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The best corporate spin of the year

Jeremy Hobson Jan 17, 2012

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.

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