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!
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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) !