Tuesday, November 26, 2013

‘Legacy projects’ and some tips for Leighton’s auditors…

Most people that read my writings know that English is not my native language.
Lots of them often compliment me, how they think I have a reasonable command over it.
Still, every time I set out to do any type of research that involves Leighton Holdings or its subsidiaries; my understanding of the English language is put to a major test;

Take, for example this statement from their website:
Continuous disclosure of the Group’s activities is a legal necessity for a publicly-listed company such as Leighton Holdings, and is essential in maintaining shareholder confidence and market trust.”

Are they kidding me? Or is this really serious?
I can scroll through hundreds of pages of reports, media releases and whatnots and still have absolutely no confidence that this is not just a carefully crafted PR blurb set out to manipulate me.

OK, maybe not me, I have too much inside knowledge, but everyone else, the media, present and future shareholders.

Still, even without having 'insider knowledge', it is hard to imagine that anyone will fall unquestionably for these publications that are closer to highly made-up political campaign-boards then serious company reports that one can trust.

The one area that I know a bit more about than the others LH operates in, are the workings of HLG (Habtoor Leighton Group in the Middle East);
So, naturally, I look for anything that is relevant to the performance of this subsidiary as I read their ‘reports’.
In one of the latest official reports the writing is ‘world-class’;
Reads almost like a school report;

Habtoor Leighton Group (HLG)
The Group’s business in the Middle East, HLG, showed some signs of improvement. (1) HLG achieved a break-even result during the first half and recovered funds from UAE legacy projects. (2) The region’s macroeconomic environment has stabilised and a robust pipeline of projects is being pursued. (3)
The decision of a Qatar-based client to call bonds on certain legacy projects delayed HLG from making repayments on Leighton’s outstanding shareholder loans during the period. HLG believes its legal position on the matter is strong and it is working to a resolution. (4)
HLG’s focus continues to be the collection of receivables and ‘IPO-ready 2016’ remains the target. The business is diversifying its sector and geographic base, and it continues to secure new work.

Naturally and unfortunately I have no access to any of the full financial reports of HLG (oh, how I wish I did) to scrutinise them in any detail;
Also, and sadly, for what I learned over the last couple of years of the media (global or local) outlets, it is also unlikely that any of them will any time soon seriously investigate what these guys are up to; (apart from a couple that may yet come up with the goods, wait-and-see);

Still, aren’t there some ‘paid’ auditors employed by these and other listed companies, that have the professional responsibility to question what these companies are doing and publishing on the way?

I really wish they did, but honesty, I’m not holding my breath. And if the current auditors are listed somewhere on Leighton’s website with their contacts, sorry, I did miss them, otherwise I would have given them a bit of free publicity just as I had done for Deloitte & Touche in my post yesterday.
Regardless of my omission, here are a couple of pointers to look into for those auditors, all based on the short paragraph published by LH above and related to the performance of HLG:

1 – really? I worked there for exactly two years; a large group of highly paid professionals was constantly working on a large number of bids that never eventuated into real projects for HLG.
All projects won that I had some insight into (at least 4) were either terribly late, over budget or both;
2 – really? Can these ‘legacy’ project be listed one-by-one? Projects post-merger with Habtoor (i.e. since HLG was born) can technically not be called legacy project, or can they?
3 – really? Would any of the company’s management be prepared to bet personal money on any of the current ‘phantom bids’ eventuating into real projects? Can this ‘robust pipeline’ get quantified?
4 – really? Based on what? A media war on a weaker media player with a much stronger ‘factual’ case in hand?

As I shift my weary eyes from this sad, sick, corrupt industry to the media that is supposed to keep it in check, I can’t help but end up looking for the ‘auditors’ that seem to failing also in what they are supposed to be doing and creaming the process financially yet sailing away unscathed.
They are definitely not very technically savvy if they are prepared to allow their audited parties to carry on like this (or they can be easily bought, God’forbid) and they may feel to be in the right zone by covering their own butts with lots of ‘small print’ at the end of their  reports freeing them of any and all responsibilities from the wrong doings of their clients.

