Not so smart

America Second: How America’s Elites Are Making China Stronger|
By Isaac Stone Fish
Scribe, $33, 288 pages

America Second is a book that shows how experts can make terrible misjudgments. Fish, a journalist and consultant with long experience of China, tracks through how people who should know better have thoroughly mis-read China over several decades.

He has a particular ire for Henry Kissinger, who has made a lot of money out of advising clients to ‘build trust’ with the Chinese leaders. He also has a position on the advisory board of the state-owned China Development Bank. There is a long list of high-profile diplomats and dignitaries, such as Madeleine Albright, who argue that the US should not treat China as a geopolitical competitor, regardless of its actions.

Some appear to genuinely believe that engagement will gradually guide China down a more liberal road. The larger the economic stake for China in the global economy, they say, the less likely it is to resort to force. It is an interesting theory, and it is a shame that it does not fit the facts of the past two decades.

There are other apologists, notably Disney chairman Bob Iger, who are simply interested in the money associated with China’s huge market. They argue that trying to isolate China is both impossible and will undercut the strength of the US economy. Personal interests coincide with national interest. Convenient.

This is enlightening and somewhat scary. Think of the book as further proof, if any was needed, that the best and brightest are never as smart as they think they are.

Trends, culture and making it count

Appearing in In The Black magazine, June 2022

The New Megatrends: Seeing Clearly in the Age of Disruption
By Marian Salzman
Crown, $45

Trying to determine the shape of the future is always a dangerous undertaking but Salzman, a senior figure in the consulting giant Philip Morris International, gives it a determined try in this book. Consciously following the model of John Naisbitt’s popular Megatrends series, she looks at existing trends and extrapolates from them, looking out to 2038. She acknowledges that there is no single answer but instead there will be continuing waves of economic and political disruption. The impact of COVID-19 will linger, entrenching the model of remote working and giving priority to health issues. Social media technology will continue to evolve, giving rise to “virtual tribes” with increasing segmentation and polarisation. Countering this, there will be a movement towards lives that are more natural, less urban, deliberately disconnected, and slower. E-commerce will replace traditional retail models to the point that shopping malls will become, says Salzman, “extinct”.

Interesting food for thought, but the problem is that it is often difficult to follow Salzman’s thinking (which she admits is based on “nonlinear leaps”). Nevertheless, there is validity in her point that the necessary talents to thrive in the future will be resilience, adaptability and a willingness to find opportunities in apparent chaos.

Let’s Talk Culture
By Shane Hatton
Major Street Publishing, $33

A positive, dynamic culture is the difference between a business that survives and one that thrives, according to leadership specialist Hatton. Based on a survey by McCrindle Research of 1002 Australian managers, he examines how good cultures are built and sustained. He emphasises that the leader should be clear in their own mind about what sort of culture they want and what direction the company should take. Once they have established this they must constantly work at developing a culture, which often means giving form and expression to the unspoken and near-invisible. He distils the research into a series of ‘conversations’, dealing with expectations, clarity of language, procedures for communication, priorities and focus, recognition of success, and feedback.

He readily acknowledges that this is not easy for leaders, especially those who expertise is not in people management. He breaks the process into a series of steps, finishing each section with suggestions for action. Along the way, he supplies some handy tools and illustrates his points with real-world cases. He is mainly aiming at mid-sized companies that are looking to grow, but much of what he says is applicable to firms of any size, or even team leaders within an organisation.

Making Numbers Count: The art and science of communicating numbers
By Chip Heath and Karla Starr
Penguin, $35

For finance professionals, communicating with people with little understanding of how numbers work can be a frustrating experience. Heath, a Stanford business academic, and Starr, a science journalist, are very familiar with this problem, and in Making Numbers Count they set out a variety of ways to get a numerical-based point across. Work out which statistics are the most important and focus on them, rather than flood the audience with data, they say. Use straightforward examples to support the message. For example, citing the amount of acreage destroyed in an Australian bushfire is not very meaningful. Saying that it is twice the area of Portugal gives a powerful frame of reference.

Likewise, financial projections can be couched in terms of past performances, and risk management (including the likelihood of adverse events) can be discussed in concrete, everyday language. Comparisons are more likely to stick in the mind if they have a witty and slightly bizarre element to them. Heath and Starr provide templates for all this, as well as tables, anecdotes, and highlight boxes. The book is a short, fast read but the tools and contextual frameworks it provides will be useful for addressing a wide range of communication problems.

Downloadable Resources

Metaverse

WhatIs.com is a site that provides information on a broad range of technology issues, and this feature goes a long way to explaining the metaverse. It walks through the basic principles, noting the origin of the metaverse in the gaming sector and the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality. The article looks at the companies that are already moving into metaverse tech, the role of Non-Fungible Tokens as the metaverse ‘currency’, and the development of supplementary equipment, such as AR glasses. The metaverse is not yet part of the business landscape but it is certainly looming on the horizon.

Read at:
https://whatis.techtarget.com/feature/The-metaverse-explained-Everything-you-need-to-know

Why so serious?

Many senior executives believe that their role demands stony-faced seriousness but in this TED Talk Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas, behaviour specialists who dabble in consulting, argue that there is no need for it to be so. They offer advice on when humour is appropriate and provide a self-assessment test to establish “your humour style”. A sense of humour also provides accessibility and humility for leaders. Not only is a bit of laughter good for you, a quip or a joke can make a critical difference in a tricky negotiation (such as offering to throw in a pet frog to sweeten the deal).

Watch at:
https://www.ted.com/talks/jennifer_aaker_and_naomi_bagdonas_why_great_leaders_take_humor_seriously

Credit where due

Information about debt and creditworthiness is useful to companies entering into contracts with suppliers, partners and buyers, as well as being a good indicator general economic health. This site contains a great deal of information on this area. Some of it can only be accessed on a subscription basis but there is a wealth of material available without cost. A blog looks at specific issues, such as the impact of natural disasters on the construction sector, and there is also a podcast series that examines research papers and surveys, including a Business Risk Index that includes a sector-by-sector breakdown.

For further information, go to:
https://creditorwatch.com.au

Survey

Accounting giant PwC has been conducting an annual survey of Australian CEOs for 25 years, and it has proved to be a good guide to plans and concerns. The most recent poll finds a great deal of confidence in the business sector, with 88 per cent of respondents expecting economic growth in Australia and 98 per cent anticipating good revenue growth for their companies. Cybersecurity is flagged as the primary concern of CEOs, even greater than a resurgence of COVID-19. There is a renewed focus on investing in talented people to take advantage of a post-pandemic recovery in the medium term.

https://www.pwc.com.au/ceo-agenda/ceo-survey.html

Mental health

Executive stress has reached epidemic levels, and according to research from consulting heavyweight McKinsey much of it stems from a lack of sleep. This feature draws together a number of articles on the theme, looking at how a decent night’s rest is critical for mental health, the way in which sleep underpins recovery from burnout, technology-based solutions to sleeplessness, and how healthy sleep patterns can be created and maintained. Company leaders also have to be aware of the need to foster good mental health for their employees, with a clear company policy and a willingness to lead by example.

