Out of the blue into Big Blue – The Last Post (for now!)

The gorgeous view from the deck in our new home in Old Greenwich CT

The gorgeous view from the deck in our new home in Old Greenwich CT

Some five and a half years ago – in March 2011 – I wrote the first of my monthly Postmark blogs to describe the ideas, activities and events which figured in my life following my retirement from Accenture.  Now in September 2016 – some 65 editions later I am drawing a close on this chapter of my life and, as I start a new full time executive job at IBM, it is time for me to retire Postmark – at least for now!

Enjoying some last rest and relaxation in Brienno, Lake Como

Enjoying some last rest and relaxation in Brienno, Lake Como

I have been delighted by the many loyal readers who have stuck with my ramblings over the course of this journey.  I hope that you will appreciate that my new role will mean that I will be more focused on communicating with the team that I am working with, (as I was with Noteworthy at Accenture), and will have less time to dedicate to blogging (especially at the length of an average Postmark!).

Packing to leave Winterfold

Packing to leave Winterfold

The past five years have been an amazing period in my life.  I have been able to spend much more time with my family.  I have seen both Alex and Matt complete their schooling and head off to university.  I have had the privilege of sitting beside countless rugby, hockey and cricket pitches mouthing useless advice to the boys.  Sandy and I have been able to take extended vacations in parts of the world that we always wanted to visit, including Southern India, Argentina, Cuba, South Africa and Namibia as well as enjoy our holiday homes to the full in Devon and Lake Como.

Lake Como viewed from a mountain walk above San Siro

Lake Como viewed from a mountain walk above San Siro



Meeting women suffering from the famine in North Kenya in 2012

Meeting women suffering from the famine in North Kenya in 2012

A clear highlight of my time “out” has undoubtedly been the unique opportunity to be a founding Commissioner of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact and the chance that this afforded me to meet so many extraordinary people carving out their livelihoods in adversity across the globe.  My time in countries such as Somalia, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Zambia and Pakistan will stay in my mind for ever, and these experiences have changed my outlook on life.  

Talking with victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines just one month after the tragedy

Talking with victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines just one month after the tragedy

It is hard not to be moved by meeting a mother in a hut in northern Bangladesh who has that morning lost her child to malnutrition, or a victim of HIV/AIDS desperate for antiretroviral drugs in a poorly-equipped clinic in Zimbabwe, or a typhoon victim such as those I spoke to in the twisted ruins of their homes in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, or witnessing the hopeless grinding poverty of the Palestinian Refugee Camps in Beirut and Jordan, where water drips lethally from the electricity cables laced across the alleyways.  I have emerged with a profound sense of my own good fortune but also a deeper understanding of how hard it is to solve big global issues.

With young Palestinian refugees in Beirut at a vocational training centre

With young Palestinian refugees in Beirut at a vocational training centre

I have been humbled by the dedicated people that I have met along the way who are trying to make a difference, against the odds in these difficult situations, whether they are local people or personnel from aid agencies or NGOs.  Most of all I have emerged with a huge respect for the resilience of human beings afflicted by natural and man-made disasters, to find happiness in their daily lives and purpose in their strivings to create a better life for their families.  This is the other side of the migrant “crisis” that I have sadly had to comment on so much in the past couple of years.  As we look to build walls, introduce points systems, or push the people into camps outside our borders or cities, we need to recognise that the motivations of these individuals are at heart the same as drive us to succeed in our jobs, get good schools for our children or seek the best healthcare.

Fireworks over Antibes in the South of France - just weeks after the tragedy in nearby Nice

Fireworks over Antibes in the South of France – just weeks after the tragedy in nearby Nice

Sadly over the past five years it is probably fair to say that the planet has become a less safe place.  This is despite the fact that much of the developed world (especially the US and Northern Europe) is probably feeling more economically stable and prosperous than in 2011, when the global financial crisis was still holding many more countries in its grasp.   The south of the Continent, though, remains troubled and the BRICS have split into two groups, with China and India largely continuing to benefit from their scale and populations to drive growth (albeit at a lower level), while Brazil, Russia and South Africa have all gone dramatically backwards.

Matt and Sandy exploring Old Greenwich

Matt and Sandy exploring Old Greenwich

This month was dominated by the wonderful Olympic Games.  It was notable that when Rio won the right to stage the competition it was riding a wave of resource-led growth, but by the time the Games began it was really struggling to meet the needs of its burgeoning population.  This gap in fortunes, like that between the haves and have-nots in many countries will be a source of major tension in the years to come.  The rise of ISIS and islamic fundamentalism over the last half decade has been a particular phenomenon which I have commented on.  Tragically the wider Middle East region has become an ever more intractable challenge with much of it ravaged by war, destruction and displaced populations.  These issues have put pressures on our democracies and global institutions – and to date sadly they have come up wanting.

Flying over New York in the late summer sun

Flying over New York in the late summer sun

 

A colourful street in historic Verona

A colourful street in historic Verona

It has been a benefit of this period that I have had the opportunity to learn more about these global challenges.  I have also been able to expand my horizons by serving on a broad range of business boards.  The Heidrick and Struggles board has been a constant over the past five years and taught me how a board can be effective with a well-aligned management team.  I have had similar positive experiences at Fidessa, CSC, Alexander Mann Solutions and Atento, while learning a lot about the worlds of talent, technology and outsourcing.  I am sorry that my time with the latter three organisations has been all too brief. 

Our new home on the waterfront at Old Greenwich

Our new home on the waterfront at Old Greenwich

Many have asked me why I have given up what seemed like a well-balanced portfolio of roles, and a relatively relaxed lifestyle, to return the quarterly pressures of a senior corporate role.  The truth is that while this opportunity was not sought, it has come at the right moment in our lives.  The job combines the right mix of extended challenge, new learning, and potential for leadership impact at a world class organisation.  Companies across the world are facing unprecedented levels of disruption arising from macro economic pressures, regulatory reform and new technologies, and digital transformation, leveraging the best of analytics and AI will be the big story of the coming decade.  I am looking forward to engaging directly in this dynamic environment in a company with huge breadth and depth of relevant business and technology capability. 

Sunset over Greenwich Bay - Waiting for Tropical Storm

Sunset over Greenwich Bay – Hoping that Tropical Storm Hermine passes us by!

Another facet of the adventure is the opportunity for Sandy and me to experience living and working full time in another country.  We have already moved to the US and have rented a lovely home on the water in Old Greenwich Connecticut.  We are spending the last moments of freedom and summer kayaking in Greenwich Bay, watching the ospreys diving for fish and enjoying glorious sunsets from our deck…all this between organising the essentials for life!  It must be said that the time spent in the Social Security Office in Stamford or the DMV Office in Norwalk trying to get a Connecticut ID has been somewhat less rewarding!

Matt and Sandy enjoying the fabulous Hi-line in New York

Matt and Sandy enjoying the fabulous High Line walkway in New York

We have left our various homes across the pond in good hands – with the possible exception of Winterfold – where, after a brief holiday trip to the US, Matt is currently in charge!  We will be crossing back and forth, me for work, and both of us to support the boys through university life and to help our aged fathers as required.  The whole family is excited about this new chapter and has reacted brilliantly to the upheaval that it has entailed to date.  Sandy has even started to write her own blog on life in the East Coast! – http://thetimesofsandy.wordpress.com – Sign up to stay on top of our adventures!

Watching England play Pakistan at the Oval with Sandy (voluntarily!)

Watching England play Pakistan at the Oval with Sandy (voluntarily!)

Dad enjoying the sunshine at Winterfold

Dad enjoying the sunshine at Winterfold

Much of this month has been spent preparing for the move, while maintaining due confidentiality over my role and our destination – an interesting experience!  My father came to spend a few days at Winterfold and we have been able to have some farewell parties with select friends.  I managed to enjoy a winning final game of Dads footie and have been playing more losing golf with Matt, as he prepares (loosely!) for Bristol University.  Alex has been working hard as pretty much the only person left in his office with BNP Paribas in Paris.

Meeting with Gianfranco in St Paul de Vence

Toasting with Gianfranco in the South of France

I squeezed in a visit to my old friend Gianfranco Casati in his beautiful home in St Paul De Vence in the South of France.  Aside from Gianfranco and his lovely wife Maurizia, who were enjoying a well-earned rest from their regular home in Singapore, I was delighted to meet up with another former colleague Luca Mentuccia and his wife for a joyful evening of fireworks and dinner on the coast.

The rooftops of Sermione on Lake Garda

The rooftops of Sirmione on Lake Garda

We started the month on Lake Como and travelled through Northern Italy to Lake Garda and Verona.  The medieval town of Sirmione on peninsular of Garda combines a lively tourist vibe with some gorgeous architecture, while the multiple eras of civilisation which have passed through Verona since the Romans have all left their marks in this beautiful city. As ever the combination of super food, outstanding scenery and interesting history made the trip a delight and it was with some wistfulness that Sandy and I closed up the house for the summer – and probably for nearly a year until we are likely to be back.

Opera stage sets loom outside the Roman amphitheatre in Verona

Opera stage sets loom outside the Roman amphitheatre in Verona

 So one chapter of life ends and another begins….!  These are interesting and exciting times and I am looking forward to plunging into the next adventure. “Postmark” will rise again and in the meantime I wish all my readers a good and prosperous future and thank you for all your support.

Ave atque vale (Hail and Farewell) !

Mark
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Family and Friends – Anchors amid the Atrocities

A crowd of Mark and Sandys prepare to celebrate their Silver Wedding Anniversary!

A crowd of Mark and Sandys prepare to celebrate their Silver Wedding Anniversary in the kitchen at Winterfold!

July has been a month of deep contrasts;  On the personal front Sandy and I have celebrated our 25th Wedding Anniversary in style, enjoyed multiple holidays with friends and family and helped them to mark many happy milestones too.  Meanwhile, this has been one of the most depressing months for a long time in terms of the relentless flow of atrocities which have taken place across the globe.  Hardly a day seems to have passed without another attack on innocent civilians in the name of some cause, often by sad, mentally disturbed loners who have sought some kind of recognition in a final statement of public defiance and hatred.  Such was the apparent frequency of incidents, I found myself looking up the Wikipedia site which lists the terrorist incidents on each day in every given month – yes it really does exist and it makes for sorry reading for July 2016!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_terrorist_incidents,_2016

Alex watching the Euro Football from the fanzone by the Eiffel Tower

Alex watching the Euro Football from the fanzone by the Eiffel Tower

 We remember of course the terrible Bastille Day lorry attack in Nice, the mall killings in Munich and other incidents across Germany, as well as the shootings which have scarred many cities in the US.  What a perusal of this list reminds us of though, are the many hundreds killed by continuing bomb attacks on civilian targets across Baghdad and the countless executions undertaken by ISIS extremists across the cities of Syria, Iraq and Libya, as they come under pressure to retreat from former strongholds such as Aleppo, Mosul and Benghazi.

