Snobbery in business

First published

My favourite example of snobbery always used to be not Commander Whitehead RN, who was splendidly bearded, who always travelled in a Rolls-Royce, who always had a uniformed chauffeur to carry about his boxes of Schweppes, it was the Man in the Hathaway Shirt.

Now the man in the Hathaway Shirt was even better looking than Commander Whitehead, and he had the superb gimmick of a black eye patch. Why the black eye patch gave him a touch of superiority, it is hard to say. Just believe me that it did. The Man in the Hathaway Shirt, apart from appearing in the most beautiful shirts, in all the best magazines, was always photographed doing refined things. One issue he would be busily occupied with his butterfly collection, in another he would be inspecting his Purdey guns, in another he would be preparing for a chukker of polo. We tried to copy him in Australia, but how ineffectual we were. One always felt there was something slightly common about our local black eye patch man.

Whitehead and Hathaway were good, but here in Australia eventually we outdid both of them, and this perhaps, is the most charming example of snobbery in business for it made snobs of us all. Back in the old days we used to get our Benson & Hedges, unfiltered, imported from England in red tins. In 1962 they came in a gold pack with the slogan 'The packet's gold, the pleasure is priceless.' The theory was that BOAC provided the Benson & Hedges gold pack cigarettes on their luxury international flights. They were so exclusive people would even fly the Atlantic to get them.

At that time they were 3/6 for a packet of 20 and very nearly the most expensive on the market. W.D. & H.O. Wills did not increase the price or reduce it, but craftily they allowed the prices of other cigarettes to come up to them. So, maintaining the exclusive, superior image, they eventually sold at the same price as the others and managed to become the most smoked cigarette in Australia.

Wills looked round for a Commander Whitehead-Hathaway man, someone who would epitomize all that was superior and refined. They chose the TV actor, Stuart Wagstaff. They created Wagstaff, almost in the mechanical way that Fleming created James Bond. People would know what sort of a man he was from the sort of flat he lived in - an elderly building in Elizabeth Bay, but furnished with very good pieces. His father was a stockbroker who lived in Toorak. But what was the B & H man? You weren't too sure about that. He played squash and golf, and obviously he was something decent and professional, an architect, an engineer, a university graduate who had become a business executive maybe. Clearly he is a gentleman and the girls he associates with are over twenty-five, beautiful and cool, but not too cool. As Elizabeth Riddell says, they are possibles, not probables.

The Benson & Hedges man always knows what to do, how to tip a waiter, how to call a car, how to arrive at the theatre. He befits the Benson & Hedges slogan 'only the best will do.'

The luxury image is carried forward in other ways. We have had a series of front page advertisements which do not say anything about the cigarettes, their price, where they can be obtained, or even whether they are made out of tobacco or cow dung. Here's one example:

And do you notice they did not even mention the word 'cigarette'. These cigarettes are far from exclusive, they have a fifth share of the market, yet people still feel superior when they smoke them. It shows how snobbery can be exploited in business. But it does not only happen in selling. It is there at all levels and there are infinite gradings and subtleties. First let us take your office building.

Your business could be conducted just as easily in Clayton or Hornsby, but how much wiser, how much more prestigious to be in Collins Street or Martin Place. Preferably it should be over twenty storeys and set back from the street leaving space for the Clement Meadmore or Norma Redpath sculpture. The building should be faced, if not with pure marble, then at the least a respectable clean finish conglomerate.

Don't be on one of the lower floors. Although it is more inconvenient, although employees waste time looking at the views, there is a psychological advantage in being above the sixteenth. There is a suggestion of superiority, and the seed is sown in the mind of the client that you are paying more rent.

Your office is impressive, and naturally you go in for the latest office landscaping. This is the broad, open, uncluttered look. Everybody can see everybody else. There is a fine McLuhan atmosphere of instant communication, of vitality, of aliveness. Did I say everybody could see everybody else? Well, that was theory when office landscaping first started.

