Brian the size of a planet

Former CEO of Wokepac and reliable content generator for this organ, Brian Hartzer, is on the publicity milk round for his new book, The Leadership Star. He keeps popping up on the Creepbook for Business timeline grinning in selfies with various people at book signings and coffee meetings to tout his wares like a truckstop hooker at 2am.

Occasionally he scores a wider audience such as a guest appearance on a podcast, as he does on this one:

I took the time to listen to this and regular readers may be surprised by my reaction…. I thought Brian came across as extremely knowledgeable about the banking industry.

Less frequent readers might be forgiven for thinking, “well duh, one doesn’t get to be CEO of a major bank if you don’t know banking inside out”.

Somewhere between those two points of view lies a question; if Brian is such a banking industry subject matter expert, how come he made such a custard of running one?

Before we answer that, I do need to comment on a couple of points he made in the interview.

Firstly, he talks about improving customer experience to increase market share. This is a medium-sized elephant in the room; there are four main banks in Australia and a large gap between 4th and 5th place. I can’t find figures on customer attrition rates in Australia, but my assumption is it is low compared to other jurisdictions. He doesn’t go into details in the interview either which, if it were a great factor would be presumably data rich.

My hypothesis is customers don’t move banks much in Australia, which explains why the customer service is so shite.

The second comment I’d like to pick him up on is where he mentions his duty to constantly reduce operating costs. When he took over from Gail Kelly, he chose to not integrate the wholly-owned subsidiary, St George, keeping its duplicate infrastructure, staff, products and premises. Go to any high street in Australia and there will likely be two Westpac branches not far from each other, one with a red logo, the other with a dragon. Cost cutting, me arse.

To be fair to Brian, he does talk about lessons learned. Taking more interest in compliance reports and making individuals explicitly accountable being two very relevant lessons he’s clearly taken on board. He actually sounds quite contrite and, ironically, rather like the theory that the safest time to fly is immediately after a major plane crash, he’d probably make a better bank CEO now.

Bill’s Opinion

Brian isn’t stupid, in fact, he obviously got his last job on merit. Yet he still fucked up royally. Why?

My hypotheses is he allowed his focus to drift to the ESG/woke stuff. There are only so many hours in the day and it’s a foolish person who doesn’t concentrate on his or her core objectives for 99% of those waking hours.

Oh well, at least he’s got plenty of time to spend on his hobbies now.

The life of Brian

Here’s one for the coffee table collection, Brian Hartzer’s autobiography:

For those who’ve arrived here since our mildly unhealthy obsession with Brian’s Wokepac subsided and have therefore missed all the fun watching his slow-moving car crash of a career, perhaps start with this and then read any of the subsequent posts under the Wokepac category.

I’m sure the book will be a fascinating read, explaining the key to Brian’s excellent and almost magical ability to connect (or engage, if you will) with the average Australian.

Most management books seem to have seven rules. Seven is a good number for bullshit advice.

What might Brian’s seven rules consist of, perhaps?

Could we respectfully offer the following:

1. Over-promote people based purely on genital configuration and rig the quota numbers, if required

2. Attend every woke event in the calendar

3. Don’t pay attention to the Risk Department when they suggested the IT systems were enabling 3,000 cases of child sexual abuse

4. Assume everything is going to be great now we have 50:50 diversity in leadership

5. Ignore the year on year decline in share price and market share

6. Front up to APRA with a pathetic and worthless mea culpa

7. Resign as an absolute professional failure, after destroying shareholder value and the credibility of a 200 year old bank whilst maintaining the highest relative operating cost base in the industry

Bill’s Opinion

There are people to take advice from and there are people from whom it’s best to learn by doing the opposite of their example.

Brian is in the latter category.

Don’t be too surprised to find his next career move is Celebrity Strictly Ballroom and I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.

Predictive test

Predictions for 2021 incoming later today.

In the meantime, it’s end of year report time. On January 1st we made the following ridiculous suggestions:

Australian Politics

Politicians of all sides of the aisle increase the warnings against reliance on China. There will be noises made by the Federal government to have closer trade and defence links with the USA (particularly following the USA election).

A Westpac executive is jailed for the AUSTRAC issues. Probably Lynn Cobley.

Hindsight score – 7/10. As with the Victorian hotel quarantine fuck up, it’s looking unlikely anyone will be found accountable for the Wokepac kiddy-fiddling scandal.

