assets exceed net assets. Its goodwill was valued at 168 billion yen and the net assets were only 151 billion yen. This information sent wrong signal to the investors and market alike.

On 1 April 2011 Olympus came up with a big announcement.  Michael Woodford, a Brit, was promoted as President and CEO for the group. He was an Olympus veteran and was in charge of the companies European operation. He was the MD of Olympus Medical Systems (Europe). There were rumors that he was selected to head the company because he was an easy to control guy. Company picked a bottom ranked foreign executive director for some reasons. It was obvious that the company was overlooking other capable managers for this position and there were raised eyebrows from many quarters.

Woodford himself had a bitter experience with the top management when he was heading the European operations. The company went into acquisition of Gyrus Medical Equipment Company in UK without the actual involvement of Mr. Woodford. In fact, it should have come under his purview but got ignored for obvious reasons. The then president Mr. Kikukava pacified him and promised to compensate later. He was then given the overall in charge of European operations in addition to the inclusion as Board member of the main group.

While his stint with the main group, Woodford started noticing some discrepancies in the financial side of the company. He could see that there were significant irregularities in the 2008 acquisition of Gyrus Medical Equipment Company. Upon realizing that he sent few letters to the auditing firm Earnest & Young to get clarity but failed to obtain anything. He then sent the details to another accounting firm PwC and sought some clarifications. His assumptions proved right and the accounting firm confirmed certain facts which made Woodford to think in the line of accounting fraud happened within the company.

PwC examined the earlier write down transaction of US $ 600 million. It came evident that Olympus paid US$ 687 million as an intermediary fee (success fee) to a third party. There were two beneficiary companies on this list. Two US based small firms are involved here - Axes America LLC & Axam Investments ltd (Cayman Island based). Wood ford’s suspicion founds to be right. The success fee of US$ 687 million paid is an all-time record until that time and not heard of in the industry circles.  In fact there was no need for such an exorbitant amount to be released for any consultancy job.

Woodford raised his objections and sought more clarity from the then president Mr. Kikukava but found no avail. Sensing the danger, Mr. Kikukava asked Woodford to step out from the current role he enjoyed. Unrelenting to this, Woodford was removed from the post forcefully and he was stripped of his powers. He was not allowed to speak or vote in the board meeting. Woodform himself said that an junior level executive, upon the instruction from Mr.Kikukava, taken all his belongings including laptop and mobile phones which contain important documents. Kikukava got re appointed as the president and CEO for the group and Mr. Woodford was ousted with immediate effect.

Woodford then took a flight and reached London where he called for a press meet and exposed the whole affair at the Olympus. He produced the relevant documents and other materials with was enough to incriminate the directors at that time especially Mr. Kikukava.  Market responded negatively to this happenings and the share value plunged to a great extent. It almost lost 45-50% of its value hearing the irregularities with Olympus. The share was trading at US$ 38 and was found trading at US$18 after this incident.

Due to investors demand, the government constituted a committee and its finding were relevant to note. The fees paid as part of the M&A of Gyrus, were exorbitant. The excess money was used to cover up the losses incurred from the earlier investments in derivatives and other dubious investments. This was done to improve the financials in the records.

Recent development being, Mr. Kikukava was removed from the post of the president and CEO due to the pressure from the investors especially institutional investors. He apologized before everyone and promised to look into the whole affair by appointing an independent agency. The government was quick to take control of the situation and Mr. Kikukava was arrested and remanded in custody pending enquiry.

Khaleej Times, on 21 April 2012 reported in its business section that the security exchange authorities in Japan approved of the new board to take control of the company. Some of the investors insisted to re-instate Mr. Woodford as President and CEO but did not get much support from others. Woodford himself announced from London that he is not willing to fight a proxy war to take control of the company.

Financial irregularities can happen with any company especially when their fundamentals are dubious. This may occur when there are people in the top management who keep their interest before their companies. It is important for any finance student to sense the smoke and be aware of the possibility of these kinds of irregularities or else they will be caught up unaware of the actual situation.

Antony Konnoth, Dubai