Pleased with himself for hiring a psychopath as a fund manager, the chairman sees the potential for using reverse psychology in the marketing team


“Weren’t you going to ask about psychopaths?” prompted the chairman of the implausibly sized investment company Second Coming Asset Management as we enjoyed a pint or two of Insert Your Own Topical Gag at The Pre-Holiday Column Written Two Weeks In Advance. 

“Thanks for reminding me,” I nodded. “But why has it taken you so long to get around to asking?” scolded the chairman. “It was your idea and, while I don’t want to jinx things, the early results are most promising.” 

“What on earth are you talking about?” I asked.

“Scam employing psychopaths, of course,” said the chairman. “Obviously it has always been a fruitful area of recruitment for our sales team – and everyone else’s, of course. But our conversation got me thinking I was maybe missing a trick on the fund manager front. Remember? You told me about a report that suggested someone with psychopathic tendencies could be a successful portfolio manager because of their dysfunctional amygdala – the part of the brain that processes emotion.

“One of the upshots of such a condition is you find it easier to oppose the consensus, ignore the experts, break away from the herd and, of course, buy when others are selling and sell when others are buying – all of which sounds eminently sensible from an investment point of view.”

“This is starting to ring bells,” I said. “I got to make that brilliant joke about the phrase ‘buying when there’s blood on the streets’ taking on a whole new meaning. But you’re not saying it seriously made you think about hiring a psychopath as a fund manager, are you?” 

“I did more than think about it,” the chairman replied. “We have had just such a gentleman running Scam Recovery since autumn 2011, which has been a great time to be a contrarian.” “But surely the non-psychopathic managers aren’t thrilled to be rubbing shoulders with a psychopath?” I asked. “Oh please!” snorted the chairman. “My other managers would kill for performance like that, if they only had it in them – which I suppose is rather the point.”

“I was going to ask if Scam used psychopaths in its marketing,” I said. “Why?” asked the chairman. “Are they good at that too?” “More the opposite,” I replied. “MRM’s digital guru, Michael Taggart, recently argued psychopaths’ thinking could inform marketing because it highlights how the 99 out of 100 people who aren’t psychopaths make decisions – especially on spending money.

“Of course, this puts us back in the realms of the dysfunctional amygdala, which I have now learned is the ‘ancient’ part of the brain that produces the sort of emotional reactions such as fear and loyalty that thousands of years ago generally kept us out of the stomachs of sabre-toothed tigers and the like.

“So while psychopaths may respond well to marketing pushes that state exactly what a product will do for them, the rest of us respond better to campaigns that set pulses racing, juices flowing and amygdalae all a-tingle. As Taggart says: ‘People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.’

“He therefore concludes: ‘Next time you bump into a psychopath, ask them what factors might make them buy your product or service – then, if you survive the encounter, do the exact opposite’. And that sounded precisely the approach Scam would take to marketing.” 

“You might be on to something,” said the chairman. “I’ll run this past our Recovery chap – assuming he hasn’t been locked up for the night.” “You keep him imprisoned?” I asked. “Too right. I may take risks in this job but I’m not suicidal. I also know psychopathic characteristics such as freedom from stress, superficial charm, narcissism and lack of empathy or shame mean there are more psychopaths among CEOs than in the wider population. Frankly, I don’t need the competition.”