CLOSE-UP: ON THE CAMPAIGN COUCH ... WITH JB

Q: I've been caught fiddling my expenses. Hardly on the Enron or WorldCom scale, I've still been shown the door. I had always regarded this type of thing a perk of the job for someone as senior as myself. Half a bottle of M&S Chardonnay with my lunchtime prawn sandwich surely can't be a crime?

A: Fascinating. If I were setting an examination for a bunch of sixth-formers, I'd just reproduce your question verbatim and invite them to Discuss.

You appear to be making two assumptions - neither, it would seem, shared by your superiors.

You see no absolute difference between fiddling and not fiddling. You believe that there is a sort of sliding scale of fiddling that finds two quid on a half bottle of Chardonnay legitimate but the misrepresentation of millions of dollars not.

And secondly, you believe there is a sort of sliding scale of seniority, that finds precisely the same fiddle perfectly permissible when perpetrated by yourself, for example, but quite unacceptable when perpetrated by a more junior person.

The trouble with sliding scales, of course, is that they slide. Try dropping one grain of sand at a time on the ground until you've made a heap. Will you be sure which is the decisive grain? Before that single grain: obviously not a heap. After that single grain: obviously a heap. Even if you're certain, will everyone else agree with you? In front of a mirror, extract one hair at a time from your scalp. After which decisive hair can you declare yourself bald? And will everyone else agree with you?

This isn't really about morality; it's about practicality. Life is just a great deal easier if everybody knows the rules. You shouldn't have to make up your own mind about making private phone calls from work; it should be clearly and publicly known whether you can or whether you can't.

So, although you've been silly, you have my sympathy. Your company is at least as guilty as you are.

(I can't help wondering, though, about this seniority stuff. Do truly senior people really spend their lunchtimes with a prawn sandwich and half a bottle of contraband Chardonnay? You're either deluding yourself or you're quite a sad person.)

Q: As an international account director, I have just made my first visit to Japan. The locals were polite (I think) but totally impenetrable. As a veteran of the international advertising scene, I'm sure you've been there. Any advice?

A: I have never been to Japan and have absolutely no knowledge of Japanese customs; but if I believed I should give advice only on matters of which I was knowledgeable, this would be a very skimpy column.

Indeed, the more I know about a subject, the more confused and indecisive I become. My only certainties are born of virginal ignorance. So I welcome your question and hasten to answer it with unaccustomed confidence.

When you are obliged, in the course of business, to mingle with foreigners on their own ground, you should never forget that - bizarrely, I agree - to them, you are the foreigner. This presents you with two choices: do your humble best to behave like a native or become an outrageous caricature of your nation's finest.

Avoid at all costs the first of these options. There is nothing more embarrassing than an Englishman in New York talking about bucks and baseball.

New Yorkers in London who refer to the pound sterling as a quid seem equally ridiculous.

In Japan, as elsewhere abroad, you should therefore be unashamedly insensitive.

Speak English at all times and insist on using knives and forks. Your hosts will feel warmly superior, will be secretly delighted that you conform so perfectly to their preconceptions and will go out of their way to help you.

Try it, anyway.

Q: Would you have liked to work in the new J. Walter Thompson headquarters in Knightsbridge Green?

Yes.

- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. Address your problems to him at campaign@haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

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