I once read a book (Beyond Beef by Jeremy Rifkin) that claimed the level of bovine excreta was becoming a danger to the planet’s environment. Lucy Kellaway is a journalist who has long been concerned about this problem in the corporate environment.
Her creation, Martin Lukes, is well known to readers of the Financial Times. He’s an arrogant, selfish, self-obsessed, insecure and ambitious marketing director in the London office of a fictitious Fortune 500 company. By publishing a collection of his emails each week, she allows us to follow his rollercoaster career and personal life, and his adoption of every corporate and marketing fad that comes along.
Martin Lukes compensates for his limited intelligence and talent with unbounded ambition. His relentless clawing up the corporate pole and poor judgement often lead to disaster, but somehow he survives and moves forward.
We all know at least one Martin Lukes. That is why the column has proved to be both compelling and amusing. Lucy Kellaway, through Martin, also introduces us to a collection of recognisable corporate and domestic characters, and fires round after round into the mumbo-jumbo that passes for strategy and public relations in some companies. I mainly cringed, often smiled and sometimes laughed out loud while reading her book.
“Who Moved My Blackberry” is a reworking of Martin Luke’s weekly emails into a 13 month December to December book which, like a diary, tells the story of his life over a year. For those who read the weekly column in the FT, it could be a little too much. Whereas one column is an amusing weekly read in an otherwise dry newspaper, nearly 400 pages in book form is probably a bit much. The story has changed enough to make it slightly annoying to those familiar with the column, but not enough to warrant re-reading.
For those who have not read the weekly column, this will be an amusing adventure. The emails are short and are written in conversational English, so the book is easy to read in small or large doses. The characters are come across clearly and are uncomfortably familiar.
The reader must bear in mind that “Who Moved My Blackberry” is written from a British perspective. There are a number of amusing and very unattractive US managerial stereotypes – and none that are worthy of admiration. Having said that, the author is just as harsh on the British side and I can’t recall one character who leaves a favourable impression. Thanks to the Lord that Lucy (apparently) hasn’t come across many Australians.
The cover to the UK edition is an inspired work of art that sums up perfectly Martin Lukes’ work environment. If there is an award for Dust Jacket of the Year, this should be a nominee. For some reason, known only to the publishers, the US edition appears to have a different cover.
There is a bit of Martin Lukes in all of us. Sometimes I’m writing something that has a familiar feel to it but I can’t quite place it. The it comes to me: I’m writing like Martin Lukes! So I check myself and start again. And say thank you to Lucy Kellaway for doing her bit to reduce the level of BS in the world.