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Indian Art, Cats & Lessons For The Boardroom

Posted on February 1, 2012 at 9:35 AM

India Art Fair 2012 ended in Delhi a few days ago and for me a multi-dimensional and vibrant occasion was made extra special by some cats. Indigo Blue Art, the exciting Singapore-based gallery headed by Suman Aggarwal showing modern indian contemporary art, stole the buzz with its exit corner display entitled 'The Babu, The Nayika and the cat.'

You should look at artist Tapas Sarkar's cats (which sold like hotcakes or possibly hot cats). Because (in case you are wondering whether I have wandered too far off the page) they are a fable for our time. I reckon every plc boardroom could use one.

The Kalighat school of Bengali painting initially focused on religious iconography but over time moved into the world of contemporary social events. Its observations were from the bazaar - the gait of the foppish dandy, the habits of the nouveau riche, the mannerisms of the courtesan. Mr Sarkar's sculptures throw a spotlight on this bygone genre.

The cat with a prawn in its mouth is a statement against hypocrisy, and a common theme in Bengali art. Ms Aggarwal says :"The cat's forehead and nose bear the markings typical of a holy priest who espouses a strictly vegetarian diet. But in its mouth, the cat holds a prawn which it obviously plans to devour in secrecy. Such paintings were a voice against the evils and hypocrisy of society. They were also used as an important media and  a pictogram of revolt."

So now you see why I want to put a Sarkar cat in every boardroom.

In the fortnight that this blog has been silent there has been far too much to say about UK  boardrooms and executive pay, most of it said better elsewhere. (Sir) Fred Goodwin , former CEO of RBS being stripped of his knighthood makes great political theatre but achieves nothing. 

Stephen Hester, his replacement, met his targets in a very difficult role and was awarded a £1m bonus it became impossible for him to accept. So he waived it, leading to degrees of howling from all political parties in the UK. It was also a PR disaster of timing at RBS as chairman Sir Philip Hampton declined his bonus first, allowing a media frenzy before Mr Hester capitulated. The only value in all these decisions has been the gesture, and perhaps the dream of a 'snowball' effect.

David Cameron's government keeps coming up with clever ideas to change the rules around executive pay by altering the construction and rules of the boardroom, but nothing proposed so far seems likely  to make much difference without fundamental changes in behaviour. Shareholder behaviour, non-executive director behaviour, individual senior banker behaviour.

February is unlikely to be dull as we await a spate of other bonus payments.....Barclays Capital CEO Bob Diamond may well get away with something akin to his £8m bonus last year, as he doesn't run a state-owned bank.

The Financial Times  has a story saying that Barclays Capital's biggest investors are now warning they have had enough of lavish payouts and are urging its boardroom to put an end to them. Live in hope. For it isn't just the super bonuses at the top that need scrutiny, it's the pay at levels just below as well. Otherwise it's all about grand gestures, not changing the fabric of business.

Boardrooms need to look at pay within a social context, as well as a plc context. Behaviour needs to change, and that is going to have to come from the non-executive directors.

Just to keep reminding them of the dangers of hypocrisy, we need a cat in every boardroom. 

Categories: Behaviour, Transparency, Accountability