Actually people do like to charm their secretaries, pick their noses, even do tea-break push-ups, in private. So now the quality of your landscaping is in direct proportion to your prestige. The senior clerk gets a nice, little three foot six inch walnut veneer partition. It takes in four feet all around his desk and makes him feel just that much more important. If you put a little hay in his pen it would look like a nativity scene. His desk is 4ft 6in. by 2ft in., and he has three drawers on the right-hand side.

The departmental superintendent has a slightly higher partition. He still fits in with the office landscaping because he has louvres. His desk is 5ft by 2 ft 6in. and he has drawers both left and right. And so we become progressively grander. The area manager has a six foot partition with glass up to the ceiling. There is always the awful feeling that if someone stood a-tip-toe it would be possible to see what the devil he was up to in there, so the State manager gets solid black bean panelling from floor to ceiling.

Black bean, incidentally is the IN timber. It is in short supply and you pay much more for substitutes which look like black bean. There is a little tragedy here, although you often have something which is better than black bean your admirers know so little about Australian timbers they cannot instantly recognize how much money you have spent.

Oh yes, we are now up to the State manager in his black bean splendour.

His desk is now 5ft 6in. by 3ft with an L piece to take books and office intercom. But there are still subtleties.

He could be a mere two outside or three outside window manager. Or does he have an indoor plant? In one of our oil companies indoor plants only begin at a fairly illustrious level. I remember an unfortunate sub manager who was a genuine indoor plant lover. So he brought to the office his very own monstera deliciosa, which he watered with all the right hormones.

He had usurped his status and he was told to take it home. It was a mistake which very likely cost him a year's advancement.

The manner in which you are served your morning and afternoon tea is also important. Does it come to you on the office trolley with the Woolworth's cup or do you get a private little wooden tray? The managing director gets his on a silver tray with Royal Doulton china.

Lavatories usually come in three grades. Lower employees, medium executives and top executives. The top executive lavatory has brushes, combs, and real napkins on which to dry the hands. The important thing here is that executives on different levels should not have to stand at the one urinal; caught with his phallus down, so to speak, a senior executive is terribly unguarded. Yet I can remember a newspaper office where the editor had his private urinal, but no sit-down pedestal. So for any major movement he had to retire to the reporter's lavatory. Rightly or wrongly, in later years, it was often said that the real reason for the newspaper's move out to the suburbs, was to provide more splendid lavatory facilities for the editor in chief.

However for top people things have to be right. Your top man should have at least two secretaries. His secretary, perhaps a rather more mature woman, should be his confidential secretary - although it is IN for that secretary to be a male and then he is Executive Assistant. It is also prestigious for the secretary to have his or her secretary.

There should also be a young man who will have the title "Assistant to the Managing Director'. He won't have anything to do, but he will look very good indeed, and besides, he is handy for entertaining important visitors and for attending funerals.

Your outer black beaned rooms should be large and comfortable. Your magazines, Rydges perhaps, The Economist, Fortune, something which will indicate that you have a serious interest in international finance matters.

Even some publications from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank will not go amiss.

It is important, of course, always to have someone waiting. There must be an appearance in your office, not of desperate, but of sustained, brilliant, eflicient activity. You appreciate that you must have the right type of people waiting. Grade one types you put in your executive assistant's office. Grade two types, anyone prestigiously low, or even slightly scruffy, you get to wait in the office of the secretary to the secretary.

A smart move is to have your interview interrupted by a telephone call, preferably from interstate or overseas from someone like Sir Ian Potter or Mr Snedden. Then formally announce to your secretary: 'Please Miss Eidelweiss, I do not wish to be interrupted again during this interview.' It goes down well Now for your top executive's office it is necessary to do things with great taste.

