A blog update from Mr Tom Burgess, former Senior Vice President of Emirates Group IT.
It is sad to witness the Emirates Group’s deterioration accelerating. The knee jerk and badly managed actions which I feared (but hoped would be avoided had Herr Mueller managed to get an early and firm grip on the organisation) are well underway, and probably unstoppable. I am sure that many of you would have seen a video of Herr Mueller’s interview whilst he was CEO at Aer Lingus and been impressed by his genuine understanding of the importance of people in any organisation. I certainly was. I felt that if anyone could turn Emirates around, then he could. But it was a big ask. He probably has the support of over 95% of Emirates’ staff – essential for someone wanting to make wholesale changes – but nobody would have underestimated the challenges presented within the remaining few per cent. When I struggled to get Patrick Naef to see (what I was convinced was) common sense, I often felt that I was ‘pissing into the wind’. Herr Mueller has probably been facing a hurricane over the past six months.
Patrick Naef’s communication (at the end of last month) to EG-IT staff is another example of corporate incompetence and duplicity. He trivialises events by suggesting that they are just part of a review “on the way we work” and avoids revealing the true size of yet another one of his crusades against loyal members of his department. He promises openness, yet proceeds in secrecy – some staff had already been forced out before the note was sent. His communication is so amateurish it would be seen as laughable, if the topic was not so serious. But I guess everyone would have allowed themselves a wry smile at Patrick Naef’s heart-warming promise to those leaving of his “support during the transition”. This is like being introduced, just as you are about to enter theatre for major surgery, to someone who will be on hand at all times to give you “every support” and then discovering that it is the Grim Reaper.
Another blog update from Mr Tom Burgess, former Senior Vice President of Emirates Group IT.
The blog is about rotten EK management structure and corrupted, dishonest, incapable and manipulative senior EK managers with Gary Chapman, president Group Services and Dnata, as their leader.
I have previously provided my thoughts and experiences of the other four members of what I affectionately (honestly!) call the ‘Gang of Five’, so now I turn my attention to Gary Chapman. Like most people who have worked in the Emirates Group, I have heard many stories about, and views of, Gary Chapman. This is natural, given his position. But I will base what I write solely on my own experiences. Gary Chapman was happy to see me fired based on second hand information which was not true, but that is no excuse for me to alter my standards. I will cover my personal experiences with him later on in this update, but I will first make some observations on what we can all see.
The Emirates Group is in disarray. Profits are down, Group headcount is far in excess of what can be afforded and staff morale was low even before the redundancy programmes commenced. For a number of years everyone has seen the need for serious change, but all we have observed at the top has been a serious case of paralysis. The situation is now so bad that someone from outside of the Group has been brought in to sort out the mess. The acute problems in the airline cannot be laid directly at Gary Chapman’s door and I am sure that the Group has enjoyed a steady flow of income thanks to Gary’s business acumen, but the performance of support areas for which he has responsibility has been a major contributor to the problems that are now evident.
Bringing in a highly experienced fresh pair of hands is a good start, but I wonder how the obvious changes that are required are going to be implemented. When I was in the Group, I did not meet anyone who had experience of complex and major change programmes. There was limited depth in terms of day to day man management skills and, apart from the late Sir Maurice Flanagan, nobody was seen as a traditional ‘leader’. Combined, these issues posed a significant risk so the Leadership Development initiative was launched. But what has that achieved? Demonstrably very little as the Emirates Group management structure remains as it has been for many years, just layer upon layer of supervisors, each ascending level proudly boasting an even bigger capital S. Who has responsibility for Leadership Development? Gary Chapman.
A new blog and a very interesting point of view from a former Senior Vice President of Emirates Group IT Tom Burgess.
I appreciate that introducing a Trade Union into Emirates is probably the last thing on the company’s agenda during these challenging times, but maybe it is not such a foolish idea.
Spotlights are being focussed on the Emirates Group with increasing frequency and intensity. The motives of those holding the lights vary considerably, but it is clear that the standard Emirates response (put on the sunglasses then, if that fails, smash the bulbs) no longer works. Eventually, someone will realise that it is finally time to communicate with those guiding the lights and to have a close and open minded look at what is being illuminated. Once that is done, to enable the company to survive going forward, a total shift of management ethos will be required. Most involved will feel the need to admit that “we got it wrong” will be the toughest challenge, but far greater than that will be how to open up channels of communication with those who really matter – the staff. Those staff who, for their entire careers in Emirates, have sensibly concluded that you only ever tell your manager what s/he wants to hear. Anything else is, at best, career limiting, but more likely career terminating. Historically, managers in Emirates normally have only asked staff for their opinions to check their loyalty and compliance – a test rather than a quest. Assertions of “you can trust us now” will merely be seen as a trap. Maybe an intermediary such as a Trade Union would be able to help?
During my lifetime I have gone round a few circles with my views on Trade Unions. In the UK in the 1960’s they were often ridiculed, seemingly looking for the slightest excuse to down tools. By the early 1970’s many people thought they had too much power and by the end of that decade pretty well everyone, including some members of Trade Unions, knew they had too much power. Enter Margaret Thatcher. Whilst most people recognised the need for, and applauded the result of, her strategy, they were dismayed by her methods (and the resulting social impact) and then appalled as she subsequently took steps (which thankfully failed) to ban Trade Unions in some arenas. For quite some time afterwards, the UK employment environment seemed to provide a good model for everyone involved – staff enjoyed protection, but companies were allowed to run their businesses and communication within all industries improved dramatically. However, many feel that the balance has been tipping in recent times, with workers’ protection progressively diminishing.
My own experiences with Trade Unions were mixed. I managed in all sorts of environments – non-union (by employee choice), mixed union/non-union and total union – and this gave me forever changing perspectives. As a manager, I finally concluded that, broadly, Unions were a waste of time. But this only applied in organisations where management and the HR department actually did the jobs that they were paid to do. Sadly, such organisations are becoming rare and Emirates is light years away from such a position. If a company has a weak HR function, then managers will be tempted to run riot and the company will need a Trade Union to function effectively.
When I worked in the oil industry the production side (refineries, etc.) was heavily unionised but less so the ‘white collar’ environment. The company was properly managed and the ideals of staff involvement, communication, development, retention and motivation were embedded in everyday life, not just words on recruitment material. Naturally the production side of the business enjoyed the benefits of that approach as much as the white collar areas did, but the physical environment did not generally lend itself to open discussion. Add into the mix the need for a huge focus on safety, it was imperative that a comprehensive and forceful voice could be presented to management regarding the serious issues of the day. Regardless of how professional and experienced a manager is, balancing the need to reduce costs with the imperative of maintaining safety is never going to be easy. In an environment where the impact of an operational accident is significant, there comes a time when that challenge becomes potentially impossible. So, in that industry, an independent voice and channel (via a Trade Union) for operational staff was essential. A major incident at an oil refinery can be on the same scale as an aviation disaster.
As managers, there are times when we need to be ‘saved from ourselves’. My saviours were often colleagues in HR departments and I was privileged to have worked with some excellent people over the years. (This includes two HRM’s in Emirates, though sadly both left the company some time ago). One of my favourite HR Directors used to say “Yes, I can see what you are trying to achieve . . .” and then came the word “but”! I think senior managers in Emirates would have benefitted from that word “but” many times over the years. However, this will not happen all the time Emirates HR department is seen (both by the company and by itself) solely as an administrative support function.
I cannot say that I was ever ‘saved’ by a Trade Union representative. My HR colleagues were quite frankly streets ahead of them when it came to people issues. But I did value Union counsel when seeking staff views. I had worked in open management cultures for many years, where everyone was comfortable with saying what they thought without fear of incrimination. But following company mergers, when I found myself leading teams who had previously been managed more in the Emirates style (though nowhere near as extreme), it would have been absurd to expect everyone to open up and trust me from day one. Trust takes a long time to achieve and probably becomes permanently unachievable if you ever say “you can trust me”. But staff did (rightly) trust their Union representative, so that was a useful route to find out what staff really thought about matters. And naturally, as trust was established between managers and Union representatives, that trust permeated in all directions, to the benefit of everyone involved.
Until Emirates HR department becomes functional, there is huge gap to fill if management, indeed the company, is going to be saved from itself. Here are a few examples where truly independent involvement would have helped:
The overwhelming consensus is that the views expressed in the last staff survey were extremely bad, but nobody really knows how bad they were. Eventually, a very brief communication was issued which basically revealed nothing. Does anyone believe that any Trade Union would let a company get away with that? When a survey is commissioned staff will participate, tell the truth and rightly expect to be given the results. How will Emirates, in the future, obtain information that can only be obtained by a comprehensive staff survey? Who will bother? Only those who fear that non completion will result in a penalty will complete it. And if they have concluded that the survey is not confidential, they will not relay any concerns they have. A Trade Union could have saved Emirates from itself on this one. No matter how bad the results were, the impact from publishing them would have not been as negative as it has been by burying the exercise.
