Older generations

Cyprus is one of the countries that I love. It is dusty, very hot and full of friendly people to whom hospitality is an integral part of their lifestyle.  The island was named after the copper that came from there in ancient times, and was used by the ancient Greeks to make their armour and weapons of bronze. 

My father came from Cyprus and he was brought up in a village called Amiandos, Greek for asbestos.  The old asbestos mines were created at the turn of the last century and the village of Amiandos established to serve the mines. In those days the health problems associated with asbestos were not well known and as a young boy my father, in common with other villagers mined asbestos for a Danish company that owned the mine.

My father, Nicolas Christou Kyriakides, was a bright boy and was lucky enough, in around 1930, to be sent to Alexandria to study at a technical school and work for his Uncle who lived there. He served in the Second World War, spending many years as a prisoner of war and suffering the common deprivations of prisoners of war in what was then German occupied Czechoslovakia.

Like many people when the war was over he sought a life without risk and excitement, taking pleasure in his family and working very hard to educate his children. There were many people like my father after the Second World War, who sought a simple life without risk. They had already taken enough risks for a lifetime in a few years of war.

 When I was young every older man had a story about wartime experiences to tell; these stories told of risk, danger, hardship, death and disease which in the words of the movie, makes the problems of us today not worth a hill of beans.

We agonise today about equality and sustainability, not freedom and liberty. The older generations sacrificed their lives for freedom and liberty. Today people avoid personal sacrifice, as though it was a mug’s game, and greed is socially good.  Our brightest people aim to go into banking or work for hedge funds to create their own personal wealth, rather than consider personal sacrifice for the common good, quite unlike so many of my father’s generation.

We also seem indifferent to bad or incompetent behaviour. We see many banks failing to comply with their prime duty – to preserve the assets they have. As a result of forgetting that the money under their control has been earned by the labour thrift of sacrifice of millions of people,  they launched into a series of speculations with the money of their depositors and shareholders at great risk to everyone but themselves. They bought financial instruments whose effects they did not understand – we must at least credit them with not speculating knowing that the assets they bought were not worth a candle.  

Now the speculations are known to be worthless those running the banks trot out a mantra. “The present chief executives are experienced people and the best people to steer the banks out of trouble.”

To my father and most of his generation this would have been specious nonsense. They would have seen matters quite simply. The chief executives and senior management were paid to protect not gamble, because they were in the main using money that had been hard earned and was intended to be saved and used by the savers when the saver could no longer earn the money.

The fact that the present chief executives and senior managers of companies in the banking sector are experienced is neither here nor there; their experience has been exposed to be irrelevant, because experience itself is no substitute for competence.

In previous generations people made sacrifices; sometimes these sacrifices are worthwhile and at other times they were simply a waste of life. Nevertheless the intention to subjugate personal interest for the common good, which was the motivation for many sacrifices, is a worthwhile and praiseworthy thing.  My father would have been surprised that no one would have told the Chief Executives of the banks it was time for them to forgo their huge salaries and bonuses not linked to performance and let someone else do the job.

Generations come and go but the fundamentals of human nature remain the same. I am not harking back to a golden era – every generation has its own problems and its own style and I cannot criticise those today who worship at the altar of greed and self interest.  We made them, after all and gave them the framework and laws to indulge themselves at our expense, so it is no surprise that they do so.

I do think it important to respect the values that older generations held, particularly in their sacrifices for the common good, and hope that today people will look at and use the good things that my father’s generation brought into the world because those good things are worth much more than a hill of beans.

 

2 Responses

  1. Robert, I agree that experience isn’t a substitute for competence, it really amuses me when I see job advertisements for experienced people, I think that if a person has worked in a job for a long time it does not necessarily mean they are the best to do that job! However if a person can show lifelong learning and is up to date and consistently incrementaly.
    That is what a management guru Tom Peters suggested that an employer should be looking for on a CV and not experience.

    This sounds like a really experienced person:
    “….Gary Hamel is a Founder and the Chairman of Strategos, a Visiting Professor of Strategic and International Management at the London Business School, and the Thomas S. Murphy Distinguished Research Fellow at Harvard Business School…”

    But he talks B******s

    I have a copy of Gary Hamel’s book entitled ‘Leading The Revolution’ in the middle of the book Gary Hamel, gives an example of what he believes is the right way to “lead the revolution” the company is ENRON and we know now what happened to that company!

    I think wisdom should not be confused with experience.

    I think motivation should not be confused with experience.

    I am not a Professor but I knew when I read the book before ENRON colapsed that it was a bubble. All hyped up Fluff and no substance, but no one would have listened to me because I had no experience and therefore no credibility.

    Some people can be very experienced at making cr*p for instance making bricks and selling them as paper-weights, it is feasible to apply TQM to this and have ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 accreditation etc, even although it is cr*p

  2. Wisdom and understanding, yes.

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