Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter


 A good friend of mine has finally taken the plunge, he has abandoned Microsoft and gone over to Apple. He purchased iPhones and iPads for himself and his wife, a MacBook Air, a 27” iMac plus assorted peripherals. All this was purchased on line and delivered to his door. Then he called me to ask me to help set it up, but first he wanted to pay his first ever visit to an Apple store. And as good od Dante wrote about the gates of hel “Abandon hope all ye who enter”

Some say a friend in need is a friend indeed, but as I am the archetypal cynic I say a friend in need is a bloody nuisance. But as I had been down a similar road I said I would help him, even if it meant visiting the dreaded Apple store at our local shopping centre.

He  needed to purchase some software but he also had a faulty power lead to exchange. Now to set the scene, my mate does not know his iCloud from his iTunes, so he is let’s say an Apple virgin.

We arrived at the shopping centre and I braced myself as I avoid the Apple store like the plague. I considered chanting one of my wife’s relaxation mantras to myself but baulked at that. Maybe a couple of my mother in law’s anti-depressants may have helped but I did not need those, or did i? On entering the shop we pushed our way through the masses and were soon accosted by some acned youth how proceeded to say to me “Wassup dude?”. Instantly I forgot my thoughts of tranquillity and peace and barked at him “It’s Sir or Mr Keating to you pal”. My Liverpool accent coming to the fore. The Apple child visibly shrank and before he could retort I barked “get me one of your bloody geniuses from your genius bar now, and I don’t have an appointment and don’t keep me waiting”. He moved with speed to the rear counter and dragged the genius over. The kid proceeded to discuss the return of the power cord with the Apple child and completely ignored myself and friend in tow. I could feel the red mist descending over my eyes. But before I could launch another salvo he disappeared into the rear of the shop and in second came bake with the replacement lead.

The software purchase was simple as I scanned the boxes with my iPhone and paid via my Apple id. Easy because no children from Apple were involved. My mate then wanted to get an Apple Ultimate, Express and apple TV plus HDMI connectors and leads. So we headed to Dick Smiths, where we were not treated like senile buffers, the staff friendly and human and guess what, it was cheaper to get the gear there.

Now for the easy part, setting it up all this hardware  at his house. In Apple’s defence, wireless networks, file sharing, email sync, the whole set up is easy and quick.  Especially when there are no Apple children on the scene.

That was two days ago, but the next instalment is to try to explain to my mate the Apple virgin about iCloud, iTunes, Apple IDs and iPhoto. I think for tonight’s visit to my friend’s place I will raid my wife’s meditation tapes and help myself to a handful  of the mother in law’s Zoloft.

Consultants and their “Visions”

Sometimes trying to control consultants on a design and construct project is similar to catching a runaway horse. That is if you come to the project after the design process has begun. What is this “vision” that architects wax eloquently on about. Forget the vision for a moment; just consider how many dollars we have to deliver what is in the client brief. Why, all of a sudden, do embellishments appear on the drawings before they are at “for construction issue”?

We refer to this as “design creep”. Utter nonsense. It is lack of design control and has to be nipped in the bud. What happens is that the drawings through the design phase are issued to the project team and then they are pored over, red pen at the ready, to check that the consultants have not added anything which is either incorrect or not required. The more “prestigious” the consultant the more likely for this to occur. It could be argued that the cost of design creep is proportional to the size of the consultant’s (usually the architect’s) ego. If I hear the words vision, statement or landmark one more time at a design meeting, I may start taking a Taser to the meeting instead of the red pen.

Of course they consider me a philistine or a dumb builder, but we have deliver projects that satisfy various parameters including the client’s brief, various approvals and my budget. Some consultants, people who we hire to provide a service, just don’t get it.

So how do we deal with this problem? It is easy if you are there from the initial discussions. It is called control. However, the onsite construction team do not get involved until the design train is hurtling down the track heading for derailment. Then you give our consultant friends a reality check and guess what they don’t like it. No more latte style nebulous meetings, we are now down to brass tacks. If we are trying to design down to a budget and the consultant team have been previously chasing visions, it is going to end in tears before bedtime. You become the hardnosed school teacher with a class full of recalcitrant children. I usually revert to the simplest method of reining in the runaway horse. Dollars. When it is pointed out that these embellishments, visions etc. are going to hurt the budget, simply deduct monies from the consultancy agreement for wasted time. That is the time the project team spends with the red pen and the abortive time the consultants have spent producing spurious design.

If the bricklayer uses the wrong bricks do we pay him because he thought they would look better? We do not but yet we are prepared to pay for consultants to fix up what they should not have done in the first place.

Consultants need clear direction, strong management and as soon as they veer away from the brief jump on them from a great height. They won’t like it – but it is not their budget.