The ‘Truth about Emirates Airline Management’ blog has been running for what seems like an eternity. Those who initially asserted ‘ignore it, it will soon go away’ are looking rather silly now. With the existence of a Trade Union, that blog would never have been initiated. If a Trade Union were now to be introduced in Emirates, that blog would soon be taken down. With a Trade Union in place, there would never have been the need to record a meeting, as no manager would risk such behaviour if they had to account to a Trade Union. Had there been an issue between the company and an employee, a Union would have helped an appropriate and amicable way forward to be reached. Had a genuine impasse been reached regarding End of Service benefits, a Union would have assisted with a solution. The need for the ‘truth’ blog should never have arisen but, if the issues that prompted it had somehow not been picked up, a Union would have insisted that action be taken to have the blog removed. It is not only the Emirates Group that is being exposed and made a laughing stock by the ‘truth’ blog, staff members are impacted too. People want to be proud of the company they work for, not ashamed of it. And there must be many in Emirates who are concerned that they too may get a mention – though this is probably a real benefit of the blog as managers who bully will have certainly backed off in response to this particular spotlight. A Union would be able to force the advice (that most people worked out over a year ago) onto Emirates management – stop throwing bricks, go and talk to the lady with the lamp!
Major tragic events in the aviation industry in the last few years have drawn the travelling public to aviation forums and many will be alarmed at the increasing swell of concern about the fitness of flight deck crew to operate safely. It is too easy to make arguments at the ends of the scale – ‘lazy, overpaid prima donnas’ through to ‘so tired I cannot keep awake’. The same goes for the ‘over regulated’/ ‘under regulated’ arguments as well as the ‘ruthless profiteers’ versus the ‘hopelessly inefficient, but bailed out by government’ descriptions of airlines. The travelling public can only feel confident about what is a very complex equation, if they are certain that the overall framework is comprehensive and constructed with firm and independent parts. The public want to have confidence that an airline encourages and reacts to staff (at all levels) concerns, has an alternate and confidential route (such as via a Trade Union) for such communication (should individuals prefer) and is regulated by a genuinely independent official agency. A cynic can always question the competence and the true independence of all those involved, but what I have just described is a pretty robust and balanced framework. But take away the Trade Union and the structure loses its rigidity. Regardless if it is true or not, what travellers are deducing from the aviation forums at the moment is that the airlines and the regulator in the Middle East are working hand in hand and that staff views, if heard at all, are ignored. One picture currently being presented is that if a member of Emirates flight deck crew has a concern about safety, then their best chance of being listened to would be to contact either a German Trade Union or a Russian news channel. Would it not be better if s/he could talk to a Trade Union representing staff in Emirates? I am sure if that option were to be available, the public would feel more confident about flying with Emirates.
I do recognise that just to mention the words ‘Trade Union’ in Emirates could lead to serious consequences, so maybe ‘Staff Association’ would be more palatable. It would require a sea change in management attitude, but anyone who believes that a sea change in management attitude is not required in Emirates is a fool. Membership could be optional, though most companies see the benefit of a strong Union or Association, so actively encourage people to join. Individuals could then join and see if it works for them.
And if they don’t like it, they can leave!!
I am fully aware that every commercial, even a negative one, is still a commercial and that I am doing a great favour to Emirates by talking about their ad on my blog, but I am still going to do it just because I think that this ad represents a clear picture of EK management’s state of mind (to EK management: you don’t have to thank me!). It represents their values in life and their vision on how a working environment should look like. For all those looking to work and travel with EK, this ad is a good source of information. Watch it carefully.
This ad is like a dirty political campaign. A politician does not win elections thanks to their good programme and mission, but thanks to bashing on an opponent. If we know something about life, we would immediately recognize a dishonest man, a man incapable to create his own agenda, so he (or she) walks an easier way: he replaces lack of knowledge and skills with bashing on others. This is why the commercial is unethical and unprofessional – you don’t step over bodies (other airlines, in this case) to reach your personal goal. Or do you?
I am not a fan of snobbish attitude where someone is spoiled and unaware of other people’s misery so much that they miss a shower and a bar onboard to the point they pass out and have nightmares. Now every EK passenger in the world has the right to demand a bar and a shower, including economy class passengers, because I didn’t see a disclaimer that this ad discriminates them. Yes, you have a subtle notification which only says Emirates A380 First Class Shower Spa, First and Business Class Onboard Lounge, but it’s not a disclaimer, just a notification. Disclaimer like this, for example: Shower Spa available only to rich passengers and movie stars would not look good, would it now?
There is a hidden message for cabin and cockpit crew as well: they are subtly asked to fly one unpaid hour more (in addition to all the unpaid hours they already work). It’s just like in real life, where crew and ground staff are constantly asked and/or forced to work overtime. This is an EK management’s vision of their favourite line – “going an extra mile for our customers”: crew get to work more for free, just because someone who has money and power (at this point you can look at Jennifer as a symbol of EK management) asked or threatened them. Nevermind safety and crew’s constant fatigue. Money and pleasure of rich rule the world.
This is an e-mail I’ve got from one ex EK cabin crew:
Saw the commercial – what a kick in the face for the hard working. I flew to Europe on Delta and had a chance to talk to the crew. Service was professional, without the circus atmosphere of EK. The crew had a real sense of authority…something EK will never allow.
