Stephen Bartholomeusz’s column in Business Spectator this morning – Understanding Trujillo – provides some interesting counterpoint in the never-ending debate over just what ‘racism’ is, and how it ought to be defined.
Sol Trujillo didn’t appreciate being defined by his heritage, which happens to be Mexican, even though as Bartholomeusz states, Sol was born in Wyoming. One wonders if that was where he learned his cowboy-like attitudes to business. Equally, one wonders if that were the case, he’s one hell of a sooky cowboy if he’s so overtly distressed over how the media in this country chose to portray him.
Is it racist to identify with a person’s point of origin? I think not, personally. We call the English ‘Pom’, the Scot ‘Jock’, the Welsh ‘Boyo’ and the Irish ‘Mick’ or ‘Paddy’. We identify Americans as ‘Septic’ or ‘Yank’ and Asians collectively as ‘slimey little slitty-eyed vietnamese arsehole’. Apparently, I do, at any rate, according to right-wing ideologues in the ‘sphere. It’s an ‘in’ joke. You had to be there. Right Timmy?
Which brings me to what I regard as the crux of Bartholomeusz’s column, or at least the part that resonated with me.
Just as Trujillo’s comments could be seen as containing elements of cultural misunderstanding – of the spiky Australian sense of humour, of the distrust and disdain for anything that smacks of arrogance or slickness, of the mock civility of public discourse and of the deeply-engrained ‘Tall Poppy’ syndrome – Australians may have underestimated the sensitivity of an Hispanic American to being characterised as a cartoon Mexican.
So what if we – as in the media in this instance – ‘underestimated the sensitivity of an Hispanic American to being characterised as a cartoon Mexican’. Trujillo’s sensitivity, if indeed that’s what he’s truly expressing and not just a bad case of sour grapes, smacks to me of something he’s not all that comfortable with in the first instance. Is he not comfortable with his heritage? Is he ashamed of it? No reason to be and certainly no reason to feel angsty about other people identifying him for what his heritage clearly is.
Is it really un-primeministerial of Kevin Rudd to respond to a querulous reporter with the word, ‘Adios’ when asked for an opinion of Sol’s early and furtive departure from the country? I like to think it’s a mark of the man’s sense of humour. It’s no secret that the current government and the one before it had a stormy relationship with Mr Trujillo which can be said to be entirely of Mr Trujillo’s making, in the main.
We have a history in this country of not believing that we have the capacity to train and mentor good corporate leaders. We’d rather recruit from overseas, particularly from the U.S. and particularly those graduates from Harvard Business School. Frank Blunt, Telstra’s CEO prior to Ziggy Switkowski, had this to say about Australian corporate culture in 1999.
I’ve been a little bit disappointed. Probably more than a little bit, I’m trying to be a Southern gentleman. But I think corporate education in this country is severely lacking. Developing internal leadership talent in companies is severely lacking. It certainly was at Telstra and I know some of the companies represented here have done a great job, but many others have just, you know, just assumed that a tertiary or primary or secondary education system is all that you need and I say no, it’s not.
From the man who oversaw the most contentious period of Telstra’s history, with mass redundancies and a concerted campaign to rid the telco of unionisation. The employees nicknamed him Blank Front, a play on his name, and it’s what he presented to them. I don’t believe there is any difference in skill levels and business wisdom between these ‘Septics’ and our own homegrown products. The edge someone like David Thodey, the current Telstra CEO, has over foreign imports is his local knowledge. Cultural as well as business nous. Another area where Mr Trujillo was found wanting. He spent more time out of the country than in it, and when he was here, he moved in rarified circles surrounded by his ‘amigos’ that he brought along with him. Hardly any way to come to grips with the social and business cultures of a major corporate and country you’re being paid squillions to manage.
No loss, poor Sol, I’m afraid. Sour grapes I believe, and those he left behind appear only too pleased to see his back, if David Thodey’s ethos is any guide. Better customer service, he says. For Telstra, that might be a first in the lives of some. I don’t believe we, as a cultural collective, are inherently racist. Certainly there are some elements. The "fuck_off_we’re_full" mob come to mind but they’re a distinctly small minority. I put Sol’s peev down to an inability to understand an Aussie piss-take. There is a difference. He simply failed to get it.