After participating in a disastrous environmental conference, I headed straight to my childhood home in St John’s Wood, only to find Daddy and Judith had gone to the country. Granted they hadn’t expected me, but some notice would have been nice. It was just as well—I was frustrated with the way the conference had gone and just wanted a curry and a hot bath.
I woke up the next day refreshed, and decided to drive to Le Manoir in Oxfordshire and tuck into one of their eco-friendly suites. I wasn’t up for any of their cooking or gardening programmes but I pinched some books from Daddy’s study and set off to arrive before lunch.
The check-in process took an eternity. They are understandably proud of their Green Michelin Star, but I also had to hear about the 100% recyclable amenities, sensor lighting in the bathrooms, a state-of-the-art Rocket Composter, soaps and candles that get re-crafted by local seniors (re-crafted into what I did not want to ask!), and newspapers that are sent to Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital to be reused as bedding. Perhaps just a tad TMI? I mean I don’t want to be thinking that my morning paper is going to be under some goat’s bum. As it stands I was just getting over learning that Prince Charles never leaves home without his favourite loo seat and velvet lavatory paper.
In point of fact, all sustainability measures tickle my little green heart, but at £1,200 a night, I did not want to be thinking about their much-touted closed-loop waste system (whatever that even is!). I nearly had to shove the bellman out of my room to make it to luncheon before the cutoff. Seven courses later, I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Wine without meat (I chose the vegan) packs an extra punch. I made my way back to my room and flopped on the bed which felt like Egyptian cotton but at this point I was beginning to wonder.
I might have slept right through the day but my phone started buzzing as it usually does around this time. No sense closing my eyes… I was up. UGH. I grabbed my earbuds and dialled my father.
‘Yes, Jennifer', he answered. ‘We missed you at the end of the conference.’
‘Yes I know, I left. Obviously.’
‘Obviously’, he replied.
I was grateful he didn’t push it. ‘So I was thinking of joining a board… I mean, I’ve been asked to join a board. It’s a pretty big deal'.
‘I see', he said. ‘Because you know so much about banking?’
‘Obviously no’, I huffed. 'Because I can contribute in ways that help them meet stakeholder capitalism metrics'.
‘But they don’t need you for that', he observed. 'They can just make things up without any input from you or anyone else'.
‘Ouch! Not nice'.
‘Actually I’m being very nice', he said. ‘Generous, even. I’ve always supported your ideas, pointed you away from avenues that were not well-reasoned… but this is crackers'.
‘I don’t agree that this is crackers, but historically you help me do my job, even if you don’t agree with it'.
‘Yes, and I will', he said. 'But understand exactly what you are doing here. You are essentially the mob'.
‘As a board member??’
'No, as you—Jennifer—thorn in the side of corporations. You are saying hire us to give our opinions, and if you don’t we will hurt your business'.
‘It’s not as simple as that’, I insisted.
‘Actually, it is. You can confer no benefit, you don’t know that your beliefs will improve the company’s bottom line, you don’t have the ability to affect their performance or their profitability. What you offer, is extortion: Pay us or else'.
He had a point. UGH. ‘Okay…’ I continued. ‘I’m not saying I agree, but Klaus says that global challenges amplified by the COVID-19 have made…’
‘Stop right there. Covid didn’t amplify. Governments amplified. Unprecedented restriction amplified. And governments, and shake-down artists like Klaus, searched for and found ways to use a health crisis to address other problems. Not to mention previously unimaginable levels of public spending. I submit to you this unprecedented restriction and profligate spending is why they were able to sell it as a pandemic, and why from the very start, it seemed more dramatic than a health crisis—because it was'.
My mind flipped through my many chapters of Covid. The lockdowns, the travel restrictions, the fear, the confusion, all the take-out food—crazy time. And not to mention the cancellation of Davos—three times, when in truth we were all getting on with our lives as best as we could… still flying… still… OK, he had a point.
‘So Jennifer, I’m not saying don’t take the position—take it. If you don’t someone else will, and I know you will be more conscientious than the next fellow, but make an effort to reign yourselves in, and not be pushed to sound like a complete nutter'.
‘Meaning?’ I asked.
‘Meaning don’t assume you are right just because it’s what you want. The jump from shareholder to stakeholder was a very slick manoeuvre. And I believe when they realise all they’ve done is let the fox in the henhouse, they’ll want an accounting of every hen that went missing'.
Bright and early the next morning I rang to say I’d take the position. ‘Excellent', replied the woman at the other end of the line. Although she didn’t mean excellent. She asked about my 'additional qualifications'.
‘Like banking?’ I replied. I mean, she had to know I didn’t know the first thing about banking.
‘No, no...' she said laughing as if I’d given the world’s funniest response to a question of qualification. ‘No, I meant, racial makeup—POC, or sexual identity'. 'As a qualif…’ I bit my tongue. Oh boy. She did mean as a qualification.
And just like that, I went from qualified to unqualified. Perhaps the shortest tenure of a board member in history.