Christmas Cheer the Corporate Way

Happy Christmas to all.
- Clement Clark Moore, The Night Before Christmas

During the holiday season it is always good to be reminded of one's
many blessings. In the case of UBS employees they can be thankful that
they work for UBS and not Sanofi-Aventis. The news they received
shortly before Christmas is far less upsetting than the news many
employees at Sanofi-Aventis received. UBS employees were told how to
dress for work. Sanofi employees were told they were no longer working.
First Sanofi.

Sanofi has a tradition of firing people at a time when spirits are
high and news of the fact that one no longer has a job is not as
traumatic as it would be at a time when there is no other reason to be
happy. The most recent occurrence came right after Thanksgiving.
According to Laura Bassett of Huffington Post, on November 30 of this
year, employees received "happy thanksgiving" messages from the company
that included a request that the employees check their e-mails at 5 AM
on December 2. The 5 AM e-mail told the recipients to call a toll free
number at either 8AM or 8:30AM. Those calling at 8AM were told they
were still employees of the company and the 1700 employees who called at
8:30 were told they were no longer employees and should leave their
desks immediately. A spokesman for the company, skilled in the art of
understatement, said "We acknowledged in the call that delivering this
news on a teleconference wasn't ideal but given the scope and scale of
the reductions, there was no other way to share this news quickly and
consistently." That seems a bit odd since it has had plenty of
experience with laying people off and it would seem it might have
discovered a better way to do it. In April 2010, following the Easter
weekend, it sent
an e-mail to 400 of its employees notifying them that they were being
fired. In doing that it was following the tradition it had started at
Thanksgiving time in 2008 when it fired a number of its employees. It
also took advantage of the July 4, 2009 weekend to rid itself of chaff,
and again at Thanksgiving that same year when it fired 750 employees. It
took advantage of the 2009-holiday season to fire many of its contract
pharmaceutical sales reps. Those who work at Sanofi are probably
grateful that there are not more holidays. UBS employees are probably
grateful that all they got in anticipation of the holiday season was a
43-page book telling them how to dress.

In a tract, whose guidelines bring to mind the blue suit-white shirt days at IBM, UBS has established appearance guidelines
for its Swiss retail banking staff. According to a Wall Street Journal
report, the intent is to "-re-establish confidence in the Swiss bank's
brand and mending relations with clients." Re-established confidence was
needed following recent news
about the bank's finances. In the fourth quarter the outflow from the
bank of the "Wealth Management and Swiss Bank" division was Sfr. 33
billion. The "Wealth Management Americas" division lost Sfr.12 billion
and the "Global Asset Management division had an outflow of Sfr. 11
billion. UBS also paid a $780 million fine imposed by the IRS under a
deferred-prosecution agreement entered into in 2009. Any bank
confronted with such problems was smart to try to regain public support
by having its employees dress nicely and look good. The 43-page book is
clearly the solution. Here are some of its suggestions and just reading
them makes me want to go and open an account there.

Employees are told to wear suits in dark grey, black or navy blue
since these colors "symbolize competence, formalism and sobriety."
(Women often wear bright reds, pinks, blues, and other colors that
inspire in the on-looker feelings of frivolity not usually associated
with banking.) Women are advised that "light makeup consisting of
foundation, mascara and discreet lipstick . . . will enhance your
personality." The book says both men and women can increase their
popularity with well cared for hair and a stylish haircut. Men are told
that underwear should be of good quality and easily washable but be
undetectable. It is not clear in what circumstances the bank's
customers would be privy to male employees' skivvies although it is
possible that in the super secret vaults access to things other than
bank boxes may take place.

In recognition of the importance to the Swiss of wristwatches,
employees are encouraged to wear wristwatches. Wrist watches, says the
booklet, suggest "reliability and great care for punctuality." Older
employees are told coloring hair to retain a youthful appearance is a
mistake since youthful hair and aged skin are a poor match and don't
fool anyone.

A spokesman for the bank said the guidelines might appear very
detailed, and "in line with Swiss precision" an observation with which
most readers would agree . Some might even call them anal. Whatever
you call them, they are a lot better than the e-mails received by Sanofi
workers telling them they were no longer employed by anyone.

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