From Russia with Love

Black Russian

The 2015 UK election is done and dusted. Apparently the two main parties were tied neck and neck and the pundits believed it was too close to call. At Utilico it felt like Russian Roulette was being played with the economy and our fate.
The reality turned out rather differently with the Tories triumphant in England and the SNP with a historical landslide in Scotland.
Utilico receives 80% of its income from contracts with Her Majesty’s Government and the UK public sector. In theory, the UK’s austerity measures could have seen our income fall but instead our revenues have grown as our services have been preferred over directly employed public sector staff. And with the return of the Tories there is no reason to think anything will change. Indeed some of our competitors’ share prices have shot up on the back of the victory. Ours are still somewhat subdued on the back of the continued SFO investigation of course.
In the run up to the election we were naturally busy with all the major political parties, currying favour and cementing relationships. We helped them in a variety of ways from national logistical arrangements such as discretely providing cars for high profile ministers, shadow ministers and opposition party leaders, to supporting local events in key marginals. Much of this work was masterminded by Lyle Clean who through our Public Affairs consultants Westminster Players made sure Alec Smart, our CEO, and Lord Ambrosia, our Chairman, are always placed close to those who matter.
In fact it’s quite interesting to see how effective our hidden lobbying has been over a range of policy issues during past Tory and Labour administrations. Indeed we’ve been successfully resisting what some of the public might see as enlightened or desirable legislation for over two decades, covering employment, wages, taxes, health & safety and environmental legislation.
The Company’s stance on immigration is an interesting case. Our senior leadership to a man, including Sheila Gree (well it is believed she wears the trousers in the relationship with Alec), are personally against further immigration to the UK. In their myopic views immigrants steal jobs from the Great British workforce, push up housing costs, add to the Health Service’s woes, fill our streets with benefit claimants and crowd our public transport system with foreigners. Unsurprisingly Lord Ambrosia is allegedly a very, very close mate of Nigel Farage – former leader of UKIP for those of you with short memories. Oh hang on a minute – current leader! In amongst all his other close mates from all political complexions of course. He knows how to hedge his bets that’s for sure. And of course it helps to have gone to the right school and University and be in all the right clubs. He never ceases to amaze me how he can seemingly agree with everyone.
Although the white male dinosaur prevails at senior levels at Utilico the company is built on the brawn and brains of its workforce which is incredibly diverse. Indeed our growth would simply not have happened without people whose bargaining position around terms and conditions has often been exploited!
So on election night Lord Ambrosia, Alec, Sheila, Tony Wall, Lyle and co gathered with some very well placed political guests and our obsequious lobbyists in some very well appointed Westminster hotel rooms. This predictably allowed Alec to service Sheila, while Tony and Lyle shared champagne, Russian Cocktails and Russian call girls (and boys) with their political friends.
Meanwhile I had an early night, rose at dawn and then caught the news of the Tory and SNP’s victories at the expense of Labour and the Lib Dems!
Further wild partying went on all weekend I gather. And the word is that those at the top are very happy that the SFO investigation will have a much better outcome for us than it would under any other Government. The only uncertainty for us appears to be how our work in Scotland will play out.
I suppose my job is secure for now at least…..

When a Man Loves a Woman

Percy Sledge

Well it’s been a few weeks since I posted. It’s been a fabulous Easter, April Fool’s Day and dawn of the new tax year for me. I jest of course. All very uneventful here in the life of Ian Different.
But Utilico never ceases to keep me on edge.
Forget all our financial scandals and characters new and old for a while.
Back onto our good old Chief Executive, Alec Smart. His usual smooth, unruffled, Teflon coated exterior was well and truly tested this week.
Despite all our troubles, we seem to have had a fabulous year financially. So a party was held last night for our senior, and sales, staff.
It all started as it always does. Swanky West End hotel, great nibbles, free flowing drinks. Alec made his State of the Nation address.
I fully expected him to disappear with Sheila Gree our Head of HR and, as you know, his love interest, as soon as he felt it was wise to do so.
But oh dear me! A new senior sales manager seemed to have taken a shine to Sheila. Well more than a shine. Whilst he was probably just trying to climb the career ladder I’m also pretty sure he was trying to climb Sheila. I may think she is an awkward bird like woman but this particular guy seemed to genuinely like her. Maybe it was a power thing. Or maybe I just don’t get it. After all Alec maybe a bit portly but he has charm and power and money that could attract a lot of ladies and he chooses Sheila.
Well this sales manager got more and more insistent and amorous with Sheila. To be honest, she seemed to be rather liking it.
Alec did not like it. He got redder and redder and was clearly seething under his stiff collar.
He tried various tactics to get Sheila away. But none of them seemed to work. I’m guessing but I suspect that was because Sheila was really rather enjoying the attention and probably fancied the sales manager a lot more than she did Alec.
Well all of a sudden that medicaid cool of Alec’s went out of the window.
He shoved the sales manager into a wall and came out with such a stream of expletives I almost choked on my G&T. Apparently the sales manager was so useless he would never find another job – or his testicles – again. I have to say that every second word Alec used was quite foul. But the other word was pretty clear!
The sales manager was quite calm in the face of this onslaught. He looked like he thought about punching Alec but clearly thought better of it. Instead he just held up his hands and walked out saying “I didn’t realise she was your bird”. Funny that – given her bird like appearance. Remember Lyle’s “a pig poking a pigeon”?
Lyle of course was lapping this up. It was usually him that was the cause of kerfuffle at Utilico dos – usually for harassing younger ladies. This was a new one on all of us.
Alec and Sheila then disappeared. The gossip mill went into overdrive.
Suddenly Lyle grabbed the mic from the DJ and announced to those still left: “hey guys and gals, Percy Sledge is dead. Here is a tribute to him. And an ode to Alec!”. With that, the lyrics of poor Percy RIP rang through the room:

