It is well established by now that when someone tells you it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.
‘Live well for less’? That’s what the Sainsbury’s slogan suggests but after CEO Mike Coupe was captured on a hot mic singing “We’re in the money” following a spike in his firm's share price, it would appear he prefers to ‘Live well for a whole lot more’. That’s nowhere near as catchy a refrain for pulling in the shoppers, though.
I was interviewed on Turkish television last week myself and while I waited in an empty studio booth, contemplating a hair transplant and plastic surgery, for the sound check and the anchor (I said anchor) to remember my name, you might have heard me ‘trying to compose myself’ by warbling “I’m heavily mortgaged” to the same tune.
Coupe’s spokesman claimed the CEO had been to see a musical recently and “We all know these songs stay in your head”.
Well, I went to see Book of Mormon not so long back, so I suppose Turkish TV viewers should be relieved I didn’t belt out “Hasa Diga Eebowai” which means something obscene in Swahili, I’m told, and get the channel closed down by religious police.
Call me cynical (everybody does, it’s not just a figure of speech because when I see flowers I look around for a coffin) but I don’t believe Coupe's explanation and I wish he had simply confessed to a crassness and a vulgarity which would make Donald Tramp blanch. At least we could understand that, even if we didn't like it.
This may well prove to be Coupe’s ‘Ratner’ moment’ when the guard drops, the carapace slips, and beneath it the slime of greed and cynicism is revealed. Coupe may be ‘in the money’ on a basic salary of £929,000 but the people with whom I interact when I visit his stores earn £13-15,000 on average.
They are most definitely out of the money, especially if the Sainsbury’s/Asda mega-merger proceeds as planned and “synergies”, a standard corporate euphemism for job cuts, are implemented. It won't be the end of their lives, as with all the procedural hoops to jump through and regulatory delays, they’re likely to be in a job longer than I am and when I do finally fall prey to the economic realities of stockbroking in the time of MiFID we’ll all be on the minimum wage anyway.
Don’t get me wrong: were I offered a choice between a complete, toe-curling, bruxistic humiliation, broadcast on national television in which I was caught unawares, crowing about my new-found wealth, or alternatively, sitting here, quietly self-righteous but penniless, I would select the first option every time.
Coupe owns about 1.3m shares in the company and the rally in the stock price made him about half a million pounds richer overnight. If this happened at Salvation Bank I would pull my shirt over my head and run a lap of the trading floor without giving a zebra’s variegated turd for the good regard of others.
The only moral high ground I ever occupied turned out to be a disintegrating dungheap which buried me up to my neck, so there is no moral stance here.
Spending as much time as I do in my local branch of his supermarket, though, I feel like I’m a stakeholder in this engagement between the CEO, his employees and the public.
To compensate for my relative waywardness during the week, when I cannot be trusted to travel directly home from the City without being blown off course like Ulysses trying to sail back to Ithaca, my wife aims to keep me on a tight leash at weekends.
If I am handed an extensive shopping list with myriad esoteric items, deliberately jumbled for maximum inconvenience and obliging me to criss-cross the store repeatedly, then she feels as though she has re-established a modicum of control over her feckless husband, and is content.
Gentle reader, there are many weekends when the only thing I know for certain is that I will be wandering the aisles of Sainsbury’s for much of my precious free time. Is it my imagination, or just a symptom of the CEO’s gaffe, but do I hear Shirley Bassey bellowing “Hey Big Spender” as I glide my chariot through the automatic doors?
I fight back against the imposition with small gestures of defiance. My wife has learnt the hard way that if she misspells “tomatos” or “banana’s” on the list then I will refuse to buy them on grammatical grounds and I will never put low-fat or diet alternatives in the trolley.
A few weeks back, tiring of my mercantile obstinacy, she decided to go herself, and I enumerated a few things I required to make a casserole that evening. One line entry stated “1x bottle horsepiss white wine.”
Half an hour later, she called from the drinks aisle and told me she was with a young shelf-stacker but neither of them could find the wine I wanted.
There’s a serious point in this minor furore caused by a moment’s indiscretion. For once, I shall make it.
I can’t be alone in making explicit decisions as a consumer that are informed by the public face of a company. I don’t want to contribute to the net wealth of Murdoch by subscribing to Sky TV because I think he has a malign influence over politics, I won’t eat in a Ramsay restaurant because I find his public persona so repulsive, even I have too much self-respect to withstand Michael O’Leary’s cheerful disregard for Ryanair passengers, and were I ever in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, I would never line the pockets of the man-child in the White House by losing my shirt in one of his casinos.
The fear that haunts Puritans is that someone somewhere is happy, and the Sainsbury’s CEO was, quite literally and understandably, beside himself with happiness.
What spooks the FCA is that someone, somewhere is happily making money in the markets they oversee.
As I settle down for the post-meridian melancholia, which results from a blank order pad, a hollowed-out-heart and a couple of glasses of red at lunch, someone must assure them that on no account should they lose any sleep on my behalf.