01 February, 2015

Hird's lawyers going on "well-earned" family holiday

James Hird's senior legal advisors - lawyer Steven Amendola and barrister Peter Hanks QC - today announced they would be taking extended leave from legal practice to enjoy a family holiday. "Through this whole legal battle, and with all the work we've been doing, Peter and I and our families have become very close", said Amendola. They have hired the 54m luxury yacht Maridome equipped with ten crew including a Michelin star chef and will be travelling for three months around South American and the Carribean.

When asked to comment, Hanks said "I'm exhausted. We've been putting in 120 hour weeks through the case, the injunctions, the appeal, and the second appeal, and we're really run up our ... umm ... stress levels. We just figure it's a well-earned holiday".

Hird, who is paid one million dollars per year as coach of Essendon Football Club, has been relentless in pursuing his case to have the ASADA tribunal ruled illegal. But after having his second appeal firmly rejected last week, this could be the end of this long and troubled journey.

Reading from a prepared statement outside his newly purchased Brighton home, Amendola concluded. "We'd like to thank James for his persistence. As a player, he was resolute and would never back down under any circumstances. He has shown this same tough fight in the court room. We could never have gone this far without him".

Sources close to the families understand they will be making a short stopover in Boston to visit with New England Patriots staff, who are currently in the market for legal representation after a series of scandals.

Superbowl XLIX preview

The first big question about this year's Superbowl - "why isn't it called Superbowl IL?" - is easy to answer. As should be obvious, the subtractive principle for Roman numbers has these restrictions: You can only subtract a power of ten, and only from the next two higher "digits".

The second big question - who will win - is a little harder to answer.

You might call this the battle of the established dynasty versus the next dynasty. Under head coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots have enjoyed sustained success. It's the classic case of the champion team always beating the team of champions. Belichick's coaching and systems are just that good that they are robust to most any setback. Lose a top player to injury? No problem - just slot someone else into the system. Sure, he has pushed boundaries, but he ought to go down as the best NFL coach of all time.

The Seahawks, under experienced and innovative College coach Pete Carroll, are the emerging dynasty. They have put together all the pieces, and added to that enjoy the best home ground advantage of any NFL team. They have shown the character to overcome form lapses, whether during the season or during a single game, and find ways to win. They are also peaking at the right time. Those are the ingredients of playoff success.

If you do the classic 'match up', the teams look very even. The Patriots have patched up weaknesses in their running game with Blount, and in the secondary with Revis, and look as well-rounded a team as ever. The Seahawks also have it all, with their ferocious tackling, oversized corners, and a balanced offence that can get you any number of ways.

Last year the Seahawks overwhelmed the Broncos from the very first play, and never looked back. This year won't be the same walk in the park. The Patriots are experienced, mature, calm, and know how to come from behind. They've done it several times this season, and they are the highest-scoring second-half team in the NFL this year. They will not panic being two or three scores down. This game will be won in the second half.

The game of American football is quite simple: it starts in the trenches (the offensive and defensive lines) and works outwards from there. You can remove one dimension of your opponent's offence, but if they are good enough, they will find other ways. On the other hand, if your defensive line can get through and create pressure, everything else collapses: the quarterback is hurried and can make mistakes, routes don't have time to develop, and turnovers happen. The Patriots offensive line has always given Brady just that little bit of extra time, and that makes all the difference. Their most dangerous player is Edelman - he lurks underneath and is the 'go to' guy when nothing else is around. Even if you take out the deep routes, they will pick you apart with the running game and short passing. What I wrote back in 2008 is still just as true, there is one way to beat them: pressure Brady.

The Seahawks offence can be quite unstoppable. Lynch is truly a raging beast - his ability to grind out yards after initial contact is outstanding. He is probably their most important offensive player. Wilson is immensely talented but still young - the key for him is knowing when to take an option and run, and to stay calm throughout. Crazy comebacks like their win over the Packers in the Championship game are like lightning. On the defence, there is lots of talk about Sherman, but Cam Chancellor is the key.

You might have guessed by now that I'll be rooting for a Seahawks repeat. Frankly, I've had enough of the Patriots and want to see some other teams rise up and compete.

