The name game
So much in business is based on perception, from the feel of a handshake to faith in the system, that it’s hard to imagine the suffering of a man burdened by an unusual name. Take David Pecker, the former CEO of American Media, who had a role in the hush money payment that kept Donald Trump’s name out of National Enquirer. Being stuck with a surname of that ilk must haunt a man throughout his natural born days.
Just as a surname can mark a man in business, nicknames can backfire badly. Look at what happened to “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap, a downsizing denizen whose claim to fame was firing thousands of employees at Scott Paper Co. When he failed to achieve a similar killing-fields turnaround at Sunbeam Corp., he was himself turfed.
Some nicknames are so nonsensical that they don’t seem to suit their wearer, like Stuart “Bull Moose” Mackersy, one-time head of the Imperial Bank of Canada. After Imperial merged with The Canadian Bank of Commerce in 1961, Mackersy became chairman of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and was best known for taking a daily nap in his office after lunch.
The most sophisticated name I’ve ever known in Canadian business had to be the one borne with honour by Osler, Hoskin lawyer Gordon Dorward de Salaberry Wotherspoon. His friends called him “Swatty,” a nickname rendered even more unlikely by the fact it was also applied to his brother, children, and nephews.
As for me, as close as I came to claiming any kind of name status was my erstwhile association with Steve McQueen. In France, where the movie star remained popular long after his career had faded elsewhere, I used to make restaurant reservations by telephone then try to be helpful with the spelling of my surname by explaining, “Comme le vedette, Steve.” Like the star, Steve. The result was much excitement over this pathetic attempt at riding on someone else’s coattails until I showed up and the maître d’ realized that I was not Steve, and furthermore, he was dead, and I was nowhere near as handsome. My excellent table often became instead the one by the kitchen door. So cheer up, Mr. Pecker, you’re not the only one who has suffered in the name game.