Smoke & Mirrors: Panama envy

The Smokehouse boss is at a CEO conference, and he's desperate to become a member of the offshore tax haven club.

by Guy Browning
Last Updated: 20 Jun 2016


Strictly between us the guiding principle of corporate communications is that in every truth there is a little lie and in every lie there is a little truth. I think Confucius may have said that, but if he said everything he was supposed to have said, the guy never would have shut up. We have a similar approach to transparency here at Smokehouse. Our bewigged CEO Lynton Spivey views the whole issue of corporate transparency in the same way he views the tinted glass on his Range Rover. It's fine for us to see out as long as no one can see in. Corporate communications is a dark art and one which CEOs should never practise alone.


Which is why this week fills me with fear. There is an annual CEO conference very cleverly called C-View. It's where CEOs of all shapes and sizes (white men) get together in some five-star schloss with no journalists, no board members and definitely no comms directors. Of course, I can't just let him go to one of these things with only his wig for protection. It's exactly that kind of willy-waving environment where CEOs decide on catastrophic Mergers and Acquisitions just because they didn't get the pudding they ordered. By an incredible stroke of luck, my daughter Elsa is doing work experience at the hotel, ferrying in the coffee, the lime cordial and the Fox's Glacier Fruits, which the hotel industry in their wisdom have decreed are essential to doing business.


Elsa called me to say that she'd spent the morning removing the strawberry Fox's Glacier Fruits from the bowls on the table because one of the CEOs didn't like them. All the chief execs then filed in and settled down to a presentation on diversity. She told me the agenda was all presentations that day so I relaxed a little. Spivey has a bad case of executive FOMO (fear of missing out). He can't stand the idea that other CEOs have jammier share options, cooler cars or taller EPAs. Which is why he tends to say ridiculous things. I'd much rather he had FOLACT (fear of looking a complete tool) but sadly he doesn't.

Meanwhile in the office, I was called to solve the mystery of a five-metre-long piece of wood that had arrived in reception addressed to our CEO. No one had a clue, not even the marketing department who make a living sending out random meaningless tat.


Elsa spent yesterday standing next to Spivey with a tray of canapes, which made her virtually invisible especially as they were prune-based. Apparently, Spivey was a bit upset that we hadn't been implicated in any way by the Panama Papers. He was telling everyone that Smokehouse was deeply involved in a full range of offshore financial activity. He then called me at the coffee break to ask if we were in fact doing anything sexy offshore. He said he wanted me to be absolutely honest with him, but I've been married enough times not to fall for that one. To make him happy, I told him we were 'pershoring', which was a mezzanine kind of offshore arrangement. It's actually a kind of plum but that's for me to know and him to find out. And for the rest of the CEOs, because that's what he claimed he was doing in front of them all. Absolutely no FOLACT. Frightening.


Elsa called me to say the CEOs had some kind of new age guru in, who's got them all doing yoga stretches and mutual massage. After the initial hand-holding and hugging, it all got a little bit confessional. One of the CEOs admitted that he'd just blown a smoking great hole in the company pension scheme by investing in a yacht. Everyone was very supportive and they all admitted that they'd done more or less the same thing and started taking photos from their wallets of 60-metre beauties moored somewhere tax-efficient. Spivey cleared his throat and announced that just that week Smokehouse had taken delivery of the keel of a new superyacht. Inside every truth, etc. It almost brought a tear to my eye.

Guy Browning is the author of The British Constitution: First Draft, published by Atlantic Books at £7.99. He can be contacted at


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