Monthly Archives: September 2012

National Geographic: Air Crash Investigations

National Geographic: Air Crash Investigations

Air Crash InvestigationsI have a great fascination for the aviation industry. I have no expertise in it, but for a layperson like me, it looks impressive from a risk management perspective. The commercial aviation industry is an immensely complex one, with a tremendous scope for a zillion things to go wrong – yet the number of mishaps today, given the scale of things, is relatively small. When an air disaster does occur, a thorough investigation is done and the findings used to improve regulations and safety from that point on. There are examples in this industry that can be emulated by other industries.

The Nat Geo Air Crash Investigation series on television is fascinating to watch. Some of the causes of air disasters in the shows I have watched have been attributed to the following:

  1. Pilot fatigue – after flying many hours in tight schedules, fatigue sets in resulting in irrational decision making
  2. A lack of clarity in communication between air traffic control and air crew and also among air crew
  3. A lack of ability of the co-pilot to influence his or her senior (the captain) when in fact the co-pilot was right
  4. A lack of basic flying skills when the auto-pilot was not working
  5. Confusion with regards to the units used for the numbers presented on the indicators (e.g. metric system or imperial system)
  6. Commercial pressure resulting in decisions to fly despite weather and other conditions not being favourable
  7. A maintenance worker forgetting to switch a control back to “manual” from “auto” after doing routine testing
  8. Less than ideal conditions at airports, e.g. no ground radar, poor lighting and unclear signals
  9. Fire caused by internal wiring problems spreading despite having materials tested to be fire-resistant
  10. Insects building nests in some aperture, when the aircraft happened to be parked for two weeks, causing malfunction

The last two in the list above are somewhat remote incidents, which would have been difficult to imagine before the investigations were documented. The rest are arguably avoidable through process improvements, training and detailed guidelines and this is what, no doubt, goes into the ongoing feedback loop for safety improvements.

The recent air crash in Nepal in which all 19 people on board were killed (mostly people excited to be going trekking in the Himalayas) is a tragedy. We are told that there have been quite a few crashes in this region. I would be hopeful that if some of the same rigour, discipline and effort that is applied to standard commercial aviation safety is applied to these flights, great strides in safety improvements may be made in the future.

LIBOR Overhaul

LIBOR Overhaul

Banks + Gangsters = Banksters

It has been announced that the LIBOR rate will undergo an overhaul. Some of the changes I picked up were:

  • It will be administered independently, not by the BBA (British Bankers Association)
  • The admistering body will fall under regulation of the FSA (Financial Services Authority); therefore, future rate fixing  could result in jail sentences for the offenders
  • The rates will be audited, so banks will have to justify the rates put forward, based on actual transactions
  • The number of banks submitting rates will be increased
  • The number of currencies and interest rates involved will be drastically reduced so as to concentrate on the rates most used by investors and borrowers

The way in which the rate is determined, which had been thought may be changed will remain the same. It will be based on daily estimates by panels of banks, of the interbank borrowing rate. Although this method had been criticised earlier as not being objective, I guess the issue that was highlighted earlier is that in thin markets (e.g. in depressed economic conditions) too few or no trades take place, making it necessary to have an estimate.

This seems like a step in the right direction. I wonder if more reforms are to come to the banking industry. Many other questions are still worrisome. Are some banks too big to be properly managed? Do appropriate cultures of good governance exist within these organisations? Will the compensation structure be changed sufficiently to disincentivise ruthless risk taking? These concerns linger.

Book Review: Travels in the Scriptorium – by Paul Auster

Travels in the Scriptorium – by Paul Auster

There was a decided mysteriousness and ingenuity about this plot, which is the whole point about the style that is said to be characteristic of Paul Auster. (This is the first I have read of his books.)

It was easy to get through this book – it is just 145 pages long; the story is engaging and well written. Fitting the whole plot together after reading the ending is what stretches the mind and elevates it onto a philosophical plane.

I shall not give away the story here. Suffice to say, the book is worth an encounter if just for curiosity to experience the different type of world one travels into. Perplexing in some ways, it is an unusual sort of theme to be explored – a journey into a writer’s mind.

Book Review: Carly Fiorina – Tough Choices (A Memoir)

Carly Fiorina - Tough Choices (A Memoir)Carly Fiorina – Tough Choices (A Memoir)

Everyone gets something different out of a book. The opinions here are mine only.

This is a story told from the heart, from a lady who was passionate about her job and actually achieved a tremendous amount during her career. There are many leadership lessons throughout, as well as important observations for any woman in the business world. We learn of Carly Fiorina’s guiding principles throughout the book, such as: “What you are is God’s gift to you. What you make of yourself is your gift to God.” and “Leadership is about the integrity of one’s character, the caliber of one’s capabilities and the effectiveness of one’s collaboration with others.” We learn also about her diligence, thoroughness and dedication throughout and about the seemingly insurmountable challenges she faced, and how she dealt with them.

One area of interest to many is what happened at the end of her tenure. It is well known that under Carly Fiorina’s leadership, her company did exceedingly well. She pulled off the merger between Hewlett Packard and Compaq and proved to be right about it, despite all the naysayers. The results spoke for themselves. Yet, in the end, she had felt that she had been betrayed.

Initially, I was disappointed, as this part of the story seemed to be skimmed over at the end. However, there is a whole section (the Afterword) dedicated to this at the end. The Afterword of the memoir explains what others (board members etc.) had said about this later on (e.g. in TV interviews such as The Charlie Rose Show) and Carly Fiorina’s own views. The Afterword ends with more leadership lessons, thoughts and optimism about leadership in the world in general.

