Remember ... the way we were?

From a job-for-life corporate man to City woman with work/life balance issues, via 'Greed is good', Rhymer Rigby looks at the spirit of the last four decades.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010


Rebecca works in the City. Having started out as an accountant when she graduated in the early '90s, she's now assiduously climbing the pole in the fairly new and absolutely red-hot sustainable investment department of one of the big American i-banks. She lives in a loft-style apartment near the river in fashionable Shad Thames with her younger partner, James - not that she sees much of either because of the hours she puts in. As the higher-ups at work never tire of telling her, she is a rising star, being groomed for great things.

Despite her employer's confidence, she's in a quandary. She enjoys her job and after seven years is within striking distance of the mega-money.

But given her current work/life balance, Rebecca is wondering if giving up her few remaining free hours is worth a doubled salary when she barely has time to spend her current one. Plus, the headhunters are circling - there are plenty of offers, although none of them is the less pressured, more fulfilling job she really wants. If someone had told her what she'd be earning in her late thirties back when she graduated in the cold, hard early '90s, she would never, in a million years, have believed them.

She wears: Generally expensive but fairly conservative clothes. Her employer is interested in financial statements, not fashion ones, so Nicole Farhi and Donna Karan are the order of the day. Plus a couple of slinkier Chanel suits, which are the ones she really likes. She can just about remember being poor and happily mixes these with high-street names such as LK Bennett and Hobbs, believing, quite correctly, that nobody in finance can tell the difference.

In her handbag: A BlackBerry, Motorola flip, six credit cards (including a company Black Amex), Aveda organic lippie and iPod Nano.

She worries about: You name it ... at work, about being one of the few women at her level in what remains a very macho environment; whether she has a life; and if downshifting is an admission of failure. Naturally, this is also tied in to concerns about having kids. James - who enjoys a rather lower impact job in FMCG marketing - is keen, but she's unsure whether it is desirable - or even possible - to combine work and children successfully.

She has seen first hand a few of the 'superwomen' who have tried it and she doesn't want to go there herself.

Outside of work and family, global warming and Islamic terrorism jostle for the number one spot in her anxieties, but there's plenty else besides. She worries about economic stagnation in Europe. She worries about the value of her properties plummeting (she's got a chalet in Val d'Isere and a buy-to-let in Elephant & Castle). It's fair to say that despite being in the top 1% of UK earners, she's not particularly optimistic.

She wants: A simpler life. But is probably too ambitious and fond of the trappings to actually do anything about it.

She says: 'Of course, we recognise that companies who embrace cor-porate social responsibility tend to realise higher IPO values.'


Seen from the perspective of our rather graver times, the mid-1990s seems a halcyon era. The economy had left behind the rough years of the early '90s and the serious money was starting to appear again. Unemployment was falling sharply and the business outlook was rosy, buoyed especially by a vibrant technology sector that was starting to do some very peculiar things - such as sell tins of dog food online.

MT man reflects the spirit of the age. He's a management consultant at the moment, but is seriously looking at going into business with a couple of colleagues - either as web consultants (companies with new-age names like Razorfish and Scient are cleaning up here, so why shouldn't he?) or setting up some sort of online venture. They're not sure what exactly, but there's so much easy VC money about that it is very hard to resist taking some of it. Naturally, as a consultant, he worries that he and his colleagues are unqualified to do this. But then, who is? This doesn't seem to bother the money men, anyway, and it is they who will be taking the biggest risk. He's also considering a few job offers in the 'web space', all of which, naturally, come with a percentage of the company and some starry-eyed entrepreneur promising that he'll never have to worry about his mortgage again.

He certainly hopes so. He could do with a little relief in this area - he and his wife have just bought a town house in Islington for what seems an incredible sum of money - £450,000 - and now it looks as though interest rates are going to rise. Little does he realise that in the decade to come, it is his home rather than equity in a soon-to-be-worthless internet venture that will make him rich.

He wears: He loves good clothes and his work uniform is Paul Smith suit and tie, Calvin Klein shirt and Patrick Cox loafers. If he does go dotcom, he'll have to ditch the suit in favour of combat trousers and sneakers, or polo shirt and chinos at the very least. He's not looking forward to it. Peering all day at computer screens means he wears specs - a trendy pair of oval, titanium-framed jobs.

In his pocket: He carries a Palm Pilot organiser, a Nokia mobile phone and a gold Amex card.

He worries about: Missing the technology bandwagon that is clearly starting to gather pace. He finds the creeping political correctness in his office irritating. He has a few wider concerns such as the environment and genetic engineering, but thinks these will probably be tackled pretty smartly when Tony Blair and New Labour get in at the next election - he's confident they will. Other than that, he's relatively care-free. He's just read Fukuyama's The End of History and it's difficult to argue with.

He wants: To go 'post-economic' (ie, retire) before he's 40.

He says: 'Monetarised eyeballs and stickiness are the keys to success on the web. We need only 1% of a global market worth $5bn to make $50m a year' - although deep down, he doesn't believe this is possible.


