My Little Linkedin Laboratory

Or how a certain Mark Z. envies me

Dear scapegoats, the articles I share on Linkedin, reveal it all. The social media representative for serious professionals is no more a posh version of “look at my picture perfect Facebook/Instagram life.” Want some proof? Just compare the number of views for the various articles I post on Linkedin.

The Dutch health care system, compared to the US,i is something nobody cares about, the link generated just 16 hits in two months. Remember, I worked for several years in health care finance and am connected to quite a few people from back then.ii

On the other hand, everybody seems to love the post about collecting football playing cards – and that story is in Dutch. So much for a global workforce. Perhaps it’s more my age than my professional friends, but people can’t seem to get enough of the story about how Panini, the Italian manufacturer of collectible cards withers the football 2018 championship, without Gli Azzurri (the Blue Ones), pretty well.

Me, I liked the article because it tells the story of a business that flourishes despite the odds. Guess I’m an old-school finance dinosaur. Cutting costs is easy but maintaining – or even better – growing sales, that’s what’s it all about. Besides if you cut cost when business is bad, all you are doing is help sink the Titanic faster.

From the day I joined, I disliked the hype that goes with anything people post on Linkedin. We all have these Aha moments. I call ‘m “look at me, the world’s greatest showman.” A favourite classic is a former co-worker who stated she was skilled in accounting. The lady worked as a controller. Despite that the words debit meant look to the left (door). By design credit was synonymous with look to the right (window). No surprise here, but she struggled with both terms. Does it mean she was bad at her job? No, she was respected by management for digging deeper and getting the real story. Accounting just wasn’t for her.

If you cannot relate to the above, have a little fun and browse your connections. While you do that, count the number of people who claim leadership skills, creative or forward looking. I can hear your growl: “if he ever becomes a leader, we’ll go bankrupt within 24 hours.” Hey, there is a reason I write this on a sunny Saturday afternoon. We all recharge our batteries during the weekend and no better way than to have a good laugh.

So my advice is, don’t take Linkedin too seriously. You need it to prove you’ve actually worked in all those magical places you’ve listed in your bio. Other than that be smart about where you apply your bragging rights.

 


i The Dutch DBC classicification closely follows the ICD grouping for diseases.

ii If health care finance sounds boring, think again. Averaging about ten percent of GDP globally, it literally is big business. If you like a challenge – which 99 percent of Linkedin profiles say they do – the ever changing landscape of health care finance might be just your cup of tea. Want even more of a challenge? How about retroactive legislation that leaves you scrambling for the door.

The complexity of health care finance is ill understood. When I applied for a job at the investment arm of a major Dutch bank, my future boss knew all about it. It’s one reason he hired me over other candidates.

To the credit of my co-workers, I loved it. We were a dedicated team. Everybody was prepared to go the extra mile. We had a great time, so good in fact, that ten years after we all left, we still see each other once or twice a year for dinner and drinks. Now that I think of it, it’s time to send out another invite.

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Exposure – Inside the Olympus Scandal An Englishman in Tokyo, what can go wrong?

After 30 years working at a Japanese company, a foreigner is promoted to the top job. After being fired for addressing accounting irregularities, he turns whistleblower and a scandal erupts.

Despite the fact that Mr. Woodford at regular intervals expresses his love for his 40.000+ co-workers at Olympus, he cheers victory whenever the share price hits the next low, following yet another incident. The way I read it, the first part of the book deals with his escape from Japan, possibly because his life was in danger. The second act is all about revenge, disguised as helping Olympus – and indirectly Japan Inc. – back on its feet.

The final act is the most puzzling. Throughout the book Mr. Woodford expresses his love for some of the creature comforts in life that are only available to the well-to-do. One wonders whether his editor was entirely sympathetic to his plight. For some reason Mr. Woodford is unable to understand that all this bragging weakens his argument.

As far as anyone can penetrate a foreign culture, Mr. Woodward does a pretty good job. That is why it is all the more surprising that after kicking the fuss of a lifetime in a country where appearance matters most, he still believes he can return at the helm of Olympus. It’s basically a reprisal of the creature comforts.

Despite the book’s lavish anecdotal evidence, most of his support is foreign investors. Knowing very well that one of the key elements of the Japanese business environment is cross-shareholding, he comes across as naive, to say the least. On top of that, how likely is it in the Western world for a former executive – one who unveiled the scandal that rocked a nation – to be returned to the top job? Wouldn’t it be better for a new generation to take the helm?

Even with an afterword by Jake Adelstein, who probably knows more about Japan’s underworld than any other non-Japanese, one cannot wonder just how pressing the threat of being killed by the Yakuza was.

Moreover, once the plot is explained – losses are hidden for decades through financial engineering – what is left of the Yakuza threat? Hiding 1.7 billion Yen may sound spectacular, but divide it by 100 and you get a rough estimate of the dollar or euro value.

Despite that, what Mr. Woodford describes is basically the nightmare of any manager. Once in charge, you find out about past wrongdoings and there is no way you can correct the situation. Even worse, everybody else is actively working against you. Sometimes you just cannot win and the only victory you can claim, is keeping in mind that even after you’re fired, you still bear responsible for your former co-workers. To be right and doing the right thing not always entirely overlap.

Exposure: Inside the Olympus Scandal: How I Went from CEO to Whistleblower – Michael Woodford (2014)

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