Ten years ago there was an American theory that the executive's office should be like the super market, the counter should disappear. In other words your brilliant chairman or managing director should not have the clutter of books and papers. Everything should be left clear for mental activity, therefore the desk should disappear. Well that's out. Executives couldn't stand the lack of security, the feeling of nakedness through being deprived of a desk. It was like Linus in Charlie Brown being deprived of his blanket.

Next we had massive desks, which looked as if they had been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and cost $3,000 plus. The bigger the desk the greater the importance. That is almost out. Now you should have instead of a desk, a large table, eighteenth century perhaps, and beautifully carved. Your furniture everywhere will match, a mirror to your impeccable taste. You will have a fireplace with a fire burning, the ultimate refinement in a modern, air-conditioned building. Rather than sit your visitors in front of the table you will take them aside to deep armchairs beside a smaller coffee table Here and there will be porcelain, small pieces of sculpture which reflect not only your devotion to the arts but your constant travels.

'I thought you might be interested in that little jade Buddha given to me by Chiang Kai-shek.'

'I picked up that Inca carving during one of the GATT meetings in Mexico City'.

Although it is wise to follow the rule that anything from overseas is more exciting, more inspired, and better made than anything produced in Australia, this does not follow for paintings. Australian business, suddenly, has discovered Australian artists, and seeing that most businessmen know only a few names - Nolan, Boyd, Perceval, Tucker or Blackman, it is better to choose one of these for your walls. Even better choose one of the darker, more sinister, less understandable Nolans or Boyds. Even if you don't understand it yourself, you can pretend that you do and this will give a superior hold over your visitor.

Some managing directors go for electrically controlled panels which glide aside to reveal cocktail bar complete with barman. Do not do this. Not only is it considered vulgar but it gives an impression of excessive executive drinking. You can do your excessive executive drinking just as easily with a tasteful bookcase. In that bookcase there will be one door which will swing back to reveal a bottle cupboard and a small refrigerator Miss Edelweiss will bring the glasses.

Cars, you realize, must be graded as carefully as the afternoon tea service. When an executive is promoted his car must be promoted also. The progression, say, for an oil company or brewery is from Morris 1100, to Ford Falcon, to Ford Fairlane, to Galaxie, to Chevrolet to Mercedes. In this situation the eager young executive must never step out of line. I remember the hideous situation in one company where one of the brilliant young managers inherited $100,000 from an aunt. So he bought a 3.8 litre Daimler-Jaguar. The managing director was driving a vast 8-cylinder Dodge.

There was a meeting of the Board.

What could they do? They couldn't really get rid of the young man because he had family connections. But was a Daimler-Jag superior to an 8-cylinder Dodge? Finally they came to the reluctant decision that it was. So they had to buy the managing director a Mercedes 300 SL.

The Mercedes is a very safe car for top executives and most companies are going in this direction. The American cars have a certain vulgar cheapness. An Australian car, of course, is out of the question. A Rolls-Royce smacks a little too much of opulence. Shareholders are not concerned if you waste $7 million on an unnecessary building in Collins Street, but they can be irritated by a $22,000 Rolls-Royce.

A Mercedes Benz gives the MD a suggestion of cold, Germanic, efficiency which goes well, and besides, without receiving the odium, he can spend more on his Mercedes. His 600 Grosser Mercedes could well cost $27,000. In top companies the managing director's wife can also score a car, maybe a smaller Jaguar. There are other refinements like the company yacht with crew on the company payroll and also company aircraft. A Cessna 310 or a Piper Twin Commanche are acceptable prestige aeroplanes.

The car makers try to cash in on the executives desire for prestige. They give their machines prestigious names like Impala, Parisienne, Brougham and there is the pitiful attempt by Chrysler. They called one of their Valiants, the VIP.

If you run an advertising agency most of the same rules apply, except you should inspire a belief of great prosperity coupled with a sense that here is a building where genius is at work. Your managing director can be London tailored, but it is a help if your creative men are bearded, wear matelot shirts, tight jeans and sandals. Don't go for Nolans on the walls. Better to have way-out blow ups by Frank Eidlitz, or even better, an electronic mural by Stan Ostoja-Kotkowski.

