Mister Meanor gives advice on how to deal with the flagrant abuse of company property and the ethics of buying a rival firm's customer list.
Dear Mister Meanor
I was recently reading a well-known Sunday newspaper's 'Social Diary', which detailed how the director of a well-known plc flew the columnist to Nice and back aboard 'his' Gulfstream jet. Now, I have checked carefully and discovered that the jet in question is in fact wholly owned by a company in which I happen to have shares. While I have no objection to the director doing whatever he likes with Britain's glitterati, I do take issue with the business footing the bill. Is this a disgraceful waste of shareholders' money or am I just being uptight?
Dear Feeling Mean
I suppose you have a point. And, from a pragmatic standpoint, the exec would do well to keep his high-maintenance high jinks out of the papers - the tabloids like nothing better than roasting a fat cat. But your director isn't really doing all that much wrong. Thousands of Britons drive friends around in company cars every weekend. If you earn £25,000 per year (at an educated guess), your quoted company director earns around 20 times that figure - so perhaps 'his' company jet isn't that unreasonable after all.
But even if you do think jetting around is sybaritic self-indulgence, there's little point in getting yourself into a sanctimonious stew about it. Small shareholders like yourselves, even if you all band together, very rarely own much of any given company, typically less than 1%. Your holdings are dwarfed by big investors like the pension funds. And, to be honest, fund managers are only really concerned about the performance of their funds: they couldn't care less about directorial dalliances as long as the directors deliver the goods. So, rather than worry about your director's flying antics, you should be more concerned about what he gets up to in the boardroom. And, for goodness sake, try and enjoy fluffy social columns for what they are.
Dear Mister Meanor
I am the managing director of a medium-sized business. Last week a slightly shady business contact offered to sell me a rival firm's customer list for a somewhat paltry £500. As we are fairly well acquainted, I have every reason to believe that the list is genuine. Is it highly unethical to contemplate buying the list?
In a Muddle of Tolpuddle
Dear In a Muddle
I don't doubt that your rival would buy such a list, if he thought it would give him the edge over you, so I wouldn't lose too much sleep over the rights and wrongs of it all.
What you must think about very carefully is just how useful the list will be. In some sectors, everyone knows who everyone else's customers are anyway - there's no point in paying for an open secret. Similarly, if your rival is a small company, the list is going to be similarly small and £500 is rather a lot to fork out for a couple of names. Also worth considering is how 'traceable' the list will be. If, simply by using the list, it will be obvious that you've have been devious in your dealings, there is little point; however, if the information could conceivably have come from elsewhere, then it may be worthwhile. So, to recap, if the list is big enough, useful enough and you'll be able to cover your tracks well enough, buy the thing and hang the ethics. Otherwise, don't bother.