Column: Roger's Soapbox

Dressing for Success

By: | September 2, 2014

Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

Attention, insurance types. You are about to receive critical information on how to propel your career in an upwardly direction. This is your time. Seize the moment.

Until now, you have doubtless been appearing for work in suitable attire. You wear a dark suit when meeting clients, an open-necked shirt or blouse when working in the back office, jeans on Friday. In the modern business world, however, this marks you as a non-achiever.

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Open your mind to the case of Dov Charney, founder, chairman and CEO of American Apparel. Starting with a $10,000 loan from his father, Charney built a fashion empire with 250 outlets in 20 countries. No small achievement, but perhaps you feel you could have done something similar.

Could you have done it by attending a meeting entirely naked save for a sock, not worn on your foot?

For one thing, the sort of behavior that would have the likes of you or me locked up is quite acceptable if everyone’s making a buck off it. For another, naked is the new black.

Could you have toured your back office wearing only your underpants?

Could you star in your own advertising, lounging around with a couple of largely naked chicks (or dudes) attending to you?

And could you have engaged in sex while talking to a reporter? Charney reportedly did all of those things.

See what I’m saying? Your staid and sensible manner is what’s holding you back.

To reach the C-suite, you must cast aside your inhibitions, and while you’re at it, your clothes, and show the world what you’re made of.

Go on, do it now.

Unfortunately, this story does not end well. (Nor will yours if you start hanging around the water cooler with your privates on parade, in case you were about to embrace the idea.)

Economic conditions since 2007-2008, plus the ever-shifting sands of fashion, made American Apparel’s $50 T-shirts somehow less attractive. Sales collapsed. Debts soared.

In 2013, the company lost more than $100 million. Its share price went from about $14 in 2008 to $0.64 at this writing. The emperor, it seems, had no clothes.

The board swung into action, although why it waited until its shares had lost 95 percent of their value to remove Charney as chairman and CEO has gone unreported. It looks to be all over for the self-confessed “dirty guy.”

What lessons can we learn from this debacle, other than the need to let a little air into your everyday dress code?

For one thing, the sort of behavior that would have the likes of you or me locked up is quite acceptable if everyone’s making a buck off it. For another, naked is the new black.

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The company’s advertisements were generally considered to be of amateurish quality, poorly lit and unevenly staged, with a sort of “sexting” look to them.

Publishing such images, by the way, has steadfastly been resisted by the management of this fine publication, despite the massive boost in sales that would doubtless ensue. The truly shocking aspect of this unlikely story is that this ebullient, outside-the-shirt thinker Charney is Canadian.

Excessive behavior from an American? Of course.

Wacky and unpredictable goings-on in an English boardroom? Not unheard of.

But a Canadian wearing underpants in the warehouse? The mind reels.

Nothing, it seems, is sacred any more.

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]