This year, we will see a lot of hard hitting, a lot of tackle breaking, more than average number of turnovers, and less than average deep passing plays.

Prediction: Seahawks 31, Patriots 27.

25 January, 2015

Favourite Single Malt Whiskies

Have been thinking about whisky a bit lately, and it makes sense to put a list of my favourites on this blog. There are actually several lists, because a whisky collection isn't just about the collector, it's about the guests they share it with. This page is a work in progress, and will be updated regularly.

Personal Favourites
  • Caol Ila 12: favourite hands down. This whisky has changed the views of many people who say "I don't like smoky". It's remarkably smooth and gentle, but with enough of a smoky finish to make it interesting. Also check out Caol Ila 1993 Distiller's Edition, which is a bit harder to find, but it this and a lot more.
  • Glenlivet Master Distiller's Edition: I discovered this in duty free a couple of years ago, and thought it was worth a try. It completely blew me away. There's no age on it, but the smoothness on the tongue was such a surprise. It has a touch of sweetness as well, and a lovely finish. I consider "regular" Glenlivet 12 to be the best value single malt in the world, and some of the variations are quite excellent, including Glenlivet 15 French Oak Finish
  • Laphroaig PX Cask: Laphroaig is known as one of the peatiest single malts, and some of the variations can be quite harsh. I stay away from the regular 10 year old, and prefer the Quarter Cask, which at 48% packs a punch, but is much smoother for the higher alcohol content. I still remember the cask strength Laphroaig that I enjoyed in Warsaw in 1999, but unfortunately have not been able to find it again since then. Anyway, the PX Cask is triple matured, and finished in sherry casks, so it has an amazing blend of powerful smokiness and soft, sweetness.
  • Lagavulin 16: This packs a powerful smoky punch, but relatively smooth and with a good, strong finish.
  • Macallan Whisky Maker's Edition: Have only ever seen it in duty free. Macallan have stopped putting ages on any of their whiskies, but frankly, the number on the front is only for the most vain of whisky drinkers (as noted in Ethics of the Fathers 4:27). This one is one of the smoother and more flavoursome premium Macallans that won't cost the earth.
  • Ardbeg Corryvreckan: Smoky, to be sure, but very smooth, and a finish that just keeps coming at you.

Must Haves
These are the essentials for any good whisky collection.

Special Mentions
  • Amrut: You thought only the Scots knew how to make good whisky? Wrong. This is from India, and it's quite amazing.

Is this stuff kosher? That is a complex question; as usual, there are diverse opinions even from some of the leading kashrut authorities in the world. Here are a few you might want to consider: OU, LBD, cRc, and a summary of opinions.

22 January, 2015

Patriots had cheerleader push-up bras overinflated

The NFL has found that 11 of the New England Patriots' 12 cheerleaders had their push-up bras inflated significantly above the NFL's requirements, league sources involved and familiar with the investigation of Sunday's AFC Championship Game told ESPN.

The investigation found the bras were inflated to a DD cup, well above the standard C or D cup required by NFL regulations during the Pats' 45-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, according to sources. "We are not commenting at this time," said Greg Aiello, the NFL's senior vice president of cheerleader dress standards.

The NFL has a detailed protocol when it comes to cheerleaders. League sources have confirmed that the cheerleaders and their uniforms were properly inspected and approved by referee Walt Anderson 2 hours before kickoff, as per NFL rules. Anderson reportedly left the inspection with a large smile on his face, fully satisfied with breast inflation levels. ESPN Sports Radio 810 in Kansas City reported that the cheerleaders' bras were tested at the half after some especially strenuous dance moves, but surprisingly none required any reinflation. They were tested again after the game.

Troy Vincent, the league's senior executive vice president of football operations, told The Associated Press late Tuesday in response to this report that the "investigation is currently underway, and we're still awaiting findings." He told "Pro Football Talk with Mike Florio on NBC Sports Radio" earlier Tuesday that the NFL expected to wrap up its investigation in "two or three days".