 

Storm clouds over Lake Como

Storm clouds over Lake Como

The list also includes the multiple massacres performed by the Daesh sister organisations of Al Shabaab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria.  I saw the terrible impacts of both of these organisations in my days as a Commissioner travelling around the continent.   In last month’s blog I referenced the critical role that Turkey was playing as a buttress between the chaos of the Middle East and Europe and this month has seen the failed military coup in the country followed by a harsh crackdown by President Erdogan.  The hard line islamic philosophy of the regime is just another volatile component in the already dangerous cocktail of religious and ethnic divisions in the region.

 
The anti-Trident demonstration outside the House of Parliament in London

The anti-Trident demonstration outside the House of Parliament in London

Politicians and institutions have struggled to keep pace with these events.  In the UK we appointed a new Prime Minister to help fill the post-Brexit vacuum, but it is clear that Britain is in no state to play its full role upon the global stage for some time.  The confused debate about the Trident nuclear weapon system renewal exposed the shifting priorities and relevance of interstate deterrence vs. terrorist containment by such tools.  European politics is reeling from the impact of the leave vote and trying to act as if nothing has really changed, while disruptive forces in France, Germany and Italy are threatening the status quo.  The forgotten crisis of the migrants dying in their hundreds every day in the Mediterranean is showing no sign of being solved and there is little evidence of a new European unity emerging from the post referendum environment.

The new War Memorial unveiled at Cranleigh School on the centenary of the Battle of the Somme - it recognises some 340 members of the school who have fallen in conflicts since WWI - as many as died in one bomb blast in Baghdad this month.

The new War Memorial unveiled at Cranleigh School on the centenary of the Battle of the Somme – it recognises some 382 members of the school who have fallen in conflicts since its foundation 150 years ago – I note it is as many as died in a couple of bomb blasts in Baghdad this month.

Yours truly being initiated to the joys of fly fishing in Devon by David Newman

Yours truly being initiated to the joys of fly fishing in Devon by David Newman

Across the Atlantic we have enjoyed watching the spectacle that is the Republican and Democratic conventions.  The drug doping scandal surrounding the Rio Olympics has displayed Russia in a predictably poor light and, after last year’s FIFA scandals, another global governance structure, this time the IOC, has shown that it not fit-for-purpose!  So sadly we seem to have the perfect storm of unprecedented challenges at home and abroad and a complete absence of effective global leadership – definitely time to take a break!

Sunshine in Cowley Street, Westminster - where our neighbours at No. 13 housed the campaign headquarters for Angela Leadsome's brief campaign to become Prime Minister

Sunshine in Cowley Street, Westminster – where our neighbours at No. 13 housed the campaign headquarters for Angela Leadsome’s brief campaign to become Prime Minister

There are efforts to make a difference still, albeit at the margins.  I have been back in the world of global development in the past few weeks.  At the end of June I made my (hopefully) final appearance before the IDC Parliamentary Select Committee to discuss the role of consultants in the delivery of value for money in global aid.  I have also been supporting the teams at CIFF as they have worked through new programmes in the nutrition and child health arenas and helped to shape the organisations’s approach to evaluation and assessment of impact.  I enjoyed a lively lunch with my former colleagues Nigel Thornton and Marcus Cox from the Independent Commission, where we spoke about the new context for UK development in a world dominated by security concerns and migration mitigation strategies.

Sunshine over Down End at the start of our holiday break

Sunshine over Down End at the start of our holiday break

There has been a weird sense of detachment as we have watched these momentous events unfurl from the relative comfort and relaxation of our various homes over the past few weeks.  This is that slightly bizarre, but fun time of year where we find ourselves in all four of our houses in the course of a few days – which is a real test for our clothing logistics if nothing else!

A family snapshot at our 25th Wedding Anniversary Party

A family snapshot with our brothers and Dads at our 25th Wedding Anniversary Party

The party in full swing in the sunshine

The party in full swing in the sunshine

The month began with the formal marking of our Silver Wedding Anniversary with a party for some 80 of our friends at Winterfold Cottage in the Surrey Hills.  The weather had threatened to spoil the day but in fact the afternoon lunch party took place on one of the best summer days of the year.  It was a real joy to welcome so many of our friends from the different stages of our life back together to help us celebrate with lovely food, fine wine and some great live music from Stephen Ridley on piano.

Sun shines on party time at Winterfold

Sun shines on party time at Winterfold

Matt and Alex being appropriately grateful to their Mum and sarcastic about their Dad!

Matt and Alex being appropriately grateful to their Mum and sarcastic about their Dad!

It was fabulous for both Sandy and I to have our Dads in attendance as well as other relatives from our small, but perfectly formed family – including Sandy’s brother Keith on one of his rare visits from Australia.  The boys made lovely speech – which made a touch too much reference to my (few) idiosyncrasies – and we livened-up the party with a series of life-size cardboard cutouts of Sandy and I at our wedding.  These are still staged around the house, looming from the various windows and scaring any visitor witless!

The happy couple - 25 years on!

The happy couple – 25 years on!

 

...with our cardboard alter egos - older but taller at least!

…with our cardboard alter egos – older but taller at least!

Celebrating Aunty Margaret's 80th Birthday

Celebrating Aunty Margaret’s 80th Birthday

We travelled down to Sandy’s home town of Eastleigh in Hampshire to join many other members of her family at the 80th Birthday celebrations for her Aunt Margaret – affectionately known as “Mad Aunty Margaret!”  Again it was real pleasure to see the multiple generations come together to mark a family milestone with shared stories and histories at its heart.  

Friends Margaret and Mike shared their 30th Anniversary with us in Como

Friends Margaret and Mike sharing their 30th Anniversary with us in Como

While in Lake Como we were joined by our own friends Margaret and Mike as they were in the midst of their thirty day tour of Europe to mark 30 Years of marriage.  They were with us for the actual Pearl Wedding Anniversary day and looking back at the photographs I had taken from that day in 1986 provided both a sense of the passing of time, but also a recognition that, at heart, none of us has really changed inside!  

Friends joining us in Croyde

Friends joining us in Croyde

In fact a real joy this month has been keeping up with many friends who we have known for decades – David and Jack Newman and Tim and Sally Blackford from Peaslake came down to Croyde, where David and Tim even introduced me to the joys of fly-fishing. and we were joined by Sandy’s tennis pal Pauline.  Former Peaslake villagers Mark and Jackie drove from their holiday home in Morzine to partake in Lake life in Italy as well. 

Watching Andy Murray winning the Wimbledon semi-finals courtesy of our friends Martin and Sophie

Watching Andy Murray winning the Wimbledon semi-finals 

The boys with sundry mates after a fine lakeside lunch in Como

The “lads” after a fine lakeside lunch in Como

Our Anniversary party and our stay in Lake Como brought both Alex and Matt together for a few days in what has been a year of parallel lives.  Matt came out to the lake with his friend Jamie and Alex flew in from France for the weekend with his flat-mates Max and Lorenzo.  Their return trip was enlivened by an unscheduled sleep on the floor of Linate airport as storms grounded the flight home to Paris.  

Alex and friends Max and Lorenzo sleeping on the floor of Linate airport

Alex and friends Max and Lorenzo sleeping on the floor of Linate airport

Otherwise Alex has been settling into the world of property valuation for BNP Paribas – and catching a fair bit of Euro football action, including with his uncle Keith – while Matt has been finding excuses not to get a job by visiting his mates, playing cricket and golf and having pool parties at Winterfold.  We are also beginning to think that his mind will only turn to his impending history course at Bristol University in the car on the drive west in September!  

Matt being fitted for his custom gold clubs - hope that his help him more than mine help me!

Matt being fitted for his custom gold clubs – hope that his help him more than mine help me!

Matt has however returned to his alma mater Cranleigh School for some of the cricket matches.  At the start of the month I had the pleasure of attending my first Speech Day at the school as a Governor.  It was inspiring (albeit a bit weird) to sit on the stage at the school as the achievements of the year were described by the Head Master and the prizes were handed out to the latest generation of high-perfoming students!

More nice walks ruined!

More nice walks ruined!

My other activities at the school have been limited to a tentative return to the world of Dad’s footie as my ankle has continued its recovery.   I have played a couple of games of golf with Matt (another side to his life of leisure!) and it is fair to say that my new set of clubs has not made the slightest difference to my effectiveness at this frustrating game!

Mark and Jackie Connolly join us by the Lake from their chalet in Morzine

Mark and Jackie Connolly join us by the Lake from their chalet in Morzine

 

The Albury Music Festival - a fun way to meet up with our local community - and see some of them perform!

The Albury Music Festival – a fun way to meet up with our local community – and see some of them perform!

Mike and the Mechanics rocking the black tie Wintershall Festival in the Surrey Hills

Mike and the Mechanics rocking the black tie Wintershall Festival in the Surrey Hills

On the entertainment side we have continued our summer of music festivals with a beautiful evening at the small Wintershall Rock Concert and the even lower-key Albury Music Festival (where several of our aged friends actually perform in the bands!).  My book of the month has been “1606 – William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear” by my friend and fellow RSC Board member James Shapiro.  This is a hugely readable exposition of the context of the times – in the early years of James I reign, the influences on the ideas of the period, and the genius of Shakespeare himself.  For any of us who wish to feel at all inadequate it is notable that in this one year he wrote not just King Lear, but also Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra!  Not a bad burst of creativity!

James Shapiro's fine book about one of Shakespeare's finest years.

James Shapiro’s fine book about one of Shakespeare’s best years.