Read at:
https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/themes/how-to-harness-the-power-of-sleep

Shooting blanks

The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War
By Nicholas Mulder
Yale University Press, $52, 448 pages

The world looks set for a new round of conflicts, and economic sanctions seems to be the weapon of choice for Western countries. This book is a timely look at the subject, and although it was written before the Russian invasion of Ukraine it is impossible to not make comparisons and find parallels. The Biden administration and its various supporters like to say that the sanctions it put in place were unprecedented and will ultimately be judged as successful. It is hard to accept either conclusion after reading what Mulder, a historian at Cornell University, has to say.

Sanctions have been around for as long as there has been international trade. They were used prominently in the lead-up to and during World War One. Far from being bloodless tools, sanctions were responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths through starvation. Nevertheless, the idea was central to the operations of the League of Nations, the organisation created after the war, and was even written into the League’s constitution.

This extended to financial sanctions, a process which was helped by the dominance of the City of London, which acted as a clearing house for international trade. This role was eventually taken over by American banks, even though America was not a member of the League.

There was a theory that the threat of economic isolation could be enough to prevent aggressive actions or escalation, and there were some successes. But they were fairly small, such as resolution of the Yugoslav-Albanian crisis of 1921. On the other hand, there were spectacular failures. Attempts to punish and deter Japan after its invasion of China merely fed the country’s paranoia and sense of deprivation, a line that led directly to Pearl Harbor. A similar case can be made with the rise of Nazi Germany.

Sanctions can actually help a government, especially if it has control of the media, to rally the population behind it. Even more, a government that feels itself to be under attack may feel bound to undertake military action to secure needed resources. Pride is not an insignificant factor in the conduct of geopolitical affairs. The underlying assumption of sanctions, that countries and their leaders will act in their economic interests after doing rational cost-benefit analysis, may be fundamentally flawed to begin with.

With all this in mind, Mulder looks at the question of whether sanctions work. After much consideration he concludes that they nearly always fail to achieve their objectives. There may be some cases where they contribute but sorting out different factors is a difficult business, and specific conditions are required for even limited success.

Where does Russia and its autocratic leadership fit into this picture? It is difficult to see how the threat of sanctions, or their imposition, did anything to change Putin’s moves. Sanctions do not seem to have affected public support for Putin, although working out the attitudes of the Russian people is always a fraught exercise. Supporters of sanctions might argue that the effects will be felt in the long term but that is unlikely to be of much consolation to the Ukrainians. Is it possible to permanently cut a country the size of Russia out of the global map? It does not sound very likely.

Mulder does, however, have some suggestions for making sanctions more effective. A way forward might be to focus efforts on individuals, especially wealthy people with a reputation for corruption. These oligarchs, says Mulder, usually wield considerable clout with the leader, so if they believe that their own positions will be affected they will make their concerns known. A related avenue could be to direct sanctions towards the financial institutions that underpin economic activity. This strategy of hitting key people in their pocketbooks sounds more promising than broad-brush sanctions but it has been tried before and the results have been, at best, mixed. Does anyone really think that Putin cares if the super-boats of his mates are grabbed by Western authorities?

Why, then, are sanctions so popular with Western governments? The short answer seems to be that sanctions do not (or do not appear to) impose costs on them or their people. Essentially, politicians always like the idea of being seen to be doing something, even if it eventually turns out to be the wrong thing. And they will probably continue to do so, all evidence to the contrary.

Talent, AI and COVID

Appearing in May 2022 issue of In The Black magazine

Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World
By Tyler Cowen and Daniel Gross
St Martin’s Press

Recruiting and managing creative people is a different process than that used for people with technical skills, according to Cowen and Gross, who have been studying and consulting on the issue for many years. In this book they provide advice on how to understand an applicant’s thought processes and willingness to embrace new thinking. In the interview, they suggest examining what the person does in their after-hours time. Non-work activities are more likely to reveal personality than the dry lists of a CV. In fact, the interview should be more of a free-flowing discussion than a structured Q&A. There is an appendix of questions that might help to assess creativity and work attitudes.

Very creative people can sometimes be difficult to work with, so there might be a need to re-consider job design and supervision arrangements. Along the way, Cowen and Gross discuss how to effectively conduct online interviews, and how recruiting creative women differs from recruiting creative men. In terms of managing and retaining creative people, the key is keeping them stimulated and challenged, with rewards that are appropriate to the individual. All this takes effort and innovation from the employer but the returns can be well worth the investment.

Artificial Intelligence for Asset Management and Investment: A Strategic Perspective
By Al Naqvi
Wiley

Naqvi is the CEO of the American Institute of Artificial Intelligence so he is understandably enthusiastic about the whole subject of AI. In this book he argues that few companies operating in the investment space are properly using AI, and he has good points to make about the capacity of AI systems to scan huge amounts of information, finding anomalies and patterns. This can form the basis of investment strategy and risk management. He claims, for example, that the Institute’s AI system predicted the COVID-19 pandemic through scattered mentions of a viral outbreak in China.

At the same time, AI can generate vast improvements in asset use and customer relations. AI can, he says, turn virtually all aspects of business into a science. He offers a model for adopting AI across company operations, including execution aspects.

Naqvi acknowledges that many senior managers might be reluctant to turn over large sections of the business to a computer system. He is dismissive of such concerns, taking the view that those who do not accept AI will be left behind by those who do. This tone can be a bit grating, but nevertheless the book offers important insights into a critical emerging field.

Pacific Accounting Review: Accounting and finance lessons in the time of COVID: Views from the Pacific (volume 33, number 2)
Edited by David Ding, Julie Harrison, Martien Lubberink, and Chris van Staden
Emerald Publishing

This e-book special issue of Pacific Accounting Review brings together a collection of articles looking at how the finance profession in the region has dealt with the COVID-19 crisis. It covers a wide range of topics, from accounting for support provided by governments to provisioning standards to insolvencies arising from the pandemic. Several articles deal with taxation issues and accounting regulations, and there are pieces dealing with auditing and the non-profit sector. On the investment side, research shows that the usual strategy of diversification was ineffective, as there were no ‘safe havens’ on the investment spectrum. In relation to subsidies provided to companies, there are issues for chief finance officers, especially in cases where the impact of the pandemic was relatively minor.

Several articles look ahead to the period in which the pandemic winds down, and consider paths for long-term reform. This is particularly relevant in the recognition of tax losses, while there are other questions relating to sustainability reporting.

There is a follow-up issue of Pacific Accounting Review (volume 33, number 5) which discusses the impact that the pandemic has had on global economies and assesses the role that the financial sector has played in managing the crisis.

Downloadable Resources

Banking on it

The annual examination of the banking sector by consulting giant McKinsey has found a mixed picture, with the leaders doing well despite the pandemic while the lower half failed to cover their cost of equity. Nevertheless, the general picture is better than was expected two years ago, with the dislocation being less than that flowing from the Global Financial Crisis.

But there have been many indirect effects. Digital banking accelerated, cash use fell, savings expanded, remote became a way of working, and sustainability has moved up the priorities list. These are the key challenges for the sector going forward.

Download the report from:
https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/financial-services/our-insights/global-banking-annual-review

Leadership talk

In this useful podcast series, leadership coach Dan Haesler interviews a range of eminent Australians, mostly from the business community but with a leavening of other specialists. For example, the interview with neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett on how brain functioning affects decision-making is a fascinating one. The podcasts are unstructured, often sounding more like a friendly chat than a detailed discussion. But overall the approach is successful. Episodes that are well worth catching are the interview with journalist Stan Grant on leadership, a conversation on the difference between coaching and mentoring, and how leaders should respond to the easing of pandemic restrictions.

