CEO Ruffles Lawmakers By Using Their First Names
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Think of situations where it's expected for people of any rank and station to address one another by first name: a progressive school, an AA meeting, the Israeli Army. Well, now think of places where you wouldn't be caught dead addressing or referring to authority figures with such informality. Imagine the solicitor general, at the Supreme Court, opening his argument not this way...
DONALD VERRILLI: Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.
SIEGEL: But rather, by saying: John, Anthony, Ruth, Nino, Sam, Clarence, Sonia, Steve and Elena. He'd probably be better off swallowing an ice cube. Well, with that in mind, take a listen to these clips of Bob Diamond, the ousted American CEO of Barclays Bank, answering members of a committee of Britain's House of Commons yesterday.
The parliamentary committee hearing was about scandalous fiddling with interest rates. We reported on the substance of that on yesterday's program. But we omitted this remarkable stylistic point about the hearing. While his interrogators addressed him as Mr. Diamond, he addressed them by first names.
(SOUNDBITE OF PARLIAMENTARY HEARING)
BOB DIAMOND: John, we have been through this a number of times. The investigation - what I would want to point out to you is this - Jesse, can I finish? It's a very, very pressurized situation, Michael. So, you know, it's interesting, Teresa. What I said then...
SIEGEL: Teresa, is Teresa Pearce, a Labour Member of parliament and of the committee. During the hearing, she tweeted about Diamond's casual way of addressing the members. As she told me today, she didn't appreciate it.
TERESA PEARCE: I was surprised that he continually addressed us by our first name, especially as I've only ever met him once before and that was in a formal setting. That was select committee. So it seemed inappropriate and showed a lack of respect.
SIEGEL: In previous parliamentary hearings, have you had witnesses who've addressed you as Teresa or the others by their first names?
PEARCE: No, normally when people come before us, we were given the respect of giving them their full titles. Unless they say, it's OK, you can call me by the first name. So, we all called him Mr. Diamond, but he called us by our first names. And as Members of Parliament in the chamber, we don't even address each other by our names. We address each other as The Right Honorable Member for wherever you are, you know? So The Right Honorable Member for Hammersmith, or The Right Honorable Member for Oxford.
SIEGEL: So, do you think you were getting the treatment that we interviewers often get when the CEO of a company would drop our first name in answers routinely, as if to suggest there's a sort of friendly relationship?
PEARCE: Yeah, I think they do it, one, to appear confident and to appear in control. And also, to sort of make other people who are listening seem to them as if we're all friends. I mean, certainly, we're not enemies, but it was a very formal hearing, and it was just inappropriate.
SIEGEL: Can you just tell me whether there was any discussion of this among the members of the committee? Did you remark on it to one another?
PEARCE: Yeah, we did remark on it to one another and it was annoying to most members of the committee. Particularly, there's one member of the committee who's a gentleman called Jesse Norman who previously had worked for Barclays as well, but not at all in the same department as Bob Diamond. But Mr. Diamond was referring to Jesse by his first name and saying things like, oh, well, when you were at Barclays, you would have known this. And we, he was saying, as if they were old work colleagues, which gave completely the wrong impression.
SIEGEL: Well, then just as a piece advice to anyone who might be called to testify before parliamentary committee of the House of Commons any time soon, what would be an appropriate way to address you, as opposed to saying, Teresa?
PEARCE: Well, you don't have to say anything. You just answer the question. Or you could say Mrs. Pearce or Teresa Pearce - use my full name. But it wasn't just that he used our first names, he continually did it, whereas I'm talking to you now and I haven't used your first name at all.
SIEGEL: Not once. No.
PEARCE: It's not necessary in a conversation.
SIEGEL: Well, Teresa Pearce, thank you very much for talking with us about it.
PEARCE: We are friends now, so you can call me Teresa.
SIEGEL: Teresa, thank you.
PEARCE: OK, thank you. Bye-bye.
SIEGEL: That's Teresa Pearce, or as she might be addressed in the House of Commons: The Honorable Member for Erith and Thamesmead.
Mr. Diamond's office said he had no comment on his use of the MPs' first names.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.