A statue surveys the scene at the spectacular Villa Balbianelli on Lake Como

A statue surveys the scene at the spectacular Villa Balbianelli on Lake Como

My own source of creative juice this month has come from writing in the idyllic setting of Lake Como, as the summer enters its final period.  I am hoping that the August edition of the Wikipedia Atrocity List will be shorter and contain less human tragedy, and that the leaders of the planet are taking this time out in readiness to unite (perhaps in the spirit of the upcoming Rio Olympics) to start the process of bringing more peace and security to everyones lives. 

Another fine sunset from Down End

Another fine sunset from Down End

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Who Are You…Ooh…Ooh? – Living in a Land of Confusion

A figure I found outside the Houses of Parliament before the Brexit vote - sadly not heeded!

A figure I found outside the Houses of Parliament before the Brexit vote – sadly not heeded!

I am writing this edition of Postmark after what has been one of the most historically significant and tumultuous months that I can remember.  At its heart has been the surprise outcome of the UK referendum, and the decision to begin the process to leave the European Union.  I have been a committed supporter of the whole European project for a long time, and I was firmly in favour of a “Remain” vote.  As the final result came through on that Friday morning, I genuinely felt a sickness in the pit of my stomach.  This outcome impacts hugely on our identity as a country, and my identity as a citizen of a nation which has decided to “go it alone” in a world of ever greater global challenges.

The pool in the Old Monastery Lapta, Northern Cyprus

The pool in the Old Monastery Lapta, Northern Cyprus

Roger Daltry of The Who in full flow at Isle of Wight Festival

Roger Daltrey of The Who in full flow at Isle of Wight Festival

The references in the title to this piece take me back to happier times, just a couple of weeks ago, when Sandy and I made our now regular trip to the Isle of Wight Festival.  The Who were headliners on Saturday night and they belted out their hits from over forty years ago with an energy which belied their age.  Other highlights of the festival included The Stereophonics, Queen (featuring Adam Lambert), Faithless, Richard Ashcroft, Iggy Pop and Mike and the Mechanics.  The latter outfit is led by former Genesis guitarist Mike Rutherford and his new band played a couple of Genesis songs – including “Land of Confusion” – a very appropriate commentary on where the UK finds itself at the start of July 2016!

Dramatic scenery in Northern Cyprus

Dramatic scenery in Northern Cyprus

Aside from the Isle of Wight, Sandy and I enjoyed a week in an old monastery in Northern Cyprus.  Despite fears to the contrary, we were pleased to find that devotional duties were limited to having to listen to a prayer group strumming their guitars below our room – there was no compulsory fasting or penitence!  We were able to travel around the Turkish side of the island for the first time, see the ancient sites and enjoy some great food.

A strange sign of EU funding in the Turkish half of Cyprus

A strange sign of EU funding in the Turkish half of Cyprus

Of course Cyprus is half in and half out of the EU and lies on the fault line between the East and the West which became such a big issue in the Brexit campaign.  We were surprised to find EU-funded beach pathway projects in Northern Cyprus – clearly part of programme to begin to generate tourism and bind the island closer to the larger Europe.  We recently have seen both the West and Russia seek to rebuild international relations with Turkey, as a vital bulwark between the continent and the chaos of the Middle East.  Sadly the bad guys see this too and this month has ended with the terrible bomb attacks on Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, designed to further damage the tourism industry in the country and destabilise its population.

Brian May of Queen rocking at the Isle of Wight on the final evening

Brian May of Queen rocking at the Isle of Wight on the final evening

At one level these recent attacks by ISIS are evidence of the pressure that they are now under.  This month saw the fall of Falujah to the Iraqi government and the push back of Daesh out of strongholds in Syria and Libya.  There does appear to be a window of opportunity for the international community to unite to deliver a significant body-blow to the group.  The question is is whether there is the leadership in place to engage.  Aside from the post-vote political vacuum in the UK, the US is mired in its own Presidential election and other European leaders, notably the French and Germans have one eye on upcoming plebiscites.

Alex and Matt back in Cranleigh for the first time together since February enjoying celebratory Indian!

Alex and Matt back in Cranleigh for the first time together since February enjoying celebratory Indian!

This is just the kind of global or regional issue which I felt the UK needed to be inside the EU tent to help shape and deal with.  There is an irony that it was probably the migrant crisis prompted by these evil forces and the concerns over Turkish immigrants swamping the UK that turned the vote towards the Leave Campaign.  In the end, the economic arguments from both sides cancelled each other out (and both stretched credulity with their claims).  It is particularly sad to see the immediate economic fallout from the decision already causing some voters to revisit their decisions to vote “Leave” – which seem to have been based on rather crude nationalistic aspirations to “take back the country” and fears of uncontrolled immigration.  It is not clear yet that there will be much of a gain in either of these areas outside the EU, and none of the leaders of the campaign are staying around anyway to see through the execution of the decision.

The sad tributes outside Parliament to Jo Cox the MP killed at the height of the EU referendum frenzy

The sad tributes outside Parliament to Jo Cox the MP killed at the height of the EU referendum frenzy

There are real splits in the country exposed by the outcome – between Scotland and England, between old and young and between London and the North.  Both main political parties have been plunged into turmoil and are struggling to find anything approaching a unifying leadership.  Meanwhile the Europeans are caught between disappointment, sadness and anger.  The only certainty to emerge has been the lack of certainty and this is likely to dog the region for several years to come, at a time when it can least afford further shocks.

The graphic designed by my 92-year old father which he sent to all his friends urging them to vote "Remain"

The graphic designed by my 92-year old father which he sent to all his friends urging them to vote “Remain”

A Surrey poppy field that made me think of the battlefields of France in WW1

A Surrey poppy field that made me think of the battlefields of France in WW1

It is particularly poignant to think that we are choosing to leave Europe just as we mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.  One thing that the EU has done is stop the continent from going to war and I was struck by the passion shown by my 92 year-old father for “Remain” – as a participant in the D-Day Landings.  Let’s hope that the whole project does not now unravel.  I spent the week after the referendum engaged with my various Boards on the implications of the Brexit vote.  The truth of course is that everyone is unclear about the future and the only strategies that make sense are to build in more flexibility and agility, de-risk near term investments and take a cautious view on bigger bets.

Peter Ackroyd's book Civil War with some telling resonances

Peter Ackroyd’s book Civil War with some telling resonances

My book of the month ironically was “Civil War” by Peter Ackroyd – Part III of his brilliant History of England.  I must admit that while I had been steeped in Tudor history, I was much more sketchy concerning the Stuarts who followed them and the Civil War itself.   There are amazing parallels with the situation we find ourselves in now.  The conflict might have been between the Royalists and the Roundheads, with undertones of religious disagreements, but the various causes split the Scots from the English, the North from the South, and London and Parliament from the country as a whole.  The war cost 100,000 lives – which was a greater proportion of the population than died in the First World War – and the country’s economy was sent into shock for half a century.  The outcome of course was broadly the Parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy which we now enjoy – they did not invent referenda!

Celebrating our Silver Anniversary at The Pig in the New Forest

Celebrating our Silver Anniversary at The Pig in the New Forest

This picture was taken on 29th June 1991 - Time for a Silver celebration!

This picture was taken on 29th June 1991 – Time for a Silver celebration!

For all this talk of divorce from Europe, Sandy and I were delighted to celebrate our 25th Wedding Anniversary on the 29th June.  We travelled down to The New Forest and had a fabulous meal and overnight stay at The Pig in Brockenhurst. It was a lovely way to mark a major milestone in our lives and we have a big party to look forward to in July to celebrate the occasion with our friends and family.  This mini break in Hampshire came after a fun trip for both of us to New York State, where we took in the delights of Greenwich Connecticut.  We spent the weekend immediately after the vote commiserating with our friends Margaret and Mike in their lovely holiday home in the Derbyshire Peak District.  We nearly managed to take our minds off the ensuing carnage with some rugged walks in the stunning countryside – which were also a good test of recovery status for both Sandy and my ongoing ankle injuries!

The glorious scenery of The Peak District

The glorious scenery of The Peak District

Walking with Margaret and Mike at Mensal Head, Derbyshire

Walking with Margaret and Mike at Mensal Head, Derbyshire

Remains of a Roman ship in the castle at Kyrenia in North Cyprus

Remains of a Roman ship in the castle at Kyrenia in North Cyprus

Our major time out this month though was the week in Northern Cyprus.  This relatively less developed part of the island boasts some amazing crusader castles, pretty harbours and rugged mountainous coastline.  This area has been a place of civilisation and trade since the Phoenicians, through the Roman period and into the medieval times where it formed a stopping-off point on the route to Jerusalem.  Sadly the place has been held back by the war in the 1970’s which led to the division of the island.  Relations have been thawing of late but it is still a challenge to move between nations which do not formally recognise each other.

The crusader castle of Kantara in Cyprus

The crusader castle of Kantara in Cyprus

Roman mosaic from Cyprus

Roman mosaic from Soli in Cyprus

The pretty harbour of Kyrenia - where we ate most nights

The pretty harbour of Kyrenia – where we ate most nights

Head Teacher Sara Dangerfield addressing the parents at Winterfold party

Head Teacher Sara Dangerfield addressing the parents at Winterfold party

We held the annual summer party for Peaslake Free School at Winterfold and it was lovely to welcome staff, parents and governors to an informal evening in our garden.  The Head was able to describe the progress which the school has made over the year, brought to life by some delightful pictures, and I retold the recent history of the school and outlined our exciting plans for its development.  It was great to hear just a few days later that our planning permission to extend and improve the school facilities had been approved by the local council.

Joining the children of Peaslake Free School for a workshop by the artist behind the forest "pod"

Joining the children of Peaslake Free School for a workshop by the artist behind the forest “pod”

I also spent time in the school this month as they enjoyed a project focused around the installation of a special artistic seat/pod which has been commissioned to be placed  on my land in the Winterfold Forest!  The children had a very muddy walk in the torrential rain – where they sadly did not see the view – (but they still wrote some great poetry) – and I joined the artist for a workshop in the classroom during which he took the children through various fun design exercises.

