The aristocracy featured in BBC’s popular Downton Abbey television series might think they wrote the book on living the pampered life. But I've worked with many C-level executives who thought themselves just as titled—and entitled.
From them I learned a few lessons on the deportment of executives once they’ve achieved the seeming paradise of C-level corporate aristocracy.
The fifth season of the TV series ends tomorrow. As I watched its story unfold each week, I’ve been struck by the similarities between the depiction of this dying breed of British upper crust and some of the corporations I’ve been associated with.
Just as the ladies of Downton have no interest in learning to cook and the gentlemen do not toil at a livelihood, corporate aristocracy is not expected to do anything hands-on. Downton folk write letters, visit, have tea. C-people fill their days with meetings, business meals and exhaustive travel.
Most important is to keep top of mind that C-levels are persons of privilege. Just as Downtown maids are paid to pour tea, C-levels have people paid to keep them similarly pleased. Here are some examples from my own days of corporate “service.”
Whenever one CEO’s wife decided to host a luncheon for the wives of her husband’s colleagues or constituents, it was I who wrote the formal, flowery letters of invitation for her signature.
On the first morning of a five-day, five-city roadshow, the CEO complained to me that the strawberries the hotel served at breakfast were not sliced. It was I who called ahead to ensure he would find correctly sliced strawberries at the next four stops.
On another occasion, the hotel where our meeting was held had a new tower under construction. The CEO had brought his wife along and the noise was bothersome to her. It was I who called the hotel’s general manager to cajole him into halting construction until the lord and his lady checked out.
New corporate aristocracy learn the ropes fast. To have their staff inspect their suite before arrival and have refreshments waiting. To enjoy a car and driver to convey them to and from the office. To throw dinners and cocktail parties, all charged to the company.
It’s not a matter of thinking themselves too big for their britches. Their minions and underlings would expect no less of them.
Carson, the starched butler of Downton Abbey, has as a primary responsibility the duty of “ringing the gong” each evening. At its brassy sound, the ladies and gentlemen of the Abbey—and the lord, too—retire to their quarters to don formal dress for dinner. It is Carson’s moment. He has control. The aristocracy steps to his summons, and steps lively.
I identify with Carson. Because in the end, it was I—and others like me who occupy staff positions such as chief of staff, director of communications, executive assistant—who operated the behind-the-scenes levers that caused the main players to act and react.
Yet, when it’s all said and done, I have to be honest and agree with Downton’s Lord Robert when he says, “By God I envy them, though … and their ability to sleep at night.”
Buy a signed copy of my new book, Fat Guy in a Fat Boat, by emailing email@example.com
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Ebook versions will be available soon for Kindle, iBooks and Nook.
And … I will be signing copies of the book during the annual meeting of the Cat Boat Association in Mystic, CT, March 7.
Also available is my e-book, A Light from Within, about the small moments of our lives that seem commonplace until they are examined under a creative lens.
- Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00R3SF200
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In my next blog, “Temptation, Seneca, and Us”