The Bottom Line: A Book of Boardroom Ballads

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The Bottom Line - A Book of Boardroom Ballads

In the dying years of the last Millennium, furious but futile battles were being fought to stop Business becoming the dominant World Faith. Those of you who are older than five will no doubt remember them.

But to no avail. Globalisation was to carry the Business Gospel into the furthest corners of a grateful Earth, and now pauses briefly before the final push to the ultimate ends of the Universe.

In preparing the Way of Business Truth, no prophet spoke more passionately than Bertie Ramsbottom on the profundities of the inner Corporate Life and the sinful attempts to frustrate its final victory. His Business verses have become the battle hymns to a triumphant journey and the many battles on the way.

The Bottom Line

The Business true-believer's Shrine
Is something called 'The Bottom Line';
All Great Religions need their Sign.
Some symbol of the Most Divine.

Until the Audit-Priests have read
Its mystic runes, as Black or Red,
Our futures, and the Chairman's head,
All hang, suspended from this thread.

Though heretics may think it thick
That mighty Corporation tick
For little, but a line of slick
Accountancy arithmetic;
We-typist, laborer and boss-
All worship at its Omphalos,
And pray the magic lines may cross
at PROFIT oftener than LOSS.

Devout, behind its altar, lurk
We acolytes who do the work,
The Faithful Body of the Kirk,
All waiting on the Holy Quirk.

This Book's for us. The lengthy line,
From Board to Office, Plant, Design,
Who serve our Corporate Divine,
Somewhere behind The Bottom Line

Bertie Ramsbottom

A Corporate Prayer

The early Apostles, who took their vows at Harvard, Insead or other seminaries, were quick to see the power of prayer in binding together Corporate Communities.

A Corporate Prayer

"Bless us Lord, and help us live,
Like every good executive,
A life more selflessly inclined
To what is in our Owner's mind;
And may it be Thy wish, and his,
To tell us what his thinking is,
The way it was when we began,
Before we had the Corporate Plan.

Help Thy servants on the Board
Understand his words, O Lord,
Since he changed his erstwhile manners,
And joined the Long Range Corporate Planners;
And if he needs must bore the pants off
All of us with Igor Ansoff,
Help us understand the charts -
Even the Synergetic parts.

Help us share his new perspectives,
That Strategies are not Objectives;
And, through Thy goodness, cross the ditch
To know more clearly which is which;
And, by Thy mercy which begat us,
Show us why it really matters,
In the name of Him who knows
All about Scenarios.

Grant us, Father, if you please,
Purer methodologies;
And tempt us not towards decisions
Without a further few revisions,
At interminable lengths,
Of our Weaknesses and Strengths.
Let need for action not deflect us
From codifying all our Vectors.

Grant, in answer to our prayers,
Thicker Strategies than theirs,
Who, in their blind unwisdom, chase
Profits in the market place,
Without a contemplative look
At what is in the Corporate Book.
Let their successes not distract us
From listing our External Factors.

Help us keep our Corporate eyes on
Some appropriate horizon,
Far from all the symptomatic
Signs of anything pragmatic;
Defend us, always, through our prayers,
From acting like entrepreneurs,
And from the uninformed who said
That, in the longer-term we're dead.

There had been earlier, less sophisticated versions of the truly Global enterprise, notably The Multinational Corporation which, quaint as it now seems in the days of Enron and McDonald's, had a long vogue in the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries.

The Multinational Corporation

When James D. Flaherty O'Rourke
Came from Dublin to New York,
And peddled round his hot potatas,
Few financial commentators
Forecast he was on the brink
Of World Wide Hot Potatas Inc.,
Founding his Global Enterprise
On Chirpy Chips and Handy Fries -
But such are the bizarre gestations
Of Multinational Corporations.

And having made the humble spud
Synonymous with motherhood,
And Chips With Everything the toast
Of every home from coast to coast,
He felt that he should not deny
The culture of the Handy Fry
To less sophisticated clients,
Untutored in potato science;
But ripe, on Wall Street's best assessment,
For World-Wide's overseas investment.