Listen at:
https://www.podcast.habitsofleadership.com

Analytics

The Melbourne Business School and management consulting firm Kearney have released the fourth edition of their annual Analytics Impact Index report. The annual survey looks at more than 300 global companies across 35 industries, with a focus on sustainability. The findings show that those companies that have implemented analytics to optimise processes have reduced waste or emissions by 39 per cent. However, most companies are still unclear about the link between environmental sustainability and analytics. There has been a small drop in the number of companies considered Leaders and Explorers, while the percentage of Followers and Laggards has increased.

Download from:
https://mbs.edu/news/How-companies-are-using-analytics-to-tackle-sustainability

Nice work

Recruitment firm Michael Page has released its regular report on the best-paying jobs and sectors in Australia. In the finance field, the best-paying jobs are: Chief Financial Officer, with an average salary of $280,000; Investment Director in a large-cap fund ($300,000); Head of Operations in a resources company ($325,000); and Chief Technology Officer ($330,000).

The report notes that despite the upheavals caused by the coronavirus pandemic, employment growth has remained surprisingly strong. However, growth in the gig economy and the adoption of hybrid and flexible arrangements are likely to be permanent features of the work picture.

For further information, go to:
https://www.michaelpage.com.au/advice/market-insights/industry-reports/top-10-highest-paying-jobs-australia-2022

Reducing carbon

This TED Talk is a mix of entertainment and information, with climate strategist Gabrielle Walker discussing ideas for reducing atmospheric carbon. Planting more trees is simple and effective, as is using wood as a building material instead of emissions-heavy concrete. Spreading ground-up basalt on fields is surprisingly useful, and geosequestration is a well-tested process. A new proposal called air capture shows promise, and breeding animals that promote tree growth by foraging is an idea that can be readily scaled. The best ideas, says Walker, marry technology and natural processes, and the result is likely to be a portfolio of options.

Watch at:
https://www.ted.com/talks/gabrielle_walker_woolly_pigs_high_tech_and_other_ingenious_ways_to_take_carbon_out_of_the_air

Index funds, vaccines and shifting balances

Appearing in In The Black magazine, April 2022

Trillions: How a Band of Wall Street Renegades Invented the Index Fund and Changed Finance Forever
By Robin Wigglesworth
Penguin, $33, 352 pages

As the global finance correspondent for the Financial Times, Wigglesworth has had a front-row seat to a development that has remade financial markets: the rise of index funds. The revolution has been slow but it has been inexorable, to the point that they now dominate the investment landscape. Wigglesworth walks through the early academic work which hypothesised that a basket of passive investments would usually outperform active traders, taking account of the fees charged to investors. Turning theory into practice was tricky but Wigglesworth has a good time with a sprawling cast of characters, with a man called Jack Bogle, who created the first working fund, in a starring role.

Wigglesworth is generally supportive of index funds, emphasising that investors have saved billions in fees. But he acknowledges the downsides, noting that the number of active traders has dramatically reduced. This pattern amplifies market movements, makes entry for newcomers more difficult, and reduces the transparency of decisions. Yes, index funds have brought more people into the wealth-creation process but they have also concentrated power in a few hands. The long-term consequences of lopsided markets are not clear, but Trillions has a remarkable story to tell and Wigglesworth tells it well.

A Shot to Save the World: The Remarkable Race and Ground-Breaking Science Behind the Covid-19 Vaccines
By Greg Zuckerman
Penguin, $35, 384 pages

The COVID-19 pandemic is the story of our time, and this book shows how the vaccines which have been critical in turning the tide were developed. Zuckerman, a science writer at the Wall Street Journal, points out that drug companies had long seen vaccines as a low priority but when the crisis hit they quickly pivoted to a new paradigm. There was a massive program of investment, research, and testing, with remarkable co-operation between governments, researchers and the private sector. It was done in record time, very different to the usual pace of drug development. In fact, there were several races moving in parallel although the research streams ultimately converged.

Zuckerman explains the underlying science and the technological advances required for large-scale production and distribution. He acknowledges that companies always had an eye on the bottom line but believes there was also an acceptance of the need to look beyond profitability. The virus has not yet been defeated, especially with new strains appearing, but Zuckerman predicts that it will become a seasonal disease rather than a global threat. The book adds up to a fascinating account of how the corporate sector, and the broader community, can rise to meet challenges.

Shifting the Balance: How Top Organizations Beat the Competition by Combining Intuition with Data
By Mark Schrutt
ECW Press, $50, 256 pages

Analytics, algorithms and Big Data have changed the fundamental nature of business and in this book Schrutt, a consultant specialising in disruption and digital transformation, examines their advantages and limitations. While they provide huge amounts of information they are usually focused on what has already happened, and the result is that they can be reactive. Emerging threats, changes and opportunities can be missed, and old biases can be inadvertently baked in.

Nevertheless, Schrutt makes clear that the old method of leaders making strategic decisions according to their ‘gut’ is unsuitable for the Digital Age. The answer is a hybrid system where company principals draw on all the available information but still retain the final decision on strategy, using their knowledge of the marketplace and their observations of what is coming down the road. Looking at the practices of companies that have developed combination models, Schrutt emphasises that leaders need to be able to understand the value of data. They also need to recruit data specialists who can provide information that is relevant to strategy. Data should not – and cannot – replace experience and wisdom, but leaders must be willing to utilise the new generation of tools at achieve the best outcomes.

Downloadable Resources

Podcast

The Built For Change podcast series from consulting giant Accenture provides some useful discussions, mainly around the theme of taking advantage of new technologies. A particularly interesting segment (Episode 10) deals with how brewing company Carlsberg utilised cloud tech and related algorithms to improve inventory control across its global operations, track consumer preferences and adjust the local product accordingly, and re-make its distribution infrastructure. The larger point is that data collection and storage is a means and not an end in itself, and the cloud offers the potential to dissect, manipulate and disseminate information across a widespread group.

Download from:
https://www.accenture.com/ca-en/insights/company/built-for-change-podcast

Workplace research

In this interesting TED Talk, Harvard academic Ashley Whillans examines how, especially in the COVID-19 era, work has increasingly crept into our private lives. This is a recipe for burnout, she says, but there are some ways to re-establish balance. Her research shows that time issues are best negotiated at the recruitment stage, to ensure that family commitments are acknowledged and accommodated. Another critical point is to ensure that private time is insulated from work communication, especially email and mobile phones. Co-workers should be informed when you are not available, so that ‘time away’ allows for genuine mental re-charging.

Watch at:
https://www.ted.com/talks/ashley_whillans_3_rules_for_better_work_life_balance

Equity scorecard

A study from the College of Business and Economics at the Australian National University has placed Australia equal last on a gender pay gap scorecard comparing six developed countries, with a gap of over 14 per cent. There are disclosure requirements at the industry level but the underlying assumption that reporting would help to close the gap has not been borne out. The report authors believe that the focus of reporting should shift to individual companies, that there should be clear minimum standards for pay equity, and that the government should be willing to impose sanctions on non-compliant firms.