Matt returns to Heathrow after 4 months away in South America

Matt returns to Heathrow after 4 months away in South America

Speaking of fun exercises – we welcomed Matt back from his four month travels around Latin America – he seems to have emerged in one piece, leaving the continent largely unscarred.  On his return to Heathrow, his rather scraggy beard completed the seasoned traveller look, and he has clearly had a lot of fun taking in the sights and experiences of this beautiful, but economically troubled part of the world with a good group of friends.  Alex and his girlfriend Katie had a fabulous week’s holiday in Sicily.  This was Alex’s 21st Birthday present and they seem to have really enjoyed the sights of Syracuse, Agrigento, Taormina and Etna which they visited in relative luxury compared to their normal travel experience!

Alex and Katie find a big friend in Agrigento, Sicily

Alex and Katie find a big friend in Agrigento, Sicily

The typical local French restaurant where we marked Alex's move to Paris

The typical local French restaurant where we marked Alex’s move to Paris

Just days after Alex got back from this trip, Sandy and I travelled out to Paris to help him move into his apartment in the city.  He has started six months of work experience in the property investment department of BNP Paribas and seems to have already settled into a nice routine amid the cafes, bars and boulangeries which surround his flat – as well as doing some work!  It has not of course gone unnoticed that Alex has been in two EU countries (other than the UK) just in the past few weeks as part of normal life!

Relaxing with Jonathan and Hayley outside our IoW yurt

Relaxing with Jonathan and Hayley outside our IoW yurt

The highlight of our month was the four days that Sandy and I spent with my university friend Jonathan and his girlfriend Hayley at the Isle of Wight Festival.  This marked the fourth year that we have headed over the Solent to sit in a field and watch the great array of bands which are mustered for what is, after Glastonbury, probably the next biggest rock festival of the year in the UK.  This year Sandy and I rented a large yurt and “glamped” with slightly nicer toilets and showers while Jonathan availed himself of the luxury accommodation that is my VW campervan!  The line-up was great both on the main stage and in the Big Top and the weather was surprisingly good.  Aside from the headline groups, I particularly enjoyed two acts at different ends of their careers.  The young singer-songwriter Gabrielle Aplin showcased her new album and Status Quo proved that age was no barrier to knocking out some real crowd-pleasers!

The fabulous Gabrielle Aplin in the Big Top

The fabulous Gabrielle Aplin in the Big Top

A fine cooked brekkie in the camper van park at IoW

A fine cooked brekkie in the camper van park at IoW

So a momentous month has finally come to an end and the sense of drift and unease about the situation is palpable in the UK and across the continent, as well as in all my conversations with my colleagues across the Pond.  We can no doubt look forward to more dramatic developments in July.    It might though, as one journalist put it last week, be nice to have a bit less news!

Sunset over the Mediterranean on the North Cyprus coast

Sunset over the Mediterranean on the North Cyprus coast – lets hope it is not a metaphor for the EU itself!

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Men vs. Boys – Now It Gets Serious

The Footie Dads enjoying their weekend away in Croyde!

The Footie Dads enjoying their weekend away in Croyde!

The summer is well and truly here and this has been a month where the fun quotient has been high…only to be matched by the seriousness of the work side of my life.  May began amid the beauty of Lake Como and continued with a Footie Dad’s weekend in our house in North Devon.   That was followed by an annual off-site for New Mountain Capital in a baking West Palm Beach – which mainly consisted of golf and poker.  I enjoyed a joyous few days in the boho surrounds of Delray Beach where I met up with my friend and former Team Foster stalwart Angie Burke and her partner Dave (and his Dad!) and was given a guided tour of this quirky and fun community on the Florida coast.  To maintain the jollity index Sandy and I also squeezed in a few days in a chateau in the wine region of Bordeaux.

Meeting up with Angie and Dave in Delray Beach - photo by Dave's Dad!

Meeting up with Angie and Dave in Delray Beach – photo by Dave’s Dad!

The Breakers Hotel West Palm Beach - an understated little place

The Breakers Hotel West Palm Beach – an understated little place

Amid all this frivolity, I have been closely associated with one of the largest proposed mergers in global technology (CSC and HP Services) and had the pleasure of facilitating the Board Strategy off-site for Heidrick and Struggles.  I also participated in an Investment Committee meeting for the Childrens Investment Fund Foundation where we considered major nutrition programmes in Africa and India.

Sandy and friends in lovely Dubrovnik

Sandy and friends in lovely Dubrovnik

The majority of the efforts of the rest of the Foster family have been firmly rooted in fun this month too – with Sandy joining her girlfriends for some time in the fascinating city of Dubrovnik, while Matt enjoyed the last few weeks of his South American adventure.  He has been in Columbia where highlights have included playing paintball in the grounds of Pablo Escobar’s mansion in Medellin (!), and gaining his PADI diving certification in a beachside resort near Cartagena.

Matt in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Columbia enjoying the last few days of his four month gap year trip to South America

Matt in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Columbia enjoying the last few days of his four month gap year trip to South America

Alex has had a more serious few weeks working his way up to and through the end of second year exams at Bath University – though he too has managed to lighten the mood with a several days with eleven of his mates in our house in Croyde.  The highlight of the period for the family though had to be celebrating my father’s 92nd birthday – a real joy!

Dad celebrates receiving a lively 92nd Birthday shirt!

Dad celebrates receiving a lively 92nd Birthday shirt!

Alex and a few of his mates take on Croyde - and clear up the mess left by Dad and his mates!

Alex and a few of his mates take on Croyde – and clear up the mess left by Dad and his mates!

The global headlines of the month have been dominated by the continuing crisis in the Middle East and the attendant migrant challenges in Europe, while the joys of “democracy” at work have played out in the US and the UK.  The steamroller that is the Trump campaign for President has rumbled on and I have been struck by the growing disconnect between the largely republican-leaning business folk, who dominate my connections over the pond, and the clearly vast numbers of ordinary Americans who are engaged by his “charisma” and populist views.  The level of actual policy debate has been exceptionally poor with childish accusations feeding the 24-hour news machines of CNN and Fox –  alongside stories about which Republican heavyweights will be persuaded to stand on the ticket to provide it with national and global credibility.

CNN lapping up the drama of this real and dangerous race

CNN lapping up the drama of this real and dangerous race

A fact-free zone on the EU debate in the UK

A fact-free zone on the EU debate in the UK

The same absence of gravitas and rationale dialogue has characterised the “Brexit” discussions in the UK.  Politicians on both sides of the question have resorted to tit-for-tat scare-mongering and simplistic statements of fantasy to galvanise the population to vote one way or the other in the upcoming referendum.  It is particularly sad to hear educated leaders such as Boris Johnson likening the EU bureaucracy to Hitler at a time when the continent is struggling to deal with the very serious consequences of the worst migrant crisis for decades.  The need for unemotional and “adult” engagement on complex challenges has never been greater and we are being harangued about how the EU is forcing us to define how many bananas you can have in a bunch!  As a lapsed classical student like Boris, I am only too aware of how dangerous true democracy can be.  The Athenians may have invented it, but within fifty years they had been destroyed by the influence of the demagogues who arose and persuaded them to engage in the wrong wars on the back of some smart speeches!

Croyde with the tide in - the North Devon coast is a long way from the Continent - but many other beaches are beginning to see arrivals of migrants

Croyde with the tide in – the North Devon coast is a long way from the Continent – but many other beaches are beginning to see arrivals of migrants

The warmer weather has renewed the latest wave of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Northern Africa and our screens have been filled with pictures of capsizing boats packed with desperate people and an ever-increasing death toll.  We are even beginning to understand how many folk are trying to cross the North Sea from mainland Europe to the UK – with the first few traffickers being caught on the Norfolk, Devon and Kent coasts.  All the attempts by Eastern European states to close their borders have merely redirected the issue.  Sadly the view that I have long held – that this is the beginning of a new normal – and not a blip caused by the conflicts in Syria and Libya – is being reinforced every day.

My book of the month - Blood Year by David Macullen

My book of the month – Blood Year by David Kilcullen

 My book of the month has been “Blood Year” by David Kilcullen.  Although Australian, he was an insider throughout the Iraq War and the subsequent foreign policy interventions in the region by the US and the West.  He paints a depressing picture of the fundamental errors made over the period after 9/11, which resulted in the rise of ISIS.  This grim reading is reinforced by the sobering news that this month there has been a renewed attempt to wrest Fallujah back from ISIS – a decade after over 1,000 US troops died trying to capture it from Al Qaeda.  We really do not have answers to these age-old conflicts and should stop pretending that we do.

The impressive Monument des Girondins in Bordeaux

The impressive Monument des Girondins in Bordeaux

CSC's new office block in Tysons Corner, Virginia

CSC’s new office block in Tysons Corner, Virginia

The world of business has been trying to calibrate the impact of these big issues, as well as the reality of a slowing Chinese economy and worsening regional relationships in Asia Pacific – which were highlighted at this month’s G7 meeting.  Business leaders are caught between shifting global confidence and the accelerating onset of new technology as they navigate a path for their organisations.  Responding to this uncertainty with a combination of greater scale and greater nimbleness has lain at the heart of my Board activities this month.  I have had the opportunity to work with the CSC Board and management team as they have undertaken due diligence on, and subsequently announced a proposed merger with the services arm of HP.  This will create a new $26bn technology firm that will be better able to invest in the new areas of cloud, digital and security and new age industry services while transitioning away from legacy infrastructure outsourcing.  The CSC stock rose by 40% on the surprise announcement as the market absorbed the potential value of the synergies.  This has certainly not been a dull Board – I only joined in August 2015 and since then we have split the company, undertaken two sizeable acquisitions and now proposed  a major merger!

Summer comes to Bryant Park New York

Summer comes to Bryant Park New York

The Board of Heidrick and Struggles met for a multi-day offsite in New York to develop their own vision of the future of a diversified human capital services company.  As Chair of the Strategy subcommittee I had the pleasure of helping to facilitate a fascinating and rewarding few days of external insights from customers and innovators, as well as exposing the core ideas from the management team.  In both the CSC and Heidrick interactions there has been a lot of light heartedness – but at heart a seriousness of intent and underlying pride in the quality of the outcomes which will impact the lives and futures of thousands of people around the world.

The scramble team from New Mountain Capital that had to put up with me

The scramble team from New Mountain Capital that had to put up with me

The New Mountain Capital team share this ambition for their portfolio companies and I had the pleasure of meeting many of the leaders of this group, as well as the partners and principals at their annual event in West Palm Beach Florida.  Here the emphasis was on relaxed interactions and much of the activity centred around golf and poker.  These  are two things that I do not really do – so my preparation for the off-site involved buying my first proper set of golf clubs and having a number of lessons, and reading “Poker for Dummies” on the plane on the way over!   I just about survived the team scramble with my dignity intact and stayed at the tables long enough not to be a complete embarrassment.   Mainly though, I met some outstanding people from the firm and their companies who share a razor sharp perspective on markets and value creation.

