Friday, December 31, 2010

Reflections on the year and a look forward to 2011.

As 2010 comes to an end, I wanted to summarise what transpired in the past 12 months, and what my expectations are for the coming year (personally, for the family and for business).

This was my second full year in charge of the business, and after a tumultuous 2009, 2010 felt more settled. We enjoyed some significant business growth and I felt I was managing our geographically diverse business much better. My travel (remaining extensive) comprised of a number of shorter trips, and I avoided too many weekends away from home. I have to give great thanks to all our country MD's for this also, as they took up their respective challenges and made my job much more manageable.

Significant issues during the year included our move to a new office in China. A culture shock at first for those who moved over from the HK office, but it has proven to be the right move and I am excited by the promise our new enhanced China office is already showing.

The purchase of Freeplay was also a significant event in the year. I felt swamped in August and September immediately post acquisition, but things settled down as we grasped control of what we had taken on (which includes some really great people). It's a business that has given us a different distribution model to what we are traditionally used to, and brings us into the USA for the first time. It is also fulfilling to know that there is some great humanitarian work being supported by this business and I am keen to see how we can expand on that as we move forward. The Freeplay year ended with some significant developments which keep us poised for a very promising 2011.

On a family front, the kids turned 9 and 11, and Reena insisted she is still 21 ;) We had our first skiing holiday together, and it was a blast! It was immediately confirmed as an annual tradition for us.

Summer saw our usual exodus from the Dubai summer, and a lovely holiday in the USA.

Back to school in September saw Shaan start a new school (which we feel very comfortable with) and Tia continues to excel in her gymnastics and netball.

For Christmas and New Year we ended up staying in Dubai, after planning to be in London. At some point in November we decided there is no point to leave our beach front home when the weather is at it's most perfect! I only just made it back in time for the holidays after being stuck in the snow in London. It was the right choice to be at home. We had a great relaxing time with some friends visiting, and I managed a few rounds of golf :)

For me personally, I feel satisfied. I feel it was a year of accomplishment in work and I kept my family time in balance throughout. I took care of my health, lost a lot of weight and have been playing football 2-3 times a week (when at home). I feel good about myself. Relaxed and energised to start again in 2011!

2011 … What will that bring?

The business has growth plans, which needs to balanced with a knowledge that the global economy remains unpredictable. We have to be ready to capitalise on any growth that may appear, but our conservative culture keeps us keeps us "cautiously optimistic".

The UK office(s) are due for a move. We will consolidate the Magic Box and Freeplay offices into a single premises early in the year, and Binatone Ghana will move into a new purpose built facility.

Shaan and Tia will get a year older, and I struggle to hold on to memories of my "babies". We have planned skiing in Flims in February (as tradition now dictates), a Caribbean cruise in the summer, and already thinking of Orlando for next December.

I need to keep my weight off (there are enough friends who have challenged me, and that's enough motivation), and I have to finally break 100 in a round of golf. I will continue to try and minimise my travel and get as much time at home as possible, and most importantly I will continue to do all I can to keep myself and my family happy and healthy.

Thanks to all of you who have been reading and supporting my blog … I wish you all a great 2011.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Office Parties !

So I'm back home now, with the greatest of luck beating the terrible weather disruptions, and my last journey this year is complete. It's been a good trip overall, but it had its moments. It was rushed and tiring. Badly affected by weather, but on the bright side I attended 3 fantastic office parties.

From Hong Kong to Moscow to London, I come away feeling immensely proud of our business and the people who comprise it.

Starting with China, the teams from Hong Kong and Shenzhen had taken over a cosy little Italian restaurant a few minutes walk from the HK office. Organised diligently in typical Hong Kong fashion, the evening was orchestrated within a perfect timetable. Speeches, prizes, some great team games at the table timed exactly to fit between courses. A couple of great volunteer comperes ensured the evening went off smoothly and with everyones involvement this became a very memorable event.

Sadly I had to leave prematurely for a flight, but I understand the party continued and everyone had a great time, and I will be sad to miss the Chinese New Year party that is just a month away !

So directly from HK to Moscow, in time for a couple of days of rounding off work for the end of the year, and in time for their end of year party. Our team members from all over Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan came for this annual tradition.

For the FSU team, this party has always been a grand and key event organised between HR and the marketing team. This year the aim was for something a little different from the usual "dinner and dance" theme and they chose the setting to be 1920's Chicago ... and the world of prohibition and Al Capone. It was gangster night and the details were what made this night so special. From the outstanding costumes to the small boy handing out newspapers.