Read at:
https://cbe.anu.edu.au/news/2021/australia-has-ranked-last-international-gender-pay-gap-study-here-are-3-ways-do-better

Hotline

The Australian Cyber Security Centre has released a package of improvements to help businesses with their security. This includes enhancements to the Australian Cyber Security Hotline (1300 CYBER1), so it now operates 24/7. The Hotline can be used to obtain advice and report attacks. Data from the ACSC shows that the threats facing Australian small and medium-sized businesses are growing, as they are seen as easy targets. Cyberattacks, especially ransomware raids and business email compromise, are becoming more sophisticated and destructive.

The ACSC has also released new online learning resources offering simple-to-follow advice for businesses and individuals, available at cyber.gov.au/learn

For further information, go to:
https://www.cyber.gov.au/acsc/view-all-content/news/acsc-call-247

Disruption discussion

Gerald Kane, Rich Nanda, and Anh Nguyen Phillips are experts on business and technology strategy as well as co-authors of the important book The Transformation Myth. In this interview on the site of MIT Press, they explore avenues for dealing with disruption, using the pandemic as an object lesson. The discussion is an hour long so there are opportunities to drill into cases and solutions. The key points are that new technology has to be designed with customers in mind, leaders have to prioritise organisation resilience, and attempting to  merely ‘weather the storm’ means missing critical opportunities for positive change.

Watch at:
https://mitpress.mit.edu/blog/author-talk-transformation-myth-gerald-c-kane-rich-nanda-anh-nguyen-phillips-and-jonathan-r

The ‘small state effect’ in the Senate: does a GOP bias exist?

There have recently been views expressed by some left-wing commentators that the Republican numbers in the Senate are artificially inflated due to the number of small (by population) states where both senators are Republican. A close look at the numbers, however, does not bear this out.

The first problem in this analysis is to determine what constitutes a small state. We can determine whether a state is ‘small’ by looking at the number of House members it has.  There is a wide variety: several states with only one member, and giant California with 53. Within this spectrum, three House members would constitute a ‘small’ state (it is possible to use a different number but we need a sample large enough to be analytically useful without defeating the point). There are 15 states which have three or fewer House members: Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.

The second issue is how to determine if a state is solidly Democrat or solidly Republican. The way to do this is to look at a state’s Senate representation, to see if both senators are from one party (we can put Bernie Sanders and Angus King with the Democrats, on the basis of their voting records).

Of the 15 states with three or fewer House members, Montana, Maine and West Virginia are split, with one senator from each party. These three can, in effect, be removed from analysis.

Of the remaining 12, there are six – Alaska, Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota, Wyoming, and South Dakota – where both senators are Republican.

There are six – Delaware, Hawaii, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont – where both senators are Democrats.

It is true that the Republicans do well in the small mid-western states – although New Mexico has two Democrat senators. However, the Democrats do well in the New England region. The only Republican senator in New England is Susan Collins in Maine.

In other words, there is no particular advantage for either party in the ‘small state’ effect. It works out to be even. Of course, this could change in the 2022 elections. For example, the Republicans could win an additional senate seat in New Hampshire, or the Democrats could win a seat in Alaska if the Republican vote was split between incumbent Lisa Murkowski and another Republican. There are many possibilities and permutations: the point is that there is no ‘natural’ Republican advantage from small states.

If Democrats and left-wing commentators want to claim geographic bias in the Senate they might have more luck by looking at the other end of the size scale, at states that have 20 or more House members, and can therefore be classified as ‘large states’. The Democrats have both senators from California (which currently has 53 Representatives). The Republicans have both senators from Texas (36 Representatives) and from Florida (27 Representatives). New York (also 27 Representatives, although Florida is larger on a total population basis) has two Democrat senators.

Overall, it is the case that Democrat senators in the four largest states represent more people than Republicans, although the picture is distorted somewhat by the size of California. However, this is quite a different argument to the idea that the Republicans have some sort of unfair advantage due to the ‘small state’ effect.

It should be said, also, that California and New York are, according to census data, shrinking in population while Texas and Florida are growing.

It should also be noted that the highest-profile Democrat, Joe Biden, represented the state of Delaware in the Senate for 36 years. Delaware can be classified as an ‘ultra small state’; it has only one member in the House of Representatives. Bernie Sanders, the leading light of the socialist left, represents another ‘ultra small state’, Vermont. This is something that commentators of the left might consider when alleging a systemic bias tied to small states and their Senate numbers.

CEOs, blockchain, and focus

Appearing in In The Black magazine, March 2022

Decoding CEO-Speak
By Russell Craig and Joel Amernic
University of Toronto Press

There is little dispute that the CEO of a corporate sets the tone for the company but the actual mechanism is not always clear. Craig and Amernic focus on the language used, with a close reading of CEO statements and speeches, and a series of demonstrative case studies. Language can be used to lead a company in a positive way but when unbalanced it can also have a negative impact. The metaphor of business as an ongoing war which must be won at all costs can encourage actions which are ethically dubious, especially in the tech and media sectors. An emphasis on cost-cutting can lead to reductions in safety and environmental standards.

Craig and Amernic provide lists of words, phrases and themes to watch for. Some CEO language is about self-aggrandisement, although this usually slips into blame-shifting when things go bad. A CEO who offers personal vignettes is usually going to ask employees for ‘sacrifices’, and one who uses technical accounting terms is likely to be hiding underperformance or other problems.

This is useful information for financial analysts, shareholders and regulators. The book does not offer any solutions but it provides a means to determine what is really being said.

Blockchain and Banking: How Technological Innovations Are Shaping the Banking Industry
By Pierluigi Martino
Palgrave

Blockchain technology is being slowly adopted across the business landscape but so far, according to academic Martino, the banking sector has been wary of it. In one way, blockchain represents an existential threat, as it has the potential to directly link lenders and borrowers. Disintermediation has long been a worry for banks, and the breadth and security of blockchain could turn it into a painful reality. But blockchain also raises the possibility of drawing more customers into an increased level of financial activity and expanding the range of services on offer. This would require the banks to establish and take responsibility for customised blockchain systems, and to communicate their new role to existing and potential customers. So far, says Martino, this has happened in only a few cases.

A key obstacle is the cryptocurrency connection, something which raises interoperability and regulatory issues. Martino proposes several ways to incorporate blockchain into traditional banking operations but he admits that it requires a new business model as well as a different mindset. But, he points out, blockchain and other fintech innovations will eventually come anyway, so the question is really whether the banking sector will ride the wave or be swamped by it.

Focus: How to Plan Strategy and Improve Execution to Achieve Growth
By Vikas Mittal and Shrihari Sridhar
Palgrave

Many business plans look wonderful on paper. The problem is that they fail in their first encounter with the real world. Mittal and Sridhar are interested in finding out why, and in this useful book they examine the issue from several perspectives. They begin with a questionnaire for CEOs about their strategy planning process as a means of identifying strengths and weaknesses, and then examine a number of pathways to improve the development and implementation of plans.

Too often, they say, planning is focused inwardly rather then being driven by customers, with a disjunction between operations and profitability. This usually requires a reconsideration of the metrics needed. Many CEOs complain that much of the information provided to them is not relevant to planning. Therefore, the process has to reach down into the middle and lower levels of the company for important data. Significantly, greater involvement across the company can improve execution, which is a major benefit.

While there is place for aspirational goals in plans there also needs to be quantifiable objectives and firm timelines. Mittal and Sridhar demonstrate their points with relevant case studies, and the result is a package that provides assistance in a difficult, but essential, area.