Sources earlier this season told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that the Colts had concerns about overinflated cheerleader bras after their regular-season game against the visiting Patriots on Nov. 16. One source described the league as "disappointed ... angry ... distraught" after spending considerable time on the findings earlier Tuesday.

Brady told WEEI radio in November 2011 that he prefers overinflated cheerleaders. "When Gronk scores ... we all go over and hug the cheerleaders. I love that", Brady said then of tight end Rob Gronkowski, "but I feel bad for our girls, who are already the victims of sexual exploitation and gender stereotyping".

This is a strange story that keeps getting stranger, a scandal that creates only more questions as it grows. Let's start with this: How the heck didn't the refs notice? Two or three refs handle the cheerleaders on each play. Wouldn't their exaggerated breast size seem obvious? It was obvious enough someone from the Colts realized it when he was pushed so far out of bounds on the Patriot's side he stumbled forward into the cheerleaders. It's why Indy complained. How does a player notice and grow troubled by it but not a team full of refs?

The bigger question is this: Why the heck would the Patriots even bother? They have thrashed the Colts in their last three meetings, and rushed the ball with ease, grounding out 657 yards and 13 touchdowns in those games. Everyone knows the Patriots cheerleaders are far from the hottest in the NFL, let alone amongst the cold-weather teams. Why resort to this tactic when it's simply not needed?

There will be much more written about this before the matter is put to rest. Explanations perhaps, a full report on the investigation, hopefully lots of openness. Roger Goodell can't afford to look like a stooge for Patriots team owner Robert Kraft. This is a big deal now, a big deal that is overshadowing everything. On a scale of 1-10, this Patriots scandal is a 34DD.

30 November, 2014

Of Dead Cricketers and Dead Shul-goers

The national outpouring of grief following the tragic death of cricketer Phil Hughes after being struck by a cricket ball on the field has been quite overwhelming. Every day there have been several pages in the daily newspapers as cricketers around the country and the world deal with the tragedy. A huge campaign of people putting their cricket bats out as a public expression of grief - it was even featured on the Google search page, and has spread as a viral social media campaign dubbed #putOutYourBats.

We left a cricket bat outside our house, and noticed several others on the way to shul. In shul, it was the topic of discussion (far more important than the state election), and a friend mentioned that his young son would be wearing a black arm-band when he played junior cricket today (Sunday).

He posed a very good question: why didn't the global Jewish community unite in public expressions of grief following the brutal attack against shul-goers in Har Nof? Why didn't we all tweet and instagram #putOutYourTalit to remember those innocents who were murdered while praying in talit and tefillin?

He's absolutely right. Our grief response is more often than not to condemn the world media response to a terrorist attack. That is anger, and a very natural response. And even those responses lead to vigorous internal debate on the peace process and what Israel should or should not do. But we can do better. We can use social media to bring the Jewish world together in positive and very visible expressions of our feelings. Where was the campaign to encourage people to attend morning prayers in shul? Or to say an extra chapter of tehillim?

We have little control over the actions of governments, terrorists, and global media organisations. We do have control over how we respond. Channelling our responses to positive things is a far more productive and fulfilling thing to do.

03 November, 2014

#breakingItTogether (satire)

After the failure of the global Shabbat Project to usher in the Messiah, organizers have had an urgent rethink of their strategy, and released their startling new initiative.

Tradition tells us that if all Jews keep just one Shabbat, then the Messiah would come. This was in fact the secret agenda of the Shabbat Project organizers, even though they are not affiliated with Chabad. South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein admitted in a candid interview that despite his Litvish affiliation, he too believes in the coming of the Messiah, and pines daily for his arrival, as expressed in much of the prayer liturgy. "When I conceived the original Shabbat Project in 2013, it was just about uniting our community, but after its success, I figured if we went global it could just be the trigger to bring the coming of the Messiah", he said.

While the global campaign was wildly successful, with over 340 cities around the world participating, it became clear late in the piece that a group of saboteurs had emerged. "It seems our message of unity cut both ways", continued Rabbi Goldstein, "and there was a secret collaboration of Bundists, Progressive Jews, and neo-Orthodox feminists who were irked that men were not invited to the challah bakes". These diverse groups suspected there was hidden agenda to the Shabbat Project, and united against it, deciding they would all switch off the lights in their homes at exactly midnight on Friday night, thus thwarting the Messiah plan.