In my mind, - and happy to stand alone holding this view – no small print will free them being a party to something that can be classified confidently as a ‘large scale crime’.

(picture came from a cafe street board)

Monday, November 25, 2013

A forewarning to Balfour Beatty’s auditors…

Creative bookkeeping and dressing up of annual reports to sooth worried investors into a ‘blissful state of contentment’ is a skillset one specialises-for over a lifetime.
A skillset, that is ‘not really my cup of tea’.
I prefer the pathological side of looking at these and other contractual documents and love the process of systematic unpicking of ‘one-liners’ within annual reports to see what exactly lies behind them.

Like, in the case of HLG (Habtoor Leighton Group) a private company owned partially by a public one and Gammon, operated under the guardianship of two listed entities.
Both currently enjoy being in a position of sitting at an arm’s length from the scrutiny of (possibly) rightly zealous representatives of institutional shareholders, thus often lulled into feeling that they are fully the masters of their own destinies.
And they get reckless.

Take Gammon, for example. You can walk the company’s corridors for months without feeling any influence of the major shareholders on how the company should be run, instead experience on your skin first-hand the deeply in-graved powers of decade-long ties between miniature kingdoms of long-term managers and directors.
Not that Gammon is unique in this behaviour.

To be honest, even after a number of decades of direct involvement with the corporate world, I’m not sure if auditors do more than just give their stamp of approval for whatever the management of the said  (audited) company have dreamed up.
When it comes to Gammon, I hardly expect it to be any different either, from what I know about the management and how they operate.
I can, of course hope for a better treatment this time and ask:

Will the auditors question the overheads of the dubious BIM group, bundled up in the 10ns of millions of (HK) dollars?
Will they ask why they hired me at the cost of hundreds of thousands of (HK) dollars, just to drop me after 11 weeks of service?
Will they call in the HR director for questioning? Get him to resign over this case?
Will they understand that on the MTR 1111 job, the contract is such that the ability to claim in the future is extremely limited, no matter what the directors' forecasts say and predicted cash flows show?
Will they question the person that signed that contract?
Or the one that refused to review it and put some basic risk management measures in place even after numerous prompts to do so?
The one that fired me over questioning the entire process?

Still, let me give the current auditors a tip: do look into this job in a bit more detail!
Interview the project directors, the executive director, the commercial managers and the BIM-director!
Watch them speak, see how they do make up their stories. Ask them about the ability for the company to claim for ‘unforeseable’ issues a year down the track, even two or three.
Ask them if their is a possibility of finding their hands tied in the future when trying to recover for money for extra work done because of their present less-affair approach for the client mandated BIM requirements as well as their total ignorance at the outset of the contract for the same?

Do your job. Dig deep!
Unfortunately, your reward for getting to the bottom of the case may be similar to mine and get dropped.
But you may get dropped regardless.
In which case you may save face. Yours and your company’s. Long term, that may be the better option.

Take this as an honest warning.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

If the pride and joy of UK construction was caught acting a bit naughty, would the UK media care?

My guess: NO;
Still, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and put it to a test to see if anyone will investigate;

My story: I was hired and fired by a Balfour Beatty subsidiary in a way that does not comply with their own published values and policies.

BB’s story: Nothing unethical had been done in this case, a conclusion made not based on an indipendent investigation but the opinion of one person;

OK by the UK media?

(most of background info needed is available on my two blogs)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Balfour Beatty must be a very scary place to work at.