Downloadable Resources

Report

The changes seen in workplaces and management over the COVID-19 era will have profound long-term consequences, but according to the Future of Work report from PwC Australia many companies have not yet come to grips with the issues. The report includes a Future of Work Maturity Radar, a tool that allows leaders to assess the readiness of their company and develop solutions. The report is structured across four dimensions: work type, workforce composition and capabilities, workplace and the experience of work. There is also a link to a series of podcast discussions on how to optimise the transition under way.

Download from:
https://www.pwc.com.au/important-problems/future-of-work-design-for-the-future/future-of-work-maturity-radar.html

Digital currencies

Noel Quinn is Group Chief Executive of banking giant HSBC, so it his job to think about the future of finance. In this essay he discusses an emerging form of digital funds known as Central Bank Digital Currencies. These are legal tender backed by a government authority, avoiding many of the issues associated with cryptocurrencies. Quinn sees great potential but he accepts that there are risks that must be mitigated. He believes that a collaboration between government agencies and private banks would be the best way to go. Important views from someone who can speak with authority about the subject.

Read at:
https://www.hsbc.com/insight/topics/new-forms-of-digital-money-could-spur-growth

Leaders

As a consultant specialising in leadership and communication, Gabrielle Dolan brings a great deal of experience to bear. In this podcast series she interviews a range of leaders, mainly but not exclusively from business. Most of the interviews are about forty minutes, giving Dolan the opportunity to explore issues in depth, and she usually focuses on how the interviewee met particular challenges. In a recent interview, for example, she spoke to Anne Sullivan, national and regional head of retailer Georg Jensen. The discussion looked at how to lead an organisation in times of pandemic stress and plan for eventual recovery.

Follow at:
https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/authentic-leadership-podcast/id1390442702

Wealth report             

An important study from consulting giant McKinsey, The Rise of the Global Balance Sheet, assesses the world economy since 2000. The good news is that net worth has tripled. The bad news is that it largely comes from asset revaluation, with real estate alone now accounting for about two-thirds of global net worth. That is, funds are not being effectively used to improve productivity, and debt is detracting from real growth. The report looks at areas where productivity gains are potentially available and posits that a new investment paradigm is emerging. A video summary by the author is also available.

Download from:
The rapid growth in global wealth | McKinsey

Meetings

Meetings can be useful but they can also be the root of wasted time, low productivity and executive exhaustion. In this short TED Talk, thought leader Cindy Solomon provides some helpful hints. Only invite people who are directly relevant to the task. Ensure that the invitation is framed with a purpose statement in active terms. Set a specific length and stick to it: 30-40 minutes is best. Be willing to decline invitations to a meeting if you cannot see a way to add value. Finally, consider whether a meeting is really necessary. Your time is valuable, so spend it wisely.

Watch at:
https://www.ted.com/talks/cindy_solomon_5_tips_for_dealing_with_meeting_overload

Fancy Dress

Appearing in the Australian, 12 February 2022

How to Read a Dress: A Guide to Changing Fashion from the 16th to the 21st Century

By Lydia Edwards

Bloomsbury, 280 pp, $50

If clothing is a language then fashion is the vocabulary. We sometimes think of fashion as a relatively recent phenomenon but this remarkable, sumptuous book demonstrates that it has been around for a long time, and there are threads of continuity across centuries. Edwards, a historian at Western Australia’s Edith Cowan University, is a good guide for a time-travel journey, and the book has the advantage of a large number of colour plates, illustrations and photographs. Edwards dissects each image, explaining how a particular pleat was formed or why a certain decorative feature was used.

She starts at 1550, simply because there are few surviving examples before then. Her focus is on women’s fashion, specifically the single-piece dress, including various accessories and supporting pieces (anyone who wants to look at men’s clothes should try on Edwards’ 2020 book, How to Read a Suit, for size). During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries France was the fashion leader, although England offered stiff competition. Even when at war there was an exchange of ideas between the two countries, such as the collar-like ruff. Along the way, Spain and Italy made important contributions.

The royal courts were the fashion epicentres: not surprising, considering the incredible cost of some of these dresses. There were huge expanses of silk and lace, with whalebone underpinning the whole show. The wearers of these dresses must have looked like magnificent galleons in full sail but it is difficult to see how they might sit down, climb stairs, or go to the toilet. The price of beauty, perhaps.

A constant feature over several centuries was the desire for a wasp-thin waist. For women who could not fit into the torturous corsets there was the alternative of dresses with wide shoulders and exaggerated hips, to give the impression of an hourglass figure. Elizabeth I, the trendsetter of her era, was an exemplar of this, adding necklaces, matching make-up and a halo-like structure to frame the face. But she also liked to show a bit of cleavage, common at the time.

Another angle on the hourglass theme, in the nineteenth century, was puffed-out sleeves and shelf-like bustles. Skirts were made conical by hoops and layers of petticoats.

In Australia, fashion in the 1890s managed to avoid the most extreme forms seen in other countries, according to examples from the large dress collection of Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum. In fact, there were influences from men’s clothing, especially around the necklines, trimmings and cuffs. Practical, yes, although there is also a pleasing and particular aesthetic underlying Australian dress design.

By the time the twentieth century arrived there was more interest in flowing lines rather than complicated overlays, as more women entered the paid workforce. By the 1920s America had emerged as the driving force of fashion, with sleeveless daywear dresses being the hot item. Chanel’s ‘little black dress’ line was revolutionary at the time, and her later suit-like designs started to question whether the dress had any future at all. As it turns out, it did, but as one choice amongst many.

As the fashion focus shifted to youthful energy rather than society matrons in the decades after 1950, there was diminishing interest in clothes based on savage body restrictions and staggering expense. Hemlines went up, and trousers for women started to be taken seriously by designers. Even formal clothes, such as wedding gowns, became less complex. The business of making clothes also underwent massive change, with much less manufacture by hand and more design for ready-to-wear retail. By the 1980s non-Western designers like Issy Miyake were making their presence felt, and Madonna’s cone-shaped bustier (designed by John Paul Gaultier) broke down the barrier between underwear and outerwear.

By the twenty-first century, fashion had become a wealth of cut-and-paste choices, cross-cultural references, sexual expression, and innovative use of non-traditional materials. A 2004 dress by Western Australian designer Donna Franklin was actually made of fungus.

Edwards explains all this in the sort of detail that comes not only with entirely knowing the subject but also loving it. By the nature of the book, there is more breadth than depth but a comprehensive bibliography points to more research opportunities, and there is a useful glossary of terms.

What next for clothing and fashion? Edwards believes that the move towards gender-neutral clothing will continue, and also points to increased interest in manufacturing methods which are environment-friendly and sensitive to cultural origins. There appears to be a resurgence of the ‘prairie’ style of the 1960s and 1970s, although done with a dose of irony. Or maybe the future will not be about ‘fashion’ at all, if the term means a commonality of style for many people, but one-off artisan pieces and eccentric mash-ups. Nevertheless, the single-piece dress is sure to remain, in some form or another. It’s a classic.

The Bear (Korean)

데릭 파커

1.

나의 가장 먼 기억으로 거슬러 올라가면 내 아버지께서 곰을 집에 데려온 날일 것입니다. 그 때 나는 우리 나이로 아마도 너 댓살 이었을 것이고 내 바로 아래 남동생은 두 세 살 이였을 때이며 막내 여동생은 그 무렵 태어난 갓난 아기였을 것입니다. 아버지가 집에 데리고 들어온 그 곰은 아주 조그마한 새끼 곰이었는데 나는 기아한 낯선 소리로 울어대던 그 새끼 곰이 마치 검은 털 뭉치 공 같았다는 것을 기억합니다.