Global Politics

The UK will reach a WTO+ deal (ie closer to WTO terms than a full trade deal) with the EU and negotiations won’t be extended. Boris will call their bluff.

Congress won’t send the impeachment papers to the Senate. The GOP will make political hay about this all the way to the election.

Hindsight score – 8/10. As anyone who has ever negotiated anything could have predicted, when faced with a credible threat of a walk away, the EU blinked.

The impeachment went to the Senate and we all yawned.

Zeitgeist

Sentiment turns against Saint Greta. There’s a financial scandal involving her parents or handlers.

A judge in the USA finds a single mother of a transgender child guilty of abuse. The Supreme Court supports this finding on appeal.

Hindsight score – 5/10. St Greta has been relatively quiet this year, so we can be thankful for small mercies.

Sentiment and the courts are turning against the child abusers masquerading as transgender allies.

Sport

Six Nations table:

1 England

2 Ireland

3 Wales

4 France

5 Scotland

6 Italy

Australia finishes bottom of the Rugby Championship table.

Hindsight score – 6/10. I correctly called the winner and loser of the disrupted Six Nations, and Australia did indeed come last in the amended Tri Nations.

Economy

Gold to temporarily breach all time high ($1,895).

The Dow to breach 30,000.

Hindsight score – 10/10. Expect more of this to come, we are truly living in the “everything bubble”.

Bill’s Opinion

Not bad, all things considered.

Risky business

Over the last few decades, there has been a proliferation and expansion of career categories and roles within large organisations, many of which add dubious value to their stakeholders.

Examples might include the exponential growth of the previously named “Personnel” department; the size of the Human Resources’ departments as a ratio of the entire company has generally expanded exponentially since, say, the 1980s.

This spawned the utterly pointless diversity military industrial complex, based mainly on a ridiculous 1989 essay by Peggy McIntosh.

Another example, perhaps less obvious, is the Risk department.

Financial institutions in particular, have an increasing footprint of staff with “Risk” in their job title. For those who have been lucky enough to not work with these people, “risk” is a code for “no responsibilities“.

Being a “risk professional” means never having to be accountable for anything.

That might sound like an inflammatory statement but it’s easily empirically-checked; there have been plenty of documented failure in organisations’ risk management over the last few years. Examples include Wokepac’s Paedophile Enablement Programme, CBA’s Mafia Laundry Scheme, and dozens of leaks of personal data by private and public sector organisations.

How many of those resulted in the resignation or firing of the most senior risk officer? Perhaps you could let us know in the comments if any “risk professional” lost their job as a consequence.

The Audit team, at least, serve a useful purpose of checking compliance occurred as required for critical activities. By contrast, the Risk team are generally worse than useless as they advise on avoiding things that might happen. Proving they have helped is an impossible task as it is like proving a negative; the car didn’t crash because we took the keys from you.

Risk is one of those departments capable of parthenogenesis. Decades ago, risk was mainly a safety or financial function; what can we do to not kill workers or how do we hedge against this financial transaction going to shit?

These days though, all sorts of risks are documented in Excel spreadsheets or expensive software products that are just glorified versions of spreadsheets. Risk “professionals” in a crappy mediocre retail bank pretend they can somehow quantity geopolitical risks or mitigate for earthquakes in Indonesia by facilititing post-it note workshops and acting like over-promoted junior police officers bullying and pestering those people whose job it is to actually generate revenue.

The science behind risk management is complete bollocks. Depending on which source you select, you’ll be shown a complicated methodology which pretends it can somehow grade probability and impact to provide a credibility-lite relative score of the risks to the organisation.

Of course, with all models, the input parameters and assumptions behind the calculations are critical to the likely accuracy of the result they give. GIGO – garbage in, garbage out.

The people in these risk roles are never impressive individuals either. As with any kind of critic, they are most likely providing feedback on people whose job they simply couldn’t do themselves.

Those who can, do.

Those who can’t, teach.

Those who can’t even teach, measure risk”.

An classic example comes to mind from my recent experience in an Australian bank. My interlocutor was a chap who seemingly had made a career out of being deeply unpleasant.

In one of those frequent coincidences with ugly personalities, he was also physically repulsive; no chin, terrible dentistry, a lopsided face (think Thom York without the talent). Better still, he suffered from extreme rhoticism; he pronounced “th” as “f” or “v” and “r” as “w”.

Hi, I’m ve genewal manager of wisk and I fink we must gwade vese wisks“.