The evening started as a casino (I had the pleasure to host the poker table), followed by an auction (with people bidding for prizes with their casino winnings) and then a vote for the best costume before a good meal and dancing with music from the olden days and then something more contemporary.

As always, and like in China, I love to see the team spirit amongst everyone in the group, and also the individual friendships that people have built up with each other (which shouldn't surprise me as 9 more people crossed either 10 or 15 years of service with us this year).

Then from Moscow to London ... I am not even sure how I made it. My flight landed, but it must have been the last before Heathrow Airport was shut. London had been hit by a snow blizzard like it had never seen, and accordingly, had no way of coping with.

This unfortunate weather meant that 5 of our 13 planned guests for the party were unable to make it into Central London where I had booked the popular Floridita Cuban restaurant.

Nevertheless, the 8 of us made an evening of it. It was a good lively venue and great food, and the Magic Box and Freeplay teams got to mix and get to know each other better ... but sadly no pictures taken :-(

So, I am home now, and looking forward to a bit of rest and relaxation (before the travels start again on January 4).

I want to take this chance to thank all the people at Binatone, Magic Box, Freeplay and Euro Suisse for their hospitality over the past 10 days (in those offices I was able to visit), and for the overall efforts and dedication of everyone throughout the group  over the past 12 months.

I wish each and every one of you, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


Monday, December 20, 2010

I lost 11kg in 11 weeks (and still going strong) !

The last I can recall, my lowest weight was 82 or 83kg about 7 or 8 years ago, and its slowly pushed its way up and in the past 12 months I have around 89kg and have struggled to keep myself below 90kg (admittedly that horrendous number has shown its ugly face on my scales on a couple of occasions following some heavy nights out!).

I have been promising myself, at every opportunity, to reduce. I've kept a mental target to get back to 85kg, and would be happy to be there and maintain that for the next 20 years plus ... but my weaknesses (late night snacks, chocolates, cheese, steaks, full English breakfasts and for the potato in any shape or form) were really making this a pipe dream. Perhaps I was destined to just slowly grow the inches around my waist for the rest of my days.

That is until September this year. On a trip to Istanbul (think delicious kebabs), a newly made acquaintance mentioned that he had managed to lose 20kg in 2 months ! Apart from my not believing that was even possible, I did as him how. The answer was that he read a book by Alan Carr. He had quit smoking after reading Alan Carr's book on that subject (a book I had heard a lot about), so he was keen to try the weight loss book.

The wonders of technology helped next. My iPad was out and searching Amazon for this book, and a couple of minutes later it was in my hand (had it not been for this, I probably would have made a mental note to buy this book at some point, and would then have never got around to it).

Anyway, I started the book that day. An easy read, very repetitive and hypnotic in its message, but it makes a lot of sense and is easy to follow.

There are 2 main messages in the book:

The first, do not consider this a diet. It is a change in lifestyle and habits. As long as you think you are "dieting", you always feel deprived. You are always waiting for that day you can come of your diet, or when you will hit that target weight. Alan Carr professes that with a few simple habits you can eat "as much as you want of what you want and still achieve your target weight". That's a very bold claim and sounds too good to be true, but what could I lose by reading through the book and trying out what he was offering.

The second main message is to look to nature for the answer. As some simple examples, animals don't overeat, only humans do! Squirrels will gather nuts, but will eat only enough to fill them up ... no more. Additionally, look to nature as to what to eat. You can see some fresh enticing fruits on a tree and feel like plucking them and eating them. Their colour and smell tell you when they are ripe and ready to eat. On the other hand, when they are spoiled, their colour and smell tell you clearly not to touch them. Similarly, when we see a cow, pig or sheep, our mouths don't naturally water ... we need those meats to be prepared to make them "edible".

Now saying this, the book doesn't profess to make you into a vegan. It simply informs you of these things to make you aware and make the right decisions at the right time. As an example, my clear takeaways from this are thus:

1) Eat fruits in the morning.
2) Eat when you are hungry (that could mean skipping a meal if you aren't hungry, or equally, eat in between meals if you feel like it), but eat only what you need to.
3) (which leads to this point) Don't over eat. Eat enough and stop.
4) Don't eat when bored (so gone are the late night snacks and eating junk when in front of the TV).
5) (perhaps most important), Eat what you want!

This last point is certainly not contradictory, but in fact is crucial to make the whole "new lifestyle" workable. If I'm out with friends and am tempted with something particularly mouth watering on the menu, I will indulge (a recent steak and fries meal in Entrecote testifies to that), but you just need to be aware. Don't over eat, and then be conscious the next day to balance it out (in any case the book stipulates that upto 30% of your daily meal can be "junk" or "imperfect" foods). A very workable system.

