D Murali

Disaster prevention in treacherous environments

Updated on: Apr 27, 2011








People across the world consume about 85 million barrels of oil each day, and we have used up the easy-to-reach sources of oil, observe Stanley Reed and Alison Fitzgerald in In Too Deep: BP and the drilling race that took it down ( www.wiley.com ). “As a consequence, the industry is moving into more and more treacherous environments. It is in all of our interests to make sure that the industry adopts the safest possible practices, but we should not delude ourselves into thinking that risk can ever be completely eliminated,” the authors add.

They note that, as an aftermath of the massive oil accident that BP recently experienced, drilling is likely to become more expensive. For instance, the book cites estimates speaking of delays and costs in the Gulf of Mexico going up by 20 per cent. Yet, as the author adds, the governments of oil producing countries, which depend on the international oil industry for revenues, are unlikely to shoo the golden geese away, warnings and threats notwithstanding.

New safety rules

Thankfully, disaster prevention is getting its due attention, on par with profit, through a series of new safety rules. The book mentions, as example, the proposal to build a standby containment system for deepwater blowouts that would allow the oil companies to cap blown-out wells and capture most of the oil before it spreads into the Gulf of Mexico.

“Operated by a non-profit company, the Marine Well Containment Company, the new system would receive an initial investment of $1 billion, and it would be designed to do all the things that BP and the industry so miserably failed to do after the Macondo blowout. The apparatus would look much like what BP used to eventually capture a portion of the oil and channel it to the surface…”

Instructive read.

Private trade

Almost every European in the East, be he ensign or ambassador, prelate or president, was engaged in some branch of trade on his own account, writes John Keay in The Honourable Company: A history of the English East India Company ( www.harpercollins.co.in ). The salaries paid by the Company were ‘miserly' – 200 pounds per annum for a president, 5 pounds per annum for a writer – one learns. Even with generous allowances for subsistence and servants it was impossible to live in comfort, let alone make a fortune, without speculating in trade, reasons Keay.

Many hues

There was also the ‘private trade,' by those who were not in the employ of any company, the author informs. He explains that the phrase ‘private trade' could fuzzily denote anything from the modest cargo space allowed by the company to its factors and ships' captains on voyages to and from Europe to the entire evil-smelling contents of a Hooghly barge that would never leave the river, or a part share in a many-decked Surat galleon sailing for the Red Sea.

An examination of the shipping records for Madras suggests that the number of Company ships calling there was greatly exceeded by the number of ships that did not belong to the Company, notes Keay. “Of the latter some are described as Indian, Armenian or Burmese but this did not preclude their officers being European or their cargoes being all or partly the ventures of European syndicates…”

Absorbing narrative.

Corporate office vs field staff

While accountability of the field staff can be measured in terms of business outcomes, accountability of the corporate office functionaries has to be weighed in terms of intangibles such as timely support, motivation provided, staff development initiatives and intelligent business inputs, says Anil K. Khandelwal in Dare to Lead: The transformation of Bank of Baroda ( www.sagepublications.com ).

When top executives demand superior performance from the field functionaries, they also have an obligation and responsibility to give the required support, resources, guidance and business wisdom to enable them in delivering profitable outcomes, insists Khandelwal.

Exchange ideas

Stating that a vital role of a leader is to initiate a dialogue and encourage exchange of ideas between the corporate office and field functionaries, he advises corporate functionaries to respect the feedback, insights and inputs from the field functionaries when designing growth strategies and new products.

In a section on ‘communication,' the author underlines that if we expect our frontline to engage itself with our vision and be a partner in the transformation process, we need to make space for people to speak freely about the issues and problems that hinder their performance. “We need to open the door for regular conversation with our employees. We don't have answers to all the problems while sitting in the executive suite. The conversation and dialogue with employees help us to create entirely new possibility and solutions to our problems.”

Recommended study.

Down the black hole

Death is a clear problem in the secrecy business, frets B. V. Kumar in The Darker Side of Black Money ( www.konarkpublishers.com ). It is not easy to make sure that secret property gets into the right hands when the principal dies, he cautions. “Unless careful provision is made to inform heirs of the whereabouts and avenues for obtaining access to secret assets, they may well get lost. This is obvious in the case of wealth left in holes in the ground. It is less obvious in the case of other high-secrecy assets, particularly offshore, that involve tangled legal contracts, complex and potentially weak trust relationships, and numbered accounts.”

Upon death, heirs may have great difficulty tracing the assets, establishing ownership, and taking possession, the author alerts. On the other hand, as he highlights, the more care the individual takes prior to death to ensure an orderly transfer of assets, the greater is the potential threat to secrecy through enhanced transparency of the relevant relationships.

Incisive treatment.



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Published on May 01, 2011

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