September 30, 2013 12 Comments
I have long been a fan of great repartee and in particular of great put-downs, the main reason being that I have always admired people who can respond quickly to a situation or a comment with some intelligence and wit rather than with a four letter word as has become more common today.
Winston Churchill was a great master of this art form, the most well-known one of his being when he was accosted at a party by a woman who said “You are drunk Sir Winston, you are disgustingly drunk”. His riposte was “Yes Mrs. Braddock, I am drunk. But you are ugly, and tomorrow morning I will be sober.”
My recent trip to Singapore made me remember my own personal greatest put down which was delivered at my expense by one of my political heroes, Dr. Lee Kwan Yew. This made me think about others that had been directed at me over the years.
Here are my three favourites:
My #1 Personal. I recently had the need to visit my ophthalmologist as I started having small light flashes in my left eye, and as this tends to be a symptom of a detached retina, thought that I should get some medical advice. My wife came with me, as her French is better than mine and also because visits to an ophthalmologist can often make it hard to drive afterwards when ones pupils have been dilated to the size of a dinner plate. After numerous tests he told me that he had good news and bad news. The good news was that there was nothing that he needed to do. The bad news was that there was actually nothing that he could do, as this was just a natural part of ageing, and that it would soon happen in my right eye as well. I responded with the fact that this made me sad as it really brought home to me the fact that I was getting old, being the first real sign of ageing that I had had. My wife leaned across the desk and said to the Doctor “It must now be obvious to you that my husband shaves in the shower and has not looked in a mirror for a long time.”.
My #1 Business. SAP has long been a sponsor of the McLaren Mercedes team in Formula 1 Grand Prix motor racing, and during my tenure as the Regional Head of EMEA I had the fun of hosting guests at the event in Monaco, hardly an onerous task. One year I was meant to be joined by one of the SAP founders who was a keen car enthusiast and the owner of several Ferraris. At about 1.00am on the Saturday morning of the Monaco weekend event, I received a phone call at my Cap Ferrat Hotel, from one of his assistants, to tell me that our founder would not be able to make the trip to Monaco, and that he wanted me to cover all his appointments. A schedule would be sent to me via email. I checked the schedule early the next morning, and it looked OK with only one unusual appointment at the Nice Ferrari distributer at 10.00am that day. I duly turned up at the allotted time to be met by a camera crew and a gaggle of reporters from the local newspapers and media. It seemed a bit strange but, as an SAP Board member, I felt I would be able to field any questions about SAP that they could throw at me. After photos had been taken of my doing a “grip and grin” with the owner of the Ferrari distributorship in Nice, which did start to sound some warning bells, I sat down with the TV interviewer. His first question to me was “Well Mr. Hayman, can you tell us why a founder of SAP would be interested in investing in the Nice Ferrari distributer ?”. This was definitely not a question that I was expecting. Gathering my senses, I delivered an answer around the fact that SAP and Ferrari shared a commitment to quality, speed, allure, excitement and other “blah”, and during the following 10 minutes of follow-up questions I felt that I had really hit my stride on the whole idea of there actually being a connection between an SAP founder and a Ferrari reseller. It was a relief when the interview ended, but based on the fact that I knew nothing about the investment, nor why it had been done, nor why I was there at all, I felt that I had acquitted myself really well … that was until the interviewer thanked me for my time and said “That was really interesting, and I did think for quite some time that you were going to say something that actually made sense, but I was wrong.”
My #1 Political. In 1997 when I moved to Singapore to set up the SAP Asia Pacific Regional Headquarters I was invited to be a guest speaker at a business conference where Dr. Lee Kwan Yew was to deliver the opening keynote address and I found myself sitting next to him at the lunch table. He had obviously been well briefed on his lunch companions and at one stage turned to me and said “Mr. Hayman, I believe that you have recently moved to Singapore, and I just wanted to personally welcome you here. I am told that you have been coming to Singapore for the last 20 years, and I was interested to hear your opinion about how Singapore has changed in that time”. I gave him my opinion about the changes that I had seen, and finished with the statement that my only disappointment was that large parts of the old Singapore like Bugis Street, old Colonial buildings and long rows of old Chinese style shop-houses had been mown down to be replaced by modern high rise buildings, destroying some of the charm and atmosphere that had made Singapore so interesting. The great man put his hand on my arm and said “Mr. Hayman, what you call charm and atmosphere, we used to call poverty.” It was such a wonderful put-down that I couldn’t be offended by it, and it only made my admiration for him grow.
And my all-time favourite …. A member of Parliament once said to Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) English Prime Minister in the reign of Queen Victoria “Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of the pox.”
“That depends, Sir,” said Disraeli, “whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.”