Thursday, March 27, 2008

Operations (or What I had to think about today)

Sorry - I've just realised this is a very involved post about work! I'll be back to the dodgy photos tomorrow :)

I had an intense day today at our Bristol office with the other members of the Operations Strategy team. Immersion in operation management strategy all day = exhausted brain.

Just to give you some background:

I work for ABC which is a PLC i.e. with public shareholders. The management board of our parent group sets out the growth and profit targets for each operating company. All the employees are aware of this, but most of us just get on with it and leave the management to the Directors. However, last week I was asked to be part of the strategy team. Eeeek.

This year ABC Group has told ABC-UK-CakeShop (my operating company) that as part of the latest 5 year targets, we have to achieve 5% growth every year and 0.5% increase in profit every year.

That's not easy. 5% growth means that if you are a 1000-employee company, you need to hire 50 new staff a year to grow by 5%. You need to provide enough office space, IT support, HR support, training etc for those additional 50 people. Plus, if natural staff turnover is about 10% anyway, you actually need to recruit 150 a year. There are a lot of costs associated with recruitment - because you don't just want to recruit the next guy on the street. It is estimated that the recruitment costs for each new member of staff is equivalent to one year of his or her salary. HR time, management time, agency costs, handover costs, inefficiency while "learning the ropes", colleagues having to "show you the ropes"....adds up to tens of thousands of pounds in lost earnings.

And most important of all, if we hire 50 additional staff, we need to make sure that our sales income can support all of these guys.

Consider that we need to do this every year....

0.5% profit increase per year is even harder to achieve. This means, year on year, we need to become more and more efficient at generating profit. We can't just charge our Clients more money every year without any added value (they would just tell us to **** off). How can you make everyone in your company produce 0.5% more profit this year than last year?

This isn't just increase in profit but increase in percentage profit. For example, 2008, you have 100 staff. If overall costs are £20,000 per staff member; then £2,000,000 is break even. If you earn £2,080,000, that's £80,000 profit - 4%.

Now it's 2009, you have 105 staff which hits the 5% growth target. Break even is £2,100,000. You earn £2,185,000 i.e £85,000 profit. More money than last year, but still only 4% profit so you have actually failed. Vastly oversimplified, I know - but just an illustration.

One obvious way is to outsource our low-end or back-office work to other countries i.e. reduce the direct costs. Everyone knows about Indian call centres, right? We are already doing this i.e. we have ABC-Manila which handles work for the UK and Hong Kong. ABC-India is also up and running, so soon we will be under pressure to send work there too.

The thing is, that's not enough. We will also be competing with companies from countries with lower costs eg India or China. That's already happened with software and telecoms providers. Within the next few years, we predict that the big players from these countries will also try to penetrate the UK market in our industry.

There are other strategy teams looking at different aspects, but I am in the Operations team which is all about delivery. How we can improve our systems and processes company-wide, how we can produce more for less, while still improving quality.

The UK Ops Director is ultimately in charge of this and it is an immense reponsibility. Operations seems to be today's theme. Terminal Five at Heathrow opened today and the baggage system has gone haywire. BA's Director of Operations has been on the news apologising profusely. I bet he's having a bad day.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter

It's Easter, which means church, chocolate and DIY. The Pope is on TV, the chocolate eggs have been plundered and I am eating hot cross buns.

It's cold and rainy today, but that's not going to spoil my Easter mood.

Happy Easter everyone. Rejoice!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Thursday night in Chinatown

After work drinks I met Mr KE who had to work late and we trotted off to Chinatown for dinner.

We went to Lee Ho Fook on Gerrard Street which is not one of our usual haunts. Maybe it was late, but the service was really bad and when the bill came it was £40 more than expected. After a quick look through the receipts, we found that they had charged us for the next table's food as well. Hmmmm.

We thought it was a mistake, but I have since read the review on London Eating and it has happened to two other reviewers. They are cheats! I am tempted to go to the police station and make a complaint!

The food was OK. We had crispy duck (disappointing, dry stale pancakes, cucumber and spring onions that had been sitting around all day, average duck); beef in black pepper sauce (good), noodles with prawns (nice) and lobster in spicy sauce (nice but messy).

I've posted a photo of the lobster. 7/10 for taste, 4/10 for presentation and 3/10 for service.

Colleagues or Friends?

On Thursday night I went for a few drinks after work with my colleagues to start off the long Easter weekend. Drinking with colleagues is interesting (can't find another word for it) because it's different to drinking with friends. Everyone is trying to avoid the guy with bad BO and you hope you don't get stuck in the corner with the office whiner.

Plus there is the usual slagging-off of people who don't buy their round. Those people are considered scum. OK, a bit of background is called for: in the UK, people generally buy drinks in rounds i.e. one person will buy drinks for the whole group, then another person will buy the next round etc. So over a night, people will take it in turns to buy drinks and if it doesn't even out on the night, that's OK because over time everyone will buy his/her fair share of drinks.

See, it all works well except for "round-dodgers" who are universally disliked. Even though it appears all casual, it is noted. Women can be the worst, I'm afraid to say. They are happy to have drinks bought for them all night; which stinks in this day and age. It might be OK, if you are with your friends, who are generally more forgiving, but let's face it..colleagues are not your friends.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sunday Night

I've been meaning to make a cheesecake for ages, so today I tried this recipe. If you are trying it out, don't forget to read the tips too.

At the end of the recipe, it says to leave the cake to cool in the oven for 5 to 6 hours. *shock* Apparently this stops the cake surface from cracking. Normally I can hardly even wait for cakes to cool before pouncing on them. After 4 hours I cracked and took it out of the oven.

I don't have a roasting pan big enough to act act as a proper bain-marie so I just filled up a pan with hot water and put it on the shelf below the cake. It seemed to do the trick.

I managed to restrain myself and we had the cake for dessert after dinner. Dinner was rib-eye steak with salad, plus chips for Mr K-E. I used leftover sour cream from the cake to make a sauce with some mushrooms.

The cake was nice but not as sweet as I expected. Mr K-E has a sweet tooth and he suggested, next time double the amount of sugar. Hmmm, not sure about that.

Now I feel sick after two helpings of cake. I only have myself to blame, hahaha.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Strategic Bluffing

A few weeks ago, my Director forwarded me an e-mail about high-level strategy teams that are being set up at work. There are four teams : People (i.e. human resources, I believe), Clients and Markets, Operations and Finance.

I was surprised and flattered to find myself on the list for the Operations team, especially as the other people on the team include MDs for the various operating companies. I will probably be the youngest person in the team of eight. Obviously, this will be good for my career and an opportunity to make an impression on the top guys.

The problem is, this is making really nervous. I am a tech-ie at heart and usually sneer at phrases like KPIs, Core Competencies, Operations Management etc etc. Hey, all us techies know that the real progress is made by the front-line troops...who needs all this management bullshit?

Well, deep in my little techie heart, I know that this is the way up in terms of career progression. It's great that I've been put forward and now I have to show that I can make a contribution to long term corporate strategy.

But aaarrrggggghhh, I don't know anything about strategic operations management. And there is an all day workshop in April with all these top guys and me...trying to sound intelligent. I can just imagine the scene.

UK MD: So, Katie-Ella what do you think about XXXX? Do you think it will make a difference to our overall product delivery?
Katie-Ella: Erm. Erm. Actually........Erm.....*pretend to faint*

Not good, huh?

Like a true bookworm, I believe that everything can be learnt from books, so I've been trawling Amazon trying to find a dummies guide to corporate finance, operations management etc. Any suggestions gratefully received!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Under the Eagle by Simon Scarrow

Sweaty men fighting it out in Roman times. Combines some of my favourite things: a) military men b) fighting with swords and c) Romans. What's not to like?

How long has it been since I've blogged about a book? I've been reading lots but haven't got round to posting about this book; I suppose I should update my "what I'm reading" picture before it withers and dies from neglect.

This book was fun. Yes, I have a military fetish. Yes, I love reading about Rome. Hey, even before that Gladiator movie I was already into Lindsey Davis and Steven Saylor. It's a period of history that fascinates me - the complex social structure, the empire, the civilisation that was "lost". Plus, it's history-lite.

The book's two main protagonists are Macro and Cato, who serve in Second Legion. This book is the first in a series and I presume the series will continue with their adventures and some historical background thrown in.