No matter how soft-a-tone I take on to address my fellow ex-colleagues with, (second removed) from the large Balfour Beatty family and ask for some information that could hardly be considered confidential or even provocative – a deep silence is all I get.
For a while I thought I had a direct-line into the ‘brotherhood’, an official person, ready to be spoken to through the language of reason.
Today he cut off this perceived life-line :
“Please treat this email as bringing a close to our correspondence.”  wrote Andrew Hayward to me in an email as a response to another message sent to someone else within his company
(Andrew Hayward: Balfour Beatty plc: Head of Ethics, Risk and Assurance;)

I don’t know if Kafka, Kundera or even George Orwell’s writings had ever featured in Mr Hayward’s education but I personally can’t help but see his ‘remarkable arrogance for an appointed judge and jury’ worthy of some of these writers’ protagonists, when he notes in the same message to me:
“I also refer to my earlier email, explaining that, in my opinion, Gammon has acted in accordance with its contractual rights and that no breach of Gammon’s or Balfour Beatty’s Code of Conduct has been credibly alleged. As such, no further investigation is warranted under our whistle-blowing policy or otherwise.”

Of course, we are still quibbling over the Gammon affair. Or I am.
He dismisses the allegation with no interest in the evidence.
Or my side of the evidence, anyway.

This statement of his also nonchalantly draws a ‘fat black line’ over my professional credibility as the person making those allegations – something that I continue to find hard to tolerate.
It would be easier to swallow this idea of being a deceptive tell-tale if I had the assurance of Mr Hayward that those professionals that hired me in the first place (such a lowlife) at a significant expense to the company had been put through the wringer for negligent behaviour themselves and will never place the company into the risk of a person of my ‘calibre’ being appointed, let alone supported aggressively into such un-unfitting position as I had been.

As for one of my allegations, that the mismanagement of a group of directors of one of the projects the subsidiary is involved in has put the parent company under undue risk and will potentially cause high loss of revenue in the future, that according to Mr Hayward ‘has no credibility’, I have written another post on my other blog;
Not as much to ‘clear my name’ but to reignite some dialog on how mandated BIM on mega sized rail projects works (or does not as in this case), partially because the Qatar Metro development is presently getting kicked into action and other large global-BIM projects are scrambling for advice on how to handle some pretty ambitious BIM specs.
This story is definitely about how not to do it…
Check it out:

picture from here

Sunday, November 10, 2013

What a small world! (or a large Balfour Beatty?);

I’ve been kind-of busy lately with some minor ‘shifts in my life’ and failed to keep up with the developments of the UK BIM Government initiative that will be the ‘game changer’ (ref 1) for the global AEC industry, according to many ‘in the know’;
For this post let’s attribute the original idea of the ‘game changer’ to Patrick MacLeamy - Chief Executive Officer of HOK (as quoted in the publication of ref 1).

Today is a bit of an easy day for me, being officially unemployed and uninterested in any serious house cleaning, so I decided to look up how the counting down to the big event in the UK was going?
As with big games in many large cities I lived in, by now I’d be expecting a big countdown clock to have been installed on Trafalgar Square, maybe the last Olympic Games’ one repurposed?
Having no one in London to check this for me, I instead went to Google – looked at the top results on the topic from the past month (ref 2) and bingo!
Got the updates straight ‘from the horse’s mouth’:
“Bentley’s BIM conference: London excelling; Australia needs to catch up”; (ref 3)
Unfortunately, the article is a bit one sided, (after all, the author disclosed to have been the guest of Bentley) – though for a bit of background and credibility the text allocates a large chunk to “David Philp, head of BIM for international construction and consultancy firm Mace…” (ref 4) who is often quoted boldly quantifying the reasons for the UK BIM mandating this ‘no-brainer’…

I got intrigued:
I know this name! Head o BIM at MACE Group? (ref 5) the last I remembered, he was heading the UK Government’s BIM initiative… OK… Anyone can change jobs… or even fulfil multiple roles…good old Private-Public partnership (ref 6) – not much of an arm-length here….But I’m so often told UK is the ‘mothership’ of transparency and democracy…

And then….The biggest surprise of all! (I must have been living under a rock for the last 20 years);
Up till moving to Mace, Mr Philp was Mr BIM for Balfour Beatty! (ref 7) – for 2 decades! Wow!

