On my first day at work I met the entire workforce (all five of them), and as we were getting to know each other a young man wandered into the office. He looked about 12 and was wearing one of those suit and collarless shirt combos that I’ve never really understood. I assumed it was just some random kid who’d been forced to dress up for a wedding.
‘Good morning, Ed,’ said Chris to the new arrival. ‘I’ve just been introducing Tom to the team.’
Good God, I thought, my new boss is a child! Chris said he was young, but I wasn’t expecting this.
The young man grasped my hand and shook it firmly. ‘Welcome to the Business Book’, he said. ‘I’m the managing director, Edward Elgar.’
‘Elgar?’ I blurted out. ‘As in the composer?’
I froze. Oh no, I thought, I’ve done it again. Another terrible first impression. He must have heard that thousands of times. He’ll think I’m an idiot.
Edward, though, looked genuinely puzzled. ‘There’s a composer called Edward Elgar?’ he asked. ‘Wow – maybe that’s why people always say that my name sounds familiar.’
And I could tell he wasn’t being sarcastic.
This awkward meet and greet was mercifully interrupted by a commotion outside. ‘Edward!’ a woman’s voice bellowed. ‘Your father needs a hand out here with these boxes.’
Edward’s mum and dad were in the car park, unloading the boot of their vintage Bentley. His mother was a large woman in her late-fifties who wore a fashionable floral dress which clashed somewhat with the enormous silver crucifix hanging from her neck. The combined effect was like a strange mash-up of Hattie Jacques and Professor van Helsing. His father was much older than I’d have expected, and I found myself doing some quick mental parental arithmetic: based on his age, posture and clipped mannerisms I was able to deduce that he’d probably seen action during World War II, although the massive veteran’s badge on his blazer was another big clue.
So this is what a family business looks like, I thought.
After we carried the boxes into the office, Edward invited me to join him in the conference room so he could get my formal induction out of the way. He opened with a question: ‘Tom, how old do you think I am?’
It was an odd choice of ice-breaker, and I didn’t know what to say. I felt I was being manoeuvred into a trap. ‘Um,’ I said.
‘Seriously, how old do you think I am?’
‘I bet you think I’m 17 or 18!’
Bloody Hell, I didn’t even think he was that old! ‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘I’m not very good at guessing people’s ages.’
‘Come on,’ he said, giggling now. ‘Higher or lower than 20?’
What’s this, I thought, Bruce Forsyth’s Play Your Cards Right? He can’t be old enough to remember that!
‘Um,’ I said. ‘Higher… maybe?’
‘That’s right!’ he said, ‘I’m 21!’ Apparently, looking so young had been a bit of a professional hindrance for Edward. For one thing, he had to avoid business meetings in licensed premises in case he got ID’d. ‘That would compromise my credibility,’ he said in earnest.
I was never one to hang out with hotshot entrepreneur types (especially ones who looked like they should be choosing their GCSE options), but it soon became clear that they were the sort of people who really, really liked to talk about themselves. This came as a bit of a relief as it minimised my chances of blurting out another faux pas.
Edward had a background in recruitment, and was the founder of what he described as ‘the region’s leading senior management placement specialists’. His mum and dad (who he preferred to call ‘The Directors’) had recently moved into the area after spending several years overseas, and were temporarily living in his flat (sorry, ‘spacious executive apartment’). They were helping Edward set up his start-up, although this wasn’t his first foray into the murky world of business-to-business telephone directories. He’d recently tried to launch a similar publication to be managed by his ‘beautiful ex-model girlfriend’ (his phrase), but she broke his heart, organised a staff mutiny, and set up a rival telephone directory business like some kind of heartless phone fatale.
By the end of the induction session I learned a lot about my new boss, but had no idea on where to find the nearest fire exit.