The chairman hardly needs to say it: he is a terrific boss. But if the working atmosphere at Scam is calmer these days, he admits it is because most of his staff are of the furred and feathered kind.
”Do you get accused of being a bully these days?” I asked the chairman of the implausibly-sized investment company Second Coming Asset Management as we enjoyed a few bottles of Chateau Vile at The Whistleblower.
“Not as much as I used to,” he admitted. “And I believe I may put this down to two factors.”
“Neither of which involves a change of behaviour or a mellowing of attitude over the years, I presume?” I presumed.
“Good grief no,” laughed the chairman. “I mean, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? No, I’d say it has much more to do with the majority of my staff these days being animals, birds, psychic octopi and yucca plants and, as a rule, they don’t talk much and they don’t have lawyers.
”The emerging meerkats team have perfected quite a disconcerting ’hurt’ look if you shout at them”
“Tell a lie, we do have a parrot on the fixed income desk that has got quite a beak on him – though it’s nothing a little Sellotape can’t fix – and the emerging meerkats team have perfected quite a disconcerting ’hurt’ look if you shout at them too much. Still, it’s nothing compared to the old days when my companies were essentially crewed by humans – they can be so sensitive.”
“Occasionally they had things to be sensitive about,” I observed. “Didn’t you for a while run a sort of hall of shame? What was it? Numpty of the week? Loser of the week? Berk of the week?”
“All of those and a good few more, I believe. I’m sure most people took it in the spirit intended.”
“Would that be the spirit of contempt or the spirit of derision?” I asked.
“Honestly, you can be so melodramatic at times,” sighed the chairman. “Have you ever considered a career in fund management? Seriously, I’m a terrific boss – when one of my managers made the biggest mistake of his professional life. I was there straightaway to offer a helping hand.” (article continues below)
“In a manner of speaking,” I said. “I’ve heard that your precise words were ’If you provide the gun, I’ll supply the bullets.’”
“Well, of course, if you say it in that tone of voice, you can make anything sound bad,” the chairman protested. “But I challenge you to find anyone who left my staff under any sort of cloud and who would still have a bad word to say about me in public.”
“The key words being ’in public’,” I said. “Presumably anyone who fell into that category would have signed some kind of non-disclosure document – although those things have been known to be less than watertight after the fifth or sixth pint.”
“Now you should know better than anyone not to believe everything you hear in bars and pubs,” said the chairman.
“After almost a decade and a half in your company, of course I do,” I agreed. “I wouldn’t dream of running anything like that past you – not least because unsubstantiated gossip about senior members of Her Majesty’s financial services industry is one of my very favourite things.
“Nor am I going to dwell too much further on workplace bullying. First, because I’ve just realised we’ve had three other conversations on the subject in the last year or so and, second, because – plucking a random example from nowhere – you could raise as many questions over why a boss would mess with the capacity of a successful fund as you could about why an employee might continue running an investment they felt had become inappropriately structured.
“What I do have a question about is how a company can fight a legal action based on the behaviour of two parties, neither of which it has ever employed.”
“Ah,” said the chairman. “Now you have touched upon one of my very favourite things – novation.”
“Sounds like a beauty product,” I said.
“Actually it’s a legal term that covers, among other things, the substitution of one party in a contract with another one. It’s a handy little technique I’ve used once or twice when I’ve sold businesses and, now you mention it, I suppose it is a bit like a face cream. It can certainly smooth away wrinkles.”