As the Jewish world celebrated the global success of the project in terms of people reached and increased engagement with Jewishness, the South African organising committee were secretly brooding. "Missed it by that much!" said Get Smart fan and Chairman Clive Blechman.

But after further research revealed that Messiah would come either if all Jews kept the Shabbat, or if all Jews did not keep it, the committee had a brainwave for a follow-up campaign to encourage Jews all around the world to not keep the Shabbat on the weekend of 17/18 April 2015. "We figure the week after Pesach, people are feeling pretty washed up, and it's long enough after Yom Kippur and before the next one that they won't feel too guilty about participating", said incoming event Chair Monique van Buren.

Rabbis around the world have acknowledged that it's far easier to encourage people to break the Shabbat than to keep it. Van Buren continued: "Our 'Community Disengagement Committee' is already talking to the developers of the ShabbosApp - if we can get everyone using that, they will all be mechallel Shabbos!". Also trending on Twitter is #breakingItTogether, with people fantasizing about the one thing they will do to break Shabbat, with the two most popular suggestions being watching live sporting events, and using perforated toilet paper. Rabbi Goldstein was very pleased at the initiative, saying "I don't know why the Chabadniks didn't think of this years ago" with a grin.

In related news, Mordechai Ben David and Shwekey are collaborating on a cover version of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers classic "You say Shabbat / I say Shabbos / let's call the whole thing off!"

01 June, 2014

Maleficent, Mirror Mirror, and Moral Relativism

There I was, happily going about my day - on my way from work, driving the kids somewhere, or sitting down to read the weekend paper - and there she was. It's as if Disney has taken up a full frontal assault on my senses, bombarding me with Angelina Jolie wherever I go. The billboards, promotional pieces, and media profiles are everywhere I look. That freaky headpiece and the huge black wings are being embossed in my brain by sheer overconsumption. No, it's not some dark conspiracy, it's just the huge marketing campaign for the latest Disney blockbuster movie Maleficent (on the other hand, maybe it is some dark conspiracy).

But something about this movie struck an odd chord with me. A cursory look at the plot for this movie reveals that it's just a retelling of the classic fairytale Sleeping Beauty: beautiful young princess put to sleep by a curse from a bad fairy and awoken by handsome prince. But this movie has a twist: the star is not the beautiful princess, or even the handsome prince who rescues her, rather the vindictive fairy.

"What's really going on here?" I asked my teen and tween daughters, who sit squarely in the target demographic for movies like this. "Stop carrying on about it Dad", they said, "they are just telling the story from a different perspective". Indeed, after you run out of sequels and prequels, the next way to keep squeezing life out of a movie franchise is to do a 'perspective shift'.

But what bothered me here was the cultural implications of these 'shifts' on such classic tales of good and evil.

Another example is the movie Mirror Mirror (2012), which is a remake of the classic fairytale Snow White, but this time starring the evil queen/stepmother, played by Julia Roberts. Maleficent takes this shift a step further.

The pattern "good against bad and eventually good wins" is common in movies and TV series. But after people began to tire of the same old story line, writers responded by blurring the boundaries and exploring the complexity of the characters. They might make it a little harder to work out who is good and who is bad, or have lead characters who are deeply flawed (such as in some of my favourites like House, Dexter, and The Shield). Some of them are likeable, and some we love to hate. In all cases, the intent is that we empathise with the baddie as well.

In Mirror Mirror, we know that the queen is bad - always was, always will be. In Maleficent, we are taken on a journey into the life of the lead character to understand why she turned into a bad fairy. And inevitably, it likely wasn't her fault. Rather she was the product of some terrible experiences as a young fairy that "radicalised" her and caused to her shift to the dark side.

Pop culture is a product of the sentiments of society at the time. Back when these fairy tales and similar stories were composed, society had a clear idea of what is good and what is bad, and a strong desire to see good triumph. More recently, in the gangster movie genre, we still retained the boundaries between good and bad, but liked the escapism of wanting bad to win, or at least give good a run for their money.