Although 1986 has by some yardsticks been a year of disasters - Challenger, Chernobyl and the launch of Fox News in the US - Gareth Wiseman doesn't see it that way. The founder and MD of Ceti Software, Gareth is a man of unbridled entrepreneurial enthusiasm. Taking Norman Tebbit's (slightly misquoted) advice, he got on his bike in the early '80s and started Ceti, a company that has done very nicely thank you out of the booming market in home computer games. His cassette-loading titles include Frok!, Ravenous Ralph and a tame strip poker game, whose grainy, pixellated nudes are proving a surprise draw.

Wiseman is a Thatcherite through and through who has been carrying a torch for the Iron Lady since shortly after her '79 election victory - he wasn't sure about putting a woman in charge, but she soon proved to be more macho than the rest of her cabinet put together. He cheered especially loudly from the comfort of his heavily mortgaged Berkshire home when his heroine smashed the miners' strike. Like many '80s successes, he has wholeheartedly embraced the economic laissez-faire of Thatcherism and tends to see the plight of the unemployed as a failure of will rather than opportunity.

As Black Monday is only a year away and interest rates will double not long afterwards, he may be prompted to reconsider these views rather sooner than he imagines.

Recently, he's been shifting funds into biotech start-ups, which look like the next big thing: risky, but the potential is huge - just think of the money to be made from a cure for cancer. One thing he knows for sure, the days when small software houses like Ceti can thrive are drawing to a close. He's right about that, but if you told him that the next big thing was actually going to be an obscure communications network used by a handful of academics to send electronic messages to each other, he'd think you were cracked.

He wears: Next suits in subdued colours with straight or tapered trousers. Shirts are cotton poplin, white or pastel, with button-down collars, ties are narrow and nondescript. On his feet is a pair of Gucci loafers with gold snaffles - smart but flashy, just like Gareth. His leisurewear is '1950s throwback' - 501 jeans and white T-shirts, although the creeping influence of Miami Vice is manifesting itself in the odd grand-dad top and unstructured jacket. His hair is disturbingly long at the back, but as everyone is wearing some sort of mullet it's no bar to success.

In his pocket: Mont Blanc Meisterstuck fountain pen, calfskin Filofax and new Ray-Ban Aviator shades (he's just been to the US, where he saw Tom Cruise wearing a pair in Top Gun - now that's a movie).

He worries about: The Cold War, whether inflation is under control, why there are so many layabouts, Aids (which he hasn't got) and herpes (which he thinks he might have), the Japanese taking over the world and why he can't do his Rubik's cube.

He wants: A Porsche Turbo and to live in California.

He says: 'She's done more for this country than anyone since Churchill' and 'Making money is nothing to be ashamed of'. (He is really waiting for 'Greed is Good' and 'Look at My Wad', but Wall Street and Loadsamoney are a year or so off.)


Peter Ellis is a corporate man to his fingertips. He joined his employer - a major chemicals multinational - eight years ago in 1966, and he's now a process control manager for the firm's flagship plant on Teesside.

In those days, real industries were in the provinces and only civil servants worked in London. Thus, Ellis lives in a substantial stone-built house with two acres of 'garden' in a picturesque village on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors. Work is 30 minutes away in his metallic purple Ford Cortina (with velour seats and vinyl roof, of course).

A job is for life and Ellis' career reflects this. He started out as an industrial chemist after university and has now moved into management, a job he enjoys and which also affords him plenty of foreign travel. In a world where two weeks in Benidorm is the height of holiday sophistication, it's quite a perk. His future is mapped out: do his time in middle management, perhaps a stint abroad, senior management and, if all goes well, perhaps the divisional or even main boards. Occasionally, offers from other firms come his way, but he thinks that accepting would be disloyal and he doesn't want to spoil his promotion prospects. He's concerned about the UK's economic problems, but it's impossible to imagine his company, the bluest of blue-chips, in any real trouble. However, with one of the most disruptive decades ever just around the corner, the second half of his career is likely to be a lot more interesting than the first.

He wears: No decade has ever seen formal businesswear bend so much to the vagaries of fashion as the '70s. Ellis wears a grey or brown, semi-casual suit with patch pockets and bell-bottom trousers from Austin Reed. His drip-dry shirts are huge-collared, luridly coloured polyester/cotton numbers. Ties are polychromatic and kippery - even the conservative ones.

In his inside jacket pocket: His cheque book, one of those new Sinclair electronic calculators (pricy but worth it for the snob value in meetings), 20 Rothmans and a gold Dunhill lighter.

He worries about: There is plenty to keep you awake at night in the '70s - even if power cuts mean the lights go out at 8pm. MT man's vexations include what to do about the trade unions, oil prices and inflation, although mass unemployment isn't yet on the radar. He thinks the newly joined Common Market is good for business, but has no truck with those who talk of monetary or even political union. Culturally, he worries about the decadence and decay that seem to be sweeping through society - he was too busy working to experience the 1967 Summer of Love and, as far as he is concerned, the counter-culture is just a load of stoned hippies who ought to sober up and get jobs. Another thing is that the weather seems to be getting colder; scientists keep talking about a new Ice Age. He hopes not - the winters are more than cold enough already in his hilltop northern home.

He wants: A new Rover 3500, cavity wall insulation and a political leader who will face down the unions.

He says: 'Information processing is going to halve downtime and revolutionise our manufacturing productivity.'

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