Is this not the same company that is still failing to provide me ‘with its whistleblowing policy that will protect’ its subsidiary’s employees in case of them voicing genuine concerns about directors behaving negligently?
Maybe I should have asked Mr Philp to intervene for me instead of bothering the ethical committees and whatnots?
Someone of such BIM reputation would in no time confirm my concerns were genuinely in the company’s interest (re MTR for example?);
Sadly, he left BB by the time my troubles started with them.

Promisingly though for me, according to another article (ref 8) “Balfour Beatty chief executive Mike Peasland was appointed as the chair of a new BIM supply chain working group, supporting the government’s BIM task group”.

My LinkedIn search brings up only one Mike Peasland currently employed by BB as an MD (regional) (ref 9) – but either way, as a CEO or an MD, obviously a fellow BIM enthusiast, he should really be in a very good position to speed up the resolution of my case.
I am about to send him a little nudge!

After all, the UK BIM initiative is moving somewhere….and working for someone…
Someone else…(but me)


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What difference does a year make in a hotel’s life? (The nark’s second site visit to an HLG site in Abu Dhabi in as many days….)

Do hotel operators get too bothered if they do not open on time?
Maybe not that much if they part of a big group like Novotel is. (ref 1);
And depending on the original contract with the developer it may suit them quite nicely to open a year-or-two later than planned, who knows, I’m not an expert in running franchise hotels.
I’m more interested in when the Al Bustan-Novotel in Abu Dhabi is going to get really and officially opened from the point of HLG’s (or HEE’s) ability to get to the end of their own contract of constructing the Al Bustan building complex this hotel is residing in.

I will not reveal a big secret if I state that ever since the job started sometime in 2008, the proposed completion date was always a bit fluid for the Al Bustan complex, built by HLG (ref 2) in Abu Dhabi.
My husband was teaching in the neighbouring school in 2010 and it was already known then by the general public that the job was a ‘problematic’ one.

I did work on the site personally for some time later and claim to have gained quite a deep level of intimate knowledge of the project, that surpasses the combined understanding of all of the HLG/HEE Project Directors employed on this job (and there were many) – yet, just to keep the suspense and stay on this side of confidentiality for now, I will reveal none of that.

But as we glide past the construction crew on this brief site visit with my husband today, and I watch those guys that could be putting the finishing touches on this project quite close to my heart I do wonder, how come the HLG’s PR team had not taken the effort to synchronise the numbers on their own website with the hotel’s ones, (ref 3) – and show Projected opening for December 2013, but claim to have finished the project in 2012?

Both companies will be employing creative economics and report-writing to justify to their share-holders the hold-ups of 1-2 or more years, so a reasonable person would expect them to at least be on the same calendar? Wouldn’t you?


Monday, November 4, 2013

The unemployable, sightseeing, nark!

Ok, let’s lift the game a little higher!
It is hard to get these big players convinced that I am more than a CAD-dy face (can’t even say, pretty face, as that would be an overstatement) and my claims are no bare bluffing.
That, I know my stuff.
And that eventually, they will ALL get caught up on their own nets of arrogance and deception, let alone corruption.
My sleeves are full of magic cards.
And, eventually, around the end of the game… they will all be revealed.

For now, I am back to Dubai, UAE also covering Abu Dhabi.
Hopelessly unemployable, also extremely overqualified for the industry, while any HR consultancy worth its salt (and with offices numbering at least 2) has black-listed me weeks ago.