So what difference has this made to my life (apart from feeling lighter, healthier, fitter, having more energy generally and sleeping better)? I notice on each of my trips I am lugging a heavy briefcase with me (which weighs about 7-8 kg) and I just imagine that this was permanently strapped around my waist. I can only imagine the positive difference this has nade to my my back, legs, knees and heart !

So its now 11 weeks and I am 11kg lighter (79kg). I dipped below 80kg 2 days ago, and the buzz and motivation I am getting from seeing the weight drop off (and have others tell me that I look thinner) is phenomenal. My "lifestyle" is easy and very natural now, and the inches keep reducing.
The big test will be this week over Christmas ... I must admit that the Turkey and trimmings in my mind do make my mouth water!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Revenge is a dish best served cold !

So the Champions League draw has been for the first round of the knockout stages. I suppose it was too much to hope to get Shalke! Instead, we got the next best thing ... Barcelona !

I still vividly remember the game last year at the Emirates (click for my blog on that day). We were totally outplayed and outclassed in the first half, to a level I have never seen before, but Barca didnt make the most of that and we were still (barely) holding on at 2-0 at half time.

The Arsenal team that emerged for the second half was a rejuvinated, Fabregas inspired team of heros. We fought back and got that memorable last gasp equaliser. Fabregas scoring a penalty with a broken leg (a hindi movie couldnt have made it more dramatic!).

Unfortunately, a fortnight later on the return leg, we took a beating. Lional Messi was at his brilliant best and Barca tore us apart with a 4-1 win (despite Arsenal taking a first half lead).

So last year remains fresh and the 2006 final is still a painful memory, but again we have the chance for revenge. It promises to be a classic game again ... the BIG draws of the round. Will this Arsenal team show they have come of age and do us all proud? I am away skiing for the first leg at the Emirates, but I'm booking my tickets for Barcelona now and looking forward to the chance to visit the Nou Camp and see us break free of our demons!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A day and dinner in China.

A long day in the China office yesterday. I flew in overnight (to HK) and then drove straight into Shenzhen in the hope of getting to sleep quickly and being able to have a relatively leisurely morning before a 9.30am start in our SZ office.

As usual, however, the first night in HK/China is always turbulent. I did manage to sleep by 3am, but just couldn't hit the snooze button enough times at wake up time in the morning.

The day went well. A series of meetings with key suppliers. Already discussing products for next Christmas already ... that's how our industry works.

I was exhausted by the end of the day and when I reached my hotel, I pondered about a meal in the bar, in the coffee shop, or in the room.

I was feeling lazy and didn't mind something light, so opted for the room. I immidiately ordered a grilled chicken sandwich (believing it to be a healthy option) and then got on the phone and worked on email.

While I would normally be in a dressing gown within 2 minutes of entering my room, I don't know why I remained dressed this evening, but it was a doomed fate as my healthy (rather tasty) chicken sandwich dropped a large globule of mayo right onto my khaki pants ... the only pants I have with me on this trip!

So all during today, I have kept my jacket on, as the mark can be surreptitiously and strategically covered by its overhang ... and I have learned a lesson to NEVER travel with only one pair of pants again (especially if they are light coloured)!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

As the year approaches its end ...

Its been a good week in Dubai. Reena has been in London, and I have been minding the kids. Its been a challenge to manage everything, but its been fun and it's my work that probably took most of the back seat.

But now I'm getting ready to "hit the road again" for my last trip of the year.

Its going to be a tiring one! China, Moscow and London, all in 10 days and an office Christmas party in each place (oh the things I have to do in my job!).

I'm not looking forward to the travel, and a couple of long haul red eye flights, but I am looking forward to the parties.

There is a nice excitement in each office towards each of their own events. Each takes great pride in putting on a good party and I like attending these to bring a close to the year. I get a  chance to catch up and share a drink and a meal with all those who do so much for the business ... especially those more "behind the scenes", but without whom things would grind to a halt.

It's also, of course, a nice chance for the whole company to celebrate together, and let their hair down (although not too much ;) ) and reflect on what has been achieved over the past month and celebrate the "wins" and move on from the problems ... especially in this continuing difficult economic climate - they have done well and should take this opportunity to look back, draw in a deep breath ... and get ready for the new year!

At the end of the trip, I will be eager to get home, and look forward to some time off in Dubai during this quiet period. I will get time with the kids & Reena, time on the golf course, time to sleep, time to tie up any loose ends from the year, and time with friends and family!