So soon the Hot Potata logo
Flew from Zanzibar to Togo,
With world-wide quality control
By satellite across the Pole;
Linking Chirpy Chip plantations
And process plants in fifty nations,
Including, after tense discussions,
A licence granted to the Russians.

The Tigris, Nile and Orinoco
Were switched from cotton, rice and cocoa
To propagation of the tuber,
As were tobacco farms in Cuba,
On the guaranteed assumption
Of escalating world consumption;
Till all the leading indicators
Were based on futures in potatoes,
With James the undisputed King
Of the carbo-hydrate Ring;
While OPEC in distress reviewed
The synthesis of starch from crude.

Wall Street analysts foretold
A flight from copper, zinc and gold,
And White House strategists demanded
Return to the Potato Standard.
Friedman joined the advocators
Of tight control of seed-potatas;
And Downing Street was quick to see
Manipulation of P3
As the relevant equation
For final conquest of inflation.

But James was keen to leave decisions
On politics to politicians,
And moved with great reluctance to
Subvert a government or two;
Executives of Hot-Potatas,
Irrespective of their status
And the colour of their skins,
Daily disavow their sins,
Renewing oaths to Handy Fries,
To multinational enterprise,
And James O'Rourke's financial plan
For Global Brotherhood of Man.

Lady on the Board

As with earlier churches, there was much resistance to the ordaining of Women in the Business Church. Old sexual stereotypes persist and, even in these more emancipated times, TOP PEOPLE incline to the trouser rather than the skirt.

Lady on the Board

A Board Room is a kind of den
Wholly redolent of men,
Which women mainly get to see
When bringing in the lunch or tea;
But one or two, I would applaud,
Have brought a Lady on the Board,
Either out of great acumen
Or as their 'statutory woman'.

Either way, the eye detects
Unexpected side effects,
Which tend to make the Board Room rock
To massive metabolic shock,
And leave the gentlemen regretting
A problem of their own begetting.

For here the chauvinistic mind
Seems inescapably inclined
To place, in two main categories,
The ladies central to their worries;
Disparaging, behind their backs,
Their 'bomb-shell' or their 'battle-axe'.

The 'bomb-shell' image is a figure -
Like Marilyn Monroe's, but bigger -
Elegant, but only just,
Clothed about the thighs and bust;
Offering like Eliot's miss
Some promise of pneumatic bliss.

But contrary to male assumption
That pretty blondes have little gumption,
The modern version boasts degrees
Like MBAs and Ph.Ds,
And an intellect as real
As her physical appeal;

A combination which the men
Never hope to see again!

And, envy coupled with desire,
They watch the goddess rising higher
Until, with sunlight in her hair,
She occupies the Chairman's chair.

The 'battle-axe' implies a style
More dependent on her guile,
Since her feministic facets
Are seen as insubstantial assets.
Eschewing every pleasure known,
To which the weaker men are prone,
She maddeningly seems to know
Everyone's portfolio;
And, where information's power,
Accumulates it hour by hour,
Until, by process of attrition,
She decimates the opposition.

These ancient overtones of sex
Cannot prevent what happens next,
When every Boardroom stands ajar
To women as they really are -
Good and bad, like all the others
Of their gentlemanly brothers;
Revealing - and it really hurts -
The irrelevancy of their skirts!

Lady on the Board

The Business Church rejects all ENVY - particularly of the Wealthy by the less-well-heeled. The money-lender and banker are totally welcome in its Temple and, indeed, one of the most joyous celebrations of its year are when the banks put forth their glad tidings of success.

The Bankers

Oh to be in banking
Now that April's here!
And celebrate a spanking
Profitable year!
Some prefer to hear a
Cuckoo on the wing,
But oh to be a Clearer
Now that it is Spring!

Better than the crocus
Peeping through the soil;
Richer than the hocus
Pocus with the oil;
Money is the medium
Surer than the rest,
For sweetening the tedium
With the interest!

Other men may hanker
For a bluer sky,
But oh to be a banker
Now the rates are high!
It's freezing, more's the pity,
The darling buds of May,
But down here in the City,
It's roses all the way!