So, plenty of time on my hand, I visit the construction sites (at least from the streets) that I was once involved.
The first one, next to the green sea slug- I’m sure that place was run by an outfit rather than Hilton previously (that it is what it says now); - the headquarters for ADIB was supposed to be completed a year ago.
If you like games for the brain, I will post this PP for you (link here: http://www.slideshare.net/zolnamurray/adib-november-2012-on-c) let you work out what actually happened here. The information presented may not be enough to figure it out all, trust me, there will be more, much more. -but if you get the jist of it, you are onto something!

Can hardly wait, to reveal the details.
For a start, let say, captain and first officer left the ship well before the project was completed, a bad sign, as shipping and construction go.

In the meantime ignored and ‘unnoticed’, I spend my days enjoying the late autumn of a beautiful Dubai.
And getting ready for the big fights.

Watch this space!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Jodi Picoult kind of a story or Jacqueline Wilson’s if you prefer the accent from that side of the Atlantic!

Have a look at the little pledge below by the mega company Balfour Beatty, a company that has indirectly employed me for a while. Or their ‘a goal’, if you want to be really precise;
We are definitely well within the projected timeframe, so let’s hope it is all but achieved by now, after all, it is almost the end of 2013.
The writing is quite specific, though  I must admit, it does apply to (I quote) ‘the approximately 500,000 people employed by the Balfour Beatty organization, subsidiaries, subcontractors, or partners working anywhere in the world over the course of a year, no serious disabling injuries and no long-term health will occur’.
Now two things stand out when I try to test this 'goal/pledge' against the grievances that my two younger daughters feel they rightly  have against the named company.
For a start, they, themselves were never directly employed by BB so that their lives were ‘ruined’ is strictly speaking still due to their parent’s irresponsible actions (like, one of them going to work for a BB subsidiary) not directly attributable to the BB company (maybe with a bit of legal ‘stretch’);

Also, this timeframe is a bit confusing ‘over the course of a year’ – what does that mean: if one gets quickly disposed off (well within this timeframe of a year, does the pledge not apply at all?);

Anyway, you try to reason with a teenager!
Then try doing this with two of them!
Make them to be girls, just to give the exercise a bit more fun.
Age them 15 and 17!

Meet Ella.
She is 15, sort of cool. Yes, 2 schools and a couple of continents moved-over in a couple of months but still young enough to hope parents will figure out what to do with her in the future.
Old enough to travel to see friends in UK by herself.
That is cool. Also to be given mum’s friends goodwill to take her to concerts to cool her mind off difficult stuff. What a time to be a ‘white girl’!

Then cue Zsuzsie, 17.5 and furious!
Her last year of IB interrupted by a mother’s dream job in Hong Kong.
An art enthusiast, that developed a great rapport with key teachers at the ‘next to last year’ of her diploma-year of her IB programme in  high-school – plays it cool and moves to Hong from Abu Dhabi, ‘sure mum, I’ll do my best, no it’s really OK – I’ll just get on with my last year of IB, I can understand what is going in with your work’
(Have YOU tried changing schools in last year of IB – what about over several continents? -  give it 12 months at least, seriously);
Then…..mum loses job (call it due to ‘whistleblowing, though nor proven, yet serious corruption allegations’ and her daughter ends up in Germany, with mum’s childhood friend, a lovely family, a father that can rival her own in his quirkiness….yet terribly let down by a big corporation, feeling miserable, lonely, with her  future stolen and ruined.)

This is where a good Hollywood writer would give a little bit more of an ‘oomph’ to the teenager script/role in the picture, get her the chance to visit a lawyer and get his support  (Alec Baldwin from ‘My sister’s keeper’ or his ex, Michelle Pfeiffer from  ‘I am Sam)’, both playing pro-bono lawyers acting as legal gods for disadvantaged;
She may still be better off then most of the real disadvantaged of the world bu t a bit of creative writing would get the audience to really feel for the kid.
The hard-faced/soft hearted lawyer would then represent the child and fight for her right to have an ‘off-the-shelf education' (graduate with her peers) despite her mother fighting a major corruption AEC case…and the big company on the side acting really bitchy…