Tales from the Crypt : Stan and Ollie

Both regular readers will no doubt notice with some alarm that the “Vault” – my simple archive for hopefully humorous reminisces of my Executive past – has for this episode only been transformed to the “Crypt”. Two reasons for this. Firstly this tale is a little more contemporary than most tales that reside in the Vault, and of course contemporary transformation is all the rage. And secondly, these two characters frankly belong in a Crypt. A Vault gives off the aura of a place where nice things reside – fine wines, old manuscripts, hidden treasures. Whereas a Crypt is what it is. A place for beasts and ghoulies masquerading as the undead that are occasionally let out for a lecherous spree but ultimately always come to an untimely end. Here’s hoping.

The two characters in question are now in my past, but still pop up in my periphery from time to time (one of the true horrors of the business social media revolution) which means that my ongoing reflection about these two individuals fills more of my waking minutes than I would ideally like. Luckily they are not, as yet, invading my sleeping minutes.

Originally I thought of portraying them as the System twins – Eco and Ego – as this does sum the pairing up so well. However ongoing reflection is nothing if not persistent, and in due time it has brought me to think of them slightly differently. Partnerships are wonderful things – in entertainment, in life, in love, and of course in business. And the past is riddled with great examples of wonderful partnerships. In entertainment you have Bonnie and Clyde. Starsky and Hutch. Thelma and Louise. Butch and Sundance. Tom and Jerry. Etc, etc. Drawing parallels into the business world there have been a whole litany of partnerships that have driven businesses forward from Jobs & Wozniak, to Norman & Leighton, through to Ben & Jerry. And then there are the less well known ones. Almost every successful CEO has a trusted cohort whom insiders know, does almost as much if not more to drive the business forward than the CEO does. I like to try to think of these business partnerships in the same terms as the entertainment ones. Sadly, in my last company, the top pairing were a spitting image not of Crockett and Tubbs, but of Laurel and Hardy.

We knew we were in trouble at the first residential overnight offsite together. After a full day of frighteningly predictable vision & values twaddle, where we had our very own top dollar expert extrovert facilitator, to cover up for the blatant lack of basic social, managerial and simple meeting skills from our leader, we approached the evening festivities with barely concealed apprehension. Six months in and by this stage it was clear that our leader was a clueless numpty, but there was intrigued anticipation about what would his new boy number two be like? This session was to be his grand unveiling. Sadly, a number two quickly proved to be a very apt and representative analogy.

The buffet was consumed and the wine flowed, and with it the conversation turned less formal, less square, less staged. It became clear that Stan and Ollie were two peas in a pod. Moulded from the same questionable mix. Sharing the same shady ideals, objectives, humour and vision. I would love to say it was inspirational. But it wasn’t. It was sad and scary in equal measure. Suddenly we were being led to plan expensive jaunts overseas to nerdy quasi orgies in the desert, that had absolutely no relevance to what we were trying to do or who we were trying to be, and least of all to our much maligned customers and long suffering team. We would be slavishly visiting and doffing our caps to ex business “characters” who had successfully “hidden away” their fortunes while their companies crumbled and burned, and getting their tips and insights into the new ways of the business world. All on the company of course. And the all too natural bonhomie between the two comedians was there for everyone to see. The thinker who can’t think straight, and the doer who can’t deliver an envelope. Time to head for the exits.

But no, I and others stuck around to witness the unravelling. I have always believed that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and you can learn just as much from witnessing the bad as you can from the good. And there was a lot to learn.

Despite saying all the right things outwardly, about the importance of diversity, equality and ethical behaviour, on a whole host of occasions both Stan and Ollie had a dark side and a clearly warped moral compass. Typical of real comedians if we believe what we read. Multiple tales of lechery and inappropriateness on work trips, ego stroking meetings or audiences in windowless offices for women only, a whole gaggle of secretaries and EA’s whose chores included following around the building carrying folders and papers, and even clearing up apartments. Then there’s the chumminess with each other – all back slaps and joviality. Usually straight off the back of giving a chilling and demeaning verbal blast to a minion or two, usually irrelevant, unwarranted and random. It quickly became an internal standing joke how these were dished our without the slightest care or regard to who witnessed it and whether it was deserved. How quickly bullying becomes accepted when it is sanctioned and exhibited from the top. A strong culture was turned upside down, and silence and corridor whispers reigned.

The only light in this particular sorry tale is that it cannot last. The grapevine has these two clowns pegged for what they are, and the noises both internally and externally are growing. It’s only a matter of time before the mist starts to rise and the truth will out. This rising mist from the Crypt will reveal a sad pair of frauds, both flailing around once the light of truth is shining on them, helplessly wriggling on a hook, blaming each other, and anything else they can see, for their own substantial flaws, failings and falsehoods. I can’t wait.

Sad post script… Stan and Ollie have seemingly now left the building that houses the actual business they supposedly lead, and they have set up new sub office across town, just for them, and them alone. Closer to home apparently, and without those annoying distractions of running a day to day business. I’m sure they’ll be very happy together. Based on my observations quite how they’ll even manage to successfully order a coffee or go to the toilet is beyond me. I can see it now. That’s another fine mess…

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