The Three Rules

OK there is nothing worse than unsolicited advice and over the years I have been given lots of it. I may have given it out as well, probably with good intention rather than malice aforethought. But when I filter through some of the nonsense purporting to be good advice, I discover there have been a few gems. This is about the three rules of business and they could not be simpler:

  1. Don’t have partners
  2. Don’t employ anybody
  3. Always use someone else’s money

Yes it sounds a bit twee but if you strive towards these and consider them goals more so than rules, then they have some merit.


They cause the most concern. People change, people get greedy and before long you end up with a committee style management  were individuals do what they always end up doing, they look out for themselves


Who in their right mind would want to employ anybody these days. Unfair dismissal, payroll tax, theft etc. you train them and then they take everything they have learnt and either use it for the next employer or for themselves.


We all know in construction there is a merry go round of clients paying contractors and contractors paying subcontractors. In most cases everyone is waiting to get paid whilst the costs of running their businesses just keep coming in. So we end up funding the very people who owe us money and how do you build that into shrinking margins.

It is a simple task to highlight the problems of standard companies with partners  employees and overdrafts, so what is the ideal business. I reckon one of my good friends has the answer. He buys electrical cable wholesale. The kind that is used in domestic situations. It is sold in hardware shops, it never changes specification, unlimited shelf life and a large amount can be stored in a relatively small area. He has a simple machine which unwinds the large cable drum and winds it onto smaller cable reels, then he has it picked up by couriers and sent out to he various outlets he services. The business consist of him, his machine and space under his house. On delivery the payment goes straight into his account so he is always paid before he has to pay his supplier.

He has no partners to consider, no whingeing employees, always cash positive, earns a very good income and above all – he is happy doing it.

Fishing for Jobs

I find myself in the job market. Trolling seek.com and sending resumes to the ubiquitous employment consultant, and not holding my breath for immediate positive feedback. Having decided on a break from the slings and arrows of site based project management I decided to take some time to catch up on several tasks that have escaped my attention over the last couple of years. New kitchen, car purchases, holiday, writing, catching up with people and most important of all just simply spending time with my darling wife. But lets not get into Shades of Gray, this blog is about the recruitment consultant.

Over the years I have been their client as a candidate and as a customer. I have hired many staff over the years and have been found several jobs through them. I have seen the good and the bad from both sides. So perhaps the simplest way is to categorise them.

The Mate

The Mate wants to be your friend.  Often they will pick up on my accent (Liverpool) and if they are poms (and many are) will instantly assume that I have just arrived in Australia and proceed to put down Australians and try to strike some accord with me because we happen to have been born in the same country. So after a minute of matey xenophobic chatter they tell you how strong your resume is and how they have several positions ideal for you. The trouble is they are often inexperienced and if they can get me as the candidate offside they will have no chance with a perspective employer. Nil out of ten.

The Child

Everyone has to start somewhere. Unfortunately, lack of training and inexperience shows. These consultants tend to dwell in the larger recruitment companies who use them for initial candidate interrogation. Those who are upfront about being simply an initial call, may in time progress, those who pretend to be more experienced than they are, will fall by the wayside. Three out of ten.

The Soldier

These are recruiters that have been in the game for some time. They process information they receive but lack panache. If they are thorough (and some even call you back and remember your name) then they work well for candidates and clients alike. Six out of ten.

The Fisherman

These are the best. They have experience, even understanding what the client wants and only put forward candidates that the client would employ. They are pleasant but not chatty, call you with feedback, understand what the client wants, ask the hard questions of the candidates. But they are few and far between. I have dealt with four of them over the years. I call them fishermen because they understand bait ie the resume, the fish ie the candidate and hooking the client. They score a ten out of ten and will tell you upfront if the position is beyond your experience.

The interesting fact is that they are all female and bloody good at their jobs. Ok open twitter and duck Gerry!

La vida es sueño

Don’t worry I am not going soft but possible a touch of reversion to my youth and memories of being beaten in the name of Catholicism. As school children we were forced with regular beatings, by so-called christian brothers, to read the classics and to my surprise I still re-read some of those ancient scribblers. The title of this post comes from Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600 to 1681) who was one of them, a scribbler not one of those catholic sadists.

