Here is the truth. I hate mornings. I like late night trashy TV and my bed, but it never matters what I like because everyone else wants to start their day and work well before midday. I don’t get a thrill out of a sunrise unless it is on the way home from a party but children and work have curtailed all that.
There was a Dutchman I knew in the late 1970s who eventually became the CEO of the Malawi Development Corporation while I was the FD. It was a contract financed by the World Bank and Coopers and Lybrand were the main suppliers. He didn’t know anything about us and, so he came to the offices of the consulting business, just up the road from the firms accounting head office, then in Gutter Lane.
It is rumoured that in the early 1960’s Coopers and Lybrand, or Cooper Brothers as they were then called, petitioned the City of London Corporation to change the street name to something like Coopers Lane. They felt it was more respectable for a leading firm of accountants.
In fact, I can pinpoint more accurately the date of the name change because when I was at University, in my second year, 1972, I had my job offer from Cooper Brothers.
I arrived in Gutter Lane a year later, degree in hand, only to see a brass name plate saying Coopers & Lybrand. I hesitated and thought about it. I checked the letter inviting me to my first day at work and it definitely said Cooper Brothers. I wandered up and down the road looking for other possibilities, again checked the address and finally, walked into the building.
They had changed their name. I always felt they might have told me.
Anyway, the Corporation considered the proposal for a short time and replied pointing out that Gutter Lane had been there since at least the sixteenth century while Cooper Bothers occupancy was just a few decades. To reflect the ancient history of the City maybe they should change their name to Gutter Brothers. Possibly apocryphal, but certainly the source of the firm’s nickname, Gutter Brothers.
But back to my Dutch man. He told me later that he had been sitting in the foyer for over an hour before his appointment with the partner. When I asked why he said that you can understand the efficiency and effectiveness of a company from how the staff arrive at work.
His opinion of Coopers & Lybrand?
In those days the office hours started at 9:30 which from the Dutch perspective was far too late but, even given the planned start apparently staff were wandering in at all hours up to 10am. Most looked unprepared to start work. He was not impressed and generally, he said, it was not a good way to forge a reputation.
When we worked together in Malawi his drive to get the small things right undoubtedly paid off as we got the big problems solved. Since then I follow his advice and often I will arrive early at a client’s office to form a view on how things work, and the culture of my client. It works.
But not everyone at Coopers & Lybrand was late arriver and the other way was followed by Vic Luck who rightly had a stellar career first at Coopers and now as a director and Non-Exec particularly in the sports’ sector, as any rugby enthusiast should.
I first met Vic in a pub in the city soon after he had returned from Iran as one of the last westerners to leave as the Shah of Iran was disposed. I assume this was in 1978 or 19789. I can’t remember the exact date, but I do remember stories of gun fire, helicopters, a determination to finish a stock count when most of it was already in flames and other examples of stoical British behaviour. But maybe that is now a memory flawed by too many pints of beer that night.
Vic was always in the office at 7am. I have to take this on the authority of others (and Vic himself) as I was never there to confirm it. I did ask him why he gave up the warmth of his bed for dreary, dark London trains and the chilly early morning corridors of the office. He told me that it gave him a good three or four free hours to finish all his client work (which got most of it out of the way) before anyone else struggled in, and therefore the rest of the day to manage the firm.
It was great advice but guidance I could never quite manage. I hate mornings and eight to eight thirty was the best I could manage consistently.
Mornings are not my best time and in my ideal world work would start around midday following a gentle breakfast and an hour or two thinking about Crystal Palace Football Club and other global issues. But colleagues don’t seem to agree.
So, I follow the herd and try, like the Dutchman, to be half an hour, at least, ahead of them.
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