The Naked Emperor: A Pragmatic Approach



What follows is the blog Wallace asked me to withdraw 0n 27/9/2010….

Once upon a time there was a Saudi business man who decided his company could better expand by inviting a global project management team to aid him. Tenders were called for, and a young, spunky group (with a flair for exaggerating their experience and resources) were chosen.
So thrilled were they with winning the tender (and so ignorant at understanding the ruthless bargaining of an Arab), they bent over backwards to meet all his requirements: including slashing the price of an already cheap proposal.
Enter  Wallace..
He accepted the position of Program Director and went to work alongside the Arab to show him how to successfully build his business.
Wallace graduated as an architect from Melbourne University in 1982.
He has worked on many major projects including Melbourne’s Federation Square, and Crown Casino, Lippo Supermall (largest in SE Asia at the time),and Qatar’s National Convention Centre. His gift lies not so much in design as in the timely application of processes and procedures that see a project meet its deadlines. He is also able to decipher reams of documents and follow the web of an organisation chart to distinguish where weak links lie, what hamper’s a project’s progress and what needs to be done to get things back on track: he’s the ideal ‘change agent”.
It didn’t take him long to discover the Arab was harbouring an inept group of paper shufflers who fed him lies and exaggerations, who took a whole day just to write one letter and then  a week to pass it on – into an overflowing in-basket that sat on the Arab’s desk. In short, Wallace discovered a thriving network of nincumpoops within the organisation – and that the Arab wasn’t much better! Wallace quickly realised what needed to be done and diplomatically set out to show the Arab what changes would need to be made to stop the rot, improve the progress of all his projects, and move forward as the Arab had desired.
Here lay the challenge!
Every suggestion Wallace made cost money and good money was required to bring in qualified westerners to fill positions taken up by the nincumpoops but few westerners were willing to come to Riyadh for ‘peanuts’ (which was about the only thing left once the Arab had bargained the guts out of the original proposal!)
The other major hurdle was that the Arab had no idea how to run such major projects, but had a lot of ‘wasta’ (influence and power) and was not used to having some one else  tell him what to do – least of all, an ínfidel.
As each month passed, Wallace continued doing the work of at least three other people: mainly because the Arab kept thwarting any attempts to introduce new staff and side shift or (heaven forbid!) sack some of his nincumpoops that kept all the projects in a perpetual mess. Wallace ran workshops, did project forecast presentations, worked long hours setting out processes and procedures to streamline the office: all to no avail.
The Arab preferred listening to his subservient nincumpoops, keeping his machismo power of authority while perpetually talking down to Wallace – sometimes in a hostile manner.
Each monthly report Wallace produced had a follow up action sheet which the Arab either ignored or the nincumpoops sabotaged.
Wallace kept his company informed about the failure of the Arab to implement the suggested changes, the continuing distress of all the projects in the hands of the nincumpoops, and the continuing hostility, arrogance and put downs Wallace faced daily. While Wallace had the guts to tell the emperor he was naked, his company chose to kowtow and bow.
Meanwhile, his Area Manager (14 years his junior) would visit from a neighbouring Arab country and hear and see for himself the total disregard the Arab placed on Wallace’s recommendations. Much to his credit, he backed up Wallace’s advice, gave Wallace 4/5 at his six-monthly performance review, and he did inform the Arab that best business practice requires that ‘you don’t use a sledgehammer to crack a nut’.
Eid arrived, and we planned a two-week vacation to Greece.
Wallace notified his company that his visa would expire in the middle of Eid and was aware that all government offices would be closed. He reminded his company of this weeks in advance, and they fumbled about weaving through Saudi’s ever-changing visa application procedures.
We left  for Greece on 5th September, still unaware of how Wallace would return to Riyadh. Before we left, we packed up all our belongings and vacated the hotel, in anticipation of returning to occupy a villa we had found. I first saw this house on July 7th and fell in love with it. (see my blog: ‘Home Among the Palm Trees’) and for reasons as complicated and as exasperating as many of the ‘Saudi Way’, I held my peace and waited patiently to occupy ‘my’ home.
My entry, ‘Stranger in Paradise,’ gives you an idea of the contrast between life in Riyadh and life in freedom. My joy was uncontainable: I was as free as a bird. Surrounded by loving relatives, feasting, swimming in the sea without fear of offending, catching the sun on my bare arms and laughing in mixed company with Greek music, song and dance under a starry sky – it was all too good to be true – and I braced myself for my return to Riyadh.
During our wonderful holiday, Wallace was instructed to go to Australia to apply for his visa (ie. 17,000 km to get a Saudi visa!!) and I decided to stay on in Greece until such time he could return; we would meet again in Bahrain and fly into Riyadh together.
My freedom in Greece gave me the courage to come out from behind my veil and write, ‘The Games Up’. It was in answer to the difficulties that seemed to erupt, like a volcano, in the final days before Wallace’s leave and that quickly followed him to Greece. His secretary (a male, of course) wrote telling him that he had grave concerns and that the Arab was on the warpath, blaming Wallace for lack of progress on the project, etc. Wallace contacted his superiors in the hope they would back him up. Instead, the Managing Director wrote Wallace a terse, unemotional email that said he was aware of the situation and would be meeting the other chieftains to come to a solution. Wallace requested the Cavalry; in return, he got a phone call from the Area Manager stating he was no longer required to return to Riyadh: the Arab had requested a ”change of leadership.”
“We’ve had to take a pragmatic approach,” he continued, (in other words, if the Arab doesn’t want you, then we have to remove you, whatever the emperor wants, the emperor gets….bow, lick, scrape…just keep paying us please because we are young and spunky and this job looks terrific on our whiz bang – new age – we are the world – website.)
When Wallace  joined the company in March this year, he took on the Riyadh job realising the difficulties and challenges but assured that as a global company, he would find work with them elsewhere. Their newsletters often boast of transfers between Geneva, London, Hong Kong, etc and the thought of this kept him going.
Wallace has been left in limbo.
He is living out of a suitcase in Melbourne.
I am living out of a suitcase in Greece.
May the Arab reap what he has sown and may the nincumpoops be chosen to star in a remake of ‘The Three Stooges’.
I’ll keep you posted



5 responses »

  1. whatever it was your writing? … hehehehe

    I hope your doing well whereever you are. how is wallace holding out? please send him my regards.



    • Yes NZ, it is all too familiar when you step out of sanity and step backwards professionally.
      I am happy to say that Wallace is now employed on a major project back in Melbourne and says it’s refreshing to work amongst professionals again..the strain and stress is gone!
      All the best with your husband’s employment!


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