But nowadays, there is no more good and bad. In moral relativism doublespeak, war is peace, freedom is slavery, good is bad, and bad is good. We can't tell the difference between good and bad any more because there is no such thing as bad. Instead of trying to eradicate or fight bad, we are asked to understand it and its 'root causes' and show empathy. People aren't intrinsically bad at all; rather they are forced into bad behaviour by external events beyond their control. The Twinkie defence has been broadened into a global excuse for bad.

Movies like Maleficent are just a "Mirror Mirror" of our own attitudes.

28 May, 2014

Case Study: Oligarch Enterprises

This is written in the style of a Harvard case study. It is an allegory; imagine a real company in this situation and facing similar challenges. The questions at the end are a guide to what the issues are and the process to deal with them. Suggested answers are most welcome.

“They did what?!” exclaimed William, Chairman of Oligarch Enterprises, at one of the regular informal gatherings of the “mini-board”. The recovery of the supermarket division was progressing well, and the cafés were holding ground, but yet again, two senior executives in the café division had committed a very public faux pas, leading to widespread condemnation in the media, and from some key investors. “Get them to make a public apology with a bit of self-serving commentary”, he directed. “This will blow over like the last one”. But in response to the e-mail advising the board of his decision, he was challenged: “These things keep happening to us again and again. Maybe we should hire a professional PR firm to help us communicate better with our customers and use the media better?” asked Frank, the newest member of the board. William was taken aback by the show of dissent. “We don't need to waste money on expensive consultants. We know what our customers want, and what's best for them”.

Was this just another hiccup along the way in Oligarch’s recovery? Or is it symptomatic of some deeper issues? What should William and the board do next?

Here’s a brief history to help understand how Oligarch found themselves in this predicament.

The Coup
The best kind of coup is the one no-one notices. And so it was at the supermarket and coffee shop giant formerly known as Autocrat Enterprises – nurtured and grown into a large group of businesses for many years by Gerald, who over time assumed the position of Group Executive Director (GED). Nothing happened in the business without his knowledge or approval. When he started, there was just one supermarket and a small coffee shop. But with a combination of marketing savvy and his natural warmth to and connection with customers, Gerald grew the business into the major force in the sector with the highest ranking in customer loyalty. The flagship mega-café was Gerald’s pride and joy, and he would visit regularly to sit and talk to customers.

Knowing that his days on earth were numbered, he set up a new board of individuals he trusted, and a constitution uncommon amongst other companies in the sector. Just a handful of people held ‘A Class’ shares with voting rights, and several of them were also directors. The company was largely kept running thanks to the ‘B Class’ investors – who together represented 92% of issue capital – who continued to pour money in despite having no voting rights, largely out of loyalty to Gerald and the brand.

When the time came in 2008, the coup was swift. Gerald had wanted the senior executive of the flagship mega-café to take over his position, but after his passing, the role of GED was effectively dissolved and all control passed to the board, and principally to William as Chairman. The senior executive remained exactly where he was, and while many people – particularly outsiders – viewed him as someone who held a lot of sway, insiders knew that he was destined to run the mega-café as a silo, and never anything more. The only other person Gerald would have liked to take over was Harry – a regional senior exec in the café division, and was also on the Master Franchisor Committee because of his longstanding relationship with Gerald. But William had successfully marginalised the only two realistic contenders for the top job.

At the time, the biggest parts of the group – the two supermarket chains – were headed by a couple of older execs who had each been there for over thirty years. Rather than fully retiring them, they were gently shifted into consulting roles and given positions on a newly formed board subcommittee that actually did nothing and had no real responsibilities.

Oligarch had been in supermarkets for as long as anyone could remember. They launched back in the 1950s with two distinct brands – Gold and Bronze – servicing what they considered two distinct and non-overlapping market sectors. Most other companies in the industry preferred to run a single brand, but this segmentation strategy worked well for Oligarch, and both chains flourished. Despite owning both, they operated as silos with separate management and administration. Over time, Gold pushed ahead thanks to its ability to position as a brand with broader appeal to its primary target market and several adjacent market sectors, as well as a better-executed growth strategy. There was also long term stability at the CEO position, Gold was able to attract superior staff, and they didn't suffer from any of the OH&S issues that seemed to plague Bronze.