Speak it not in Whitehall,
Tell it not in Gath,
Lest our little windfall
Cause Exchequer wrath!
Tell 'em it's for gearing,
A little more to lend
But mainly it's for cheering
Up the dividend!

Oh to be in lending,
Spreading joy around;
When every quid you're spending
Spawns another pound!
Loans are what we're here for,
Helping them invest,
Knowing they'll be back for more
To pay the interest!

Oh to be in Credit,
As the seasons turn,
With other people's debit,
Filling up the urn!
Never mind the weather,
Banking is the thing;
As long as we're together,
It's everlasting Spring!

The Medium is the Message

Much is owed to the fast rise of the COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGIES in the Church's triumph. Progressively phone, fax, TV, mobile and internet have proved soothing sedatives to troubled souls; sparing us the disruptive provocations of books, politics and dialogue.

The Medium is the Message

The more the media expand
The less we seem to understand;
The more the information flow,
The less we seem to think or know;
The more the messages we send,
The less we seem to comprehend;
Communication rules, OK!
Although there's nothing much to say.

The future's Internet and cable,
Computers on the kitchen table,
With instant data through the night
On VDU by satellite;
Let your fingers do the walking,
For who needs dialogue and talking?
Modems in the bedroom presage
The age when media are the message.

With real-time access on the wall,
Who needs much power of speech at all?
And touch to activate retrieval
Makes words peripherally evil.
At last our progeny are freed
From all that need to write and read,
Delivered from the old, absurd
Tyranny of book and word.

Nor need there be much future cause
For risking it beyond the doors,
When Mum can dial beef and mutton
By "Choose" code on the access button;
When Dad can sit at home and sell,
By hook-up on his Intertel.
And even Johnny's need to know
Is game-boyed for his video.

The more the images we screen
The less the message comes to mean;
The more the plethora of data,
The less the meaning seems to matter.
Maybe it's time to bequeath a
Bit less traffic on the ether,
For future ages to regain
Some space for nourishing the brain.

Not that words have not been central to the special language of Business. Highly sophisticated forms of internal communication, most notably the Business Memorandum, have evolved for the ritualistic needs of the priesthood.

Business Memoranda

When the Things from Outer-Spaces
Over-run the human races
And are sieving through the traces
Of the ruins which replace us;

Should they come across, at random,
Any business memorandum,
Do not fear! Nil desperandum!
They could never understand 'em.

For executival grammar
Would suggest a panorama
Where the writer's tried to slam a
Piece of paper with a hammer!

Even Martians lack computers
So conceivably astute as
To decipher these polluters
Of our literary futures.

For the way the writer fidgets
With his syntax and his digits
Is enough to blow the widgets
Of the trans-galactic midgets.

Now their logical equation
Would assume that information
Is the prime preoccupation
Of this strange communication;

Whereas we who understand a
Businessman would never pander
To this vicious kind of slander
On his business memoranda.

Annual General Meeting

Even so, the most senior in the business elite are required to abase themselves before the shareholders once-per-year in a show of abject humiliation and penance.

Annual General Meeting

The Chairman's great phlegmatic calm
Spreads its reassuring balm,
Like oil upon our troubled waters,
Throughout the corporate headquarters;
And soothes away our worried frowns,
Across the business ups and downs,
With words of fatherly good cheer,
For fifty-one weeks of the year.

But, sometime in the fifty-second,
On past experience, we've reckoned,
Even he will fall, instead,
Victim to some inner dread;
And brood upon the now impending
Prospect of the fiscal ending
And his ritualistic beating
At the Annual General Meeting.

With negligible dividends,
The annual event portends
A day of unremitting terror,
And pained acknowledgement of error;
When pension-funds and institutions
Exact their yearly retributions,
And vitriolic widows brandish
Their share-certificates in anguish.

While some, with well-rehearsed finesse,
And eyes upon the watching press,
Will make pejorative assessments
Of recent overseas investments;
Or use their half-a-dozen shares
To catch the Chairman unawares,
Enough to give the Board the vapours
When they read tomorrow's papers.

