The anatomy of a ( British) CEO

Result of a survey of CEO backgrounds:

Background: 55% of FTSE 100 chiefs have a background in finance or accounting. 15% come from marketing; 14% technology. The best industries for working through the ranks are retail and hospitality, where around 21% of bosses started out in lowly roles.

Education: The majority of CEOs have at least one university degree; more than a quarter have an MBA or PhD. The number of Oxbridge graduates has fallen from 21% in 2012 to 18%.

Age and gender: The average age is 55. The oldest FTSE 100 CEO today is 71; the youngest is 40. Just six out of 100 of Britain’s top bosses are women.

Tenure: Promoting from within is out of style: some 70% of CEOs moved to their role from another organisation. Once at the top, “make yourself comfortable” – the average tenure is five years and three months.

Nationality: More than 20 nationalities are represented. (Statistics by recruiter Robert Half written up by Emma Haslett in City AM.)

My comment: What stands out is the proportion of accountants and financiers who run big companies. I have nothing against accountants. They are without exception personable, clever, amusing people with good mathematics, one hopes. What is there to dislike about them? Some of my best friends are, or were, accountants until they took up cooking or flower arranging.

The problem comes if they have no expertise or experience (or particular interest in) people, e.g customers and employees. You can tell this from the tendency in times of company stress to look at the figures and immediately trim staff. Instead, what is needed are clever ideas to boost sales and profits, charismatic leadership, bucking the trend, getting the sales force re-motivated. There are too many bureaucratised, systematised, boring to work for and out of touch people in corporations. And the bosses who are products of business schools are often weak on sales, and not too good, in my opinion, on man management (I have personal experience of this). But he with the key to the safe and the balance sheet will have his way. Meanwhile, running a company is actually mostly about actual people.

Good news

It has been another record year for renewable energy, despite the Covid-19 pandemic and rising costs for raw materials around the world, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

About 290GW of new renewable energy generation capacity, mostly in the form of wind turbines and solar panels, has been installed around the world this year, beating the previous record last year. On current trends, renewable energy generating capacity will exceed that of fossil fuels and nuclear energy combined by 2026. (The Guardian, 1 Dec 31)

My comment: Great news! And this despite the lobbying of vested interests. Whether this trajectory will bring us safety from climate chaos I don’t know. There is a limit to the market penetration of renewables, as I found out when negotiating to have panels put on our roof – nearby trees made it unviable and a significant expense for dubious benefits.

Meditation

“The Science of Meditation” is collaboration between the Dalai Lama, Richard Davidson and Daniel Goldman. It makes clear what works in meditation and what doesn’t, and explains why focusing our attention minute by minute on a single facet of consciousness (a mantra, our breath, stray thoughts) has such a dramatic impact on our well-being and state of mind.

The book shows there is good evidence that regular sessions of mindful attention have a calming effect on the amygdala, the brain’s emotion processor, and reduce impulsive reactions to stressful or negative thoughts and experiences. Mindfulness, they say, can help mute our emotional response to physical pain, and lessen anxiety and mind-wandering (not the kind that feeds creativity but its unfocused opposite). The benefits are apparent, even for beginners, and they increase with practice.

Compassion meditation, which aims to boost empathy, has an even more immediate effect: just 7 hours over the course of two weeks has been shown to boost altruistic behaviour. It is probably no coincidence that this makes us happier, too.

The authors are most interested in the capacity of meditation to cultivate enduring selflessness, equanimity, compassion and the ability to free the mind of negative emotions, all Epicurean objectives.

Davidson has scanned the brains of dozens of highly experienced Tibetan monks. These yogis, whose fellow practitioners have meditated for thousands – in some cases, tens of thousands – of hours, describe themselves as living in a heightened state of present-moment awareness, “as if their senses were wide open to the full rich panorama of experience”.

Davidson claims he has found a neural correlate to this mind-warp: a massive increase in the intensity of gamma waves in the brain, a signal associated with conscious perception. Are these monks living on a different plane of consciousness from the rest of us?

