When I started to climb the corporate ladder all those years ago, I did not pay much attention to the accessories that my superiors carried because I mainly focused on their attitude—and my way of dealing with it.
It’s perfectly understandable that, when you can only manage up and not down, a dispassionate analysis of your boss’s accoutrements is an exercise you have no time to engage in. My number one priority at that time was to identify the boss’s character traits and come up with survival strategies that would work.
Having said that, I was fortunate enough to have had a couple of great bosses whose attitudes and styles I thought were the gold standard. So I readily absorbed them and later used them to great advantage when my turn came to be in charge. (Still, having had just two or three good bosses in nearly 40 years is kind of depressing.)
Now, on the sort of objective reflection you can only embark on when you’re no longer in the race, I’m reminiscing about the trappings and paraphernalia that managers used to display in their daily exercise of authority.
I’m not going to mention the ubiquitous writing instruments by Montblanc, nor will I touch upon the subject of sartorial choices. The latter is just not my thing and these days, when I occasionally glimpse at the neckties hanging in my closet, I feel an immense wave of relief knowing I don’t have to wear one.
Today I want to talk about briefcases and assorted receptacles for documents and personal items.
At the outset of my career, in the early 70’s, the attaché case was an unmistakable clue to an individual’s upward mobility. Only a successful person would bring work home or head to the airport on some all-important assignment.
In those days, the briefcase of choice would probably be a Samsonite, with a light aluminum frame and polycarbonate sides. Toting a leather briefcase, however, would signal an even higher station in life (or at least, higher aspirations).
An overnight case was somewhat thicker and implied a hotel stay somewhere, and clearly augmented one’s perceived relevance. Interestingly enough, this item has not entirely gone out of style. In fact, you can score a delightful one by Mark Cross for the paltry sum of €1920,00.
Over the years, the attaché case became less angular and stiff, and firmly espoused leather as its favorite material. If you still carried a hard plastic case in the Eighties, you probably came from beyond the Iron Curtain—or so people thought.
An Italian manufacturer, The Bridge of Florence, came up with a handsome brown leather briefcase, which sold like hot cakes and was promptly dubbed “the architect’s case” because of two leather straps on the front. They could be used to secure rolled-up drawings (or, more likely, a collapsible umbrella). Having reached the heady heights of middle management, I thought I owed myself one, even though I’m no architect and do not even own any umbrellas, collapsible or otherwise.
I must have used that briefcase no more than half a dozen times and then relegated it to a dry corner of my cellar. In fact, you can have it if you want. I saw an excellent one for sale on eBay at less than €100,00, so my request will be more than reasonable.
Things get hazy from here on down. I still seem to recall the transition from the classic leather briefcases to messenger bags, but I was completely taken aback when—a mere eight years ago—a young CEO I was meeting for the first time showed up carrying a backpack. And he wasn’t going hiking, either.
Considering that this younger gent and I were supposed to work together on a 12-month project, I felt I had to assimilate. So I went and got myself a trendy backpack.
I bought a ridiculously expensive Piquadro leather backpack, which has served me well for the past years and still looks terrific. Some slight scuff marks on an otherwise immaculate item make it more lived-in and unique.
But here I’m reminded of a great quote from one of my few good bosses. It was 1985 and we were discussing the ultimate symbol of success.
“A platinum credit card”—I ventured, but he shook his head no. He then chuckled and said, ““Actually, it’s no credit card at all.” Meaning that your expenses are taken care of by someone else.
He had a point.
So, in conclusion, you know you’ve made it to the top when you no longer need a laptop compartment in your backpack because you’re no longer schlepping a laptop wherever you go. You actually don’t even need the stupid backpack—just carry all your data in a thumb drive. Someone else will provide the hardware when you reach your destination.
A smartphone and a toothbrush will handle the rest.