We once had an illuminating conversation over a corporate slide deck; there was wholesome picture of a young child on scooter. The kid was wearing a helmet and open-toed shoes. We had an argument about which was the greater problem.

My view; it’s almost certain the kid will rip her foot whilst scooting.

His view; if she bangs her head she might suffer a brain injury.

He seemed somewhat offended when I asked him how many children he had (spoiler alert; none, and little chance of that changing).

So how did it go for us, corporately and in government, with this massive army of risk managers keeping us safe?

Bill’s Opinion

Just as the lawyers of the world mainly missed writing the word “pandemic” in their definition of Force Majeure, the Risk team in most organisations have completely failed to do their job.

Of course, the most likely response to this will be to hire more, not fewer/better risk managers.

Wince and wepeat.

Everybody was Kung Flu fighting

99% of everything written about Covid19 seems to be uninformed speculation at best and more likely, just made up bullshit.

So, just for a bit of light relief, here’s some random thoughts on the subject:

  1. If your first action after thinking, “hmm, it might be time to stockpile”, is to panic buy toilet paper, you might have misunderstood the relative use of fluffy white arse paper in a national emergency, compared to say, dried beans or medicine.
  2. Related; people are about to learn how good modern supply chains are. They are akin to modern witchcraft. As fast as you can fill your spare bedroom with bog roll, Coles and Woolworths will restock the shelves. The supply chain for nearly everything you are going to need has not yet been materially disrupted. Sure, we might run out of some items but there will be plenty of adjacent replacement versions for a long time yet. Well done for helping an Account Sales Manager make their Q2 2020 numbers early though.
  3. Most business travel is frivolous and businesses can manage just fine without it. Seriously, nearly all of it is just status-driven bollocks that a phone or video call could replace and still achieve an adequate outcome. If you’re really contrarian, now might be the best time to book a luxury holiday in Asia this December. Rajasthan is lovely that time of year.
  4. The IT department have been lying like a cheap Chinese Rolex about their capacity to simultaneously support lots of remote workers (*waves at Wokepac). Some scrambling to buy more licences might save a few IT Infrastructure Managers’ careers but most of the bottleneck will be in physical infrastructure. Best get those CVs tidied up and in the market, chaps, and beat the rush.
  5. No Australian manager under the age of 55 knows what to do with their P&L in a downturn. Not. A. Single. One. A bit of a clue; cancelling the magazine subscriptions and daily flowers in reception or calling the landlord and asking for a discount on the office rent isn’t going to help you.
  6. Consider the possibility it might be better to catch it early; you’ll get the best medical care and then it’s done. Later means you’ll get the mass-treatment quality, if any treatment at all.
  7. Stay clear of French people (a great excuse in case they win the Six Nations).

Bill’s Opinion

Isn’t it absolutely wonderful the Woketivists have been shunted off the news now we’ve got something requiring adult attention?

Predictions are notoriously difficult

…especially about the future.

But they are a fun diversion.

Here’s ten of mine for the year 2020. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Australian Politics

Politicians of all sides of the aisle increase the warnings against reliance on China. There will be noises made by the Federal government to have closer trade and defence links with the USA (particularly following the USA election).

A Westpac executive is jailed for the AUSTRAC issues. Probably Lynn Cobley.

Global Politics

The UK will reach a WTO+ deal (ie closer to WTO terms than a full trade deal) with the EU and negotiations won’t be extended. Boris will call their bluff.

Congress won’t send the impeachment papers to the Senate. The GOP will make political hay about this all the way to the election.

Zeitgeist

Sentiment turns against Saint Greta. There’s a financial scandal involving her parents or handlers.

A judge in the USA finds a single mother of a transgender child guilty of abuse. The Supreme Court supports this finding on appeal.

Sport

Six Nations table:

1 England

2 Ireland

3 Wales

4 France

5 Scotland

6 Italy

Australia finishes bottom of the Rugby Championship table.

Economy

Gold to temporarily breach all time high ($1,895).

The Dow to breach 30,000.

Wokepac housekeeping

We’d like to tuck our best mate, Brian, up in bed and let him enjoy his retirement in peace, or at least until he gets called back for the court case.

Unfortunately, we have a little housekeeping to do first.

The coverage of the aftermath the source of our amusement today.

Ok, we’re calling plagiarism on the Spectator. An internet search will show the use of “Wokepac” started here. You’re welcome, chaps.