The Footie Dads show their Top Gear credentials outside Down End House

The Footie Dads show their Top Gear credentials outside Down End House

Cosmo and Ted engage in a sedate trundle over 200 miles from Cranleigh to Devon - Not!

Cosmo and Ted engage in a sedate trundle over 200 miles from Cranleigh to Devon – Not!

The Footie Dad’s weekend in Croyde was an even less serious affair.  I had rashly offered our holiday home as a venue for a much-discussed “away fixture” for the group of fathers who play indoor football at Cranleigh School every Saturday.  The resulting event was long on madness and good-natured banter and short of maturity and good sense.  The weekend started with the regular game at the school.  Sadly I had been crocked in a dramatic fouling incident a couple of weeks before and was reduced to watching from the sidelines.  Then, dressed in the custom-made hoodies that we had printed for the occasion everyone piled into a spectacular selection of sport cars for the 200 mile drive to Devon.  We paused for a much needed “brunch break” in a diner on the A303 before the lads continued to race, with ever-diminishing sense and increasing speed down to the house.

Throwing darts for rooms - some folk had clearly been secretly practicing!

Throwing darts for rooms – some folk had clearly been secretly practicing!

Footie gets serious as the tide comes in

Footie gets serious as the tide comes in

The group of fifteen, which is for the most part aged over fifty, then had to throw darts to select the room they would be allocated in Down End House.  The weather, which all week had threatened to be terrible, was in fact fantastic and we were all soon down on the beach engaging in a mix of beach bowls, body-boarding and of course beach football.  The latter game descended into a sort of sand-wrestling bout before we all headed back to prepare for dinner.  One of our number used to provide all the meat for the retailer Marks and Spencer and he came up trumps with some superb steaks which were duly barbecued.

Things were still pretty civilised at this point..!

Things were still pretty civilised at this point..!

Prodigious amounts of wine were consumed before the evening evolved into a set of performances around the table on the patio overlooking the ocean.  The entertainment ranged from opera singing, smurf impressions and rugby songs to an impersonation of the disgraced DJ Jimmy Savile (!?!) – all done “in the best possible taste”!  We are lucky that there are no neighbours within hearing distance!  We sat out on the balmy evening until late and I was impressed by the energy (and bodily control!) shown the next day by the cooking crew who rustled-up an outstanding breakfast.

The Footie survivors on Baggy Point - scaring the sheep again!

The Footie survivors on Baggy Point – scaring the sheep again!

We ended the weekend with a brisk walk around Baggy Point and a pint in the pub before everyone headed for home – though some did delay their departure for a while when they discovered the local beach volley ball team practicing near the car park!   As someone who has travelled for much of my working life it has been great fun to be part of this group of local friends over the past five years.  All of the group are serious players in the worlds of property, finance and business and we all look forward to our time relaxing together each week.
Our guesthouse at Chateau Biac, Bordeaux

Our guesthouse at Chateau Biac, Bordeaux

Sandy and I had a marginally more sedate long weekend in the guest house of Chateau Biac near Bordeaux and were able to take in the splendour of this recently-beautified city, as well as the surrounding wine region.  Our visit to St Emilion was a highlight, as was being shown around the newly-upgraded vineyard at the Chateau by a super- enthusiastic member of the team.  We were able to sit out on the terrace overlooking a spectacular bend in  the Garonne river, as well as take in a couple of Michelin-star restaurants.

The lovely village of St. Emilion - with its equally lovely wines

The lovely village of St. Emilion – with its equally lovely wines

Villa Eleutheria in early May sunshine on Lake Como

Villa Eleutheria in early May sunshine on Lake Como

Restaurants also featured in our return to Lake Como as we opened up the house for the year and tested the boat – it did not pass!  Our theatre-going this month had a Shakespearean focus – with Sandy seeing Kenneth Branagh’s much-aclaimed Romeo and Juliet, while we both enjoyed the RSC production of Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Barbican.  This was part of a special touring show which has incorporated amateur groups from around the country playing the Mechanicals, alongside the professional cast, as part of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death.

Boating past George Clooney's house - and still he did not invite us in for a nespresso!

Boating past George Clooney’s house – and still he did not invite us in for a Nespresso!

This has been another month where the blessed nature of our lives stands in stark contrast to so much that is happening in the world.  It is a time to be truly thankful and hope that, as the year goes on, some of the clouds which lie over so much of planet will be dispersed like the ones pictured below scudding over the heath at Winterfold.

Clouds over Winterfold Heath

Clouds over Winterfold Heath

 

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Flights of Fancy, Right Royal Celebrations & Coming Down to Earth with a Bump

Alex enjoying his skydive in the clouds above Devon

Alex enjoying his skydive in the clouds above Devon

This month has been one of tremendous variety and stimulation – mostly good with the only the odd downer!  The Foster family has been pushing the limits of experience.  Alex partook in his first (and only?) skydive over the fields of Devon and navigated his way on a charity hitchhike from Bath to Edinburgh.  Matt celebrated his 19th birthday in La Paz, Bolivia, in the midst of his four-month gap year travels around South America.  He trekked to Machu Picchu and is now working his way up the surfing beaches of the Peruvian coast.  After last month’s drama of temporarily losing one of his friends in Santiago the only major catastrophe to afflict him has been the theft of his precious Samsung S6 phone.

Matt at Machu Picchu

Matt at Machu Picchu

Alex displaying a degree of relief on landing!

Alex displaying a degree of relief on landing!

Alex’s jump had been a 21st birthday present from his mates – one which had not necessarily filled his parents with the same joy!  He successfully leapt out (was pushed out!) of the plane at 15,000 feet strapped (thankfully) to an expert and after a period of free fall, his parachute was opened and he glided relatively smoothly to earth.  He described the descent as “pretty awesome” – despite the fact that there had been some kind of minor (but unprecedented!) failure of one of the parachutes.  As anxious parents we were just glad to get the confirmatory text message of his landing.  The sense of his derring-do was only marginally undermined by the fact that earlier that day the same instructor had taken a 100 year old man on the same jump (something that featured in the main BBC evening news!).

Would you pick up these two hitchhikers ?

Would you pick up these two hitchhikers ?

His charity hitchhike involved dressing up as a rasher of bacon with his friend Molly (dressed as an egg!) and trying to get from Bath to Edinburgh without spending any money.  21 teams from Bath took part and Alex and Molly achieved a very creditable 6th by arriving within thirteen hours.   They perfected their skills at lurking in various motorway service stations and looking needy and met some interesting folk en route!

Alex takes on some much needed sustenance - the original bacon cheeseburger!

Alex takes on some much needed sustenance – the original bacon cheeseburger!

Croyde Bay in full swell

Croyde Bay in full swell

Sandy and I started April with a week at our house in North Devon where the winds and waves of the Atlantic lashed the beach below in some spectacular high tides.  We took a trip to Ilfracombe which is now graced by Damien Hurst’s enormous statue of Verity.  We enjoyed a varied month of cultural experiences, including three separate plays in London. We also had the privilege of attending the live performance at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford of a special show for the BBC to mark the 400th Anniversary of the Bard’s passing.  This included a surprise performance by the Prince of Wales reciting the “To be or not to be” lines from Hamlet.  As I was a former member of the RSC Board, Sandy and I had the pleasure of being presented to HRH and Camilla before the show.  The Prince was taking a break from marking another big milestone this month – i.e his mother’s 90th birthday and London has been awash with pageantry to celebrate this first of the many birthdays that the Queen has in a given year!

Verity on Ilfracombe Harbour

Verity on Ilfracombe Harbour

The band of the Household Cavalry marching down the Mall on the Queen's 90th Birthday

The band of the Household Cavalry marching down the Mall on the Queen’s 90th Birthday

Muse in full (noisy!) flow at the O2

Muse in full (noisy!) flow at the O2

Rather less cultural, but equally fun was attending a concert by Muse at the O2 with my brother and his family.  My ears have just about returned to normal after an extravaganza of light, video and heavy rock which definitely lived up to expectations.  Other fun included an evening with my walking buddies – nicknamed the Barolo Boys – at a wine lecture and and tasting at the Wine Society which was focused on Sicilian Wines.  This fascinating review of a little-known region was essential and enjoyable research for our next planned walking holiday in September.

Good to see the plane to Luxembourg was "solid"!

Good to see the plane to Luxembourg proclaimed that it was “solid”!

My various Boards have kept me on the road this month with the Atento session in Luxembourg and the Alexander Mann Solutions Board in the offices of owner New Mountain Capital in New York.  The Atento meeting included a review of the company’s latest strategy refresh.  There is a clear sense that this provider of call centre and CRM services in Latin America will expand its solutions to build further digital capabilities around the current voice provision in the region.   Much of the company’s business is in Brazil and, despite the challenges which the Brazilian economy is facing, there is huge demand for innovation in the way which customers and clients seek to interact.  The AMS discussions were centred in the momentum which they are seeing in their recruitment and wider talent services around the world and their success at both retaining current clients and adding major new logos to their portfolio.

View over Central Park from the Boardroom of New Mountain Capital

View over Central Park from the Boardroom of New Mountain Capital

Wishing Matt Happy 19th Birthday from Winterfold to Bolivia!

Wishing Matt Happy 19th Birthday from Winterfold to Bolivia!

While in New York I also did some further work in my capacity as Chair of the Strategy subcommittee of the Heidrick & Struggles Board. This was in preparation for next month’s offsite where we plan to explore the further differentiation of the executive search model and the focus of adjacent leadership consulting offerings.  By chance this month I found myself acting as part of the review committee for one of my companies overseeing the selection of a search consultant and a) it was good to be on the other side of the pitch table! and b) it was fascinating to see how six different players in the same space sought to stand out from the crowd.  The interplay of relationship strength, innovative tools, geographic and sector footprint and capacity to listen were telling factors in the choices made.