Your agency board room should literally stink of success. It should be long and panelled with an immense board room table. If you were an old firm I would suggest a seventeenth century baronial table. It would be even more impressive if you had to take down a wall to get it inside. However seeing that you are a young, vital agency your table could be designed by Saarinen or perhaps specially built for you by the exclusive Krimper.

You have projection equipment for demonstrating your creative work, but of course, your projection booth cannot be seen. The discreetest of panels in black bean moves to one side. The screen at the other end of the room is revealed by a touch of a button underneath the table.

While we are on electronics, electronic equipment is still felt to be symbolic of power. You should have two or three telephones. You should have button controlled intercom to every department. When a visitor is present it is nice to be able to push the button on the general sales manager:

"Jackson, what did we order from Osaka in February?"

"Two and a quarter million yards, Sir Charles."


You should have a telephone in the Mercedes, plus a built-in tape recorder for those marvellous ideas that might come to you while driving to and from work.

The best snobbery story on car telephones concerns the two businessmen, Hiram and Abe. Hiram was the first to get a car telephone, which created in Abe almost uncontrollable envy.

Months went by, but finally Abe won his heart's desire, a telephone in the Cadillac. He chose his moment, the precise time when he knew Hiram would be on his way to work. He telephoned from car to car. Regrettably the chauffeur took the call. Hiram was ahead there too - he had a chauffeur.

But worst of all the chauffeur replied:

"I'm sorry sir, would you mind waiting? Mr Hiram Mortimer is on the other telephone."

As for having the right people aboard, I wouldn't knock public schools. All things being equal if two young gentlemen apply for a job - one has gone to a very nice school and one has not, then the boy from the nice school will usually win. Religion is not so important any more. Yes, it is good to be an Anglican and being a Presbyterian goes down very well in Melbourn. However, suddenly education is popular.

It is prestigious to have all graduates on your staff. Often it is unimportant what your young men have graduated in as long as they have done something - law, economics, sociology, commerce, why they will even take arts men.

Senior staff, to keep up an impression of eminence, should really do the Administrative Staff College course at Mt Eliza. It may not help them to sell paint, beer, wool or biscuits, but it will give them an edge over those who have not done the course. Even better, do the six months advanced business course at Harvard and you will have the edge on everybody.

Directors? This is not an easy one. A genuine baronet with money is still very good, but for heaven's sake keep away from retired military knights. These are discredited. I would suggest lawyers from very old and reputable firms, successful sharebrokers, ex-Treasury or Reserve Bank men if you can get them and former Melbourne or Adelaide Lord Mayors are always first class material. They would never have become Lord Mayors had they not been accepted gentlemen of the establishment.

The name of your firm is important. If I were an architect battling on my own it would have to be Dunstan and Associates. Yes, it is wise to give the impression that you have many partners working for you. Not quite as brilliant as you perhaps, but nevertheless able in their field.

My public relations firm would be Dunstan International & Associates. It must be presumed, of course, that your PR activities are immense and you have branch offices in Omsk, Marseilles, Nassau, Berlin, etc., always at the client's service. My finance firm would be Dunstan Market Development Consultants Ltd. Consultants is the key word here. It implies that I have a team available of remarkable learning and ability.

Titles in a company are also important for creating proper prestige and wonder.

No longer do we have junior clerks, they are junior executives. Commercial travellers have gone, now we have sales representatives or sales executives. We move up to sales supervisor, national sales director. Invariably the grander the title the less work done by the gentleman concerned. Again advertising agencies are good at this. I know of a Product Creative Superintendent, a Senior Executive Planner, a Market Research Executive Director, a Senior Coordinator of Creative Activities, a Company Director of Branch Development Activities. Usually a title like that means they only have to pay him an extra $1,000 a year after they have bought him from the rival firm.