Then there’s this objective review of Brian’s awful performance by Peter Van Onselen much of which is indeed accurate. Let’s face it, Brian took his eye off the ball and didn’t pay enough attention to the core part of his job description, that is, running a bank.

The question is, though, what was he spending his resource on instead?

Well, we’ve answered that question continually here and neatly summed it up with the tag, “Wokepac”.

Peter is unable to point to the rainbow-coloured elephant in the room though.

Why?

Awkward.

Bill’s Opinion

Peter’s wife was fired by Brian resigned two years ago and Peter is still spitting tacks over it.

Question for Peter; how absolutely awful do you have to be at your job to be fired by Brian Hartzer whilst in possession of female genitalia?

Ainslie was part of the diversity diversion problem at Westpac. She, like many other diversity quota hires, had the easiest job in the world; turn up late, attend some “women in banking” conferences, collect pay cheque. Rinse. Repeat.

Yet she still got fired resigned.

Today’s blog is brought to you by the words, “shareholder” and “value”

Despite tomorrow being his final day as CEO of Wokepac, Brian is whooping it up on social media like a pouting Insta-influencer with brand new Botox lips.

He’s becoming the Creepbook for Business equivalent of herpes, only much harder to get rid of and without the preceding moments of pleasure.

Demonstrating a level of self-unawareness usually associated with people called Bono talking about climate change whilst sipping champagne on private jets, he is doing a high five lap of honour around Linked-in.

It’s the nature of the high fives that’s most amusing though. I’ve yet to see a single message of thanks and farewell from anyone who looks vaguely experienced or competent. Instead, it seems to be a lot of folks with job tittles one might expect to see on the cryogenic pods in the hold of the Golgafrincham Ark B.

Exhibit 1: A Monitoring and Control Manager

It seems to me, a paucity of “monitoring and control” might have been the prime reason Brian will be spending less time in a dinner suit from next week.

Exhibit 2: Maybe policemen are getting younger but this is a Senior Business Banker apparently.

Exhibit 3: Credit Assessor.

Exhibit 4: An “accomplished CEO“, which is surely code for “unemployed”?

Exhibit 5: A Regional General Manager, SME

I think Jason’s sycophancy is my favourite of the selection though; “Farewell to an inspirational leader that was tasked with navigating Australia’s oldest bank through the toughest conditions in history.

Tougher than, say, 1929-31, 1939-45, any of the subsequent recessions or the 2008 financial crisis?

Well no, perhaps nothing quite on that scale.

But still, perhaps the toughest self-inflicted conditions in history?

Yes, let’s agree on that.

Bill’s Opinion

I have two observations on Brian and his sycophants*:

1. He certainly got full value from that dinner suit, and

2. Get woke, go broke (well, at least fired).

* I think I may have seen Brian and His Sycophants supporting Primus at the Brixton Academy.

Vanished, like an old oak table

Queenie: Vanished, Lord Percy, not *varnished*.

Lord Percy Percy: Forgive me, my lady, but my uncle Bertram’s old oak table completely vanished. ‘Twas on the night of the great Stepney fire. And on that same terrible night, his house and all his other things completely vanished too. So did he, in fact. It was a most perplexing mystery.

Aaaaaand, Brian is gone.

Overnight news coverage like this probably didn’t help:

Here’s a thought; if your best line of defence is that you’re not as bad as one of the largest frauds of our generation or not as bad as the largest banking collapses in the modern era, you might be in trouble.

Seriously though, Wokepac has more change and comms consultants than Belgium has waffle makers and he still made gaffes like this.

Who was advising him and why didn’t they said, “Brian, just fucking work from home until the Board meeting”?

Bill’s Opinion

Introducing William of Ockham’s General Theory of Australia:

A small pond results in a masssive case of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

This is fine in a rising or stable market.

The moment negative consequences occur however, the enormous gulf between actual competence and perception is exposed.

Just the PR disaster of this sorry episode should be proof enough.

For me, a critical indicator you are dealing with someone who is subject to The General Theory of Australia are the shoes they are wearing.

No, hear me out…..

If you have a good inkling the person is earning, let’s say more than $250k a year, yet they are wearing rubber-soled shoes, likely bought at Kmart, rather than handmade Loakes or perhaps Cheney’s, then there’s a fair chance they’ve rose to that position without ever having to be tested in adversity.

That metric doesn’t work so well for females; I tend to judge the women by their choice of Friday casual clothes.