In 2015, a high-technological corporation in the Netherlands, Royal Imtech, with some 22,000 employees, active in infrastructure, building & construction, maintenance & control, ran into financial trouble. The main causes of this bankruptcy were the inflated egos of the former CEO and CFO, who had both held positions from 2002 till February 2013, acting like ‘sun-kings’, and a lack of monitoring and control.
The book “It Can’t Be True”, published in February 2015, was based on 2 years of research from over 200 in-depth interviews in the City of London. In his book. Luyendijk makes comparisons with the world of animals: traders are baboons, investment bankers are tigers, back-office employees are hard-working beavers and the departments of compliance and risk management are ants. The majority of the employees in the sector are therefore beavers and ants whose task is to control the tigers and baboons. Mission impossible!
Black swans are large-scale unpredictable and irregular events that have a massive consequence. Examples are a tsunami, huge storms like Sandy in 2012, 9/11, Madrid 2004, and the loss of MH17. Antifragility means randomness, uncertainty, dealing with the unknown, doing things without understanding them and doing them well. However, it is easier to find out if something is fragile.
The story starts every year with the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the heads of the corporate world meet: CEOs, political friends and the consultancy-whisperers. They blame the politicians who are not able to solve the crisis, corporate management already has a focus on the future, and multinationals take the lead in solving the big future challenges: sustainability, growth and poverty.
Choosing a strategy entails making decisions that explicitly cut off possibilities and options. It is a natural reaction to make the challenge less daunting by turning it into a problem that can be solved with tried and tested tools. The strategic plan is supported with detailed spreadsheets that project costs and revenues quite far into the future. At the end of this strategy process everyone feels much less scared; so this is about coping with fear of the unknown.
Peter Diamandis founded the prestigious US Singularity University, active in research on new technologies and author of the bestseller “Abundance”. One of his visions is that technology developments do not just follow the linear curve of growth, but do, however, follow the curve exponentially. Many Boards underestimate the speed of technology change and when this happens exponentially the company loses ground. There are numerous examples where this occurs, the latest being Blackberry and Nokia.
In November 2013, Professor Admati was in Amsterdam presenting her book “The Bankers’ New Clothes” and speaking about the false lobby of the Dutch National Employer’s Organization VNO-NCW on Dutch banks. The professor sees herself as “a voice in the wilderness” because banks in the Netherlands and Europe want to keep to the 3% requirement of equity on total assets.