“When a man loves a woman,
Can’t keep his mind on nothin’ else…”

Don’t bank on it!

So now it’s the turn of our bankers to squirm! Don’t you just love it when people you don’t like get their comeuppance! Not that anyone in power at Utilico is ever likely to suffer in the public eye like the HSBC bankers are. And certainly not any of our executives.

Actually I almost fell off my wobbly Swedish flat packed chair when I heard how much Rona Airhead (Oops sorry – typo – I mean Fairhead) was being paid by HSBC as a non-executive! To my feeble maths brain that works out at £7,000 a day! But then thinking about it perhaps I’d be wanting that level of compensation working for a bank which is no stranger to allegations that it profits from corrupt politicians, dictators, tax evaders, dealers of blood diamonds, arms dealers, drugs dealers and other unsavoury clients! While another of her non-executive roles sees her chairing the trust of the organisation which allegedly concealed the activities of its celebrity rapists and paedophiles for decades, me thinks someone is either very brave and smart or very greedy and stupid. So perhaps my Utilico colleagues are not that bad after all?

You’ll be relieved to hear we made our decision on our appointment to the Chair of the Audit Committee. Our preferred candidate was Finn Ickety. The man with lots of Finance Director experience with FTSE 100 companies. He proved to be as meticulous as we were led to believe. He did his due diligence on us. And can you believe it he declined our offer? Which meant we offered the position to our first reserve Sir Cumspect, (Timothy to his friends) who has accepted.

Indeed this has all played out much as Tony Wall, our Finance Director planned. He supported the recommendation of Finn’s appointment to our Swiss masters, anticipating Finn would decline allowing Sir Timothy as first reserve to be appointed. Sir Tim is much more a Utilico man. His first qualification is he is quite dim. So there is no chance he will ask questions or for huge amounts of cash. Secondly he is quite clubbable. And whilst he is very risk averse in many respects, he isn’t bright enough to work out what is risky in terms of personal behaviour and friendships. He has been spotted (on film) in fairly intimate embraces at the Soho clubs where Tony and Lyle Clean go. He is a big friend of Prince Andrew as well. Ethical and moral scruples don’t appear to trouble him or cloud his judgement. So like the fair Rona, we are not expecting him to dig where dirt is likely to be found.

From my point of view dim Tim’s appointment is a relief. He won’t bother me the way Brian has over the last couple of years – the last one in particular. Although I still don’t think we have heard the last of Brian. He has told me in confidence he has a secret file on Utilico and its characters and dealings. The question is how will he use it?

50 Shades of Grey Suits

male, pale and stale

So Brian has gone. Or so I thought.

Of course, he has been hounding me on the phone and in person. He wants to know how what just happened to him could happen.

He also wants to know what he can do about it. He keeps going on about our dismissal policies and rights of appeal and natural justice and so on.

Problem is we don’t really do things like that at Utilico.

I’ve tried to explain to him that we see collective responsibility as binding and if he is believed to have breached that then he has lost the trust and confidence of his fellow directors and has to go. There is no appeal process. It’s not like a disciplinary process for an employee where there is an investigation, steps of sanctions, a hearing, an appeal, and so on. Mind you, we don’t really give much credence to that either. If someone wants you out, then you’re out – depending on who that someone is – and who you are.

