dimecres, 2 d’abril de 2008

Private lives that cause public disasters

Aquest article s’ha publicat al Financial Times. L'he trobat molt interessant. Back to basics, recorda la importància de conèixer bé als nostres col•laboradors, no només pel genuí interès personal que poguem en una persona, sinó també (en el cas de l’article és sobretot) per com pot afectar la situació personal de cadascú a la feina. I com a reflexió addicional, com la pròpia situació personal afecta a la feina i viceversa. Per pensar-hi.

Private lives that cause public disasters
By Luke Johnson
Published: April 2 2008 03:00

One of the more extraordinary official statements I've read recently was published on the suspected suicide of Michael Todd, the former Manchester police chief. According to various newspapers, it said the inquiry into his death would consider whether his private life had any impact on his duties. Anyone who has ever had any management responsibilities will know that everyone's work is influenced by their private life. The idea that the two are not intimately interconnected is fatuous.

Vanni Treves, my predecessor as chairman of Channel 4, told me he understood the motivations and behaviour of executives much better if he was aware of their personal situation. His advice was sound. It should be part of the role of any boss to know the critical domestic circumstances of their juniors, so they can help if a crisis erupts. It doesn't mean you spy on employees - but it does mean you are at least acquainted with their hinterland.

Some years ago I was involved with a construction business where the chief executive's wife drank heavily. I had heard there were problems but had no idea she was an alcoholic. Eventually the stress of difficulties at home combined with the responsibilities of running a company overwhelmed him, and my colleague had a nervous breakdown. Inevitably this led to trouble at the company and a severely impaired investment. If I had been more aware ofhis turmoil at home, I could have reacted more promptly to head off the looming disaster.

Tom Perkins, co-founder of the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, tells a self-deprecating story in his excellent new autobiography, Valley Boy . He describes how he backed an entrepreneur he had worked with some years before. Since he was familiar with this character, he didn't bother taking references. However, soon after getting funding, the entrepreneur started exhibiting signs of extreme paranoia. Eventually Perkins became concerned and did some background research. The entrepreneur was addicted to cocaine, and had already wrecked his family life and destroyed another business as well as his nasal passages. Inevitably the business failed, after a saga involving death threats and embezzlement - quite a price to pay for financing an entrepreneur you didn't know as well as you thought you did.

If you trust a management team with large sums of equity finance, you are entitled to full disclosure. Corporate detectives are frequently hired to do detailed checks on managers in buy-outs. Personally, I always like to have a reasonable idea of someone's net worth if I'm supporting their business plan. I don't go so far as to ask for the detailed personal balance sheet demanded by the UK's Gambling Commission of betting company owners - but I do want to know if someone has significant borrowings or huge financial outgoings. Banks invariably request health check-ups as part of due diligence prior to granting debt facilities. These are a sensible insurance policy: in one case we discovered the chief executive of a business had a serious heart condition, so the whole undertaking was thrown into chaos.

The most common personal issue I've encountered among associates has been the male mid-life crisis, with the classic accoutrements: mistress, motorbike, drugs, long hair, even cosmetic surgery. The repercussions are usually bad. Deceit and intimations of mortality often combine in an explosive cocktail that leads to divorce, distraction, depression and sometimes worse. I once offered a senior executive a six-month sabbatical if he would drop plans to abandon his wife and four small children in order to live with his personal assistant. But my gesture was rejected, and he proceeded to demolish his marriage and career.

Leaders do not need to be therapists, but a bit of amateur psychiatry does no harm. One of the best media managers I know says he spends all day just listening to his subordinates' woes. Once they have unburdened themselves they leave his office feeling better. Since all companies are people businesses, sympathy, a decent emotional quotient and some humanity can go a long way in getting the best returns - both social and financial.

By Luke Johnson. The writer is chairman of Channel 4 and runs Risk Capital Partners, a private equity firm
Published: April 2 2008