Another great sunset from our house in North Devon

Another great sunset from our house in North Devon

On the not-for-profit side I attended the Childrens Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) Board in London and spent some time with the Evidence, Monitoring and Evaluation team at the organisation.  The capacity to measure the impact of various investments that have been made in the development sphere is a critical, but difficult area – as I learnt from my four years as an aid Commissioner.  CIFF are looking to get the right balance between ongoing measurement of programme progress, independent monitoring of trajectory and long term evaluation and learning.  I am looking forward to working more closely with both the centre and the partners in the field to step up the impact which the Board is seeking in areas such as nutrition, health, anti-slavery and climate change.
A giant bug gets into the House of Commons to make point about malaria eradication!

A giant bug gets into the House of Commons to make point about malaria eradication!

One area where there has been undoubted global aid progress is the eradication of malaria.  This was the theme of a great session held in the House of Commons to mark World Malaria Day.   Many countries in the world have succeeded in eliminating this threat and others are on the way to doing so over the coming decades.  The meeting reinforced the importance of maintaining funding in this cause and the growing role of technology in helping to diagnose, treat, prevent and monitor progress against the disease.

University College in the spring sunshine

University College in the spring sunshine

I also attended my first meeting of the Strategy committee of Cranleigh School.  It is enlightening to see how a successful independent Prep and Senior School works to maintain its position in a market place of changing parental demands and dynamic competitors.  This was also a topic of discussion at a meeting of the University College Development Board in Oxford.  The College is coming towards the end of a very successful multi-year campaign to raise some £55m for its endowment and thoughts are turning to the next stage.  Over dinner in the glorious surroundings of the Senior Common Room we explored with the Master the levers of outreach, admissions policy, tutorial excellence and facilities which can be pulled to ensure that the college improves its academic position in Oxford.  There was some debate as to why it was that the university as a whole struggles to modernise the subjects it teaches and their relative mix, given the rise in demand for technical and vocational skills alongside the more traditional subjects.  I was pleased to defend the continuing value of the 150 places in Classics that Oxford still offers, though I also shared concerns that there were less than 20 for Computer Science!

The refurbished Goodhart Buildings at Univ - my old room (1979-80) was to the right on the floor below the roof level

The refurbished Goodhart Buildings at Univ – my old room (1979-80) was to the right on the floor below the roof level

How the Goodhart Building looked in distant 1979

How the Goodhart Building looked in distant 1979

April 2016 - 1 (1)Luckily my book of the month had been the excellent “Dynasty” by Tom Holland – which tracks the lives of the early Caesars in all their lurid detail – and so I felt that I was up to date with my facts!  The meeting included a chance to look around the newly refurbished and developed student rooms in the block that I had lived in for two years from 1979 to 1980.  The new rooms are amazingly well-appointed with ensuite bathrooms and large shared kitchen areas nearby.  Any pangs of jealousy I might have had for the young students we met were quickly dispelled when I saw them heading off for exams in their gowns the next day.  I stayed in the College overnight and it was a bit weird to get up and go for breakfast in the Queen’s Lane Coffee House – a haunt from my student days.  I was pleased that I did not to have to to leap up for 6.00am rowing practice on the river though!

View from my room in Masters Lodgings into the quod at Univ

View from my room in Master’s Lodgings into the quod at Univ

In the wider world this has been a really mixed up month of contrasts too.  There has been progress in defeating Daesh in a number of cities in Syria and it seems that efforts to squeeze their finances and intelligence is dramatically slowing their ability to recruit new fighters.  At the same time the Syrian civil war is escalating once more and the growth of IS in Libya is continuing unchecked.  The flow of refugees via the Greek islands and Turkey has been stemmed by the new “deal” on returning migrants (despite continued humanitarian concerns), but the path from North Africa to the Italian islands has just opened up for the summer with many terrible drownings.

The waves crash against the rocks at Croyde - a reminder of the perils of the sea

The waves crash against the rocks at Croyde – a reminder of the perils of the sea

Another depressing Super Tuesday in the US!

Another depressing Super Tuesday in the US!

There was a relatively thoughtful and effective “farewell” visit to Europe by Barack Obama which showed the US engaging in world affairs with a degree of “big picture” thinking.  Sadly this was more than overwhelmed by the brazen outbursts of an ever more confident and triumphant Donald Trump back in America in the race to become the next President.  Some of the wider economic arguments for Britain remaining in Europe managed to seize the initiative from the Brexiters for a period, and the pound recovered some strength, but the unresolved migrant crisis, the fears over potential expansion of visa-free travel to Turkey and the wrapping of various exit politicians in the Union Jack has resulted in a 50/50 set of recent polls about the outcome of the referendum in June.  All of this uncertainty has cast a pall over the global economy and left many commentators fearing for a renewed downturn.  Caution continues to be the watchword.

Storms gather over Westminster in ever more acrimonious Brexit debates

Storms gather over Westminster in ever more acrimonious Brexit debates

One of our many great theatre experiences this month

One of our many great theatre experiences this month

Sandy escaped from the doom and gloom by seeing Funny Girl which has opened to acclaim in London starring Sheridan Smith.  We both enjoyed performances of The End of Longing (written by and starring Matthew Perry of Friends fame) and People, Places and Things.  Both these plays interestingly dealt with the themes of addiction and redemption.  The latter is a successful transfer from The National Theatre starring the amazing Denise Gough as a recovering addict.  It was very effective to see the layers of her personality – and its impact on those around her, being peeled back one by one as she fought to get clean.

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford ready for the anniversary broadcast

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford ready for the anniversary broadcast

The drama of this performance was more than matched at the very special evening we enjoyed in Stratford.  The show was a homage to the influence of Shakespeare on theatre, ballet, musicals and more and starred a wonderful group of performers including Dame Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Tennant and many more.  The whole extravaganza was directed by Greg Doran, the Artistic Director of the RSC and was broadcast live on BBC 2.  The show ended with a moving collection of final words from various plays as we all held up tiny electric candles around the theatre in memory of the playwright.  After the exultant finale the cast assembled on stage to watch a screening of the spectacular fireworks that were set off outside the theatre.  Sandy and I walked along the specially illuminated path to the Trinity Church where Shakespeare had been buried 400 years before.  There was a solemn vigil underway in the church and we joined the group which filed past the Bard’s flower-covered grave as choristers sang in the pews.  Stories have emerged this month that his skull is apparently missing from the grave – it has probably been used for a few “Yorichs” over the years!  By chance I was at the front of the grave as midnight struck and it was a very moving and special moment to mark the life of a truly great man.

Shakespeare's grave in Trinity Church at midnight on the 400th anniversary of his death

Shakespeare’s grave in Trinity Church at midnight on the 400th anniversary of his death

The Dad's Footie crowd relax post match and discuss the various injuries - including mine!

The Dads’ Footie crowd relax post match and discuss the various injuries – including mine!

My progress to the church was not straightforward as I had to hobble along after suffering a nasty ankle injury in Dads’ footie that morning.  My desperate efforts to regain the ball had coincided with two of the larger members of the “Black” team converging on it.  As I went over there was a terrible tearing and scraping of tendons and ligaments only matched by my scream of pain.  Thankfully nothing appears to be broken, but I am “hors de combat” for a while and doing a passable impression of Long John Silver on my travels.  So just as Sandy has had her cast removed from her ankle after surgery, I have taken over limping duties for the family.  Who knows – perhaps by the end of May we might actually both be fully mobile human beings again and better able to enjoy the spring sunshine around Winterfold.

Spring daffodils at Winterfold Cottage

Spring daffodils at Winterfold Cottage

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Running Sore and a Limp Response to the Gathering Storms

Sandy enjoying our final day in the sunshine of Cape Town

Sandy enjoying our final day in the sunshine of Cape Town – before her ankle surgery!

This month began in the sunshine of South Africa, went downhill as Storm Katie lashed the UK and has closed with a bright pair of spring weekends.  For the Foster family it has been a period of both movement and stillness.  Alex ran the Bath half Marathon for the second year in a row and just about survived to tell the tale, while Matt continued his travels in Chile.  I was back and forth to the US for various meetings while Sandy was becalmed by her post-operative recovery from ankle ligament surgery.  She has had a chronic problem with this for many years and has regularly had her ankle collapse while walking along.  This has hopefully been tackled by some pretty amazing ligament shortening and reattachment as well as tendon repair on her right ankle.  The surgery appeared to go well but now the long six weeks of being in plaster has to be endured.  Sandy has been gaining speed on crutches and working on a pretty effective limp for most of the month – and I constructed a Heath Robinson-like solution to help her get stuff up and down the stairs!   Relative immobility meant that we stayed at Winterfold for Easter, where we were joined by our aged Dads to complete a house full of slow, but steady, progress!

Easter gathering of the Fosters at Winterfold with Alex and the Dads

Easter gathering of the Fosters at Winterfold with Alex and the Dads

A quite remarkable headline in the surreal US election - if Trump is terrible it will only be for four years!

A quite remarkable headline in the surreal US election – if Trump is terrible it will only be for four years!

Our relatively benign travails were in stark contrast to further terrible events in the world this month.  For the second time in just over a year both a European capital and a Pakistani city were rocked by acts of terror in the same period.  In January 2015 it was Charlie Hebdo in Paris following on from the massacre of the school children of Peshawar a month before.  This time it was Brussels airport and the attack on the Easter funfair in Lahore, where many children were again the victims.  It is becoming ever clearer that the groups of radical islamic militants around the globe are not just a few crazed individuals, but they and their supporters are probably to be counted in millions.  The world at large has thus far failed to match the scale of the issue with the robustness of its response.  This is not to condone in any way the blanket hate message against muslims that has been at the centre of Donald Trump’s rhetoric – quite the opposite – but it is to reinforce the growing and real battle between aspects of these ideologies which will, as Tony Blair has said, probably define this century.

School children in Pakistan - victims of terror in their homeland

School children in Pakistan – victims of terror in their homeland

I was in Pakistan shortly after the Peshawar school massacre and I have visited Lahore, which has for centuries been the city of learning in the country, a couple of times.  The majority of the population, both islamic and christian, clearly want to lead normal peaceful lives, but the underlying lack of stability in the region, with its historic tensions and complex relationship to Afghanistan, creates feeding grounds for radical groups of many kinds which will always seek soft targets to cause the maximum fear.  These same forces are at work across the Middle east and North and West Africa and growing in confidence and presence in mainland Europe.   We seek comfort by trying to define the issue as a problem in a particularly desolate suburb of Brussels or a rogue imam in the North of England, but the belief system which underpins these terrible acts is more pervasive and is sadly poorly understood by most of those seeking to combat it.