He has asked for his contract. I managed to dig out a standard letter of appointment. But that doesn’t help him much as it just waffles on about that very notion of collective responsibility and seems to allow us to terminate his appointment for a variety of spurious reasons. I’m paraphrasing of course but these seem to include:

• You’ve done something we don’t like
• You’ve not done something we think you should have done
• We think you disagree with us
• We don’t trust you to toe the line
• We think you haven’t complied with something that we haven’t actually told you about
• We don’t like the cut of your jib.

And that of course is on top of all the other reasons like being a criminal, or a bankrupt. And we seem to have something in about having a mental health problem too which I’m not convinced is legal. Good job it doesn’t refer to having a personality disorder as half our directors would have to go.

Anyway, after nearly two weeks of ping-ponging on these matters, I do seem to have got Brian off my back for now at least. I’m waiting for the solicitor’s letter though.

So onto his replacement. Well I dug out a role profile and all the stuff and got onto our agency of choice – Gateway Towonga. They fielded about 50 candidates including of course the great and the good from the world of accountancy. I’m amazed that people seem willing to take on a role with us. We are in the middle of a Serious Fraud Office investigation. It has been very, very painful so far and there is little sign that the pain is going to go away anytime soon. Still I suppose a six figure sum for a couple of days’ work a month goes a long way to easing the pain. It certainly would for me. Well that figure for full time would work for me.

Rather surprisingly, neither our Chair nor Vice Chair has to-date taken any interest in the search and selection process. But perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Both have a hands-on, hands-off approach. They like others to do their dirty work. By that I mean they want Lyle Clean and Tony Wall to make sure we get the safe man. And I say man because I mean man. We can’t have another woman. We have our lady quota already with Gloria Ewes. In any event, looking through the long list there aren’t many women on it.

And I should probably say a white and elderly man. Well grey and elderly. 50 shades of grey.

Lyle and Tony looked over our long-list. Lyle sent it off somewhere to do what he calls ‘due diligence’ on them. I’m not sure that any lawyer or accountant would recognise his due diligence as such. I’m pretty sure it’s not about fitness to serve. It’s about being safe and clubbable. And probably bribable. They’ve certainly learnt from the experience of Brian.

Anyway, following the results of the due diligence test, today we have seen a number of them. So many grey men in grey suits. The adage of “male, pale and stale” certainly applies to this bunch. Not that I’m young or interesting either. But Christian Grey they are not.

So who shall we choose to chair our Audit Committee? The 67 year old Sir with lots of finance director experience at FTSE 100 companies? The 65 year old CBE with banking experience? The plain old senior partner of Outer Tuck?

You will just have to wait until my next thrilling instalment to find out!

Trigger Hands

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Well we finally allow Brian Careful, our non-executive Chair of Audit Committee, a private audience to air his deep concerns about the alleged fraud and Utilico’s ethics (or lack of them). I say we but of course Brian thinks he is just seeing me although Lyle Clean our Head of PR and Tony Wall our Finance Director are in attendance too.

Brian looks completely unsettled to see them. “I – er – I thought it was just us Ian” he muttered.

Well that’s obvious” hissed Tony. “But do you think we are stupid? We have a situation here that we need to sort. A final and total solution

At that Brian’s normally inscrutable look turned to one of horror. “What do you mean?” he whimpered.

“What I said” said Tony.

At which point, the very oily Lyle stepped in to try to dress matters up somewhat. “He means we need to make sure you are happy – that we’ve laid your concerns to rest and can all move on” said Lyle.

“Well I don’t see how you can lay my concerns to rest” said Brian.

Predictably Tony stared glassy eyed at Brian and hissed “Well we can lay you to rest”.

Brian looked wildly around him and I could see he was weighing up whether he could get through the door without one of us grabbing him.

Oh he’s funny isn’t he?” said Lyle hastily, “Take no notice – look let’s have some of this coffee shall we before it goes cold and talk like grown-ups”.

No thanks” said Brian. “I think I will choke”. Tony smirks menacingly. “Save us a job! Let’s just get this over with shall we” he says.

OK” Lyle begins, “Well the thing is, we can’t have dead birds around the lake. So if you stay in the lake we need to know you’re not toxic. And if you jump ship, well – the same applies.

I’m not keen on mixing metaphors” says Brian. I’m really impressed that he can’t drop his pedantry even in such stressful circumstances.

Sod your metaphors Careful!” said Tony. “What are you going to do? Stay or go?

Suddenly the Clash song comes blasting into my head:

Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know

Maybe it does into Brian’s too – although I doubt it. But he says: “I suspect it will be double trouble for everyone if I stay won’t it?