나의 아버지는 그 당시 강원도 끝에 있는 군사 분계선으로부터 그리 멀지 않은 곳에서 지내셨는데 어느 날 군 소대를 이끌며 깊은 산 속에서 군사훈련을 실시하던 중 그 새끼 곰을 발견했다고 하셨습니다. 아버지는 그 새끼 곰의 어미는 사냥꾼들에 의해 도실되었다고 말했습니다. 이것은 그 당시에는 드문 일이 아니었습니다. 그와 함께 있던 병사들은 그 새끼 곰이 너무 어려서 스스로 살아나갈 수 없을 것이라고 판단하여 현장에서 그 곰을 사살하는 편이 최선의 자비를 베푸는 일일 거라고 말하였으나 나의 아버지는 그 말을 듣지 않으셨습니다. 대신 아버지는 그 어린 곰을 숲 속에 남겨 둔다면 다른 곰이나 산 짐숭 들에 의해 죽임을 당할 것이라는 데에는 생각을 같이 하였습니다. 그래서 그 새끼 곰은 우리와 함께 살게 되었습니다.

어머니는 말할 필요도 없이 아버지의 그 생각을 좋아하지 않으셨고 곰은 산 짐승이고 흉측한 발톱과 무서운 이빨을 가지고 있으며 더 커지면 분명히 끔찍한 성질을 드러낼 것이라고 생각했습니다. 거기다 우리는 먹을 음식도 근근이 마련할 정도였기 때문입니다.

1960년대 초반의 한국은 수도인 서울을 비롯하여 온 나라가 아주 궁핍했던 시기였습니다. 전쟁의 상흔은 여전히 사람들을 흔들어대며 나락에 빠뜨렸습니다. 나의 아버지는 군인들에게서 존경받는 인물이었습니다. 대령으로서 군부대와 행정부에서 중요한 역할을 담당했음에도 불구하고, 부대 배치를 자구 새롭게 받으셨기에 우리는 이사를 많이 다녔습니다.  그 때는 소고기를 먹을 수 있다는 것이 융숭한 대접을 받는 시기였습니다.

그러나 아버지는 우리가 홀로 남은 곰을 집에서 받아들여야 한다는 주장에 단호했습니다. 그리고 일단 아버지가 결정을 내리면 더 이상 논의할 여지는 없었습니다. 그는 뒤 뜰에 있는 나무판자로 새끼 곰을 위한 작은 오두막-흡사 동굴과도 같은- 집을 만들 것이라고 말했습니다. 그러면 새끼 곰은 따뜻한 달에는 거기에서 살면서 사람들이 남긴 음식을 먹을 수 있을 것이라고요.

“남기는 음식은 없어요.”라고 어머니는 말을 받았습니다. 그러나 그녀가 그 작은 털 뭉치 공과 시선을 마주쳤을 때 거기에서 킁킁대는 구슬픈 소리를 들으면서 어머니는 우리가 더 이상 그 새끼 곰을 숲 속에 버려둘 수는 없다는 것을 받아들일 수밖에 없었습니다. 어머니는 머리를 가로저으며 군입이 하나 더 생긴 것에 대해 무슨 말인가를 중얼거리셨고 이렇게 하여 그 새끼 곰은 우리와 함께 있게 되었습니다. 어쨌든 나의 어머니는 그 새끼 곰이 먹을 양식을 마련해 주었습니다. 시간은 흘렀고 때때로 아버지가 집에 안계셨을 때 나는 어머니가 요리를 하시면서 무를 썰어 앉아있는 곰에게 먹여주는 것을 볼 수 있었습니다. 어머니는 내가 그런 모습을 바라보고 있다는 것을 아시고는 입 앞에 검지 손가락을 세워 쉬이! 라고 하시며 아버지께 말하면 안 된다고 하셨습니다.

아버지는 그 곰에게 이름을 지어주셨지만 그 이름은 기억이 나지 않습니다. 나의 어머니와 남동생, 그리고 이제 겨우 말을 시작한 막내 누이와 나는 그것을 ‘곰’이라고 불렀습니다. 실제로 나는 아기 여동생이 처음 말 문을 뗀 단어가 곰이었다고 알고 있습니다.

2.

나의 아버지에 대해 좀 더 이야기를 해야 하겠습니다. 아버지의 고향은, 지금은 북한의 땅이 된 마을이었지만 한국전쟁에서 남한을 위해 싸웠으며 훈장도 받으셨고 승진도 하셨습니다. 아버지의 훈장과 표창장은 사진과 함께 유리 케이스에 넣어져 설날과 같은 중요한 명절 차례에서 우리는 그 앞에 절을 드립니다.

다른 많은 군인들처럼 아버지는 매우 강직하셨고 엄격하셨으며 강인한 정신으로 무장된 분이셨습니다. 그러나 아버지가 부드러운 목소리로 말씀하실 때기 있었습니다. 그 때마다 아버지는 우리에게 전쟁에 관한 이야기, 한강 전투와 무수한 다른 전투 장면들을 이야기 해주셨습니다. 아버지는 맥아더를 ‘미국의 장군’이라고 불렀지만 또한 다른 한 사람, 그 사람도 장군이었지만 한때 국가의 지도자였으며 대통령의 지위를 가졌던 그 다른 사람에게도 ‘장군’이라는 명칭을 사용했습니다. 아버지는 그 장군을 알고 계셨고 사관학교에서 같이 수학도 했었습니다.

나는 그것이 무엇인지 확신하지는 못해도 그들이 전쟁 중 짊어졌던 어떤 역할에서는 그들이 서로에게 끈끈한 정이 있었을 거라고 생각합니다. 어쨌든 그들 사이에는 전우의 정이 있었습니다. 나는 전쟁터가 군인들 간에 그런 종류의 인간애를 만든다고 생각합니다.

아버지는 자주 부대 막사에 머물러 계셔야 하는 날이 많았지만 나는 우리의 작은 집에서 아버지와 함께 했던 따뜻한 저녁시간들을 기억합니다. 아버지는 앞마당의 의자에 앉아서 소주를 드시며 이야기를 해주셨고 나와 동생은 마당 풀밭에 앉아서 그 이야기를 들었습니다. 아버지는 전쟁 이야기 외에도 그가 자란 작은 마을에 대해서, 쌀과 배추를 심고 비가 너무 적게도 많게도 오지 않도록 그저 알맞게만 내려주도록, 그리고 겨울이 너무 춥지 않도록 기도했던 그런 이야기를 들려주셨습니다.

그 곰도 우리와 함게 앉아서 같이 아버지의 이야기를 들었습니다. 나는 어린 여동생이 그 곳에 앉아있던 것을 기억하지만 그녀는 아주 어렸기 때문에 종종 곰에 기대어 잠들어 있던 것을 기억합니다. 나는 아기 여동생이 그 곰의 부드럽고 따뜻한 털을 좋아했다고 생각합니다. 나는 이 이야기를 오랜 세월이 흐른 후에 여동생에게 말해주었지만 그녀는 그것을 기억할 수 없다고 말했습니다. 아마도 그 때는 더 이상 아기가 아니었을 테니까요

3.

