Ivory towers


Last week I visited the head office of a prestigious UK retailer. It is a company with smart, modern stores in most major cities, with a good reputation for value and excellent service.

The head office building was scruffy, cramped and busy. The lobby was small, crowded and untidy with shabby furniture. The business has reported market-leading results in recent months and most customers love it.

This was good evidence to support Alex’s theory of business hubris: the quality of the décor and furniture in the reception area and offices in a head office building is inversely proportional to the quality of customer service and value provided in the branches.

The companies I have visited with the most opulent head office buildings,  marble floors, art work and designer furniture in the lobby and offices, often have a poor reputation for service and value.

Are there any exceptions that will disprove my theory?

6 Responses to “Ivory towers”

  1. 1 john Musgrave

    Nope, when I worked in software houses in to 80’s I visited the Systime offices quite a bit. When they were in an old mill building they thrived. Then they built new offices with a waterfall in reception and you knew they were on the way out.

  2. I can tell you that the McDonald’s Europe offices in London use more-or-less the same décor as the McDonald’s restaurant downstairs. I don’t know what that proves.

  3. 5 Steve M

    I’m sure that a similar theory formed one of the chapters in the book Parkinson’s Law. As I recall – and it was about 40 years ago that I read it, so this next will be even more unreliable than ever – it suggested that the moment a business moved into new, well appointed modern offices, it was about to go under.

    I’m hoping that’s not true in all instances as i’m currently working in a new(ish), (moderately) well appointed modern office to the East of the city.

    • Steve – My theory applies to the ‘head office’ where the bosses are based, so if you are surrounded by people who are actually doing real work (making things, talking to customers, building systems, fixing faults etc) you are probably ok. If your office is better appointed than your boss’s office that is a good sign (Alex’s theory of business humility – to follow).

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