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The Periodic Table of the Middle Class
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    Entries in Burt Kapur (9)

    Monday
    Nov192012

    Burt on Business: Business Gimp - capitalist lackey and proud of it  

    You always see them in the coffee bars of major airports and railway stations; aged 25-32, suited, well-groomed and prattling away to a senior manager who doesn't even pretend to be listening. "I read that Indonesia's growth is up to double figures," the younger man will say, "I think one of our competitors is getting in there, what do you think?" "Could I have an extra shot in that latte?" the older asks the sales assistant, wishing he could do these trips alone.

    The younger man is Business Gimp, and there is one in most companies. Desperate to get on, he believes that impressing and/or enslaving himself to his boss is the best way to achieve success. He puts far too much product in his hair, wears conspicuous suits, and in order to have something to say he reads business magazines and gathers gossip, offering up information that is, in fact usually old and insubstantial. Asked for an opinion he will waffle without committing himself, hedging his bets until it's clear what will be deemed "right". Although his kind do sometimes progress, to the appalled amazement of former colleagues, others fade away, never realising that their boss values ideas rather than kiss-arse endorsement. I'd like to say Business Gimp is his own worst enemy, but in this respect he has some pretty stiff competition, including myself.

     

    Flickr: andlun1

    Tuesday
    Mar012011

    Burt on business style: neck-uncertainty and the vexed issue of tie-wearing in the post-casual world of work

    Flickr: Lars Plougmann
    Sadly, I’ve been in business long enough to remember the time, pre-1990s, before open-neck shirts and chinos became acceptable and dress-down Fridays became de rigeur in some of the trendier offices. And, perhaps equally sad, I have to say I preferred it. 
     
    Why? Just because back then, when everyone dressed in that uptight and boring style, you knew where you were, and what to wear. Preparing for a meeting with a new client who was going to bring along a few colleagues, it was easy; grey suit, white shirt, black shoes, plain blue tie – done. You’d all turn up looking more or less the same, not take any notice of each other’s clothes, and just crack on with the conversation.
     
    Nowadays, however, with any client who you feel might be just slightly with-it, you have neck-uncertainty. You may turn up in a tie to find them not wearing ties, in which case you feel awkward and very much as if you’re trying to sell something, rather than having a conversation. Vice-versa, and you feel like you haven’t shown the company enough respect.
     
    It gets even worse when meeting out of work hours. I once agreed to speak at a small business-law conference in Lancashire on a Saturday, which I had told would be casual, and made the terrible mistake of doing a T-shirt and V-neck, while almost everyone else had come in ties; people were staring at my neck and chest areas as if I were Jordan and had come in a bikini. Since then I’ve always stuck with ties when in any doubt; I now live in hope that the popularity of Mad Men will bring back formal styles, although I fear it may take some time for its influence to truly hit the business world of many of our European neighbours. 
    Monday
    Jan102011

    Burt on Business: The Professional Flyer

    There are several unpleasant aspects to returning to work in January, and I was reminded of one yesterday when I sat next to a high-flying Indian engineer in a Lufthansa lounge. He spent the entire hour we were together boasting about how much time he spent on long haul flights (at least 100 days a year) and explaining how he had trained himself to sleep, and how he never went onto local time and – you get the picture. He was what I call a typical Professional Business Flyer – the man who sees travel as a macho thing and thinks no one else has ever been beyond Schipol.
     
    They can be any age or nationality, but the younger ones are worst - basically, they spend all their time tweeting that they’re arriving/leaving Terminal 5, and say things like “Wow, for a moment completely forgot what country I was in”, and trying to act like Don Draper in Mad Men. Young and old alike share certain traits – they know a lot about hub cities, they brag about how little sleep they need and how early/late they’ve left somewhere, and make sure you notice when they see a member of air crew they know personally. 
     
    This is all up to them, of course – the problem is that they need someone else to tell about this “macho” behaviour, and if you happen to make eye contact in the lounge – it could be you. I’m always tempted to ask the question that comes to mind for me when I meet them – how come you think it’s an achievement to visit all these amazing cities for free, and to not bother trying to see any of them? 
    Wednesday
    Dec012010

    BURT ON BUSINESS: HOW BUSINESS PEOPLE FIGHT WITH THEIR PENS

    In my offices the other day I was talking to a colleague from another company, and in the course of our conversation I asked him if he would sponsor one of our secretaries who is doing a sponsored winter walk in December. He agreed, I took him over to meet Ann, the secretary in question, and she duly produced a sponsor sheet and offered to put his name down. And that’s when the pen-moment happened.

    “No, let me!” he said, scrabbling at his inside pocket . “I’ve got my own pen!” When this pen-moment happens, you always know what sort of pen will be brought out, and sure enough, his hand emerged wielding a Mont Blanc ballpoint. Mont Blancs are the obvious status pen, but it is frustrating for competitive business people to have to wear them hidden on the inside of their jackets - £300 and you can’t even see it! It means that at any opportunity they will produce said pen with a flourish – or, in meetings, ostentatiously place it on the table regardless of whether they take notes or not.

    However, the ultimate bit of penmanship I’ve seen was from a Finnish company owner, who carelessly chewed the lovely snow-capped top of his Mont Blanc ballpoint. “So what, I can get another,” he said when someone mentioned it; you could feel the envy in the room for minutes. 

    Saturday
    Apr172010

    Airport-limbo; The life of the business class castaway

    Spare a thought for the business travellers caught abroad while Iceland inflicts its Harry Potter-eseque volcanic ash eruption on British airspace, please readers. I'm stuck in Cape Town where I've been on business, part of a community of people waiting to get home. You go into a traveller-limbo in these situations, with the banal crap of the hotel and airport giftshops provoking an irrational anger if you let it. If I see another world cup mascot I'm going to attack it with my briefcase. You also become game for the predatorial hotel staff who assume you'll be living large on airline expenses to pass the time; this afternoon I asked a waiter to recommend a good South African red, and only realised when I got the bill that he'd given me a £120 bottle. I somehow don't see BA covering that. All in all I think this is the 21st centruy equivalent of Robinson Crusoe, with a Blackberry instead of Man Friday.