Hate me, rate me, don’t abbreviate me...

Hate me, rate me, don’t abbreviate me...

Nazlan Ertan - nazlanertan@gmail.com
Hate me, rate me, don’t abbreviate me... I lost my sense of reality and language with the word “CPO.”

Oh, like anyone who has spent a couple of years in the corridors of the corporate world, terms like CEO and COO are second nature to me. I am reasonably well-versed regarding the job descriptions of CFOs, CIOs and CMOs, too. After some years in business, I came to the conclusion that the COOs consider themselves as CEOs in waiting and that a CEO is a COO+. In other words, the chief executive officer is the chief operations officer who also has to deal with shareholders, labor unions, regulatory framework and also do a bit of PR and representation on the side. 

The CFO is the one who holds the pulse strings, so never get on the bad side of one. He or she can spring some difficult numbers on your budget during a heated meeting and bring a frown on any CEO’s face by talking of ROIs and NOIs (i.e. Return on Investment and Net Operating Income). 

But what in heaven’s name is a “CPO?” After checking the name attached to the title, I worked out that it was the chief people officer – the new term for the human resources director, which was, a decade ago, personnel director. I stored the term away for future use as a conversation stopper at dinner parties: “So you do people?”


Back when I took my baby steps in the corporate world, it was difficult enough to keep up with the titles, but company jargon was worse. In my first month in office, my line manager, the nicest of all bosses, asked me in her kind voice: “Can you BRAG your PDP for our 121?”

I must have looked so amazed that she re-stated: “Can you bring your KPIs to our meeting tomorrow?”

After five minutes of going back and forth during which she must have thought that my English was not what it was cracked up to be, I realized that the PDP (the personal development pack) was some sort of document which I was supposed to fill out. This document, some seven pages, set out my objectives or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). “Bragging” was not the same as writing what a good job I had done, but similar: I was supposed to put Blue, Red, Amber or Green on my objectives... oooops, KPIs.

The abbreviations continued to fall on me: Was I to attend “Trade” and get involved in “Store Ops?” My CR project on removing candy from the tills on World Healthy Eating Day was “great” but what would be the build from Rev-Gen? (This meant my corporate responsibility project would be challenged by the Revenue Generation Department due to NOI – see above.)

Name calling: English vs. Turkish

It did not take me long to realize that in the English-speaking corporate world, the higher the person was, the shorter the name. If the name was naturally short and snappy, it was pronounced in a heart-beat, proportionate to the great power the CEO or the person enjoyed. If it was long, then it was to be abbreviated to be short and snappy: “Phil” or “Bill” as opposed to Philip or William. No last name was necessary; everyone knew whom we were talking about. When I met Lucy, cited among the most powerful 100 women in the United Kingdom, my blood froze in my veins, but I did manage to drag out “Hi Lucy.” Having never worked on an American company, I lost my chances of calling my boss “O.B.” or “J.R.”

By contrast, despite attempts by Murat Ülker to get everyone in his $1.3 billion Ülker to go on a first name basis, Turkish corporate moguls abhor first name basis. Do you honestly think that there are more than a dozen people in the corporate world who call Rahmi Koç simply as Rahmi?

Thus, aside from playful uses such as “patron” (boss) or “abi” (a sign of seniority) usually the Turkish hierarchy is demonstrated by the use of “bey” or “hanım” after the first name. Hence, in the Turkish branch of an international company, the foreign CEO would be called Bob by everyone, while a Turkish member of his team would be called Saruhan Bey. If you happen to be a Turkish executive and people still call you by your first name, it means you joined that company as a starry-eyed post-graduate and moved up. Don’t be offended but note that you will never get the “Bey” added to your name until you change companies or the whole team... What can I say, except that gray hair gets you “Bey/Hanım” status in Turkey or the absence of it deprives you of one?

For the Turks who have added visibility/own brand to their seniority in the hierarchy, the name and surname is merged into a single word. Rahmikoç; bülenteczacıbaşı; muratülker. Mind you, if you only use their last name, as in “Koç” or “Sabancı,” you are referring to their father, the patres familias who got the dynasty going in the first place.

Beware if...

Like diplomacy and journalism, the corporate world also has its own message codes, which leaves little doubt where you or your interlocutors are in the food chain. “I’ll get your builds by the end of the week” is for peers or higher; whereas “Send your feedback by tomorrow” is for people who work for you. CPOs (see above) may hate this double-tone, but it would be one brave company who cites “We treat everybody the same way” among their values.

If your memo is sent back with the email from the boss: “Interesting idea. Let’s talk,” don’t mention it until he does; chances are he won’t either. If it is sent with no comment but a simple “thnx” – forget that you ever wrote it. If you’re lucky, your boss will do the same...