Good choice” ridicules Tony.

Er – I haven’t actually made up my mind yet. I thought we were discussing options” said Brian.

It’s not a sodding sweetshop” said Tony, “You don’t have choices!

Is that it?” ask Brian.

Well it’s probably for the best isn’t it?” says Lyle.

OK fine!” said Brian – when it clearly wasn’t.

Before Fastbuck Made come in with the paperwork for you to sign” says Tony, “Let me just make it crystal clear to you that if you break the agreement – or do anything to upset me – you will be one of those dead birds! You may think you are a wise owl but that will do you no good at all when you can’t hoot. Kapich?”

This is unbelievable” said Brian, “I can’t believe you are threatening me – what is this?

It is what it is – so you’d better accept that” said Tony.

So shall I bring in the lawyers?” I pipe up for the first time in the meeting.

Lyle nods.

I bring them in. There are three of them. Why do lawyers always hunt in packs? They are worse than accountants.

There is a 30 page document for Brian to sign. It suddenly becomes clear why one of the lawyers is there. He isn’t from Fastbuck Made. He is there for Brian so he knows what he is signing. He leads Brian out of the room to talk him through the document.

How did that go?” asks one of Fastbuck Made’s lawyers.

We got the result didn’t we!” said Tony. I love how he always phrases things as a question but they never are questions.

I busy myself with pouring them all coffees whilst we wait for Brian and the lawyer to return. Just plain old simple filter coffee today – as we’re not in the Board room with the fancy machine.

Lyle makes small talk with the lawyers. Tony just stands staring out of the window. He suddenly pulls his hands into gun shapes, takes aim at a couple of pigeons, and pulls imaginary triggers. Very scary. I’m glad Brian didn’t witness that.

After what seems like an age, Brian and the lawyer come back in. “Right, he’s ready to sign it” says the lawyer.

The formalities are done almost in silence then the lawyers and Brian leave.

Tony says “right Lyle get some boys round to the beancounter’s to make sure everything is destroyed – and make sure he can’t access anything”. He then turns to me and says “And you’d better get us another Audit Committee Chair. Make sure this one is safe and reliable”.

OK I think – where do I find such a person?

Bums on Seats

photocopier

I’m sorry – it has been a long time since I last posted. In truth I’ve been away for a couple of weeks getting some winter sun and have only just returned to the office since before Christmas. I don’t get paid enough and am not adventurous enough for skiing so it was a cheap package holiday for me.

So what has occurred since my last post?

Well the annual Christmas party for one thing.

Alec Smart, our Chief Executive, was keen that Utilico wasn’t seen to be being too opulent at a time when we are being investigated for fraud on government contracts. So the decision was made to have the Head Office party at our HQ. To be honest, our offices are more luxurious than most London hotels but that’s by the by.

The party started well enough. Alec gave a cringeworthy speech to us all in the refectory area over a glass of rather fine champagne. We’d all done really well, a challenging year, blah, blah, blah.

Sumptious food and lavish wines and beers were then on offer as per usual at any company event. No cheap plonk for us. Oh no – fine French wines and champagne. Lyle Clean our lothario Head of PR just loves sidling up to our female members of staff with a bottle in his hand oozing “Chateau Pussygoer” at them. No cans of Carlsberg for us either. Instead special Christmas brews from around the world. And no sausage rolls and Scotch eggs. Posh canapés with labels such as: ‘Quails Egg & Parma Ham Tartlet’, ‘Beef Carpaccio & Wasabi Mayo on a Sourdough Croute’, ‘Pea, Mint & Ham Crostini’, ‘Dill Scone topped with Smoked Trout & Horseradish Cream’ and ‘Filo Baskets with Spicy Coriander Prawns’.

So with all the free booze on offer, it wasn’t long after Alec’s pep talk that the party’s trajectory was downwards – and fast.

Those that bothered to turn up for work the next day were turned away. The odour of booze, fags and worse was palpable when you walked through the front door. It took a team of cleaners all day to clear it up.

But the ramifications went deeper than that. We are still finding some intriguing pictures behind the photocopiers. Not being too well versed in pornography or too world wise in my ways, I had no idea that body parts came in such a wide array of shapes and sizes. And the staff in our London HQ can’t exactly be considered diverse.

A couple of staff members were put on final warning for having too intimate relations in Alec’s office. Sheila Gree, our Head of HR, dealt with them. Oh how ironic for her. It is not too long ago that she was caught in flagrante in there herself – with none other than Alec – during the police raid.

And another was sacked – having been caught on CTV staggering around the offices coming to rest at the desks of various females. Apparently he was seen nose pressed to chairs! And worse, allegedly. There were rumours he had left a very personal deposit in the coffee mug and packet of digestive biscuits owned by one particularly fragrant lady.

But other than the Christmas party and its aftermath, not much seems to have happened other than that Brian Careful has been trying to get hold of me almost non-stop since before Christmas. It sounds like he didn’t believe that I was away. Anyway, he is coming to see me next Monday. I suppose I will have to tell Will Full and Lyle Clean so that they can ‘mind’ me and make sure I don’t speak out of turn about the fraud investigation and what I may or may not know about any wrongdoing or disposal of evidence.

Sex Wax

Sex Wax

Red Shoes hasn’t been in since last Friday so perhaps Lord Ambrosia had a successful kitchen supper with Duncan Dishmore the Editor of the Moon.

In fact it all seems to have gone a bit quiet. Will Full and Lyle Clean have largely kept off my back this last week too.

Today however both call in to see me as it is it Audit Committee again. We missed the summer one – or at least I did – with all the shenanigans and my absence. Because of the fraud investigation, our annual accounts haven’t been signed off and there doesn’t appear to be a paper trail (or IT equivalent) of any Audit Committee or Board discussions on the draft accounts. Will and Lyle have been keen that there is very little paperwork for today and they are adamant that no one is to say much at Committee to Brian Careful, the Committee Chair, or to the co-opted independent non-executive. Both of them will attend to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Of course they don’t need to worry about the independent non-executive! Remember that thoroughly nice chap Thaw DeRide? The Aussie who supposedly works in Financial Services in the West Country. He rarely asks anything that can be deemed a question. He’s too busy waxing his surfboard (metaphorically of course).

I’m absolutely amazed when he turns up that he seems largely oblivious to the happenings of the last few months. Perhaps I shouldn’t be.

He is of course a glorious deep bronze colour. Apparently he has had some ‘work’ in California for the last few weeks. He seems rather excited to learn the extent of our news: “Wow – sick! So you’ve really been eating it these last few weeks. What a mullering you’ve had. Hope them narks haven’t got any traction. Not been using Sex Wax eh! Must have been awesome when they pulled their bronzes and bundled you into their blue collar taxis!”

It certainly doesn’t seem to have occurred to Thaw that he could in some way be culpable not having asked searching questions as a member of the Audit Committee. I wonder why the police haven’t interviewed him yet. Or why Lyle and Will haven’t been onto him. Then again, with that last point, why would they? He clearly knows nothing. He has always been “stoked” after Committee meetings.

Lyle forgets his serious demeanour for a while and gets all excited about the mention of Sex Wax. He wants to know what it is for and what it looks like and can Thaw bring him some next time he is up. I feel rather queasy.

Lord Ambrosia sends his apologies, as does Alec Smart our Chief Executive. Tony Wall our Finance Director attends again and hasn’t brought our Chief Accountant, Ihab Bin Countin, who normally attends in his place. As Ihab is hot on numbers and accounts and Tony isn’t, I guess that sets the tone for the Committee. No numbers, no detail.

Brain Careful looks very twitchy. He has of course fully co-operated with the police. But he knows that his tenure as a non-executive and Chair of Audit Committee is looking rocky. He may have asked the right questions but he has been fobbed off and there is little record of those questions, so he looks incompetent at best or involved at worst.

He starts the meeting by asking why we have only an oral update on the investigation, and no accounts to look at. Tony Wall eyeballs him like a shark approaching its prey. “Lawyers say no” he states. Brain wants to know why Russell Blow our internal auditor isn’t here – he wasn’t mentioned as an apology. “He is an apology” says Tony. He doesn’t say it like he means Russell has sent apologies. That’s probably because he doesn’t mean that. He’s not overly keen on Russell, or indeed anybody who asks questions.

The batting backwards and forwards continues unabated for several minutes – with Tony stonewalling all of Brian’s questions. I don’t know why Lyle and Will are there. Tony needs no minders. Certainly not for this situation. But actually I can’t imagine him needing one in any situation. I get a vivid image of him in a long leather coat with a pit bull straining at the leash in his hand.

Thaw finally says something in the actual meeting: “Aw guys, seems like we’ve got a bit of ankle slop today. Shall we bail?”

In one way I’m rather impressed with Thaw. He gets that we aren’t going to achieve anything today so may as well give up. Not quite as much sand for brains as I thought. Probably just keen to get back in the surf though.
With that, Brian gives up. He looks utterly defeated. I wonder what his next move will be.