Editor's PickFinanceInvestingAlso in the photo

2 years ago398 min

PHOTOS highlight the importance of an event (or pseudo-event) by recording those who attended it. Business tycoons, triumphant politicians, and TV celebrities, moving out and moving in, get into the picture. Often, there is a less glittery crowd that also manages to join (usually running) the group — wait for me.

Isn’t there the moment just before participants in a virtual meeting take their leave that an unmuted voice shouts, “photo”? The now trite layout of small boxes of smiling faces, arrayed like a rogues’ gallery, is clicked and saved in the virtual album. In this layout, there is no distinction between principals and hangers-on.

In a political shootout where there are two protagonists facing the slouched leader, there is a fourth person in the background looking on. They may all be wearing face masks, but their identities are readily known, even without captions.

There is a place for the anonymous crowd, if only to show the importance of an event. A mammoth crowd makes a protest rally more newsworthy.

The photographed supporters were critical in the recent tug-of-war for leadership in the legislative body. The battle cry (or rhetorical question) from each side dealt with a simple body count devoid of celebrity status — show me your numbers. Can the total of claimed supporters be higher than the full membership in this house? The time stamp was important as the bodies tended to keep changing sides.

Those who win the top post invariably give token mention of their supporting cast who are warmly described as team playvers. (It is time to heal the divisions that I have created.)

A photographer of events makes a list of those in the picture to make sure his captions, especially corporate titles and designations, are accurate to the minute. But sometimes, he doesn’t get all the names down. When unsure of identities, he has stand-by designations, including “a special friend,” “gatecrasher,” “bodyguard,” or “unknown social climber.”

Photographed nonentities make the leads more interesting by bestowing glamor, if only by contrast. In romantic comedies (also called “rom-coms”) supporting characters are gay or funny, or both. There is also the friend who is beaten up by bullies, to be rescued by our hero to provide comic relief when the story starts to drag. In dramas, the support may be a villain, a competitor who does unsavory things that make the hero look virtuous.

The role of a good supporting cast is to raise the profile of the star. In our photo opportunity, the favorite of lifestyle magazines and blogs, those surrounding the glamorous personalities tend to be overweight, balding (though not in an extreme sports buff type of way), paunchy, and a little less chicly dressed than the stars. Sometimes the scruffy lookers happen to be the sponsors of the event. Corporate benefactors invite celebrities who look much better than them — you wanna have a drink later?

Companies have their own supporting cast. Whole departments are designated as “staff support” which entitles them to smaller variable pay than the ones they provide services to. While marketing and sales have easily measurable goals which they can surpass, the same is not true for such functions as Finance or HR. Audit is not even considered a support role. There is the other category of pest.

Thus, the track for the top job of CEO often goes to marketing or those in charge of bringing in revenues, never those who try to control costs and measure performance targets. Only when a company implodes with declining market shares do the support heads (who are the most virulent critics of the line people) get a shot at the top. They usually open their acceptance speech with tales of the warnings they issued which went unheeded.

Supporters without the charisma of the leader are always included in the photo featuring a winning team with a trophy. But there is no mistaking where the leader is (fifth from right — holding the metal).

Still, in terms of job security, it is the staff groups that manage to stay on and serve different CEOs. The stars can be too visible and high-profile, whether in success or failure. The support groups manage to get in the picture in any situation, even when they are described merely as “also in the photo.” They’re always available… for the next photo opportunity. 


Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda


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