ONE COMPLAINT of business journalists is that some chief executives, drilled to within an inch of their life by a phalanx of corporate communications professionals, have on occasion been known to not perhaps be the most interesting interview subjects. It’s understandable: one doesn’t get to the top of corporate behemoths, as a rule, by shooting from the hip. So here’s to the boss of Rolls-Royce motors Torsten Muller-Otvos.
Asked why his firm had seen a record number of punters channel their inner Lady Penelope and pick up their own Fab-1, Muller-Otvos suggested it was the sudden awareness of our own mortality brought about by Covid-19 that had done it. You might cop it soon – buy a Roller. As marketing slogans go, it might not pass the creative desk but you have to admit it’s memorable.
Alas, such honesty and plain-speaking is rare – not least when politics is involved. One has got used to the empty platitudes of firms operating in close proximity to the Chinese government, with wishy-washy sentiments about corporate responsibilities usually tied to a commitment to “follow the rules and regulations of wherever we operate.”
In some cases, of course, firms go further – HSBC and Standard Chartered’s decision to back Hong Kong’s National Security Law, which effectively turned the territory into a police state, a particularly shameful episode. JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon was forced into not one but two grovelling apologies after suggesting the bank would outlive the regime after it offended the sensibilities of the gatekeepers who allow his firm access to the market.
But perhaps the Chinese Communist Party should take note of those corporate statements – particularly the ones about respecting local customs. Beijing’s demand that protests “not be allowed” at its new Tower Hill fortress flies in the face of the UK’s ‘local customs’: trivialities like free speech, freedom of expression, and the right to protest. Worth a thought.