ACS Observer – Management vacuum

It’s been a relatively quiet week on the ACS front, at least on the surface. The lull before the storm. The eye of the cyclone. But there’s been some interesting developments.

The background machinations go on of course, and I’m hearing interesting things from various people. Below are my thoughts on where we are and what is happening.

Most of the attention during this whole sorry saga has been on the Management Committee. But consider the staff. I wrote a piece a couple of weeks back about the effect of this all on this often ignored group. ACS employs 140 people, most of them very talented and dedicated individuals, and most of whom are devastated by what is going on. As you can imagine they are worrying about their jobs.

Most disturbing to them is the absence of the senior management team during this crisis and the total lack of communication about what is happening. Former CEO Andrew Johnson is gone of course, but my scouts tell me he is still plotting a comeback, which will only happen if the clique win the spill vote on 2 November, only two weeks from today. But at least we know he is not actually there the moment.

More mysterious is what is happening to others on the senior management team. Chief Financial Officer Kim Finch, a Johnson acolyte, went on a leave of absence the day Johnson left. Her absence is unexplained. Chief Operations Officer Daniel Reihana is also missing in action. It appears he has resigned, according to some people I have spoken to, but nobody has heard any details. In the meantime he is also on unexplained leave. And Chief Digital Officer Stephen Buckman has been on paid leave for months, and has been off the scene because of bullying allegations.

How can any organisation function when most of the senior management team isn’t there? Especially at the most critical time in the organisation’s history. Interim CEO Rupert Grayston is trying to keep things going, but he is operating in a management vacuum. And he’s in Canberra, when most of the players are in Sydney.

WTF is going on? Why is just about the entire senior management team on unexplained leave? Why have the many absences of the senior management team not been explained to the staff? Morale is at rock bottom.

The staff appears to have broken into two groups — those who support reformist President Ian Oppermann, and those who support the management clique that caused all the problems in the first place. It reflects the split in the ACS membership. Of course now each side fears retribution if the other side wins.

Any successful organisation is the sum of its employees’ talents, attitudes and experiences. Infighting is a poison. Big problem. This needs to be fixed, and fast. What a mess.

What follows is my reading of the situation. This is not reportage, it is speculation. But it is based on my discussions, most of them off the record because nobody wants anybody to know that they’re talking to me. I am in a privileged position because my writings on this matter have put me in touch with probably more people with more views than anybody else.

I started out as a humble reporter on this stuff. Me humble? Now I have become a player. Let me assure you that I take this responsibility very seriously. This needs to be fixed. If I have become the default journal of record, I need to do things properly.

So here I go. This is what I think is going on. I may be wrong on some of the details, but I think I’m right on the big picture. I’m probably in a better position than most to make some inferences.

CFO Kim Finch and COO Daniel Reihana are widely disliked as acolytes of the clique, but they also widely respected by many for their management skills and the many good things they have done. Both have at times been acting CEOs of the organisation. Why are they missing in action at this critical time? My reading of the situation is that they are plotting behind the scenes with Andrew Johnson to engineer a return of the clique to power.

Both Finch and Reihana are strong individuals. They would not have got to their positions if they were not. It is impossible to believe that Kim Finch is on leave of absence because of stress. Management Committee member, leading clique operative and ACS Vice President Craig Horne sent an extraordinary email to all members of Congress before the meeting that voted no confidence in the Management Committee.

In that email he accused Oppermann of bullying Finch and Johnson. Imagine anybody accusing anybody else of bullying Johnson! Pot. Kettle. Black. It is a common tactic of bullies to accuse others of it. Look at Trump. Bullies are ultimately cowards. Now we are expected to believe that Kim Finch is so upset about being bullied by Oppermann that she is no longer able to do her job.

I reckon Horne and Ramasundara and Tate and Markman are working behind the scenes with Johnson to overthrow Oppermann and reassert their control of the organisation. They are being aided and abetted by Finch and Reihana and Buckman. I’d love to be a fly on the screen at their Zoom meetings. The many resignations and leaves of absence are all ploys to disguise their real intention. Tell me it’s not happening! Just sayin’.

I hear that Buckman may be returning to his role as Chief Digital Officer. I also hear that his staff detest him and are not looking forward to him coming back. His bullying outburst are legendary within the organisation. I’ve also heard that he is good at his job, but that would seem to be on the technical side. You can’t be a manager if your staff hate you.

There is a group of middle management ACS employees who have sided with Oppermann and who are working with him to move things forward. In a last act of bastardry, Johnson fired one of them by text message just five minutes before he left the building on 8 October because he identified her as part of the group. She was reinstated by interim CEO Grayston the next day.

I have identified from my conversations the identities of many of the large group of staff who are working for reform. Many of them have contacted me. They are very worried. So they should be. If the clique wins this battle they will be systematically eliminated.

I don’t know Rupert Grayston, but by all accounts he is a genuine and upfront individual who wants to sort things out. I understand he has no interest in continuing to be CEO, but he really must be wondering what he’s got himself into. I wish him luck. He accepted my LinkedIn invite (not that we have subsequently communicated). Thanks, Rupert.

It’s not all plain sailing for Oppermann. He won the no-confidence vote, but the 2 November spill motion is much more important. Any self-respecting Management Committee would have resigned after a vote of no-confidence, but of course we are not dealing with such people. We are dealing with classic management arrogance. Arrogance is a very interesting human trait. It enables a remarkable inability to see what to a normal person is self-evident. It also enables inexcusable behaviour, in the belief that the ends justify the means. We can only imagine what dirty tricks the clique is plotting. What we know for sure is bad enough.

Oppermann himself is not blameless. He did himself a great disservice by his inconsistent replies to Congress as to whether he was dealing with the Roger Clarke’s Rescue Your ACS group. He at first said he was not, then later admitted he had been. It is small beer in the context of the Machiavellian machinations going on elsewhere, but it hasn’t helped his case. Of course the President should be talking to dissident members. To do so it is hardly a major crime, but he should have admitted it.

This will all end in tears, as if enough haven’t already been shed. It’s a Greek tragedy, or a bad soap opera, or whatever you want to call it. Most of all it’s just a great shame. This once great institution is being run into the ground by the selfish and misguided actions of certain individuals.

I, like many others, want it all to end. If the vote for a spill is passed on 2 November then the ACS has a future. If the clique, who it is apparent will stop at nothing, win out, then the ACS as we know it will disappear. It will continue to exist in name but it will no longer be an organisation that can claim to represent the interests of the Australian IT profession. Johnson’s rebranding of the organisation as ‘ACS’, with no mention of it being a society, will come to pass. It will become another commercialised self-interested lobby group, of the type which have become a scourge on the Australian body politic.

Thanks everybody for reading my stuff. I hope I can stop writing it soon. Best wishes and good luck to all involved.



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