One of their most interesting passages describes what this self-lightening looks like on a neural level, how meditation practice quietens the brain’s default mode network, the constant background chatter that accompanies mind-wandering and self-absorption.

If a wandering mind is an unhappy mind, as various psychological surveys argue, then a focused mind must be worth struggling for. For Goleman and Davidson, the struggle is not so much about individual relief as global salvation, about reducing “greed, selfishness, us/them thinking and impending eco-calamities, and promoting more kindness, clarity, and calm”. (Michael Bond, NewScientist, September 16, 2017)

I myself call meditation “My Peace”, and only wish I had the leisure and the time – and the peace – to do more of it.

Love very much comes within the purview of Epicureanism

Love

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediment; love is not love
which alters when it alteration finds
Or bends with the remover to remove.
Oh, no. It is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken.
It is the star to every wandering bark
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass comes
Love alters not with his brief days and weeks
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and against me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Sonnet 116, William Shakespeare

Epicureanism in short

Epicureanism was never meant to be a dry academic philosophy. In fact, it is best kept away from academia, where, as usual with philosophy, long words render it dull, if not incomprehensible. Rather, it is a vital way of living which seeks to free men and women from a life of unhappiness, fear and anxiety. It is a missionary philosophy for the practical-minded with common sense.

While Epicureans have written scholarly works, they have always been most interested in explaining Epicureanism in a manner simple enough for anyone to understand and remember. The following eight counsels are a basic guide to Epicurean living:

– Don’t fear God.– Don’t worry about death. – Don’t fear pain.– Live simply.– Pursue pleasure wisely.– Make friends and be a good friend.– Be honest in your business and private life.– Avoid fame and political ambition.

I would add some others:
– Be polite and considerate;  – Try to see the other point of view; meet others half way.– Take the smooth and pleasant road, as free from stress and conflict as possible. – But don’t be put upon!

Netflix

In 2020 Netflix paid £5million in taxes on a turnover of £1.15 billion. Last year saw its subscription base jump to 13 million. (The Week 22 Oct, 2021)

My comment: I love Netflix, but I love equity and fairness more. Netflix should pay a fair rate of tax, and that means much, much more, not less.

Maybe an historical event that had escaped your notice ?

In 1839 a Cyclone slammed south eastern India with high winds and a 40 foot storm surge, destroying city of Coringa. Storm waves swept inland, destroying 20,000 ships and killing an estimated 300,000 people.

My comment: Was that a freak, one-off event? I don’t know. Maybe no one knows. But it is the sort of thing we, or our grandchildren, may have to face. 300,000 deaths! And the modern world population is so much greater.

Epicurus would have heartily supported intelligent steps to avoid a climate disaster. Climate change is a threatening disaster, not some dreamt-up plot.

Why do men do this?

Along with various inalienable rights and governing principles, the tendency for men to talk over women has now been officially recognised by the US supreme court. Newly introduced rules to the structure of oral arguments are in place to address the issue of male justices and attorneys (extremely regularly) interrupting their female colleagues.

Far from being a mere everyday annoyance, “mansplaining” (or the ideologically adjacent “manterrupting”) can interfere with democracy. You can literally be a supreme court justice and still get shouted down like someone’s little sister.

For women, having your side side of a conversation being limited to short bursts of “But … ”, “Yes, and … ”, “Can I just … ” – is all too familiar. A 2014 study at George Washington University even found that, when speaking to women, men interrupt 33% more often than when speaking to men.

But what does this constant interrupting look like outside of the rarefied confines of the judicial branch of US government? Here’s a mundane example. I’m out for lunch with my partner, and we stop at a food truck, overpriced “street food” that you have to hurriedly eat standing up, outside. My partner, who has coeliac disease, asks if a particular item on the menu is gluten-free. The bearded food truck guy says that, no, as it contains mustard, it also contains gluten. All mustard – according to him – is thickened with wheat flour. My partner, who has been checking ingredient lists meticulously for coming on two decades, knows this not to be true. Tentatively (she’s the non-confrontational sort), she corrects him. But no, the seller disagrees. Suddenly this guy has a PhD in glutenology from the University of Mustard.