Sunshine struggles through the forest mists at Winterfold

Sunshine struggles through the forest mists at Winterfold

Old and new side by side in the City

Old and new side by side in the City

The terrible events in Brussels were immediately pushed to the front of the Brexit debate, with both sides using the security issues raised as ammunition for their points of view.  The migrant crisis has been similarly pressed into action with the “Remain” side seeing the power of a united Europe negotiating an imaginative repatriation deal with Turkey, and the “Exit” group describing a weakened union being held hostage by a country with a potentially dangerous desire to join the free movement of peoples across the continent.  The truth is that, regardless of the Brexit debate, the European response to the situation has been reactive, short term and weak – and with real humanitarian questions left unanswered.  The recognition of the long term structural drivers behind mass migration has been entirely absent as sticking-plaster solutions are sought around the margins of what is the other great issue of our epoch – the gap in opportunity and wealth between the North and the South.

Improving solutions for severe malnutrition is one of the goals of CIFF

Improving solutions for severe malnutrition is one of the goals of CIFF

Imaginative approaches to solving some of these latter challenges lay at the heart of several briefing sessions I enjoyed this month with the various sector teams at the Childrens Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF).  They are working to use their funds to catalyse major policy, solution and behaviour change in areas such as climate change, nutrition, early years education, adolescent health and slavery – all of which end up driving a wedge between the “haves” and the “have nots” of the world.  The trick is how to direct what are significant, but finite, investments to create sustainable models of lasting impact and to balance the dependence on public and private players on the journey.  I am looking forward to working further with the founder Sir Chris Hohn and the new CEO, Kate Hampton as they look to make a real difference.

Juggling in Bryant Park, New York

Juggling in Bryant Park, New York

My other activities this month were centred on the latest CSC Board meeting in Washington, and a series of strategy preparation sessions with the management and Board of Heidrick & Struggles in New York.   In both cases, the potential for technology to enable new business models has been at the heart of the discussion.  At Alexander Mann Solutions (another of my Boards) I was exposed to some of the innovative ways that they too are seeking to leverage digital capabilities to transform their productivity and enhance client service.  The intersection between business and all things “digital” is yet another “mega” trend of the century and I have been pleased to see that my former colleagues at Accenture are also continuing to ride this wave in their latest very positive results.

One of the latest ads for Accenture Consulting in Washington airport - still growing!

One of the latest adverts for Accenture Consulting in Washington airport – still growing!

Alex looking fresh and ready for the Bath Half Marathon

Alex looking fresh and ready for the Bath Half Marathon

Alex certainly won the prize for most effort in the family this month with his completion of the Bath Half Marathon in an impressive 1 hour 48 minutes.  The race took place on a glorious spring day which brought the golden crescents and Georgian buildings of the city to life.  Sandy (fresh from the surgeon’s table!) and I were on hand to provide moral support.  Alex clearly pushed himself to the limits however and had to be ministered to by the St John’s Ambulance brigade as he was suffering from dehydration at the end.  He was so unwell he could not even manage a post-run lunch with his friends!

Alex being led off to the St John's Ambulance tent after the race!

Alex being led off to the St John’s Ambulance tent after the race!

Matt and friends "sand boarding" in the Atacama Desert

Matt and friends “sand boarding” in the Atacama Desert

Matt has spent the month working his way from the vineyards of Argentina, through Santiago and Valparaiso in Chile to the Atacama Desert and on into Bolivia on his gap year travels.  Apart from having to report one of the group as a missing person to the Santiago police (he was found twelve hours later!), the journey appears to have been enjoyable and relatively crisis-free to date.  The only major shock for his concerned parents was caused by the radical shaven haircut he went for, which made him look like just the kind of person that the Belgian police are looking for!

Matt - after his surprising hair cut in Argentina

Matt – after his surprising hair cut in Argentina

....where did this cute little kid go!

….where did this cute little kid go!

The fabulous Adele concert at the O2

The fabulous Adele concert at the O2

Despite Sandy being confined to crutches, we have been able to enjoy the usual wide range of cultural experiences.  The highlight was probably the concert by Adele at the O2, where this talented artist showed off both her amazing voice but also her capacity to be very funny and natural.  We saw another great female star, Ellie Goulding, perform in the same location just a few days later and, while she could not quite compete with Adele, the show was fun and had me at least up and dancing!

The first read-through of Sir Christopher Bland's play on the Easter Rising at the RSC rehearsal rooms

The first read-through of Sir Christopher Bland’s play on the Easter Rising at the RSC rehearsal rooms

The green tee-shirt brigade thronging the streets of New York on St Patrick's Day

The green tee-shirt brigade thronging the streets of New York on St Patrick’s Day

Our theatrical excursions this month included the dark comedy “Bad Jews” and a unique first read-through of the first play by my friend Sir Christopher Bland.  Chris is the former Chair of the RSC and he has produced a play on the Easter Rising in Ireland (the centenary of which was celebrated this month).  It was very interesting to see how a group of actors begins to get into a new piece of work and the play itself taught me a lot about an area of history that I knew little of.  Irish “culture” had also been much on display in my trip to New York which coincided with St Patrick’s Day.  This appears to be an excuse for students from the city to put on bright green tee-shirts, adorned with ribald messages and get very publicly drunk!  I tried to point out to my taxi driver, as we pushed our way through the swaying mobs, that even in Dublin there would be less celebration than was apparent in New York, Chicago and Boston!

The triumphant curtain-call for the Cranleigh School production of Les Miserables

The triumphant curtain-call for the Cranleigh School production of Les Miserables

Sandy and I were also treated to spectacular performance of the musical “Les Miserables” by the students of Cranleigh School.  Everything about this show, from the singing, through the acting to the music and sets, was close to professional standards.  This musical was originally an RSC production and last week I spent time at the latest Commercial Board meeting of the company evaluating the success of the current tours of Matilda in the US and Australia and looking ahead to further opportunities in the UK.  Who knows when Cranleigh might be performing this!

The draft designs for the extension of Peaslake Free School used in the consultation

The draft designs for the extension of Peaslake Free School used in the consultation

This has been big month for education policy in the UK, with the announcement in the Budget speech of the plan to dismantle the local authority-based education system and replace it with full academisation for all state secondary and primary schools.  We discussed the implications of this move at the latest Governor meeting of Peaslake Free School.  Fortunately the school is continuing to go from strength to strength with record admissions requests from potential parents, and, as an existing Free School, we are somewhat ahead of the policy change.  We have embarked upon some exciting development plans to expand the current school building and create more dedicated space for the Nursery and school children.  I presided over an open consultation meeting in the village and was delighted to see that most of the neighbours seem to be happy with our plans.  Meanwhile in my other school Governor role at Cranleigh, we discussed some very significant building and facility upgrades on an altogether different scale, and it will be exciting to see how these develop too!

Book of the month "Zulu" by Saul David

Book of the month “Zulu” by Saul David

My book of the month was “Zulu” by Saul David.  I had started this compelling and critical history while Sandy and I were in Kwa-Zulu Natal and many of the locations in the book were close to where we had travelled in February.  The overwhelming theme of the book is the relative incompetence of the British army’s efforts to subdue the Zulu nation in the late 1870’s, culminating in the defeat at Isandlwana and the heroic stand at Rorke’s Drift.  The narrative is particularly fascinating in its attempt to convey the machinations of the politicians, the various generals and an interfering Queen Victoria!  The book also covered the eventual defeat of King Cetshwayo and the imposition of the divisive colonial model which led to the poverty-stricken hamlets which characterise the region to this day.  It represents a salutary lesson in the West’s sense of “right” to intervene in other cultures for the “greater good”.  As the politicians of today grapple with how to deal with Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan, to name but a few, we could usefully bear this mind!

A painting by the great Zimbabwean painter Makiwa Mutoba - one of purchases in South Africa

A painting by the great Zimbabwean painter Makiwa Mutoba – one of purchases in South Africa

A tree felled by Storm Katie on Winterfold Heath

A tree felled by Storm Katie on Winterfold Heath

March is known for being mix between “a Lion” and “a Lamb” and certainly things got a bit wild in the middle of the month at Storm Katie hit the UK.  The winds were pretty strong and lots of trees and power-lines were brought down.  We suffered a power cut for several hours in the forest and quite a few trees on Winterfold Heath we blown over by the gusts of up to 60mph.  Fortunately our recent clearing of some areas of the forest reduced the damage and our newly planted christmas tree plantation withstood the storm!  We are now looking forward to more lamb-like weather to come as Spring hits its stride.

The Foster christmas tree plantation on Winterfold Heath - need to wait a bit now!

The Foster christmas tree plantation on Winterfold Heath – need to wait a bit now!

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60th Postmark – Temporary “Brexit”s & New Strategies for Turbulent Times

The glorious landscape of the Franschhoek valley

The glorious landscape of the Franschhoek valley

This month marks five years since my retirement from Accenture and therefore the 60th edition of Postmark!  It is hard to believe how fast the time has flown and the breadth and depth of the experiences that I have been able to share over this period.  I am grateful to those of you who have persevered with me on this journey, and looking forward to engaging with all my readers (bizarre and eclectic bunch that you are!) around the adventures and ideas to come.

Becoming part of the view in Cape Town

Becoming part of the view in Cape Town

Seeing Matt off on his four month "Brexit" to South America

Seeing Matt off on his four month “Brexit” to South America

Sandy and I have marked this milestone by making our own temporary exit from Britain.  We have not done this for political or economic reasons but for the rather more obvious desire to find some sunshine in the midst of the European winter.  Freed as we are now from the parental obligations to our offspring (nearly!), we have been able to take an extended trip to South Africa and enjoy most of the month in a holiday rental in the midst of the winelands of the Western Cape.  The climate has lived up to expectations as have the experiences we have been able to enjoy in Franschhoek, Cape Town, the Western coast and latterly on safari in the Eastern Cape.  The other family “Brexit” was the departure of our son Matt on a four month trip around South America as part of his gap year.

