The Bottom Line
Every chief executive likes to say the company's employees are its "most valuable asset". But is that ever more than empty slogan?
That was one of the subjects I discussed with my guests this week on the Radio 4 programme, The Bottom Line.
In the studio I had Tim Watkins, vice president of the western arm of Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, Richard Fenning, chief executive of global security consultancy Control Risks, and Vineet Nayar, chief executive of Indian IT services company HCL Technologies.
I was worried they would all agree: employees come first.
But they each had a very different take, and Vineet Nayar was the only one willing to state that his staff were more important than his customers. His philosophy of 'putting customers second' to employees has been causing a stir at the world's leading business schools.
At HCL, every employee can contribute, anonymously, to the chief executive's annual appraisal, which is then published on the internal website. The other guests didn't fancy that at all.
Staff are crucial to Control Risks (and they are not all ex-army or former-spies, as the folklore would suggest). But Richard Fenning wasn't willing to say that he'd put them ahead of the client. Maybe that's not so surprising either, given that Control Risks will often be sending staff into countries that others are trying to flee.
With events in Egypt in the headlines, we discussed how businesses ought to deal with political instability - and how to judge when a political crisis has turned into an opportunity. (Of course, every crisis is an opportunity if you're Control Risks.)
Since he's the expert, I got Mr Fenning to tell us his top global hotspots to watch out for in 2011. You'll have to listen (or watch, on the BBC News channel) to find out which very large country, not so very far from the UK, came first on his list.