Saturday, 28 February 2009

All Associates' Day (1920s version)

Our chocolate factory was closed on the 26th February 2009. On this day when the sky was blue like any other days in Dubai, instead of following our usual route to work, we took a different road to Jumeirah Beach Hotel and gathered there for our All Associates' Day.

There were 2 parts of the whole day event. In the first part, we watched video shows and listened to presentations made by our senior managers. There was this calculative French man talking about money. An Italian man presenting our supply and stock in the pipelines. An Iraqi man presenting the latest statistics and strength of the army of our associates. A Pakistani man explaining about our sales engines ready to respond to any impulse. A Brazilian lady presenting our new innovative work and weapons of mass attraction. Then these senior managers and their team were at their respective booth to disclose the 5 must win battle in their functions. All other associates visited the booths were given the insight of the 2009 invasion plan of the market. Some of us challenged the plan. Others just listened. No doubt our company had moved on the opposite side of road, when some other companies were in a march towards hitting their bottom. Our strengths have been our readiness to be different from the beginning of our existence and our ability to maintain the difference. Yet we are aware that we are not recession-proof. We might get pinched soon as the result of the chain reaction. There was much talk about doing what is right, growing but feeling small, saving and becoming lean, having positive outlook amidst the gloomy setting. We are ready for any possibilities so long we stay strong together.

One of the many style of displays to illustrate the 5 must win battle in Talent Management

Our outdoor lunch

The second part of the event was the dinner. A week ago an email was sent with the following invitation. An invitation to get us back to the 1920s, the theme for the dinner.

On that night the guys dressed up, but with little effect to reflect the 1920s. The ladies were over the top to spice up the atmosphere. The food was great though served rather late. There was no professional entertainers' show, no diva singing . We cut unnecessary cost. Instead we can tell for sure Mars got talent and full of it. So we entertained ourselves with our own singing, dancing, acting, poem reciting and piano playing. In between the talent shows, we also had slides show of great photography showing images captured by associates in exotic places on earth. We had judges to award top 3 entertainers. At the end of all the shows, the tables and chairs were left cold and unoccupied as most of us transferred the heat to the dance floor. Some left early. Some danced shamelessly till midnight.

Mars opening dance

The Bedouin folks dance

The entertaining gypsies

The Bollywood singer

The Kenyan poet

The Russian ballerina

The Mars Masala Ensemble

The loud Arabs singing

The winning entertainer

The Malay and the Pinoys - same same but different

The dance floor warmers

The shy guys' parade to the dance floor

The crowded floor

"That's it....I'm out of here"

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Outdoors in Oman

I am proud to tell that I work for Mars. It is a humble family-owned company. It has no string attached to any ridiculous banks that have caused all the world-wide financial havoc. There is no share holders to dictate how the business should be run which boldly means, not so many asses to kiss. The company's existence is to delight its customers, their pets and its associates. The employees are called associates for we like to be associated with one another like a big family. Our chocolates are branded as Mars, Galaxy, Snickers, Bounty, m&m's, Ripple, Twix, Jewels ..well the list is long actually. Our pet food brands are Pedigree, Whiskas and Sheba. We also produce food products like Uncle Ben's, Abu Syayef, Dolmio and Nutro. Our beverage brand is Flavia. Our chewy and sugar products are the Skittles, Starbust, and recently Wrigley's products have been a part of our business. We have all the right reasons to be proud of the products. One reason for sure, we like them so much and we eat them a lot (err...but not the pet food).. and you should too :-)

* * * * * * * * * *

Last weekend our company had organized and sponsored the following event......

I was hoping to join the event. I was also thinking of taking home one of the homeless cats staged in the show, as there are many expatriates had left Dubai and their pets behind. But on the same day, I had another important event sponsored by Mars, which is of higher priority for me.

* * * * * * * * * *

I feel obligated to promote Mars, its products and its business event as above, in return to the AED15,000 granted to our production team excursion to Musandam, Oman. The trip expenses amounted to exactly AED11,000 after negotiation with the tour operator. We thought of driving in a convoy to cut cost. But our Safety Manager has his valid concern about the associates driving before and after their shift and the team activities. He also has his worst case scenario in his head. What if something happened to the one bus we provided and the whole production shift in it? The operations would be affected and so we made other plan.
* * * * * * * * * *
My production team consists of 32 associates including myself. So we chartered two 15-seaters coasters. Two of our associates drove in a car. This cost of the transportation added another AED4,000. The Safety Manager emailed me a report from our unit in India that covers an incident happened on a company-sponsored trip there last year. Along with that, he attached the company policy on outdoor team activities. We spent a few hours in the office to do the risk assessment of our activities 2 days before the trip. We had a checklist. All were ticked satisfactorily. After understanding and owning the responsibilities, I have the freedom to take my production team to roam the coast of Musandam, Oman in search for the natural beauty and the essence within ourselves to build a stronger team for future challenges.