Actually the essence of snobbery is being superior and part of the business of being superior is in using words that others do not understand. For example, big companies are never big companies any more, they are consortiums, and, particularly if they are grabbing something, they are overseas consortiums. Indeed these times we even have overseas conglomerates.

It is terribly important that you should have a proper patter of words which includes lines like critical path analysis, net current assets, Dow Jones Index, Dynamic Process Analysis, FOB, and always be quick to mention your intimate association with big economic institutions, but never spelling them out. Talk of your work with EPU (European Payments Unions), or how you mentioned to Jack the incredible disadvantages we had suffered under GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) and even Billy agreed with you that continued borrowings from the IMF (International Monetary Fund) were not in Australia's interest.

Ah yes, keep up a good patter about shortage of liquidity, the Bear Squeeze, ex-capitalization, growth stock potential, and please, never refer to your investments. It is appropriate to mention your portfolio, because this suggests that you have a large number of shares.

There are all sorts of words which you should use constantly to give the feeling of the profundity of your mind. Never say 'now' when it is so much better to say 'at this point of time' Why, you can even go better with 'at this particular definitive point of time', Furthermore people don't merely understand each other any more - they communicate. Nor do they talk and have conferences, they conduct dialogue. 'I had dialogue last week with my junior staff members.' That sort of thing sounds tremendous.

Also if things are possible they are viable. If they are impossible they are non viable, and if there is a break down in the equipment, for heaven's sake make it a malfunction. You are perceptive, you have remarkable insights, and just lately cogent has been having a brilliant run. Always make sure you have cogent reasons. Never say 'Yes' or 'No', always reply affirmative or negative. This gives your firm a crisp, computer style image.

Then as managing director, you, of course, must have charisma, This is a word desperately loved by political organizers and leader writers of intellectual weeklies. It means mystique, drawing power, magic in personality and it is important that all dictators like yourself must have it.

But then you can also have panache and élan is absolutely the coming word.

Remember too that equipment now comes in 'generations'. Try to talk about your new generation equipment and if you have a computer it is absolutely third generation, never second or first.

There are so many good words.

Pragmatic is good, predilection is nice, idiosyncratic is having a strong run and cathartic has never had such a good year. One always has the cathartic approach. Yet if you ever run short of the appropriate pompous word, work in an 'ad hoc', an 'in fact' or even better, give them an 'in point of fact'. It doesn't add a jot of meaning to what you are trying to say, but it does make everything more impressive.

Finally it is prestigious for your firm to have its own private suite for the entertainment of visitors. This suite should be completely serviced and if it is not in the city's leading hotel, then it should be a quality penthouse apartment. It always looks good when the rest of the city is booked out for some great festival to have this available.

You should belong to the Melbourne, Union, Brisbane, or Adelaide clubs, but junior executives should never belong to your club, and this also applies to your golf club, for you must have a golf club where you can take visitors, even if you can't stand the game.

Don't ever handle money, this shows lack of breeding. Use credit cards.

I trust you will rarely, if ever, be seen in a taxi, but if you are make sure you have a credit account.

It is an important part of lunchmanship always to sign dockets, never to crudely pass over cash. Make sure you dine regularly at the one top restaurant, so that you are known to the manager, head waiter and all his minions, so that always you are greeted by name upon arrival. As for receiving the proper august approach from the head waiter, you can always tip him adequately some time when you are alone.

Finally, you should really have your name in Who's Who. I am not sure how you will achieve it. If your business is big enough you may crack it automatically. Otherwise all I can suggest is that you become president of some combined business association, that you contribute heavily to the likely victorious party at the next elections, or become chairman of some large and vigorous charity that is likely to come under the eye of the premier or his wife. Then you will receive an award in the New Year or Queen's Birthday honours. However don't muck around with the little honours. If you are to make Who's Who it has to be a CBE or better.