Support Marketplace

The best corporate spin of the year

Businessmen exit through spinning doors of an office building in Chicago. Why do companies always like to spin bad news when it comes out?

Jeremy Hobson: We'll get quarterly earnings this morning from Citigroup, and if you dig into the report, you'll probably find phrases like this one from last quarter: "The ongoing challenging macro environment negatively affected investor sentiment, leading to lower results in fixed-income markets, equities and investment banking during the quarter."

Which is to say: all that money they lost, wasn't their fault.

Lucy Kellaway, is a columnist for the Financial Times who compiles the best corporate mumbo jumbo each year, and she joins us now from London. Good morning.

Lucy Kellaway: Good morning.

Hobson: So tell us about some of the winners in your annual list of corporate spin.

Kellaway: Well there was a nice topical one on the euphemism for firing people. And I awarded this to Nokia, who got rid of 17,000 people saying it was "managing them for value."

Hobson: They don't want to say they're firing them, or laying them off -- they say "managing for value."

Kellaway: Yeah. I must say, if I had been "managed for value," that wouldn't make me feel any better.

Hobson: All right, so what else. Who else won this year?

Kellaway: Well I gave the overall award to Manpower Group for describing itself in a way that I defy anybody to say what the company actually does. It goes like this: "Our $22 billion company creates unique time to value through a comprehensive suite of innovative solutions that help clients win in the human age."

Don't you love that? "Human age" -- as opposed to what, the dinosaur age?

Hobson: That's right. Lucy, let me ask you -- why do they do this? Why do these corporations speak in this jargon-y way?

Kellaway: I think they partly do it because it's really infectious. It's like a disease. It's the way that teenagers say "like" all the time; business people say "going forward."

But I think there's something else -- that actually, nobody wants to get sued; no one wants to be held to account. So often, if you're a CEO, saying nothing actually makes a lot of sense. It's depressing, but true.

Hobson: Lucy Kellaway is a columnist with the Financial Times. Lucy, thanks so much.

Kellaway: Not at all.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...