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CONVERSATION between ROLF SROM-OLSEN and LUCY KELLAWAY

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On Saturday, September 27th, Professor Strom-Olsen –Academic Director at IE School of Arts & Humanities– interviewed the FTcolumnist and writer Lucy Kellaway. The event was framed in the HAY Festival Segovia.

The talk started with an overview of Lucy’s professional career. How she started as a university graduate at an investment firm, leaving her job after a year, and how she joined FT as a market analyst. Over time, she ended up writing the columns that made her famous: Martin Lukes and Dear Lucy.

She started off by telling the audience how her main source of inspiration comes from her own office, “office life is sometimes sillier than you can make up, which is a problem for a satirist”, and moved on to explain how she created her most popular columns.

Martin Lukes, an invented character who is a senior manager at a multinational firm, is FT’s version of The Independent’s Bridget Jones. Inspiration came while traveling by train. She came across that executive using the whole time whistle words, such as leverage, speaking loud at the phone and bulling his subordinates.  Both speakers commented on how the US has created a business vocabulary, which has now become the appropriate way of expressing oneself in the corporate world. As a result, communication between colleagues ends up being pretty impersonal.

Dear Lucy is a section where people write to tell their office problems. The idea was taken from tabloids, or sensational magazines, in which people sometimes write their own issues. It was at first rejected by both the FT editor and readers. Initially, people did not think it was a good fit for a business newspaper, but after a few columns in which she explained what she intended to do, it ended up working. Nowadays, she receives many letters from investment bankers talking about their office problems, such as flirting with one of their business associates, being bullied by a boss, what happens when you split with your lover, etc.

Ms. Kellaway ended her lecture by talking about her experience as a female executive, and argued that she doesn’t think that women are discriminated against in the workplace. She concluded by announcing that she has a new book coming up next year, and looking forward to get some material inviting people after the conference to talk to her, “if you have any juicy problems, I would love to hear that”.