I don’t have a problem with C-words in job titles, even though there are too many Chiefs these days. You can be the Chief of pretty much anything it seems.
CEO, CFO, CIO, CMO, COO, CRO, CSO, CTO, C3PO.
But I shudder inside when I hear the C-phrase. I get that C-Suite shudder.
The C-Suite Shudder sounds like the Wall Street Shuffle‘s poor relation. In some ways it is. They share the same have and have-not vibe. The same repugnant, loftier than thou sense of entitlement.
My C-Suite Shudder is the physical manifestation of a visceral aversion; an indelible, subconscious reflex reaction stemming from a bad formative experience.
When I was a baby at BBH we pitched for Hoover. It might even have been my first pitch. Those were the days when white goods were blue chip in the eyes of the ad industry. The Hoover brand will have been diminished by Zanussi and its Appliance Of Science. It will have been the hapless victim of non-consensual repositioning at the hands of an aggressive challenger.
We lost the pitch. I have no recollection of what we said.
My abiding memory is of the trip.
We pitched at Hoover’s offices, above Hoover’s factory, in Merthyr Tydfil.
I have no recollection of the journey from London to Wales.
I do recall the trip.
We walked through a soul-sapping, open-plan, 1970’s time capsule, full of downtrodden middle management pen-pushers, to get to the room in which we would be presenting. The room was on the top floor, the executive offices, and I tripped on the thick pile of the carpet as we crossed the threshold from one world to another. Yes, I tripped on the carpet. The top floor was as plush as the layer below was spartan. The Hoover senior management literally did live in a suite.
I remember a strong sense of wrong at the pronounced separation, so pronounced as to be a deliberate us-and-them statement. Hoover didn’t have a corporate ladder, it had a caste system.
I’m pretty sure I remember John Bartle getting quite angry about the brazen, I’m-alright-Jack obliviousness on the way back. The Hoover business wasn’t in great shape and there were factory lay-offs not long after the pitch.
Ever since that layer-cake of a visit – factory floor, open-plan misery, luxurious management offices – the C-Suite phrase makes me think of penthouse style executive accommodation. It calls to mind a kind of corporate apartheid that is a sure sign of cultural bankruptcy.
So by all means be a Chief. But remember that respect goes to the person rather than the title.
And don’t house yourself in an ivory tower. Don’t join that Experian-style management segment of C-Suite Smuggers.