Called to account

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Names are important. I work for (indeed own a lot of) a company whose name consists of two words - the two surnames of its original founders. They were women; they were (and are) both married; and the names they used then and now professionally, and which are engraved in brass outside our front door, are their maiden names.

Moneypenny is not my maiden name. (I can’t recall ever being what anyone would describe as a maiden, come to that.) I took warmly to the name after meeting Mr M, and if he hadn’t married me I suspect I would have changed my name by deed poll, so impressed was I with it. Rather catchy, don’t you think? People have asked why I haven’t changed the name of the company from two surnames of other people to Moneypenny Inc since acquiring a majority stake. Are they mad?

There are two good reasons for not ditching the name. The most compelling is this. When acquired, the company had two principal assets: one was some cash in the bank, the other was money owed to it by customers who had not yet paid. Apart from that there were a few second-hand desks, some rather clapped-out filing cabinets, a number of computers out of their warranty period and a little bit of intellectual property. Oh, and a small dishwasher. If you added all this up, it came to less than half what we paid for the company. In layman’s terms that meant that the vast majority of the price paid for the business was for its name. Having paid all that money for something, why on earth would I wish to chuck it out?

The other, less quantifiable, reason is this. One of the original two founders of our business still works here, and it would be an enormous insult to scratch her name off the door and replace it with mine while she was still coming in through it each day. I would draw an analogy here with one of the Girlfriends, who is currently with Mr Right #3. She married and divorced #1 and #2. I asked her if she was going to marry #3 and take his name. Yes, she said. Why? Her current surname, she explained, belonged to #2, and she thought it was a bit rude to be married to someone while using the name of a previous husband.

I am in awe of the founding partner who still works here. She is more accomplished than me, better educated, more beautiful, has a better figure (the last is not difficult) and is capable of bringing a man to his knees at 100 yards with a single look. (I am only able to do this if he has misplaced his glasses.) I respect her views on everything and would never argue with her. This is why, when we both get invited to drinks at Buckingham Palace, and she has to be there earlier than me because she is more important, I don’t argue when she takes the car I have booked and promises to send it back for me. It is also why, when she then calls to say the traffic is so bad that it can’t return to pick me up, I get on the Tube without complaining. It is also why, when I had struggled across Green Park,

I smile sweetly when she says I look a bit stressed.

In particular, it is why I didn’t argue with her when she and I caught the train back to London after a performance of Cosi fan tutte at Glyndebourne. She had marvelled at the music, while I had been riveted by the sight of the chairman of Marks & Spencer in a particularly natty dinner jacket. Arriving at Lewes station at 10pm, we found the next train to London was at 10.40pm.

I didn’t argue with her when she said we should get on the train to Brighton and change on to the fast train to London. Of course, there was no fast train to London from Brighton at that time of night, and indeed no train at all for half an hour, but you would not have found me complaining as we wandered around the streets near Brighton station looking for a coffee at 11pm in ball gowns. (Did you know the M&S at Brighton station doesn’t close until 11pm? Maybe they were expecting the chairman to return home via Brighton as well.)

Our founding partners did not employ any of their children in our business, and I have no intention of allowing my cost centres to work here either. Not everyone agrees with this policy, though. A man I know who has run a successful business - which carries his name over the door - for 20 years, employs his middle child. While being entertained at his company’s annual party at the Victoria & Albert museum the other night (it will be a while before we are big enough to hire the V&A, I can tell you), I met the son, who wore a badge bearing a different surname. He had apparently had to take a new one on entering the company, complete with matching e-mail address, in order to ensure that clients didn’t think they were dealing with the owner himself. After 11 months, I’m surprised he isn’t having an identity crisis. His brother had worked there before him, and he too had been required to assume a new name. So maybe if they change their names, I could allow the cost centres to work for me. Moneypenny may be a great name, but perhaps it’s a bit too catchy, after all.

mrsmoneypenny@ft.com

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