The car that led our way

One of the two coasters that followed....

Inside the coaster on our 2 hours journey from Dubai to Oman

At the meeting point close to Sharjah-Oman border as the day darkened

Settling down as we reached our campsite in Oman

I presented and led the discussion on our 2009 objectives, goals, strategies & measures

The camp fire was one of the best treat before we retreated into our tent

The breathtaking view to wake up with.

A perfect early morning combo - the sunrise, the sea, the sand & the dhow.

One "m" was all set for a new day infront of our tent

More "m"s posed as if the red M&M's team had won the Olympics relay...

....and the whole bunch posed while waiting for our breakfast

The search for a perfect isolated beach that we could call ours for the day

Our mini expedition into one of the coastal caves of Musandam

The isolated beach surrounded by only rocks and hills

Our safety co-ordinator standing infront of the water edge while I made a quick check on the depth and the presence of any hazards. No jelly fish, no sea urchin, no glasses, few metal cans and no swimming beyond this point. So I said, '"OK boys .... the sea is yours!" .

The water was not that clear, a disappointment for those hoping for a good snorkeling.

A lonely crab annoyed by our presence on its private beach

The rocks with their many faces shaping the coast of Musandam

The team discussion continued on the dhow on our way back.

The wharf with moored boats and dhows.

The fishy smell and the setting sun marked the end of our trip.

Friday, 20 February 2009

The Plants' Protest and The Promises

When I returned from my recent oriental trip, I was sad to see the state of neglect that I had caused to my orchids and the green brothers at my balcony. They have clearly displayed their desire and deprivation of water, nutrients, attention and love that I promised the day I took them home. One of the green brothers had died. The other 3 are surviving and holding on to the few green and yellowish leaves. My orchid Ning has stopped singing and now barely supporting her dried thin structure that used to be the flourishing yellow petals. The great Violet has lost all her glory that once made her firm and proud. Orked has been in the same state - flowerless; but upon a closer check, I was on top of the world again. Orked is expecting! A few green buds are getting greener and visible at the end of her stems. Soon Orked is flowering her white petals again and I am renewing my promises to be a better custodian for the members of my balcony.

* * * * * * * * * *

Last year I was assigned to lead a workshop on project handover. The workshop has a great importance since our factory is now expanding. By September 2009, our operational capacity will be increased by 200% to support the forecast utilization and production. There are many kinds of work going on parallelly. We have the recruitment of new associates, learning of new technology, starting the new process, toying with new ingredients and recipe, installing new facilities and equipments, commissioning them and so forth. So this workshop is intended to incorporate all elements, the existing, revised and new, and formulate our own way of managing the change and executing the way forward seamlessly. I have a team members from Engineering, Maintenance, Logistics, Production, Site R&D and New Product Development. It is a team with complex kind of people. The 4-day- workshop started well, then there were arguments over arguments, disagreements, confrontations and finally we found peace and sort out our differences and interests. It was hard for me at certain points as the team leader and being new to the business. I will have to stick with this team even after the workshop to ensure the implementation of the action plan until the end of 2009. Miss Operation Manager commented after our workshop presentation, "the team has shown great maturity in forming, storming and norming their differences in creating a great template for greater results. Well done!". It was great hearing it, a spot-on comment. It was a great feeling that I have the control of the complexities and ambiguities and I am on top of it. I guess it must have been the same feeling a lone ranger must have felt when he is able to tame the wild powerful horses and riding his way to the wild wild west.

* * * * * * * * * *

Last Wednesday I read through a work permit. It was a busy day at work and I was trying hard to make sense of the content. Then I signed on a dotted line and put the date under my signature - an ISO compliance in signing on a paper that has been part of my subconsciousness. The date that came by default from my subconscious mind was 17/2/2008. It struck me that my mind still thinks that 2008 is the year it is, when in reality, 2009 is reaching the end of February! Then I realized that the speed of time in the life I'm living now is greater than that of my mental system which is struggling to synchronize. Oh No! Is it an early sign of mental deterioration or plainly, let's face it, mental ageing? I read in an article some time back, when one's mind is busy with new thoughts and experiences, it slows down its natural ageing process. So right now I am seriously thinking of ways to keep my mind busy. I am optimistic about this. This is another promise.

Friday, 13 February 2009

48 Hours

This is one thing that I like about the people in Dubai. They are fast. On my last evening in Saigon,I made a long distance call to our travel co-ordinator in our office in Dubai.
Me : "Mallesh, I need you to change my flight. So listen..I'm in Saigon now. I need to get into the first flight to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow afternoon. You must make sure I have 48 hours in transit in Kuala Lumpur and then change my return flight to Dubai from Kuala Lumpur. Clear?"
Mallesh : "I need to check. Give me half an hour."
Me : "Fine, thank you"

* * * * * * * * * *
Within 10 minutes, Mallesh called me.
Mallesh : "There's Malaysian Airlines at 16:30 tomorrow and Emirates flight to Dubai at 00:30 on 7th Feb from Kuala Lumpur. But there is differential cost, who will pay?
Me : "How much?"
Mallesh : "AED 1,560"
Not that much, but I can really buy many stuffs with that (cheap-skate thinking).
Me : "Can't you put me into Economy class so we don't have that differential cost?"
It's the instant thought that came from creative accounting.
Mallesh : "No. You'll NOT be covered by insurance if you board an economy class. Company policies don't allow you to travel for business without insurance coverage"
Now he talked like a smart a**.
Me : "Ok. I'll pay"
Mallesh : "We'll send the e-ticket to your e-mail, which e-mail?"
Me : "Yahoo"
Mallesh : "OK"
Me : "Thank you, Mallesh"
In less than an hour, I received the e-mail and my mind had already reached home.
* * * * * * * * * *
Saigon is indeed a nice place that I wish to come back. No, definitely not for shopping. I had enough this time. There is this Cu Chi tunnel that I want to crawl into. It was a network of underground tunnels used by the Viet Kongs in their war against the Americans. It was located about 70km north of Saigon. It never occur to me that I could convince Madam Personnel Manager or Miss Operation Manager, the shopping queens, to come along. So I passed the idea. Further north of Saigon there is a coastal area which is claimed to be one of the most beautiful bay in the world. Far from the coastal area, there is waterfall and lake of Da Lat. The night before I left Saigon to KLIA, I was only able to google at the photos of the places that I missed this time around.

Well, perhaps someday I'll be there. In the mean time, so long Saigon...

* * * * * * * * * *

The flight from Saigon to KLIA was only 1 hour 55 minutes. We touched down around 7PM and I left the airport after half an hour. I didn't call my wife to inform about my 48 hours transit in KL. I planned it to be a surprise. So she would probably still be at the hospital or in her car in the long traffic queue on the Federal Highway. So I went to my mother's house, had dinner there and took my car, a 7-year-old Waja which is now driven by my mother. Then I went home. It was about 10PM. My wife was watching TV (She's not a typical medical specialist who reads medical journals and stuffs at home. At home she watches American Idols, Akademi Fantasia, Macam Macam Aznil and the likes). My daughter was struggling with her homework and my son was arranging his Power Rangers toys on the coffee table. When I came in.... it was a good surprise!

* * * * * * * * * *

So the next day, I bought a sushi set for two and a bento set from Subang Parade and brought them to UMMC. I had them as lunch with my wife in her late lunch break. Then I drove back to fetch my son from his school. After that he suggested that we went to a new playground that he has never been and I agreed. So he was a happy boy playing in the playground and I was the sleepy dad trying to catch a short afternoon nap. My daughter was happy to see us waiting for her at her school gate. In my Waja, we had this little conversation.

Hadiff : "Papa, are you quitting your job in Dubai?"

Me : "No. Why? You want me to?"

He nodded.

Me : "But I like my work there. You've been there, don't you like Dubai?"

Hadiff : "I like.... but I miss you"

Me : "You really miss me? Or you just want to have me to take you to the playground"

Hadiff : "Mmmmm. Fifty, fifty...."

He heard the word 'fifty, fifty' from the animated movie Madagascar 2 and he uses it frequently whenever he gets confused. Funny little fella. Aimi didn't say much. She seemed to have some words choked in her throat.

Some valuable hours out of the 48 hours were wasted in the traffic jam. The traffic in Klang and part of the Federal Highway had been worse than I last remembered. My wife took half day off on the second day but we had wasted the hours at the bank and on the phone talking to silly bank officer to sort out the problem with my credit card from a Malaysian bank. Anyway, the transit was short but it was worth it. I was happy to be with my family, even for a while. My flight back to Dubai was emotionally painful, after having to say good bye to my wife, my mom and my kids. Hadiff's word kept echoing in my mind....fifty, fifty.