In theory, Bronze's market sector was of similar size to Gold, but they were unable to make serious inroads in the market. By the time the OH&S breaches at Bronze became public in 2010, the CEO had stepped down but stayed on in a senior consulting role, as well as the board advisory committee. An initial attempt to find a long-term successor failed miserably. A global search for a CEO conducted by a specially appointed board subcommittee ended up choosing someone not much younger than the previous CEO. She didn't fit in culturally, many staff were disaffected, and customers ran for the competition. After just two years, she was paid out of her contract early, and a much younger CEO, Michael, was poached from a competing chain where he had risen through the ranks and established a reputation as a turn-around expert and a good leader.

After just a year in his position, and following the shift of the CEO of Gold to an advisory role, the board appointed Michael as Group CEO of Supermarkets. He quickly set about merging administrative and supply chain of both brands, resulting in economies of scale and improved performance. He was unafraid to ruffle some feathers as he set about restructuring and running a series of redundancies, but a few longstanding staff refused to leave, and one of the board members suggested to Michael that he should prioritise other things. Despite some minor issues, it appeared that the supermarket chains might be turning around. But still the OH&S breaches continue to haunt him.

The café chain also had its challenges. With a strong history and loyal following, the original flagship mega-café was very successful, particularly during the peak of Gerald's tenure as Group Exec Director in the 1970-80s. But with the growing popularity of coffee, new competition emerged and challenged Oligarch.
After an international chain announced a new concept store – a combined book-store and café – Oligarch was under pressure and quickly opened one in the same category, headed by Gerald's trusted associate Harry. It was widely viewed by the market as a reactive move, and after enjoying initial success for a few years it began to flounder. Initially considered a loss-leader for other categories within the brand, the losses continued to mount, and the customer transition to other brands within the group just didn't happen. Gerald emphatically refused to close it down, and it continued to be a drain on the group for many years.

In 2011, a new ‘next generation’ CEO was appointed to work alongside Harry. His presentation to the board was very impressive, and he had strong credentials working abroad in the same niche category. He set about turning the business around quickly, controversially cutting some long-standing senior staff and embarking on some innovative marketing campaigns. Things are looking positive for the book-store café, but as a loss-leader, its value to the group is regularly questioned.

With population surges in a few key areas and the mega- café unable to service a growing market, Oligarch needed to act quickly to capture market share, so Gerald embarked on an aggressive franchise program. Cafés under the group brand started popping up everywhere, with Gerald handing out franchises to almost every applicant, ensuring along the way that those close to him received franchises in what were considered the most attractive areas.

Even people who weren't happy with Oligarch's own flagship café were issued franchises to open elsewhere, so what in fact was a growing dissatisfaction with the flagship café was masked by significant growth at group level. Even Harry, who operated the book-store café, had a separate franchise café of his own on the side, despite questions about divided loyalty and conflict of interest.

Gerald was the master franchisor, but following his death, his role was replaced by the Master Franchisor Committee (MFC), consisting of three members: Harry, Sam – who merged his café franchise with Oligarch – and Gordon, who was a franchisee himself. The MFC was a very dysfunctional group, as each member had their own franchise as well as tribally loyal franchisees, and there was no process for conflict resolution. It didn’t even have formal reporting lines to the board, nor was there a board member on the MFC. At one stage, it descended to the point where the committee members themselves were no longer on speaking terms. Somehow, the franchises continued to operate and new ones were issued despite the problems.

The mega-café
The mega-café was for many years the flagship of Oligarch. Gerald took a special interest in the mega-café to the point of micromanaging, yet imbuing it with a personal flavour and warmth that attracted customers from far and wide. But as Gerald grew old, it was harder to find and retain staff, and many regulars stopped coming. Some became regular customers at other Oligarch franchisees, but many left for competing cafés.