그 곰은 흉내 내는 데에는 놀랄 만한 재능을 가지고 있었습니다. 어머니는 요리를 하시거나 청소하는 동안 맑고 감미로운 목소리로 노래를 부르시곤 했는데 그럴 때마다 그 곰은 곧잘 울부짖는 소리로 따라하곤 했습니다. 그리고 또 그 곰은 앉아서 어머니가 화장하는 것을 지켜보는 걸 좋아했다고 추억하셨습니다. 어느 날인가는 그 곰이 화장품 서랍을 열고 자기 얼굴에 시뻘겋게 화장을 한걸 보셨다고 했습니다. 나도 그 때 거기에 있었다고 하셨지만 그것을 기억하진 못합니다. 기억할 수 있다면 얼마나 재미있을까. 립스틱과 파우더를 덕지덕지 마른 곰이라니! 그건 볼만한 광경이었을 겁니다!

어쩌면 그런 일은 있을 수도 있었고 아니었을 수도 있습니다. 어머니와 아버지가 우리에게 얘기해주신 그 곰에 관한 이야기는 전부가 사실은 아니었을 거라는 생각을 합니다. 아마 그것들은 아이들을 위한 이야기였을 지도 모릅니다. 그러나 적어도 그 중 하나는 사실이었을 거라고 생각하고 싶습니다.

  내가 확실히 기억하는 한 가지는 어머니가 딸기와 버섯을 따려고 나와 내 동생들을 데리고 숲으로 들어갔던 때입니다. 어머니는 그때 내 여동생에게 샌들을 신겼습니다. 물론 그 곰도 우리와 함께 갔습니다. 그 무렵이 곰이 우리와 1년 남잣 함께 살았을 때라고 생각이 됩니다. 그래서 이제는 작은 털뭉치 공처럼 보이진 않았던 그 곰은 우리 뒤를 따라 네 발로 걸어오면서 딸기를 찾아주면 맛있게 먹어댔습니다.

그러던 곰이 어느 지점에서 멈춰 서더니 곧바로 일어서서 냄새를 맡기 시작했습니다. 그게 처음으로 그 곰이 두 발로 똑바로 서 있는 것을 본 때였습니다.

주위를 둘러보고는 어머니와 내 동생, 그리고 샌달을 신은 막내 여동생과 나를 천천이 쳐다보고는 다시 숲으로 시선을 돌렸습니다.

그러더니 다시 네 발로 땅을 짚고 우리에게로 다가왔습니다. 내 손에 코를 비벼대던 그 곰에게 나는 언제나 그랬듯이 귀를 긁어 주었습니다.

언젠간 떠날거야. 산 짐승이니까.  결국 언젠가는 떠나야겠지 라고 어머니는 나지막이 속삭였습니다.

4.

그 곰은 3년 정도 우리와 함께 지냈던 것 같습니다. 어느 날 그 작은 동굴 오두막에서도, 마당 어느 구석에서도, 그리고 집에서도 자취를 감추어버리기 전까지는.

그 날 저녁 아버지가 부대에서 돌아오셨을 때 어머니께서 나지막하게 곰이 안보인다고 말씀하시던 걸 기억합니다. 아버지는 마무 말도 하지 않으셨습니다.

이튿날 아침 기지에서 군인을 태운 트럭이 우리 집 앞에 나타났을 때 나는 깜짝 놀랐습니다. 아버지께선 일련의 명령을 내리시고는 짚차에 올라타셨습니다.

나를 바라보시더니 조금 움직여 옆 자리에 공간을 만드시고는 “이리 와, 아들. 가서 친구를 찾아보자”라고 하셨습니다.

그래서 나는 짚차에 올라탔고 우리는 숲을 향해 출발했습니다. 아버지는 어디로 가야하는지를 알고 계셨고 마침내 우리는 작은 동굴 입구에서 멈춰 섰습니다.

아버지가 짚차에서 내리고 군인들은 트럭에서 내려와 총을 들었습니다. 동굴 안에서는 나지막하게 크르릉거리는 소리가 크게 울렸습니다.

“아빠, 도망간 그 곰을 총으로 쏘진 않을거죠?” 내가 물었습니다.

“아니. 여기가 그 곰을 발견했던 동굴인데 다른 동물이 살고 있을지도 몰라. 그러니까 너는 차에 있어야겠다. 그래야 안전하다, 아들.”

아버지는 동굴 쪽으로 걸어가시더니 그 곰의 이름을 불렀습니다.

어린 소년이었던 나는 차에 있지 못하고 더 자세히 보고 싶어서 밖으로 나왔습니다. 아버지는 재차 곰을 부르셨습니다.

그 때 그 곰, 우리와 같이 살던 그 곰이 천천히 동굴 밖으로 나왔습니다. 네 발로 아버지께 다가와서는 손에다 대고 코를 비벼댔습니다.

아버지께서 곰의 머리를 쓰다듬자 나지막하게 그르릉 소리를 내었습니다. 아버지는 곰에게 무언가 말을 했지만 나는 그 말을 알아들을 수가 없었습니다.

그 둘은 그렇게 한참 함께 있었습니다. 마치 길고 긴 시간이 흐른 것 같았습니다. 그런 다음 아버지는 돌아서서 짚차로 걸어오셨고 군인들은 트럭으로 돌아왔습니다.

아버지는 짚차에서 나와 있는 나를 보시고는 고개를 끄덕이시고는 차에 타는 것을 도와주셨습니다. 아버지는 뒤를 돌아보았습니다. 곰은 이미 가버리고 없었습니다.

“너도 집으로 가야하겠지.” 아버지는 혼잣말처럼 되뇌었습니다.

“고향으로 돌아가야겠지.”

5.

이튿날 아침 일찍 아버지는 나를 흔들어 깨웠습니다.  “옷 입어라. 엄마와 동생들은 깨우지 말자.”라고 말하셨습니다.

나는 시키는 대로 했고 아버지는 나를 데리고 짚차에 타셨습니다.

우리는 부대로 이어지는 길을 따라 차를 몰았습니다.. 그 길은 전에 가본 적이 없었고 거기가 어딘지 기억도 할 수 없었지만 나는 아버지가 이 길을 최근에 넓혔다고 말씀하시던 걸 기억했습니다.

우리는 어떤 곳에 차를 멈추었습니다. 콘크리트 도로 위에 작은 헬리콥터가 있었습니다. 아버지는 차에서 내려 헬리콥터 근처에서 지키고 있던 초소 위병과 이야기를 나누었습니다. 나는 그들이 하는 말을 들을 수는 없었지만 아버지는 이야기 도중에 한번 자신의 계급장을 가리켰습니다. 그러자 위병은 아버지께 경례를 하고는 헬리콥터 문을 열었습니다.

아버지는 나에게 건너오라는 몸짓을 하셨습니다. 나는 아버지께로 갔고 우리는 헬리콥터에 올랐습니다.

나는 그때까지 아버지가 펠리콥터를 조종할 수 있다는 것을 몰랐습니다. 그 날 아버지는 헬리콥터를 분명히 몰았습니다. 아버지는 엔진에 시동을 걸었습니다. 무선 헤드셋을 머리에 쓰시고는 ‘내 권한으로’라고 몇 번인가 누군가에게 말을 했습니다.

그런 다음 우리는 이륙했습니다.

나는 아버지께 어디로 가느냐고 물었습니다.

