Dear Mr Greenfield,
This has been a horrible week for you.
Or has it?
You will have by now appraised your reputational vulnerability, conducted a jeopardy assessment and learned how many people watched The British Way of Death. Taking heart from the recovery of Co-operative Funeralcare, you may be reckoning your best move is to lie low and wait for the storm to pass.
You could get lucky.
Judging by your combative response to the film, you are not a man to roll over easily. Your clear-eyed intellect and tenacity may have calmed your investors, and this may well have been your priority. But how’s your conscience? Do you feel shamed and dishonoured? You displayed no compassion towards those bereaved people who must live with what has been done to them. Your repeated apology, offered without reservation (whatever that means), lacked (I feel) the heartfelt sincerity with which an apology must necessarily be invested.
You did not give the impression of a man suffering from either remorse or a trashed reputation. I can only put that down to a diminished sense of jeopardy.
The film’s revelations call into question your competence to run a business. That must hurt. You repose much of your defence in company policies designed to prevent the conduct we witnessed. A policy, Mr Greenfield, is so much hot air, wishful thinking and bumf in a boxfile if it is not supported by a regime of compliance.
I was unable to watch the film until two days after it was broadcast so I expected, having heard the views of others, to be angered by the behaviour of the staff at Gillman’s. I wasn’t, but I concede that mine is a minority opinion. I was saddened. I witnessed the behaviour of people whose personal standards had been, in my view, corrupted by the culture of their workplace – they had lost touch with decency and right conduct. I am inclined to suppose that a much better version of these same people might have been apparent had they been working for a firm whose vision, values and working conditions they bought into and were proud of, and whose insistence on high standards was reinforced by a rapid-response disciplinary framework. That you should have reckoned Merv Moyes a fit person to be general manager is beyond baffling. You’ve got some great people working for you. Don’t you know the difference?
Can you tell us, Mr Greenfield, why you opted for brand invisibility? You know perfectly well that the FPL/FSP brand has virtually zero public recognition. The funeral industry is ripe and ready for a great brand to roll out a great service. As we like to say here, if John Lewis did funerals…
An unexpected upside to the sullying of the good name of Roger Gillman is that any undertaker presently contemplating selling up would have to be mad to include their own name in the sale. So here’s a backhanded compliment: you have played an important part in the cause of transparency of ownership.
I’ll finish with some reflections by Rory Sutherland on the price of a good reputation. This is extracted from something he wrote in the Spectator on 21 July 2012. Mr Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK.
Reputation acts as a kind of cashless deposit in human dealings. As any mafioso or game theorist knows, you can only trust people who have something to lose.
Look at where capitalism works best and you’ll find a business sensitive to shame.
I recently arranged for my family to fly to the US. What struck me when I clicked ‘buy’ on the BA website is that I now feel less anxious when paying an airline a few thousand quid to hurtle my family across Arctic wastelands in a tin tube than I do when handing £2,000 to a financial institution. Why does the aviation industry make very little money doing something immensely complicated astoundingly well, while the finance sector makes a fortune doing a simple thing badly?
There are a few game-theoretic reasons to explain this. Reputation is one. When even a minor aviation incident occurs, it makes headlines. There is also a healthy sharing of risk. Unlike banks, airlines make the pilot sit at the front of the plane.
Intensifying consumer scrutiny, together with exposés like Undercover Undertaker and The British Way of Death, are contributing incrementally to enhancing the reputational vulnerability of undertakers, especially those stealth consolidators whose brand dares not speak its name.
Whereabouts are you sitting on your plane, Mr Greenfield? Yes, and you Mr Tinning? And you, Mr McCollum? And you, Ms Kemp?