The position of senior executive running the mega-café is unclear. He is considered by the market as holding a senior and influential role within the group, but has little support from the board, especially after almost regular public gaffes. The mega-café is in desperate need of some investment to provide a fresh look, but while it can’t attract customers, continues to lose money, and is unable to hold on to good staff, board support for the capital expenditure is not there.

The OH&S Scandal
Gerald was not one for keeping meticulous records, and a series of occupational health and safety (OH&S) incidents in the Bronze supermarkets and one of the cafés that occurred in the 1990s became public in about 2010. Gerald knew a lot about supermarkets and cafés but didn't know much about OH&S, and the regulatory environment at the time was weak. Some of the affected customers demanded immediate sackings and the involvement of external inspectors. But the majority were satisfied at the time for the matter to be handled internally, which meant they would receive full medical cover and that the staff who committed the OH&S breaches were dismissed and sent away. Despite the breaches, they actually liked the supermarket chain, and didn't want it to suffer too much damage as a result of a few bad apples (no pun intended).
Gerald thought he had the wisdom of Solomon to fix what was actually a very complex problem and satisfy all stakeholders. He wanted to protect both his loyal employees and the customers affected by the breaches. In hindsight, these would turn out to be mutually exclusive goals.

What Gerald didn’t realise was that some of the OH&S problems were systemic, and that standards changes were in the winds. So like any sore left to fester, things only get worse with time. With the introduction of the new OH&S standards, and several high-profile OH&S breaches at a very large competitor supermarket chain, the issue started receiving more and more media coverage. A newly formed advocacy group came after Oligarch Enterprises, with claims for retrospective compensation, and demands for the sacking of the former CEO of the supermarket, who remained employed at a senior level, as well as any other senior executives who may have known about the breaches.

Oligarch knew that current OH&S processes were now fully compliant and went out of their way to tell the market about it. But instead of seeking to draw a clear line in the sand from the sins of the past and working with the advocacy group on some related structural reforms, Oligarch hunkered down for what would likely be a long battle. Knowing that a large compensation claim was sure to come, the board’s lawyer prohibited any public comments, but that didn’t stop several senior executives from entering the public debate on the issue, and each time with disastrous consequences.

Group CEO of supermarkets, Michael, was regularly under the pump. Even before his tenure, the chain had brought itself up to the new OH&S standards, and Michael extended the program of compliance with a full external audit. But as the face of the supermarket chains, he was still paying the price. While he assured customers that standards were being met, some long-standing customers demanded more. Given the history of the group and the possible scope of previous breaches, they wanted to hear not just from the head of the supermarket division, but from the board itself. They continued to demand a full clean out, not just of the board members who were there at the time, but of any senior staff who were in positions of authority during the breaches. While Michael was in control of standards now, he could not speak on behalf of the board, nor did he have control over the other parts of the group. He was caught between a rock and a hard place.

The latest faux pas came when two senior executives showed public support for a storeman and packer union protest. The public outcry was from all sides – regular high-profile customers, competitors, and of course the advocacy group and its followers. A leaked e-mail from a board member protesting their comments was also circulated, and there were rumours of dissent from several other board members regarding the way this was being handled. Many were astounded that both the board member and the senior executives retained their positions.

The 24/7 news cycle moved on to the next crisis, and it seems Oligarch had against dodged a bullet. But everyone knew that a class action led by the advocacy group was not far away, and that every time anything went wrong at Oligarch, all the old problems would be dredged up again publicly.

Oligarch Org Chart

  • What patterns of behaviour can you identify in the board? What is driving these behaviours?
  • What drove the choices the board made and how did that affect their ability to deal with the issues? Why do they consider this an acceptable outcome? What could they reasonably expect would happen and why?
  • What are the barriers to a different outcome and how might you change things to create a different outcome?
  • Why are the senior executives retained in some form or another? What are the consequences of failure at Oligarch?
  • How would you describe the culture of Oligarch? How would it look using the Bolman & Deal four frame model?
  • What would you do if you were William? Harry? Michael? a disaffected 'B class' shareholder?
  • How would you restructure the Master Franchisor Committee?

Thanks to NG, CS, and JC for their feedback