Saturday, June 30, 2012

Why we will never get qualified professionals at state enterprises

Several state enterprises, including Thai Airways International (THAI) and Mass Communications Organization of Thailand (MCOT) are inviting candidates for the top Chief Executive Officer post.

They aren’t going to get any really professionally qualified managers to apply. In other words, the best and the brightest would not want to work for them.

That’s not because there aren’t enough qualified people who are keen to try their hands at running major state enterprises that should be made competitive against their peers in the regional scene.

Neither is it because the financial and prestige aren’t there.

The most obvious and recurring problem is the “selection committees” assigned to pick the most qualified person to become the CEO just aren’t qualified from the very outset.

The rotten system begins at the process of picking members of the screening committee. They would have to follow the instructions, direct or otherwise, from “the boss up above.”

The more prestigious position, the higher the rank of the person giving the order of who must get the CEO’s post.

Therefore, lobbying starts at the selection of the “selection committee members.” They would have to be ready to play the game, meaning that whatever the requirements published in advertisements calling for candidates, the selection process will just have to end up with just one person in mind. Other candidates are eagerly sought just so that the whole exercise could claim to be “fair and transparent.”

When the selection committee is “orchestrated,” what do you expect the final outcome of the choice of the CEO to be? In the end, while the process of picking the next manager of the state enterprise may appears to be “open and fair,” the heavy political manipulation inherent in the system will produce only mediocre CEOs at best and political cronies or lackeys at worst.

From time to time, we got a professional executive into the post by default. He or she set about overhauling the organization, trying to “de-politicize” the enterprise and getting the staff to stick to KPI (key performance index) rather than PPI (Please Politicians Index). That promised to make his term a short-lived one. But he or she did leave some marks or professionalism, only to be wiped out by the next CEO picked by the strenuous screening of the selection committee. The “typical guy” was finally back in office.

Piyasavasti Amaranand was one of the few “professionals” who got in to a leading state enterprise (THAI) and unceremoniously kicked out. The board checked his KPI and he got a nice pass of over 80% but he was told to leave anyway.

His crime? The board’s official reason given to the public: “Lack of proper communications with the board of directors.” That suggests that the board of directors would only tolerate a CEO who is ready to obey its orders and not someone who can challenge the board’s line of thinking.

The real question therefore lies not with the CEO but with the board of directors of state enterprises. How is the board selected? Ah, that’s the real question. It’s neither transparent nor fair.

Boards of directors of state enterprises are usually picked by Cabinet members whose only yardsticks are whether the directors can serve their interests or not. It is therefore small wonder that we can’t expect a professional CEO to last in any state enterprise considering the fact that we don’t get a professional board of directors in the first place.

Directors don’t get sacked for not being able to communicate well with the CEO. That’s because they are supposed to keep a CEO who can follow the instructions from the board who gets the marching orders from the Cabinet members who have to follow their bosses’ instructions in the first place anyway

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