Tuesday, 9 September 2008

A head above the parapet

There is a risk in bearing bad news and perhaps an even greater risk in raising risk issues which do not chime with the CEO's world view.

Chris Lajtha of Adageo has sent me the following story from antiquity to illustrate the Risk Manager's Dilemma in the starkest terms:

When Darius, the Persian Emperor, decided to teach Alexander of Macedonia a lesson for invading his empire he assembled an enormous army designed to shock and awe with its size and opulence ( some ideas never go out of fashion).

Alexander did not have support from all Greeks and there were some Greek officers at the court of Darius. One of them, Charidemus, assessed the futility of Darius' approach

"Perhaps," he said, "you may not be pleased with my speaking to you plainly, but if I do not do it now, it will be too late hereafter. This great parade and pomp, and this enormous multitude of men, might be formidable to your Asiatic neighbors; but such sort of preparation will be of little avail against Alexander and his Greeks. Your army is resplendent with purple and gold. No one who had not seen it could conceive of its magnificence; but it will not be of any avail against the terrible energy of the Greeks. Their minds are bent on something very different from idle show. They are intent on securing the substantial excellence of their weapons, and on acquiring the discipline and the hardihood essential for the most efficient use of them. They will despise all your parade of purple and gold. They will not even value it as plunder. They glory in their ability to dispense with all the luxuries and conveniences of life. They live upon the coarsest food. At night they sleep upon the bare ground. By day they are always on the march. They brave hunger, cold, and every species of exposure with pride and pleasure, having the greatest contempt for any thing like softness and effeminacy of character. All this pomp and pageantry, with inefficient weapons, and inefficient men to wield them, will be of no avail against their invincible courage and energy; and the best disposition that you can make of all your gold, and silver, and other treasures, is to send it away and procure good soldiers with it, if indeed gold and silver will procure them."

The Greeks were used to direct speech as well as action, but Charidemus had not recognised how the Persians would react to such a blunt appraisal. Darius was so angry that he ordered him to be executed . "Very well," said Charidemus, "I can die. But my avenger is at hand. My advice is good, and Alexander will soon punish you for not regarding it."

Alexander and his men attacked and , as Charidemus predicted, they destroyed the enormous, unwieldly and polyglot army, forcing Darius to flee, leaving his wife and mother to be captured by Alexander, who treated them well.

No comments: