Thursday, September 15, 2011

How to tell the boss you just lost US$2 billion


Is there really a "better" way to tell your boss you just lost US$2 billion of the company money? This came to mind when the news of how Kweku Adoboli, an investment banker and director of the financial firm UBS in London, made an unauthorized trade and the losses as a result are being calculated in the range of $2 billion, give or take a few thousand dollars. He was arrested at 330 AM in London -- what a time to do it -- on suspicion of fraud.

With the financial industry already reeling from the debacle of 2008 and this most recent plunge in stock markets around the world, this was apparently another shocker that had industry people forwarding emails and comments to each other.

And just a few minutes too late, an international recruiting firm issued some guidelines on how to break bad news to the boss. I don't know if they had the $2 billion loss in mind when they wrote up the guidelines, but they said:

“Most of us do not bother to tell our bosses about the minor glitches that are part of the average workday. But every now and then, something happens that the boss just has to know about, for example, a major mistake or a missed deadline.”

In a nutshell, the three key pieces of advice for delivering bad news are:


1) Break the news yourself. If possible, arrange a face-to-face meeting to explain what happened.
(Travelife's note: No emails, texts or Skype calls then!)

2) Do offer solutions.
(Travelife's note: Say something constructive like: "$2 billion may sound like a lot of money. But if we trade $1000 a day for 250 years, I think we just will be able to make it, boss.")

3) Be upfront about the situation. Don't downplay the seriousness of the situation.

Last night, some friends and I had a good laugh about this and an opinion piece about it in an Asian financial publication; and we put in our own ideas on how to tell the boss you've just lost $2 billion. Hopefully, most of us will never need to use these ideas.

How to tell the boss you just lost him $2 billion

Invite him to lunch
But break the news over dessert in case he loses his appetite.

Just after you’ve cleared your desk. Forever.

Get someone else to do it. What are best friends for?

Over a bottle of wine.
But keep sharp objects like corkscrews away
when you do blurt out the bad tidings.

With a little rock music.
The louder the better, so you won’t hear the invectives being hurled at you.

Suggested opening lines

1. "Hey boss. Remember that $2 billion you gave me last week? Well, I can’t seem to find it this week.”

2. "I know we lost $2 billion. But I’ll make it back. Promise. I’ll work weekends if I have to.”

3. "It's only money anyway. At least we both still have our good health.”

4. "It was the computer’s fault. I was planning to trade $2 million but the font was so small I inputted more zeros than I was supposed to do.”

5. "This is why I originally applied for a job in marketing. I don’t know why Mr. Lane put me in investment banking instead.”

6. "I did a little more shopping than I planned to do…"

7. "I had a dream to put this company on the world map…”


8. "At least we’re getting lots of press. Everyone’s talking about the company now. Imagine if we had to pay for all this media mileage.”

9. "Look at the bright side. It could’ve been $3 billion instead of 2.”

10. "It was too much pressure. This is exactly what happens when clients and companies become too greedy for profit.”

11. "I'm sorry. I'm only human."



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