As Dr Food Truck rants about his credentials and expertise, my partner’s expression falls. Ordering food is often an ordeal for her, as people have either never heard of coeliac disease, or mistakenly think they know everything about it. What’s more, this guy is telling her that if she’s had mustard before, she’s “probably fine”. She – who was late diagnosed and spent her entire childhood in severe intestinal pain – tries to get a word in edgeways, but is steamrollered by someone clearly used to talking at women, uninterrupted. So I (the semi-confrontational sort) chime in. Not raising my voice, and keeping my tone as neutral as possible, I tell him that maybe, as an actual, certified coeliac, my partner knows what she’s talking about. Dr Food Truck tells me to “calm down”.

Women reading this will probably recognise it as a classic example of mansplaining. This, of course, is a term that has been in popular use (particularly online) since around 2009, and was named one of the New York Times’ words of the year in 2010. And it’s something women are on the receiving end of every time they’re interrupted and talked over by men who – on the basis of being men – believe they know better. And there’s little more simultaneously satisfying and galling than when some guy tries to get into it with a woman talking about – say – a movie, and she turns out to be one of the film’s directors.

Similarly, there have been several occasions on which men have tried to explain my own articles to me. In fact, if a man doesn’t see this, and then tries to mansplain mansplaining to me, I’ll be genuinely surprised. Or there was the time a male GP told me the pain I was in was “probably psychosomatic”, and then – unprompted – explained what he meant by “psychosomatic”. Usually I’m prepared to let medical professionals (male or otherwise) explain whatever they like to me. But being hit with “your symptoms are fake, and I’m going to convey this to you as if you were a child” is, in my humble womanly opinion, beyond the pale. What do you even say in such an instance? Still beats me. What I’ve learned as a woman is that if someone isn’t interested in your point of view, the dialogue is doomed from the get-go. We’re too often better off screaming into the void rather than trying to engage.

What’s really at stake when it comes to interrupting in order to mansplain is the respect (or lack thereof) for people’s lived experiences. There are many variations. I’ve seen “whitesplaining” for white people who try to explain racism to Black people. Or “ablesplaining” for able bodied people who think – for whatever reason – they know more about being disabled than actual disabled people. Having a subject you know all too well explained back to you by someone misinformed (often someone with an agenda) is always going to suck. But hey, there’s plenty of void left to scream into, though you might get interrupted in the process. (Eleanor Margolis, The Guardian 19 Oct 2021. Eleanor Margolis is a columnist for the i newspaper and the Guardian. (Edited for length)

My comment: Epicurus is reputed to have treated all those who visited him with deep respect, listening attentively to their points of view. For him gender equality was real. For me, too, it is real, especially since I have a spouse who is very smart, well-informed and with an impressive memory. Respect is part and parcel of love, but I am careful to conduct an actual conversation, regardless of gender.

Good deal?

A propos yesterday’s posting about student accommodation……… a study by researchers at Georgetown University found the the inflation-adjusted costs of attending college rose 169% between 1980 and 2019. Over the same period the earnings for workers aged 22 to 27 rose 19%. (CNBC.com).

My comment: One of the things I find amazing are the exorbitant salaries of the university administrators in the US. What these people add to the education of the students I am not sure, but my instinct is that they are helping to foster a disillusionment with higher education and it’s cost/benefits. That would be a crying shame.

Doing anything for money

A college dorm designed by Warren Buffet’s right hand man, Charlie Munger, is being compared to an 11 storey prison. Buffet has donated 200 million dollars to the University of California, Santa Barbara, provided they adopt Munger’s design, in which 94% of the rooms have no windows, the idea being to encourage students to spend more time outside in the common areas.
The rooms will have ”virtual windows” made with LED lights.The consulting architect Dennis McFadden promptly resigned when told about it, describing the concept as “unsupportable as an architect, a parent and a human being”.

My comments: Up and up go the college fees, and in this case the students are rewarded by being deprived of daylight, presumably relying as well on air conditioning. I would demand my money back.

Society is getting dumber and dumber. Epicurus might have advocated politely refusing donation from Warren Buffet. In England, the local planning authority would probably ban the proposed building. But there money talks, but not so loudly.

Leaves you dumbfounded!

A school-district official in Southlake, Texas was recorded advising staff to offer students “opposing views” and “other perspectives” on the Holocaust. Administrator, Gina Peddy, was responding to a new state law requiring schools to offer “diverse and contending perspectives” on “controversial issues”. A district spokeswomen said the law has left “all Texas teachers in a precarious position.”

My comment: There are NO valid “opposing views” or “other perspectives” possible. Not, anyway, to decent, civilized and humane people. I think I mentioned this before (excuse me!) but my father left me a leather-thonged whip that he took off a NAZI guard in a North German death camp. I only once saw my father puce with fury and disgust, but relating the story of the pile of naked bodies near the entrance made him sick with disgust.

A curse on guns in the hands of amateurs

So the 18 year old, armed with an automatic weapon suited best for military use, is fully acquitted of murder. So be it. I respect jury verdicts. But there are people who question why a teenager would be allowed to possess such a weapon of war and intervene with it in public, apparently with the apparent approval of citizens of Wisconsin. Yes, under the law he is acquitted by the jury, but the rest of the common sense world outside are asking how a teenager is allowed buy such a weapon, and what were the the parents thinking (if they even knew what he was doing).

I believe that Epicurus would raise questions of upbringing and education, and the absence of police on the spot to keep the peace and deter teenage hotheads and others.

At 18 I, too, had a sub-machine gun. The difference was that I was in the army, properly trained, super-conscious of the dangerous weapon hanging by my side,in a dangerous environment, but under the watchful eye of a sergeant-major who had served in the Second World War.

Misrepresentation: the world’s great, burgeoning industry

Paper Truths is a weekly newsletter that combs some of the darkest corners of the internet for disinformation and misinformation, analyzing the strategies and tactics, providing the tools needed to fight back against bad actors’ narratives. Every week it focuses on the issues that are at the center of American politics, outlining the facts that are being manipulated and warped: voting rights, abortion, education, the economy, and more. This is one contribution:

SOCIAL MEDIA
19 of Facebook’s Top 20 Pages for American Christians are Run by Eastern European Troll Farms Overseas

Millions of Americans have joined a variety of either Christian American or Black American Facebook groups in an attempt to create a community for themselves. These groups purport to be made by Christian/Black Americans, for Christian/Black Americans, with the largest reaching over 75 million users a month, an audience 20 or 30 times the size of the next largest Christian Facebook group.

What the facts say: The reality is these groups are managed by individuals largely based in Kosovo and Macedonia, in what is called “troll farms.” These groups were part of a larger network that collectively reached nearly half of all Americans, according to an internal Facebook company report, and achieved that reach not through user choice but primarily as a result of Facebook’s own platform design and engagement-hungry algorithm.

This is a continuation of the argument that social media’s algorithm can create group-think, adhere to confirmation bias, and prioritizes ad revenue versus positive social benefits.

My comment: Why do people waste their time on these social media sites? I can understand using (former) Facebook as a means of keeping in touch with one’s immediate family, but beyond that why would you waste your time reading the blatherings of strangers, particularly strangers peddling lies and disinformation?

Go for a walk. Read a good book

Is this a non-sequitur?

Speculation has emerged that penguins may be aliens after scientists found traces of a chemical from Venus in their droppings.

Experts are struggling to explain how phosphine exists on Earth – 38 million miles away from Venus. Scientists in the UK who believe alien life forms may have already been detected say studying penguins could help them identify the types of organisms that exist on other worlds. (The Week, 22 Sept 2021)

My comment: Epicurus would have pointed out that we are bombarded with lumps of rock which originate who-knows-where in the universe. Just because phosphine has been identified on Venus doesn’t mean that it isn’t present in galaxies, and in asteroids, in even more distant reaches of the universe.
Epicurus might have pointed out that all this is is common sense. But this is just the view of an historian. Historians are renowned for proudly stating the obvious.