“북쪽으로 갈거야. 거기엔 내가 보고 싶은 것이 있고 너에게 보여 주고 싶은 것이 있단다.”

“하지만 복쪽으로 가면 공산당이 우리를 죽이지 않아요?”라고 나는 겁이 나서 물었습니다.“

“휴전선 바로 가까운 곳이란다. 하늘을 날게 될 무렵 우리는 그 곳을 보게 될거고 곧 돌아올거야” 아버지는 담담하게 말했습니다.

우리는 북쪽으로 기수를 향했고 헬리콥터 비행장은 우리 뒤로 멀어져 갔으며 길쭉한 띠 모양의 푸른 숲을 지나갔습니다.

“휴전선이다.”아버지가 나지막이 말했습니다.

나는 고개를 끄덕였습니다. 아마도 그 때는 무언가 무섭고 두려워할 만 했었지만 아버지가 자신이 하고 있는 일에 대해 믿음을 갖고 계셨기 때문에 나는 두려워하지 않았습니다.

때때로 아버지는 라디오로 누군가와 이야기를 했습니다. 얼마 지나지 않아 작은 스피커에서는 다른 사람의 목소리가 -색다른 억양을 가진-흘러나왔습니다. 나는 그게 북으로부터의 소리임을 깨달았습니다.

“나는 단지 내 고향을 보고 싶다.” 아버지는 라디오로 말했습니다. “ 이 헬리콥터는 비무장 상태이다. 내가 원하는 것은 고향을 보고 아들에게도 보여주려는 것 뿐이다.”

북의 목소리는 계속 이어졌으며 더욱 귀에 거슬렸습니다. 아버지는 라디오를 껐습니다.

곧이어 우리는 어떤 마을 위에서 원을 그리며 조금 낮게 날았습니다. 마을 사람들이 나와 하늘을 올려다보며 서성거렸습니다.

아버지는 작은 집들이 모여있는 곳을 가리켰습니다. “저기가 내가 태어난 곳이다. 그리고 할아버지도 거기서 태어나셨지. 저기 위 채소밭이 보이니? 할머니는 건넛마을에서 태어나셨지. 저쪽 저 집이 보이니? 논 바로 옆 저 집. 할아버지와 할머니는 전쟁 때 돌아가셨단다. 저기가 우리가 살았던 곳이었어.  전에.”

그 곳은 다른 많은 마을들처럼 점점이 흩어져있는 평범한 농촌의 마을이었습니다. 다른 여느 마을과 흡사했지만 특별한.  나의 아버지가 태어난 그 마을.

“알겠니?” 아버지가 말했습니다.

나는 그 말에 대해 생각했습니다. “네”

그는 고개를 끄덕이시고는 작은 헬리콥터를 남쪽 방향으로 돌렸습니다. 입가에는 미소가 어려 있었습니다.

6.

아버지께서 돌아가시고 몇 년이 흘러 어머니는 어버지께 매우 화가 났었다고 나에게 말씀하셨지만 어머니의 어조로 미루어보아 아버지께서 하신 행동과 왜 그랬었는지를 이해햐고 계셨다는 것을 압니다.

아버지는 대령 계급으로 계속 남아계셨지만 어머니께서는 승진이나 훈장, 표창은 없었다고 말씀하셨습니다. 나는 아버지께서 군에 있으시면서 계급을 유지할 수 있었던 것이 놀랍지 않느냐고 말했습니다. 어머니는 날 보시며 말을 흐리셨습니다. : 장군.

7.

이것이 그 곰의 이야기입니다. 오랜 동안 나는 그 곰을 생각하지 못했지만 그 당시의 내 아버지 나이에 이른 지금에는 자주 생각하게 됩니다.

그 곰이 숲에서 어떻게 먹을 양식을 구했으며 어떤 삶을 살았는지 궁금해집니다. 그리고 언젠가 내가 아버지의 고향을 방문하고 거기 사람들과 이야기를 나누고 그 논을 다시 볼 수 있을는지 궁금합니다. 그러나 이 모든 것을 떠올려보며 나는 그 마을의 이름을 모른다는 것을 깨닫습니다. 아버지는 결코 내게 말씀해준 적이 없으며 나는 한 번도 물어 분 적이 없었습니다.

Amazon, fraud and disruption

Appearing in In The Black magazine, February 2022

Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire
Brad Stone
Simon & Schuster

Amazon has become so embedded in the global economy and our collective psyche that it is hard to remember the world before it. Stone, a senior editor at Bloomberg News, examined the evolution of the company from an online book seller to a dominant player in retail in his 2013 book The Everything Store, and in Amazon Unbound he continues the story to trace how the company became a trillion-dollar behemoth. In fact, the company has made plenty of missteps, from attempts to introduce its own phone to its mixed-results forays into China and India.

But there have been successes such as the introduction of AI, the move into Hollywood through digital streaming, and a series of important acquisitions. Amazon ruthlessly adheres to its principles of technological innovation, operational frugality, continually looking for scalability, and relentless focus on customer service. It also analyses its mistakes, and founder Bezos accepts that some experiments will inevitably fail.

Amazon has become so wealthy and powerful that it seems able to shrug off any setbacks, even with a growing number of critics and enemies. But Stone wonders if this can continue, especially with Bezos stepping out of the CEO role to become executive chairman.

When Numbers Don’t Add Up: Accounting Fraud and Financial Technology
Faisal Sheikh
Business Expert Press

Sheikh brings a great deal of academic and practitioner experience to bear in this book, as he examines the problem of accounting fraud from operational, technological and psychological perspectives. The incidence of accounting fraud, either for direct personal gain or to misrepresent the financial situation of a company, is growing, and the development of Big Data and cyber currencies is making the problem worse. Oversight practices have not kept up and auditors are in danger of being overwhelmed by the flood of granular, non-financial information.

Analysing recent cases, the book provides a number of important frameworks to detect fraud. Sheikh looks at the type of personality commonly associated with accounting fraud, and at the interaction of pressure, motivation and rationalisation. He also provides a list of  ‘red flags’, such as dubious valuations, the proliferation of unexplained bank accounts, and personal connections in the ranks of senior executives and board members.

As a remedy Sheikh proposes the adoption of an “Ethical Triangle” he has developed, and he notes that the training of auditors has to be revised and broadened. An appendix provides a compendium of the literature, making the book a useful resource for students as well as practising financial professionals.

Accounting Disrupted: How Digitalization Is Changing Finance
Alnoor Bhimani
Wiley

Digitalisation is an upheaval in business practice, and the finance profession will need to redesign itself if it is going to survive. Bhimani, a professor of accounting with the London School of Economics, argues that accounting information must begin to describe what will take place rather than what has occurred. This means gathering insights from diverse sources, with a focus on emerging opportunities and risks. At the same time, new technologies such as blockchain and AI point to a move away from traditional reporting as real-time transparency increases and improves.

Bhimani looks at examples where this has been successfully done, and is adept at drawing out the lessons. The key point is a change of thinking. Accountants must be able to put aside some old skills and take up new ones, and managers must reconsider their recruitment and retention strategies. Senior executives must develop some fresh ideas about how to utilise the company’s finance function, working out what questions they need to ask. Bhimani emphasises that this is not simply about adapting to a ‘new normal’ but about dealing with continuing disruption. For finance professionals, the critical task will be to see and explain what is coming down the road.