The play’s most famous lines are:

“Qué es la vida?
Un frensí. 
Una ilusión,
una sombra,
una ficción,
y el mayor bien es pequeño: que toda la vida es sueño, y los sueños, sueños son.”
“What is life? 
An illusion,
one shadow,
a fiction,
and the greatest good is small: that all life is a dream, and dreams are dreams”

As mentioned, I often read these old classics and what prompted me to pick up this dog-eared book was a chance meeting with on old adversary. He was the client’s representative and I the builder’s project manager. Whenever I would call him and I would ask how he was doing, the reply was always the same – “living the dream, just living the dream Gerry”

I was in the city last week and we bumped into each other and of course we went through the normal pleasantries trying not to refer to the “project from hell” Of course I asked if he was still living the dream and where was he working. His response was that he had given up on construction, mining and resources and had opened a coffee shop. He was sick and tired of battling with clients and contractors and just wanted a quieter life. This surprised me as he used to be my arch-enemy and had a very good reputation around the town. He was actually a good client rep (not many of those around town). So I was surprised and could not understand why he would swap working on projects for a fate worst then death ie dealing with the great unwashed public. So after listening to him ramble on for half an hour and when I was about to go he let me in to how he accessed “the dream”.

He makes $1.00 net profit on each coffee sold. He averages 7,500 coffees per week and does not have to read crappy emails from the likes of me. I let him pay and decided I best start planning to execute my dream.


The jungle is dense and the river is deep

This little gem of advice was given to me some years back up in the farthest reaches of Kalimantan (Borneo as we used to call it). I was PM on my first resources project, building new infrastructure on a brand new open cut coal mine.

The team consisted of me,  my resident engineer, a contracts manager and 750 locals. The project included all buildings, plant maintenance facilities, barge loading, purchase of all mine plant, and a 45 Klm haul road. Total value about $US100m. All carried out through virgin rain forest with the only access by sea or helicopter. That was the construction side, but the other part of the project was to set up a cost structure for getting the coal out of the ground, taking it to the river, loading barges and delivering it to coal ships moored in deep water. A cost structure that would accurately manage costs and report/forecast on the profitability of the business.

The mine was Indonesian owned and the owners had a very simple philosophy. They knew how much they could sell a tonne of coal for, so they simply wanted to know the cost of getting it out of the ground and delivered to their clients’ ships.

The way it had been set up was haphazard with all subcontractors charging on a cost plus basis. One of my tasks was simply to stop this and get everyone working on fixed price lump sum term contracts. Maybe easy to do in sunny Brisbane but a bit more challenging in deepest Kalimantan. So I set about the task by working out what it was costing, the average selling price of coal project over the next three years, discounted cash flows, capital investment, the normal run of the mill spreadsheet heaven.

I called a meeting of about 100 subcontractors, all locals. They turned up in pretty much the same uniform of shorts, ripped off tee shirts, and many with ubiquitous parangs (you call that a knife, a parang is a big bloody knife). So with my interpreter I commence my spiel, being ultra careful not to point, raise my feet to expose the soles etc etc. After about twenty minutes of extolling the virtues of the certainties of fixed price arrangements, the win win relationship plus all sorts of similar management speak, a small figure at the back stood up. Not only did the audience go quite, my Indonesian interpreter went visibly pail. The interlocutor spoke firmly for ten seconds and the room if it were possible went even quieter. My interpreter was reluctant to speak but after physically prodding him for the translation, he whispered to me, a feat in itself as I was two foot taller than him, that the firm spoken speaker had said, “The rivers are deep and the jungle is dense”.

I was baffled and asked him what does he mean. My diminutive friend responded in his best interpretation of my scouse accent, “Er keep this up mate and you won’t be going home in a box ‘cos they won’t find yer body pal”

I ditched fixed price negotiations immediately and from that point on we were all friends. The infrastructure was completed, the price of coal to China went up, the subbies made money, the client smiled (or was it wind) and I flew home a year later business class.

Data Protection

Five months ago we had an addition to our family – Max. Of course he is the apple of my eye and has been showered with love and affection from his arrival. Yes there has been sleep disruption and lots of additional expense but that goes with the territory of expanding the family.

Last week my dear wife returned to work and as I am currently working from home, I was entrusted with looking after my beamish boy. This meant lists of tasks from by other half, one of which was to talk to the medical insurance company. It appeared that max’s health insurance premium had not been getting deducted from my credit card. So armed with all the relevant information ie dates, account numbers, policy details etc I proceeded to call the insurance company.

It should be noted that I do not normally deal with insurances, ban statement, or bills of any kind. They all fall under the purview of my wife. my philosophy being that as I deal with dollars, contracts, payments, claims and recalcitrant subcontractors all day, I can leave all the personal paperwork to my highly organised wife. ask me how much our rates are and I would not have a clue. as to who supplies the gas and electricity, I do not have the foggiest. How the household bills are paid is a mystery to me. but my wife, bless her, had written on the list that Max’s health insurance should come out of my MasterCard on the 20th of each month and to date not transactions had occurred.

So I call the enquiry line wich turns out to be somewhere in the environs of Bombay. A very pleasant lady took my details, the policy number, max’s date of birth, my credit card details etc. I explained that the money had not been leaving my account and could she help me,

She said no and could not discuss Max with me. The reason being the insurance policy had been arranged by my wife and due to “Data Protection” she could not discuss the policy, the payment or even Max with me. I explained that Max was ours, the money was to come from my account, but the lady was adamant. At this point Max, who had been soundly asleep, awoke. I explained that max could verify my identity but could not speak, after all he is only five months old.

