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What’s in a Name – The Pekarsky & Co. Mid-April 2015 Newsletter

April 15, 2015

SineadCrop

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I joined Pekarsky & Co. way back in 2014, having landed in Calgary from Manchester, UK, fresh-faced and green as the proverbial cabbage, mid-Stampede. My first true Calgary experience was within 10 minutes of my arrival downtown, when I was whisked off by Randy the Cowboy to square dance on Stephen Ave, much to the amusement of my family. Unbeknownst to me I was actually dancing right outside the PS offices on the day of the infamous PS stampede party, and I like to think it was that display of my inner cowgirl that got me the job, a full 3 months later (that, or the British accent). Having dodged the Pekarsky & Co. newsletter bullet for the past 6 months the buck has now firmly passed to me and so, for my inaugural address I think I should consider the elephant in the, er, newsletter – the name.

My name is not Susan

So, I am Sinéad O’Connor and yes, nothing compares to me. For the benefit of any readers under the age of say, 32, Sinéad O’Connor is, was, a rather famous and controversial 80’s pop singer from Ireland.  Unlike my namesake I have hair, am a Pope-neutral catholic and I don’t sing. I am Sinéad O’Connor only by marriage, the first 30 or so years of my life having passed under a less famous last name.  Initially, taking on my husband’s surname seemed little more than a funny joke at the wedding; I was blissfully unaware of the future impact on my life. The other Sinéad O’Connor has recently stated that she will no longer sing the ditty she is most renowned for, and I sympathise whole heartedly, having been serenaded with it numerous times and in some very unlikely places – the delivery suite during both my labours, during phone calls to various organisations (most recently by a Shaw sales rep that quite bizarrely broke into song whilst negotiating a reduction on our internet service plan); the list is endless. And yet as common as the jokes about my name are, you may find it hard to believe that I never find them annoying. At some level, my inner narcissist kicks in and enjoys the extra attention; ok, so it’s not the coolest name in the world but she’s a good singer and at least she has opinions (and I love her open letter to Miley Cyrus, by the way). There are worse things in life, and worse names to carry.

Say My Name

Recently, a blog post from Humans of New York went viral when a teenager named Beyoncé admitted to being shy about her name. It sparked thousands of comments from people all around the world with well known names ranging from the famous – Katie Holmes, Victoria Beckham, Will Smith – to the downright hilarious – Holly Wood, Julius Christmas (brother of Merry) and Jim Socks – all throwing their support behind Beyoncé. And it made me think; there are more benefits to sharing a name with a controversial, shaven headed, Pope-hating priestess than one might imagine. It starts conversations, in my case it allows for some immediate ice breaking, and it also opens doors. If you can’t actually be Beyoncé, or Sinead O’Connor, then you need to own it, and make the most of it. I’m not saying to take advantage ofall the benefits that a famous moniker has to offer (I have, to date, turned down an offer to contribute to a documentary on Jamaican music and disappointed many a maître de with my restaurant bookings but I admit that I graciously accepted praise, via email, from a noted Hollywood producer for my appearance on Oprah) but there are advantages to be realised in having the name. If only that it provokes enough curiosity from a recruiter that you are called to interview for that job, or as Matt Dillon, a publicist from New York, admits it gets his calls put through to the person he needs to speak to, pretty much without fail. I’ve learnt over the past 7 years that having a famous name can help you stand out; it’s now the first thing I address when talking to someone new; it almost always provokes a smile (albeit a pitying one, in some cases) but it’s down to me to crack the first joke and be the owner of it. The saying goes ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’ and I take that to mean that each individuality should be promoted to your best potential. And let’s face it; at least I’m not Jim Socks.

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Hallowed be Thy Name

So really, how important is a name? At the end of the day being called, say, Bill Gates might get you through the door for a role at that software development company but you would actually need to work a lot harder to prove yourself both at interview and in the role. Here at Pekarsky & Co., I’m in the privileged position of dealing with all manner of clients and candidates from a once-removed perspective; a fly on the wall, if you will. As the Calgary Office Manager, official meeter/greeter and Jill-of-all-trades, I am the first and last point of contact for anyone walking through our doors. Candidates and clients alike can surprise us all the time; a potential candidate coming to us from a blue chip company may not always be the high flying 1st class person we envisage (an issue which, more often than not, the client has already identified and will be seeking to rectify usually with our help). ‘We Know People’ is more than just soft and fluffy language for the Pekarsky & Co. website. From a newcomers insider perspective I can honestly say that we really do know people – our interview process for both potential clients and candidates, while appearing to all intents and purposes to be relaxed and collegial, is actually a vociferous and detailed deconstruction of both skill set and personal attributes. We’re not afraid to decline opportunities that might not roll with our ethos and by the same token we’re never going to put forward candidates that don’t have a 99.9% chance of success in the role we’re recruiting for (the 0.01% being force majeure, obviously). Weget to know people, and generally we keep on knowing them right through the recruitment process, into their new role and beyond.

 You Give Love A Bad Name

A name is at it’s most important when it has negative connotations that you might want to distance yourself from. I once met a US-born man of Pakistani heritage who shared a name with a well known terrorist that featured at the top of the USA’s most wanted list. He’d come to accept that passing through US immigration was more than just a pain in the proverbial; it ran a very real risk of an extended visit to Guantanamo Bay, and for that reason he carried a full range of identity documents with him at all times. He was adamant, and perhaps rightly so, that he would not change his name as to do so would potentially draw more attention to any perceived guilty activity.

In the corporate world, changing a name is a well-versed method of creating distance from bad publicity – take Philip Morris’s rebrand to Altria and, I hate to drop the Apple bomb, but when Steve Jobs returned to Apple Computers in 1997 and subsequently rebranded it Apple, it opened all the doors in terms of directions the company could start to move in and look what happened next. Of course, company rebranding can also be a positive step, to facilitate company expansion, a new direction or just as a breath of fresh air. Indeed, we here at Pekarsky & Co. have been going through our own name machinations and deliberations of late, but I’d hate to spoil that particular surprise…

Where the Streets Have No Name

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At the end of the day things are rarely as obvious as they seem; you can’t judge a person by their name any more than a book by it’s cover so we always need to dig deeper to find out a true story. I want to direct your attention to the image above, which featured on the Humans Of New York blog (and the coffee table edition) in 2012 and is called ‘Distribution of Wealth’, purporting to highlight the gulf between rich and poor in the famous city. If you’re familiar with the blog you’ll know that in more recent times the photographer talks to his subjects to fill in some back-story, however this image was snapped before that additional context was included. In this instance the back-story really is relevant, and here’s why; the guy sitting in the custom-made 1968 Morgan Roadster, casually texting on his cell phone, is my brother. At this time in his life, his Brooklyn-based construction company had just gone bust, he had lost his apartment, been forced to send his wife and 3 small kids to live with his in-laws and was couch surfing in friend’s apartments while he tried to resurrect his business and get his family’s life back together. The car belonged to a good friend. The irony is, as my brother notes, the guy on the wall probably had more to his name at that moment in time than my brother, but looks can be incredibly deceiving.

So the moral of my newsletter is, I think, pretty clear – there is endless value in digging deeper, whether it’s analysing your team to make sure you have the best people on the bus or making sure that you have an eye on the best available talent on the market, always get to know the back-story and, if you don’t have time to do it yourself, hire the experts; Pekarsky & Co.

Thanks for reading

Sinéad O’Connor

(Sinead appears live every Monday to Thursday in our Calgary office).

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