Watching an unorthodox performance of La Boheme in the bar of G-Live Guidlford

Watching an unorthodox performance of La Boheme in the bar of G-Live Guildford

While we have been away, the saga of the UK’s relationship with the EU has reached new peaks of frenzy as David Cameron has been concluding his negotiations with Brussels on Britain’s redefined place in the union and the plans for a referendum on UK membership in June have been confirmed.  The so-called “Brexit” outcome of the UK leaving the EU has lurched in and out of looking more probable as politicians, business, the media have set out to convince the person-in-the-street about the benefits and challenges of continued membership.

New moon over a EU-frenzied Westminster

New moon over a EU-frenzied Westminster

As very interested spectators observing the action from several thousand (lovely warm) miles away it has been extremely clear how much timing and context plays into events and how the consequences of different trends converge.  These factors play out both at a local and a global level.  It is of course not yet clear what the outcome of the vote will be, but it is already evident that the wider economic case for staying in the EU has been subsumed behind the more current issues of migration control and even the political manoeuvring around the succession to David Cameron at the head of the Conservative Party.

Big beasts lock teeth in the real jungle of Isimangaliso, Natal

Big beasts lock teeth in the real jungle of Isimangaliso, Natal

If the debate on membership was taking place at a time when Europe was not suffering from 1 million migrants from Syria and beyond, or when migration to the UK from within the EU had not reached new peaks, then a broader view on the trade-off between the value of being part of a bigger market vs. the bureaucracy that comes with it could take place.  If there was not a charismatic (if slightly off-the-wall) alternative leader to the Prime Minister needing to find a platform for a future succession then this vital discussion would not risk coming down to a political popularity contest.  As it is, the “new deal” which Cameron has been negotiating already seems to be a relative non-event compared to the bigger forces at play.

Sunset over Paternoster, Western Cape

Sunset over Paternoster, Western Cape

It is also possible to see how wider global networks of issues are conflating.  The Syrian migrant crisis is being exacerbated by the military activity taking place in this beleaguered country, which in turn has been given a substantial jolt from the intervention of the Russians.  Their ambiguous support for the fight against Daesh has been motivated in part by Putin’s desire to distract attention from the Ukrainian situation and the dire state of the Russian economy caused by the drop in the price of oil.   Some have even seen a deeper conspiracy to weaken European unity by exacerbating the migrant pressures.  Oil is a factor in the deadly web of relationships which surround Syria with Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia all motivated to stir up the situation on the ground.  And all of this is without bringing Turkey into the mix, with their stubborn focus on attacking the Kurds on their shared border with Syria as part of a their own statement of independence from the West.

Syria - A Recent History by John McHugo

Syria – A Recent History by John McHugo

My book of the month was “Syria – A Recent History” by John McHugo.  This is a very readable account of the past century of turmoil in this richly historic part of the world.  What emerges is the relentless fashion in which first the colonial ambitions of Britain and France, then the Cold war proxies of the region, and finally the tribal, religious and family tensions in the country itself have conspired to rob the people of a stable and peaceful life.  The nation is connected to so many regional issues that it is hard to see a way forward which does not perpetuate this trend.  The faltering Geneva peace talks and recent cease fire do not look like changing this historic picture in any meaningful way.

Central Park, New York viewed from the New Mountain Capital offices

Central Park, New York viewed from the New Mountain Capital offices

Across the Atlantic the race for the White House has been hi-jacked by the fear and uncertainty of the US’s position in this fast-changing world.  As Donald Trump, with his strong anti immigration and anti-Muslim rhetoric, marches on, the mandate for a lame duck President to intervene meaningfully in global debates and peace-making is diminished.  It is no wonder that with all this going on, and the BRIC economies spluttering, the global outlook has worsened meaningfully over the past few weeks.  And now we come full circle to the UK Brexit decision – which ought to be about whether or not the UK is better placed to withstand the global economic shocks to come as a strong player inside the European Union or not.  The bigger picture of the value of scale to survive issues and the need to be an influential actor in the world between the US and the East was a driver for Britain joining in the 1970’s and should be the key determinant now as well.  This factor should also be influencing European leaders to avoid fragmentation in their response to the migrant crisis.

Playing a last (terrible) game of golf with Matt before his departure

Playing a last (terrible) game of golf with Matt before his departure

For all this uncertainty (or perhaps because of it), this has been a big month for engaging in new strategic processes.  I participated in the latest Heidrick Board meeting in New York, where I have taken on the chairmanship of a new Strategy committee of the Board, and engaged in strategy-related conference calls with the McKinsey team at Atento, another of my Boards, as well as with the new Board of the Childrens Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), where I have been appointed as a special advisor.  I was also asked to join the heads of Consulting at my old stamping ground of Accenture as they looked to chart a renewed strategic focus on this part of the business.  It was slightly surreal after nearly five years to find myself back in the London office and interacting with so many old friends.

One of the many braai's we enjoyed in South Africa

One of the many braai’s we enjoyed in South Africa

All of these strategy processes are valuable and important activities, but rendered challenging by the context outlined above.  The volatility and shifting priorities of the day-to-day can make it hard to step back and act on bigger picture, more long-term trends.  The impact of digitisation, automation and technology and the potential for disruption of all these organisations is real, but trying to balance accessing new models and approaches with dealing with the tactical moves to protect the current activities, is a challenge which they are all looking to meet in pragmatic and thoughtful ways.

Matt and his friend Jack (with the halo!) have a epiphany under the Christ statue in Rio

Matt and his friend Jack (with the halo!) have a epiphany under the Christ statue in Rio

Our younger son Matt has been experiencing the volatile global economy at first hand on the initial leg of this four-month gap year trip around Latin America.  He and his friends have survived the rigours of the carnival in Rio, the beef-fuelled night-life of Buenos Aires (though apparently without any tango action!), and is currently in Uruguay after some spectacular days at the Iguazu Falls.  Interactions and updates have been about as sketchy and sporadic as anticipated but all seems to be going well.

Alex taking his studies very seriously in a Bath nightclub!

Alex taking his studies very seriously in a Bath nightclub!

Meanwhile Alex has been buried in a corporate finance module at Bath University, while practising for the half marathon in the city next month.  We were all pleased that the exams he took at the start of the year turned out well and he was relieved to be able to celebrate accordingly!  Meanwhile, other entertainment I have enjoyed includes a unique production of La Boheme by the group Operaupclose at Guildford and a fascinating evening hosted by the solicitors Hogan Lovell, where my old friend Mark Moody-Stewart was a star turn on a panel discussing the relationship between Human Rights and business.

Our lovely rental home in the centre of Franschhoek

Our lovely rental home in the centre of Franschhoek

South Africa has become a bit of a feature of our winter escapes over the past decade and, now that we do not have the excuse of our boys’ cricket tours to the country, we just like going to this amazing place to enjoy the lifestyle, the environment and the people.  This year we decided to take a three week rental in the town of Franschhoek in the heart of the Winelands.  This small town, with its incredible selection of fine art shops, vineyards and world class restaurants has been a favourite stop for us for a long time.

Sandy has another really tough decision to make as to her favourite wine in the Maison winery

Sandy has another really tough decision to make as to her favourite wine in the Maison winery

Cloud blankets the mountains behind one of the many vineyards

Cloud blankets the mountains behind one of the many vineyards

The amazing spectacle of the Newlands Cricket ground under Table Mountain, Cape Town

The amazing spectacle of the Newlands Cricket ground under Table Mountain, Cape Town

England losing the final ODI at Cape Town after being 2-0 up in the series

England losing the fifth and final ODI at Cape Town after being 2-0 up in the series

This year we used it as a base for trips into nearby Cape Town (to celebrate Valentines Day by watching the final One Day International (ODI) cricket match between England and South Africa – what a romantic I am!), a visit to the wild west coast of the Cape and few days on safari across the country in Kwa Zulu Natal.  We joined the local gym in a vain attempt to counter the calories which we were consuming from all the fabulous wine and food, and even had a couple of golf lessons to try to hone our desperately basic skills.  The western coastline up around the white-painted town of Paternoster and the nearby wildlife parks with their expansive wetlands and flamingos proved well worth a visit.

Wild waves on the west coast of the Cape

Wild waves on the west coast of the Cape

Flamingos in the West Coast wildlife park

Flamingos in the West Coast wildlife park

A white rhino in the Umfolozi Park, with helpful birds cleaning its back

A white rhino in the Umfolozi Park, with helpful birds cleaning its back

We also enjoyed the three days we spent in the Hluhluwe Umfolozi national park near the town of St Lucia on the opposite coast north of Durban.  This area is famous for its hippos and rhinos – and we saw a lot of both of these amazing creatures.  Sadly the whole region is suffering from both a terrible drought and the predations of poachers.  The rangers in the “wetlands” of Isimangaliso and the usually green hills of Umfolozi spoke of fighting a losing battle to keep the animals alive, despite the introduction of new watch towers and drone technology.

An interesting warning sign in the Umfolozi Park

An interesting warning sign in the Umfolozi Park

Young antelope on the watch out for leopards

Young antelope on the watch out for leopards

A lone bull elephant in the park

A lone bull elephant in the park

A monkey scavenging by the roadside

A monkey scavenging by the roadside

Warthog finding a bit of greenery

Warthog finding a bit of greenery

A croc awaiting its passing dinner in the Isimangaliso wetlands

A croc awaiting its passing dinner in the Isimangaliso wetlands

A literal zebra crossing

A literal zebra crossing

An old traditional building in downtown Malmesbury

An old traditional building in downtown Malmesbury

The last time I had been in Natal several years ago, I had visited a poverty-stricken municipality which Accenture Development Partnerships were trying to support, and it was evident that the economic challenges remain very real in this part of the country, with very poor and disadvantaged communities all around.  The wider nation is suffering too from mismanagement of its many assets and the persistent stories of corruption which dominate the local news.  So, while we were able to take advantage of a very low Rand, the significant impact of the worsening economy on the lives of the majority of the population, who do not inhabit beautiful enclaves such as Franschhoek and Paternoster, remains a challenge.

Wheat fields in the Cape

Dry wheat fields in the drought-effected Cape

So now we have returned to the tail end of the UK winter and look forward to seeing some new and positive progress in wider world affairs to match the hoped for better weather of the coming UK Spring!

Memories of sunshine in the winelands to keep us going to the Spring

Memories of sunshine in the winelands to keep us going to the Spring

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