So she could not help me send her my own money and my wife had to speak with them the next day. This will probably be the last time i foray into the household budget area. cash flow reporting and job cost forecasting on multi million dollar projects is much simpler.

By the way here is a picture of the beloved Max.

I read the news today – oh boy

It seems that everytime I get chance to look at the local paper in Brisbane there appears another company I know or had dealings with has gone into recevership.

All these companies are construction subcontractors or suppliers to the construction industry. Some of them I have known for many years and where long established second or third generation companies. Invariably their demise had been caused by the domino effect of a developer hitting the skids, the builder gets into cash flow problems and the subcontractor looses out. This despite the plethora of successive governments’ promises and legislation to protect those at the bottom of the development food chain.

Another, not so obvious reason, is the move to receivership to avoid owners personal liability for paying of owed superannuation to its employees. The law changed this year and now a company cannot simply go bust and the owners/directors walk away from what is owed in superannuation payments.

I picked up the paper the other day and realised I was owed, or at least my superannuation fund was owed, by some grub who I carried out some painful variations reconciliation. Yes they got paid their variations, I received some of my fee but my super is now in the creditors basket. Mind you with the recent returns on super it is no big deal. On the same page a family company started four generations ago had also gone down the proverbial gurgler. This company where a specialist subcontractor and I have had dealings with them for years in many reincarnations of my peripatetic career. These people where honest, paid their people (and their superannuation), mum answered the phone, dad did the quotes and the two sons carried out the work on site. The reason they went was because the aforementioned grub had not paid them $500K. They have lost everything, income, houses, the whole box and dice.

I saw the grub last night parking his new AMG SL outside our local bottle shop.

Being the Client

I spend my working life trying to keep clients happy, delivering projects and adding to the bottom line for the company I am working for. But recently I was the client. We had decided on a new kitchen at home and as I was working far away from home my darling wife had to be the design/project/site manager. All I had to do was “sign off” on layouts, colours, appliances, light fittings, bench tops etc.

My wife has a friend who earlier in the year had a similar kitchen installation and her friend was very pleased with the job and highly recommended the kitchen company who carried out the work.

Now wearing the client’s hat my concerns were quality, wow factor and dollars. I was not around and purposely kept at arm’s length, well it is 3,600 klms to site from the kitchen!

My wife worked through the design with the kitchen company’s designer, the choices of layout/materials were made and installation was carried out. There was not a single drama, missed date, dollar over run and the end result far exceeded what I expected.


It was like buying a new car. the designer sent us computer images of the final agreed kitchen and the photos of the finished job looked just the same.

Design Image

This company did what they said they would do. They did not mess us about, turned up when they said they would and managed all trades, liaised with the appliance suppliers and simply looked after the client.


If only I could find contractors with this ability to carry out work for me on mine site. Unfortunately there are few fitted kitchen on a coal or iron ore mine.

The company is Integrity Kitchens www.integrity-kitchen.com.au and the main man who did literally turned my wife’s dream into reality is Greg Trigger –  greg@integrity-kitchen.com.au 07 3390 1200

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Thank you Greg and all the team at Integrity.

Compulsory Reading for PMs and CAs

Courtesy of Penguin Books

Liverpool, buildings, hard times and struggle. These are some of the ingredients that attract me to books, people and media articles.

I have often been accused of misanthropic attitudes so to recommend the antithesis ie philanthropy may shock some readers, but I really don’t want my epitaph to be “Here lies a misanthropic narcissist”.

You do not need to be a card carrying communist union official to get something from Robert Tressell’s 1914 political novel. If you are not one of the aforementioned it may help you understand where they are coming from.

This illustration was commissioned by Penguin for the cover of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, which tells the story of a group of working men who are joined one day by Owen, a journeyman-prophet with a vision of a just society. Owen’s spirited attacks on the greed and dishonesty of the capitalist system rouse his men from their political quietism. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is known as a masterpiece of wit and political passion, one of the most authentic novels of English working class life ever written, but it was Owen’s forbearance rather than his radicalism which moved me. His capacity for suffering is almost masochistic. So I set out to depict him with an emaciated Christ-like aura as he endures the harassment and intimidation of his overseer (left) and employer (right)

I have read this book many times and I notice it is free on Guttenberg as per following link:


I have often suggested to Contract Administrators to read it (and some new age Project Managers). mainly so they can understand how things used to be and maybe having a high-handed attitude with subcontractors is not the way to get the best out of them.


And for those who want to get a feel of classical French literature try Moliere’s classic Le Misanthrope (in English):