Macro is the experienced battle-hardened illiterate soldier who has made it to Centurion through guts, hard work and a bit of luck. Cato is Macro's young, bookish inexperienced assistant who doesn't know what he's doing and has to prove himself. They are plagued by corrupt superiors, bullies and deceitful women. Sound familiar? Yeah, I know, just like a dozen other cop movies and bad TV shows. Original, no. Entertaining, yes.


I'm watching Justin Timberlake's "My Love" video. Why is this man so weirdly sexy?

He looks like any other guy on the street.
He's skinny.
He can sing a bit.
OK, he's a straight guy who can dance.

He's just strangely attractive. Yep, I know lots of other women who agree :)

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Mr K-E and the Mountains

Mr K-E is back! After 10 days of this...

Here's Mr K-E wrapped up warm as it was -12 degrees. Bbbrrrrr.

He took a few photos of the food, like a good blogger's husband. This is weinerschnitznel.

This is schinkenbratkartoffeln - which means bacon and fried potatoes. It also comes with two fried eggs on top. Just what you need to warm you up on a cold afternoon. Mr K-E says you have to eat fast, or else your food freezes (literally)!

Mr K-E was in Switzerland with his friends for 5 days and then Austria for the rest of the time. Here's the house they rented while in Austria. It has a sauna and plunge pool too, how civilised.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Five times Five

Apparently if you write down your goals you are more likely to achieve them. About a zillion management self-help books can't be wrong. I don't think it's the magical effect of writing them down that does the trick. If you actually a) have goals to write down and b) make the effort to list them, then you are probably quite a focused person anyway.

So. Where do I want to be in five years time? To be honest, I just want an extension of where I am now, just more so. (Doesn't make sense? Never mind)

So, deep we go...

Katie-Ella's five things I want five years from now

1. have a happy little family: me, Mr K-E and our little mini-mes.

2. parents to be worry-free and enjoying their retirement.

3. be fit and active, with time for myself and the things that I enjoy doing eg reading, hanging round in bookshops for hours, wandering around museums.

4. run my own team at work, with my own Clients and all the financial responsibility that brings.

5. be a little less materialistic and a little more concerned about my fellow man.

I'll make that handbag list tomorrow.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Whose life is this anyway?

It's Thursday night and depressingly, I have nothing to blog about. No exciting foodie tales, no sunny-side-up snapshots, no sexy mama thrills this week. OK, I could blog about work, ye Gods, I can just imagine all my (2) loyal readers rolling their eyes now.

This week has been spent in a series of meetings in stuffy, over-heated rooms. To be fair, they haven't been boring. I usually have to pay careful attention in meetings anyway, in case I have to leap in and defend my corner.

Sometimes I do wonder...what the heck am I doing here? It's almost like I'm living someone else's life - going to work on the bus, eating sandwiches for lunch every day, being all "professional" at work and sending snotty e-mails to people who aren't doing their job, going home to a messy flat and eating McCain's oven chips for dinner. Who is this woman exactly? And how did she reach this point : sitting at big table trying to out-manouevre a load of overweight fifty-ish white guys in bad suits?

Not me, surely? I'm the girl from Kampung XXX ( a small neighbourhood in Brunei) who eats chicken rice for lunch and drives to Gadong to work every day. I'm the girl who has breakfast with her Dad and loves to eat deep fried fish with soy sauce and rice. I'm the girl who doesn't have any interest in domestic affairs; goes to HuaHo with her Mum after dinner and just pushes the trolley around. I don't even put the food away when we get home, I just slink off to watch TV in the air-conditioned living room with tiles on the floor. I'm the girl who likes to hang out in Booker International and buy magazines on Saturday afternoon.

My real life is starting to feel a little bit unreal.

Saturday, March 01, 2008


Mr K-E is away *sigh* for 10 days with his snowboarding buddies, first in Switzerland then Austria. He did mention something about cleaning or housework before he left, but do you think I'll be doing any housework while he's playing in the snow and drinking all night with his pals? As if!

The sofa is already covered by evidence of my naturally slovenly behavior - magazines, trashy novels, half eaten packs of chocolate biscuits and empty crisp packets. At this rate when Mr K-E gets back he'll have to fight this way through a forest of empty Pringle cannisters and takeaway boxes. Ho ho.

When Mr K-E is away or busy, what do I like to do? Visit museums and art galleries! That's something that i really enjoy and don't do enough of i.e. wander around galleries on my own. Today I am heading on down to the National Gallery. I may even get an audio guide.