I found this book to be an intriguing read, from a person with a very rich experience. I would probably read it again when I have a chance and would recommend it to anyone interested in management and leadership.

Airbus A380 – Window Seat, Anyone?

I never realised it before, but the wings on the A380 are so broad, that I think in most window seats in economy class, the view is blocked by the wing. In the smaller aircraft, one with a passion for looking out and enjoying the exhilaration of take-off, landing and the sights just after or before would only need to remember to avoid the few rows in the centre. With the A380 it would seem to be the reverse – all but a few rows in economy class need to be avoided if one wants a view of the world outside.

Does anyone care? Perhaps not. Many people on a flight happily work, read, sleep or enjoy the inflight entertainment. For me though (and some aviation enthusiasts, I am sure) the aeroplane is still one of the greatest inventions ever (even if that’s taken so for granted nowadays) – nothing beats those fabulous views!

Introvert vs. Extrovert

Introverts and ExtrovertsIn recent times we have heard Susan Cain speak, in the TED video of the Power of Introverts. She has also written a book entitled “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking“. I am sure this has delighted many introverts. I am more of an introvert myself and am relieved that somewhere, some people value our quiet virtues!

Getting on my flight back from London, I had looked forward to a relaxing time in the skies, watching movies, listening to music, reading and dozing off occasionally. No sooner had I settled in to my seat, my neighbour appeared, an unmistakeable extrovert, laughing along his way to his seat on the aisle, telling me he would leave his coat in his seat and going off to talk to others.

I do sometimes engage in conversation during a flight but prefer this to be just a little. I was determined this flight, to stick to my introverted activities, headset on whenever possible. The last time I obliged a talkative neighbour and engaged in conversation throughout a flight, the constant turning of my head to talk had left me with a serious neck ache.

Well, this flight, when my neighbour returned, he struck up conversation with a few others around who didn’t have their eyes closed. Later on, to my surprise, when I returned after going to the washroom, I found him sitting in my seat! His rationale? Well, he said, it was all the same and we were all going to end up in the same destination. (I believe he was just restless and needed to talk.) I politely requested to have my seat back, a request he acceded to, then I promptly plonked my headset back on.  Okay, on hindsight, maybe I should have lightened up, taken the little joke and engaged in light banter. Horrible me! Later on in the flight, I heard (despite my headsets), loud laughter from him for a good half an hour as he watched the inflight entertainment – a reminder to me of the similar scene in the movie “Anger Management”.

In the end, I felt a little sorry and mean. I guess to an extrovert, having me as a neighbour that flight would have been awful. After all, extroverts derive their energy externally and need the external stimuli and introverts get their energy internally – we just cannot help it. It really is hard for introverts and extroverts to understand each others’ inner worlds.

Lehman Brothers revisited

Lehman Brothers revisitedSo much has been written about the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the incredible story behind it. Last year, I read “The Devil’s Casino” by Vicky Ward. It portrays how ridiculous an organisational culture can get and can survive this way for so long when misuses of power and money dictate. Other books have been written, including “A Colossal Failure of Common Sense: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Lehman Brothers” by Lawrence G. McDonald and Patrick Robinson. (I have not read this book, but in a beautifully written guest blog by McDonald, who is one of the authors, he tells of how the collapse was preventable, of the incredible talent at Lehman Brothers, of the rotting at the head and more).

I recently read a paper entitled “Lehman Brothers: Accounting Magic – Deleveraging, Manipulation & Moral Hazard” by Professor A.J Kreimer of Temple University. Yet more shocking details were unravelled here. Very creative accounting was used in which assets were sold just before year-end and repurchased just after year-end to give an appearance of a less leveraged balance sheet.

To most of us, all this is incredibly difficult to fathom. It would seem that regulations, boards, audits, all diminish in effectiveness when power and money come into play. I wonder how much more readily avoidable such a saga would be today?

“Yes, Prime Minister” TV comedy series….coming back?

Yes, Prime MinisterMany of us enjoyed this satirical British TV comedy series shown mostly in the eighties. We have been missing it for a long time…and perhaps for far too long.

I was pleasantly surprised to find it playing live in the theatre (Trafalgar Studios) in London this month – futher conversations revealed that the much loved TV series will be making a debut again following its success in the theatre over the last few months.

We managed to get tickets for the play and enjoyed a night of laughter. Sir Humphrey was as brilliant as ever with his convoluted sentences and profound experience of the inner workings of government, much to the bewilderment of the baffled Prime Minister, often caught in a ridiculously impossible situation.

We often hear of books being turned into movies. In the case of “Yes, Prime Minister”, I don’t think I have heard of any book about it. I think it would be a nice idea to capture it all in a few books – I would certainly enjoy reading this. I saw the TV series when I was still in school, so think I would appreciate the humour even more now – having lived in the big, bad world for a while! I am certainly looking forward to watching the TV series again.

Views from the London Eye

Hello bloggers and friends, I’m back!

Mid-September in London was very sunny and pleasantly cool – what a blessing! There were only a couple of quick showers all week. According to many, this was the best of the summer weather, after all the rainy Olympic weather.

The pictures below are not of great quality – they are just taken from my iPhone camera. Apologies! They capture the sunny September weather, though, during this fabulous week.

Views from the London EyeViews from the London EyeViews from the London EyeViews from the London EyeViews from teh London Eye

Holidays in London

Holidays in London

It’s holiday time for me!

I shall be in London for a some time, and shall take a break from blogging during this time.

I like the autumn – the temperature is pleasant and the weather is usually not as crazy as it is in the spring or summer. The crowds from the Olympics should have gone and school would be starting this month. Time for fun…