“Read any good books over the summer?” I asked the chairman of the insignificantly-sized investment company Kermitted Asset Management when we caught up after our respective spells abroad “Yes, yes – very funny,” he sighed. “I wondered how long you could resist before mentioning the B-word.” “I don’t know what you mean,” I lied.
“Don’t, just don’t,” he sighed again. “Surely you understand this whole book festival thing is still very raw for me.” Knowing the chairman tends not to be much fun when he’s playing the glum card, I switched tack, venturing in the most sympathetic tone I could manage, given the circumstances: “I’m just not sure I understand how you thought things were going to turn out any differently for Kermitted.
“I know you explained your idea in the voicemail you left the other day but it was, let us say, quite breathless. Perhaps I missed something – could you talk me through it one more time?” “Breathless?” grumped the chairman. “I concede I was quite excited but that was entirely understandable given the beautiful simplicity of the plan – such beautiful simplicity, I might add, it surely needs no second explanation, breathless or not.
“Still, if I must. Step one: find a book festival to sponsor. Step two: wait for the festival director to inevitably schedule a session on some environmental issue – probably climate change – and invite a range of suitable talking heads. With luck, maybe even some celebrities. Step three: wait for some media outlet – with equal inevitability – to pick up on the story.”
“The story that Kermitted Asset Management has actually put its hand in its pocket to sponsor something cultural?” I smiled. “I’m warning you,” glared the chairman. “Keep this up and I won’t hesitate to walk out of here and leave you with the tab.” Stunned into contrite silence by his threat, I merely gestured for the chairman to continue.
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“As you well know, the story will be on the perceived incongruity of some ghastly asset manager with its assorted investments in evil corporations having any involvement in any ESG-related endeavour,” he continued. “To my mind, the only variable would be whether this news outlet would be a generalist one not understanding the complexities of ESG investing or a specialist financial title merely pretending not to understand.
“Either way, once the aforementioned talking heads – and even, with the aforementioned luck, some celebrities – have felt compelled to pull out of the event because, well, everybody loves a huffy departure, then Kermitted emerges from the media hoo-ha in wonderful shape.” This time I found myself genuinely confused – though unsure if I dared risk seeking clarification.
Eventually, having calculated I could – if absolutely pushed – afford the tab, I ventured: “Because the company then has a great platform to discuss all the fine work it is doing investing in renewables, aiding the energy transition and engaging with those fossil-fuel businesses who don’t yet seem to have received the memo? In the same way Baillie Gifford has managed in an oddly similar, yet at the same time, vitally different situation?”
“What?” the chairman spluttered mid-sip. “Good grief, man, no. For one thing, on the off chance there are any lawyers eavesdropping on our conversation, I want to double up on your point and make it absolutely clear neither of us is suggesting Baillie Gifford ever tried to engineer anything in the way that I myself have been so cleverly trying to do.
“And, for another thing, there’s very little chance of Kermitted being able to discuss all the fine work we are doing on renewables, the energy transition and engagement – largely because we aren’t. No, my ambitions were purely confined to the sort of name recognition you-know-who got to enjoy – as I believe we have now made abundantly clear – quite by accident.
“And we would have got away with it too if it hadn’t been for …” “Yes?” I prompted. “If it hadn’t been for the fact I never got past step one because apparently there isn’t a single book festival in this entire country with any desire to be sponsored by Kermitted Asset Management.” “Ah,” I said. “May I ask why?” “No,” sighed the chairman. “Let’s just turn the page.”