And how the shareholders will treasure
Their annual sadistic pleasure,
Or revel in this King of Sports -
Delaying corporate reports -
Until, the final insult parried,
The annual report is carried!
And, off to gin and tonics boasting,
Oh, what a lovely chairman's roasting!

While he, poor soul, his torment ended,
Or for another year suspended,
A double-brandy on the shelf,
Is visibly his former self!
And offers, to relieve the tension,
In words I wouldn't care to mention,
A few, well-chosen apothegms
On shareholders and A.G.M.s.

There are many who believe that the key role in the spreading of the Business Gospel was played out by the Business Consultant; in much the same way that, in the highest developed societies, the therapist and counsellor is necessary to an individual's self-knowledge and happiness.

The Business Consultant

Of all the businesses, by far,
Consultancy's the most bizarre!
For, to the penetrating eye,
There's no apparent reason why,
With no more assets than a pen,
This group of personable men
Can sell to clients more than twice
The same ridiculous advice;
Or find, in such a rich profusion,
Problems to fit their own solution!

The strategy that they pursue -
To give advice instead of do -
Keeps their fingers on the pulses
Without recourse to stomach ulcers;
And brings them monetary gain,
Without a modicum of pain.

The wretched object of their quest,
Reduced to cardiac arrest,
Is left alone to implement
The asinine report they've sent.
Meanwhile the analysts have gone
Back to client number one,
Who desperately needs their aid
To tidy up the mess they made.
And on and on - ad infinitum -
The masochistic clients invite 'em,
Until the Merciful Reliever
Invokes the Company Receiver.

No one really seems to know
The rate at which consultants grow;
By some amoeba-like division?
Or chemo-biologic fission?
They clone themselves without an end
Along their exponential trend.

The paradox is each adviser,
If he makes his client wiser,
Inadvertently destroys
The basis of his future joys.
So does anybody know
Where latter-day consultants go?

'Job for Life' has become an abusive term in the vocabulary of the Church Triumphant - denoting a fundamental weakness in expectations which long frustrated the full-flowering of Global Business. Nevertheless, even if it changes monthly, it is still good practice to supply some minimal specification of what the 'job' purports to be.

The Job Description

I trod, where fools alone may tread,
Who speak what's better left unsaid,
The day I asked the boss his view
On what I was supposed to do;
For, after two years in the task,
I thought it only right to ask,
In case I'd got it badly wrong
'Ad-hoc'ing as I went along.

He raised his desultory eyes
And made no effort to disguise
That, what had caused my sudden whim,
Had equally occurred to him;
And thus did we embark upon
Our classic corporate contretemps,
To separate the fact from fiction,
Bedevilling my job-description.

For first he asked me to construe
A list of things I really do;
While he - he promised - would prepare
A note of what he thought they were;
And, with the two, we'd take as well
The expert view from Personnel,
And thus eliminate the doubt
On what my job was all about.

But when the boss and I conflated
The tasks we'd separately stated,
The evidence became abundant
That one of us must be redundant;
For what I stated I was doing
He claimed himself to be pursuing,
While my role, on his definition,
Was way outside my recognition.

He called in Personnel to give
A somewhat more definitive
Reply, but they, by way of answer,
Produced some vague extravaganza,
Depicting, in a web of charts,
Descriptive and prescriptive parts
Of tasks, the boss and I agree,
Can't possibly refer to me.

So, hanging limply as I am,
In limbo on the diagram,
Suspended by a dotted line
From functions that I thought were mine,
I feel it's maybe for the best
I made my innocent request;
I hopefully await their view
On which job of the three to do!

The Bottom Line

Ralph Windle: UK Poet, Performance poet uk, Writer, Lecturer, Performer, Educator, Poet, Creator of Bertie Ramsbottom

In the Financial Times, Harvard Business Review, BBC Radio...

A talented and insightful uk poet and author of inspirational, motivational, humorous and downright funny business poetry and ballad poems about business, the arts and free thinking.