Friday, September 27, 2013


" I think I can speak for my colleagues, Miss Lampeter, when I say how impressed we have been with your CV and your experience in magazine publishing and banking in New York. The position we want to fill requires an unusual degree of management skill in addition to the technical knowledge which you have demonstrated in the excellent way you have answered our questions so far. Upon the successful development of international digital publishing depends the future of our company. Universal Letters has been a leader in business and leisure communications for more than 100 years. We need now to take steps to ensure our dominance in the next 100 years..."

The person speaking is Sir Roland Forsyth, chairman of Universal Letters. On one side of him sits Helen  Rampling,  international director of marketing, and on the other Mark Stone, finance director. Across from the three of them in the centre of the long boardroom table sits Mary Lampeter, composed, quietly confident in a tailored light grey suit. She is most people would agree rather stunning.

Though only 27 her first class engineering degree at Cambridge, coupled with a diploma from The Harvard Business School in addition to internships with a small and still respectable American bank and Grandage Inc, pioneer in electronic publishing, explains her popularity with head hunters and why she has already turned down several job offers. The interview is taking place  on the fortieth floor of one of the new steel and glass skyscrapers high above City of London.

"... You have told us," says Sir Roland, " how you see publishing completely transformed in the digital age. How precisely would a largely traditional business like Universal fit in without compromising its reputation.?"

"I hope I covered that adequately in the paper I submitted with my application, but if it is a question of scale, of reach,  I believe that there are few limits for a company with Universal's resources." Her succinct answer modestly presented clearly meets with the approval of The Chairman and of Helen Rampling, who smiles benignly, the smile of one successful woman to another. Only from Mark Stone does Mary sense if not direct hostility a need to challenge.

"How hungry are you , Miss Lampeter?" She knows the mode of thought and of speech, and resists even the shadow of a frivolous response.

"I have found that the challenge of a task is enough to motivate me fully. Am I ambitious.? Yes. Quite simply to do a job well."

"And no more..."

"Is there more?"

" I would suggest a lot more, Miss Lampeter. This job is sought after across the world by the toughest and most accomplished candidates. You are one of a short list of six.  This is a race in a violently competitive business. I would expect the winner to possess nerves of steel and backbone, yes backbone. I am not sure that you have demonstrated that you have those qualities. what do you say?"

"None of us can know, Mr Stone, until we are tested. You are I suspect testing me now and I can only respond  by confirming my continued interest in the job" She spoke with the same measured calm but    was that a hint of sharpness mingled with the lilt in her voice which the Chairman had found so charming.

"First of all Miss Lampeter" says Sir Roland, " I would like to thank you for your application and to say what a pleasuret has been to meet you. A most stimulating and enlightening interview. Before bringing it to a conclusion are there any questions that you would like to ask us?

Mary looks calmly at the faces opposite. At the patrician Sir Roland, red face, white moustache, shrewd blue eyes. Helen Rampling, understated, lightly made up, immaculate hair, not obviously dyed. Mark Stone, glinting spectacles, severe drawn features. He looks away when for a moment her gaze crosses  his.  Her mind is made up.

"Just one question, " she says. " I am 27. Of child bearing age, a fact that none of you ventured to raise. Should I say thank you?  Or simply acknowledge the power of political correctness? So  I will raise it myself. I am not married and have no specific plans in that direction. But I often think that I would like one or two children before I am thirty. I wonder whether this thought would in any way affect your decision to offer me the job?"

In the silence that follows, she gathers the papers in front of her and makes for the door, scarcely leaving time for Sir Roland, ever the gent, to rise unsteadily to his feet.

1 comment:

  1. Another fine tale, one that I wish would go on....