BORROWING TOO CLOSE TO HOME
I set up a printing business two years ago, and desperately need a loan to keep up with rapid expansion. No bank will give me another one, but my father-in-law has offered to instead. It's a great offer, but I'm uneasy about accepting it. We've had a difficult relationship and he made it clear how foolish he thought I was to leave my job in the City I'm worried he'll bring emotional pressure to bear if I accept his offer.
You're right to feel uneasy. If it weren't for your understandable desperation to keep your business afloat, I'm fairly certain you'd have declined his offer already.
Just run over the facts as you've given them to me. He and you don't get on that well. He disapproved of your setting up the business in the first place. No bank will grant you a further loan - which, even allowing for bankers' traditional caution, presumably means you're pretty thinly stretched already. And, on top of all that, you should assume that we're in for an economic downturn, which could well affect the printing trade.
Wherever it comes from, that loan will be at risk. It will be bad enough for you if your business goes down. But if it goes down taking a chunk of your father-in-law's savings, it will put your wife in a difficult position and your misery will be twice compounded.
So, tempting though his offer will continue to be, please close your mind to it. Try other banks - if your order book really does look that good, you should have a story to tell. Talk to other, competitive printers about the possibility of merging or cost-sharing. Advertise for a working or sleeping partner with available capital. But just make sure that everything is done on a strictly business basis. And keep the family well out of it.
PERSECUTED FOR BEING A SMOKER
I take regular cigarette breaks during the day, but get all my work done.
Last week, three colleagues told me they found it unacceptable that I take time out of the day for cigarette breaks, and asked me to cut down.
I don't see why I should, since I'm doing my job well. But now there's a nasty atmosphere, and I wonder whether I should do as they say.
I'm willing to bet that none of the three colleagues who took you aside so officiously is also a smoker. It's quite extraordinary (and rather scary) how the image of smoking has changed over the past 40 years or so. In the first of his Bond books, Casino Royale, published in the early 1950s, Ian Fleming established James Bond's heroic characteristics by having him light 'his seventieth cigarette of the day'. Now you see smokers huddled in doorways, socially acceptable only to each other.
As I'm sure you suspect, your colleagues aren't concerned about the number of breaks you take; they're exuding moral disapproval of you because you smoke. They see you as part of the addicted classes, while they - smug buggers all of them - are not.
So my sympathies are with you; but, I fear, unless you want to make a job move, it is you who needs to be seen to change. So cut down on the breaks - and do it without truculence or ostentation.
I know it's not fair, but making concessions when principle suggests you needn't is often a sign of maturity rather than weakness. You can even take some secret pleasure from it.
A last thought occurs to me. The fact that all three took you aside suggests that there's an unhealthy gang atmosphere in your workplace, from which you are excluded. If that's the case, a move may be necessary anyway.
THEY SAY I'M NOT A PATCH ON MY PREDECESSOR
A member of my sales team accidentally forwarded an e-mail to me that had already been around the office. It included comments from him and others that I was a poor team leader and not a patch on my predecessor.
Everyone knows I received the e-mail, and they all know I know. Should I call a team meeting and get it all out in the open, or soldier on and pretend it never happened?
To give you a definitive answer to this extremely sensitive question, I would need to know a couple of things that I don't; and you may not, either. First, being as dispassionate as you can, how much truth do you think that e-mail contained? Second, if you're prepared to acknowledge that you haven't made the greatest of starts in this job, how confident are you that, with a little more time, you'll be able to show them otherwise?
If your confidence is high, then you could soon be starring in one of moviedom's favourite plots. New boss/captain/headmaster arrives; makes a poor start; not helped by bolshie underlings who miss much-respected predecessor. Critical opportunity/threat materialises; underlings baffled; through masterstroke, new leader confounds competitors and delivers goods.
Team totally converted, buy flowers/drinks for new leader; tears all round.
In other words, a bad start can always be turned into triumph. But you'll need the opportunity, the confidence and the ability to take advantage of it. If you decide to give this route a go, avoid any kind of showdown: you'll just sink lower still in their esteem. They'll never respond to reproach, only performance. But if your confidence is low, then you should probably look to make a fresh start somewhere else.
Jeremy Bullmore, former chairman of J Walter Thompson, is now a director of Guardian Media Group and WPP.
Please address your problems to him at: Management Today, 174 Hammersmith Road, London W6 7JP.
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