MT business lifeforms: The eternal middle manager - Peter Hall, manager of new accounts, Standard Mutual

Somewhere between 9.23 and 9.27 every morning, Peter Hall arrives at the office, puts down his coffee and, after opening a battered, anonymous briefcase with fussy care, switches on his computer. He offers those around him a cheery 'Good morning' (to which they respond in unison 'Morning, Pete'), then sits down, uncaps his coffee and begins sifting through his mail. But for the fact that most of the post is now electronic and the coffee a latte, it's a routine with a rather charming timelessness about it - an oasis of stasis in today's upskilled, downsized, hot-desked world of work.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Hall gives this impression of immutability for good reasons. He may be thicker round the middle and thinner on top than he once was, but his present position is one that the ambitious, thrusting young buck who joined Standard Mutual 20 years ago would recognise instantly - and then wonder where it all went wrong. He was part of the graduate intake of 1980, a class of 10, six of whom have long since left and one of whom died in tragi-comic circumstances; the remaining two now sit on the board. He alone is within walking distance of where he began.

It all started out very differently. Initially, Hall's career trajectory was as vertiginous as any of his fellow fast-trackers. Promotion through the lower ranks was rapid and assured, almost effortless. His salary leapt up; he was a demon on the corporate squash courts, drove a company Saab and refreshed himself regularly by diving into the typing pool. Look back at a yellowed company newsletter from the mid-80s and you'll see a younger Hall's face staring at you, its owner bruited as a future leader, someone destined for great things, boardroom material, 'if we're lucky enough to hold onto him ...'

And then, some time in the early 1990s, and for no obvious reason, it all ground to a halt. His intake-mates, David Price and Matthew Moorhouse, now finance and marketing directors respectively, continued to soar, gaining their own offices, keys to the executive washrooms and plutocratic tranches of options. Hall was left in their wake, and he never received nor sought another meaningful promotion again.

At first it was assumed that this was a temporary aberration, but it's amazing how quickly the ephemeral fossilises into permanence - and within a couple of years, Hall had blended into the office furniture. Now when newbies are shown around the office - usually by someone who started a decade after Hall and is now passing him in the fast lane - he receives a slap on the back. 'If you need anything, ask old Pete. He's a bit of an institution here.' Old Pete used to wince at these words. Now he just smiles acquiescence. Likewise, in his annual appraisals, reviewers long ago stopped asking him where he sees himself in five years' time. The funny thing is that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with him.

It's just that in modern corporate Britain, everyone is expected to either be a lumpen McJobber or have their sights set on the very top. Hall, by contrast, is a curiosity, a throwback to a gentler, less emulous time - and (with amusing semantic irony) a living refutation of the Peter Principle.

Perfectly competent and conscientious in his job, he appears to have reached a stage where he is comfortable - and comfortably off. Why would anyone bother going any further? In Italy or France, where people work to live, rather than the converse, his choice wouldn't seem in the least bit odd.

Occasionally, his friends have asked him, even ribbed him, about his apparent lack of ambition - as, in their cups, have his colleagues. But he neither bridles nor dissembles. Instead, he replies straight that he earns considerably more than the national average without working especially onerous hours. He had the luck to buy when prices were low and owns his own home, plus a small holiday cottage in the south of France. True, he goes without the ostentatious cars and gaudy gadgets his friends and erstwhile colleagues favour, but he is not a particularly materialistic man. He has two wonderful daughters and a beautiful wife - and his health. What more could anyone want?

Actually, the last part is perhaps the most telling. Those who snarkily whisper that Hall is the punchline to the joke in those clever Economist ads have problems of their own. Price is on his third marriage; Moorhouse is recovering from a triple bypass. Both are locked in a frenzied cycle of work and consumption and hardly ever see their families.

Hall, by contrast, enjoys a life of enviable balance and serenity - and is already looking forward to a long and leisurely retirement. He may - very literally - have the last laugh.


1957: Born Barnstable, Devon. Educated Barnstable grammar school and

Bristol University

1980: Joins Standard Mutual as part of graduate intake

1982: Assistant, new accounts

1986: Deputy manager, new accounts

1989: Associate manager, new accounts

1991: Manager, new accounts

2004: Manager, new accounts

2026: Retires as manager of new accounts

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