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Letters to a Young Manager

The Winter Coat, #461
LTYM > Mission and Vision

Dear Adam,
How did I first figure out the corporate culture in my first job? I was a young though talented Fortran programmer at an investment bank near Wall Street. Perhaps I can illustrate how culture was communicated through the cues and stories.

Most mornings, we were served fresh coffee on fine china, by a very formal waiter with white gloves and a silver coffee pot. He pushed his cart from office to office asking what we preferred. We felt like royalty, especially the newly hired talent. It was clear that we were viewed as members of an elite club.

One cold January day in New York, a new vice president at the investment bank was riding down the elevator with one of the Managing Directors. The MD did not have on a winter coat, just the three-piece suit typical for Wall Street executives of the day.

The VP looked at him and said, "Where's your coat; it's freezing out?"
The MD paused with an air of arrogance and disdain and replied, "If you noticed, there are only two executives in the firm who do not wear coats, the President and me."
Whereupon the upstart VP took off his coat, stamped on it with dramatic repetition and screamed, "Why didn't you tell me!?"

This story was repeated among the associates in the department with a mix of humor and awe. It matched bravado with boldness and not a small amount of career risk. But it was that kind of cocky confidence and irreverent humor that made the big deals we saw in corporate finance every day, especially in mergers and acquisitions, which the new VP was heading up. It set the tone and the folklore that we would rehearse again and again.
Sincerely yours,



The folklore and humor of an organization often communicates its culture

Discussion Questions:

1. What stories are repeated at your organization? What is their tone? What did they imply to you?
2. Are some of the stories about your organization out of alignment with the corporate values? With your values?
3. Which stories do you retell?

For Further Reading:

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