This ad is, actually, a carefully designed manipulation. It discriminates and divides people on rich and poor (clearly sending a message that EK wants only rich passengers, that it cares only for them), it tells you that you should work for free, it mocks and revenges USA airlines for EK’s recent problems with alleged subsidies and it promotes superficiality. All this through ad’s fake funny appearance.
The commercial of a neighbouring airline, with another famous actress in the main role, is really professional one in comparison with this one and a real example of an ethical ad.
Bottom line, when you scratch beyond Jen’s charm and funny acting, this is one vulgar and unethical ad on all levels. As I said at the beginning: a clear picture of management’s state of mind.
After many recent plane crashes safe flying has become a regular topic in media. Not without a reason.
This is just a first article in series of articles about illegal and safety endangering practices in Emirates Airline (EK). Since the safety problem in EK is so big, it requires many inputs from cabin crew and pilots, which I am lucky to get on a regular basis so that I can make a full picture of safety deterioration in Emirates in past few years.
According to pilots and cabin crew, flying with Emirates Airline is less safe than it used to be. One could ask why is that? Answer is simple: greed, money and management’s incapability to deal with the growth of the company.
As usual, I have no intention to advise anyone not to work or not to fly with EK. Instead, my intention is to leave a trace about the fact that employees of Emirates Airline were worried about their safety and the safety of the passengers even before any serious accident occurred (and let’s hope it will never occur).
It is very easy to blame the flight crew for errors in flying the plane. Media will always assume that crew was well rested, well paid and motivated to work. Especially when they write about Emirates Airline, because there is a false public image about working conditions in EK.
Well, EK flight crew is exhausted with short layovers, unpaid extra working hours, working more than legal flying hours, lack of leave and vacation, inability to report sick or fatigued without being suspected of lying about it and new questionable procedures of authorities which make easier for all of this to become legal.
These articles have the purpose to warn on flight crew’s exhaustion and incapability to fly the planes safely due to fatigue, lack of motivation and weariness issues.
First input about onboard safety is coming from cabin crew. Service delivery department in Emirates Airline is in chaos right now. Thousands of cabin crew are resigning and there is not enough crew to operate the flights, so some flights are delayed. At the same time, management has no answer on this shortage of staff than to make more pressure and make it harder for crew to report sick, forcing them to fly even if they are fatigued and to make them do couple of turnovers per day or have illegally short layovers. The same thing is happening with EK pilots.
The next two quotations are from persons who sent me their inputs on cabin crew’s opinion on onboard safety.
“I just wanted to tell you about something I heard today…. There was a flight today that departed at 5pm to NY and Cuz of delays caused by bad weather the crew will have 10 hours layover after God knows how many hours flight… And u know that those 10 hours will become 7 or even less Cuz of the time lost with transportation from airport to hotel, etc. I heard from a “friend of a friend” that some are planning to send a complain to GCAA.
I wish u could investigate more and post it on your blog.
I’m glad I could help with some info.”
I have checked this info with EK cabin crew and this is what I’ve got:
I do know actually. The layover was 15 hrs, whereas in JFK the journey from the airport to the hotel on an normal snow-free day takes approx 1 hour and we get the wake up call the next day 3, 5 hrs before departure. A simple calculation will show, that the crew had 10 hours rest after nearly 15 hour flight (17 hour duty). I will include a screenshot of trip details of the particular flight for you.
Complaining to GCAA makes no sense as we all know that H.H. Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoom is the chairman of Emirates Group AND a chairman and board member of GCAA. This flight is most probably “legal”, because the official rest time is over 11 hours.
The only option I see, is to give these pieces of information to international media or to question this legality from FAA. Although the rumor says, EK paid a fine for this action…
I personally find it outrageously irresponsible from EK to endanger and play around with the safety of 500 passengers and 30 crew, only to prove their ability to disrespect and ignore all the advices and forecasts from the US.
On this day some 1,400 commercial flights were canceled, according to FlightAware.com. American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and US Airways were among many airlines that announced winter-weather waivers. Most will allow passengers flying to or through the Northeast to make one itinerary change without paying a change fee. The companies carrying out these 1’400 flights found the necessary assets in their budgets in order to comply with safe practices in aviation. But EK is willing to possibly loose 530 people, to operate with totally fatigued crew who cannot be held responsible for any unsafe decision, who’s reaction to possible hazards like fire, smoke or disruptive passenger are at their lowest, just so that they won’t loose money and wouldn’t have to deal with a problem – where to book these 500 people if all the flight to JFK are always oversold?
Would love to hear managements comment on that!”
It is such a shame that morally corrupted managers managed to damage such a big company so much in such a short period of time. Or as one pilot said it on one website for professional pilots:
“Perhaps someone can provide some examples of situations where pushing things – people or machines – to the absolute limit, had a happy ending?”