‘Running and cross-country skiing perhaps?’

‘Right. The whole family loves the outdoor life. And we have a mountain cabin on Norefjell.’

‘Uh-huh. Dog, too?’

He shook his head.

‘No? Allergic to them?’

Energetic shaking of the head. I wrote: Lacks sense of humour?

Then I leaned back in the chair and steepled my fingertips. An exaggerated, arrogant gesture, of course. What can I say? That’s the way I am. ‘How much would you say your reputation was worth, Lander? And how have you insured it?’

He furrowed his already sweaty brow as he struggled to give the matter some thought. Two seconds later, resigned, he said: ‘What do you mean?’

I sighed as if it ought to be obvious. Cast my eyes around the room as if searching for a pedagogical allegory I had not used before. And, as always, found it on the wall.

‘Are you interested in art, Lander?’

‘A bit. My wife is, at any rate.’

‘Mine, too. Can you see the picture I have over there?’ I pointed to Sara Gets Undressed, painted in vinyl, over two metres in height, a woman in a green skirt with her arms crossed, about to pull a red sweater over her head. ‘A present from my wife. The artist’s name is Julian Opie and the picture’s worth a quarter of a million kroner. Do you possess any art in that price range?’

‘As a matter of fact I do.’

‘Congratulations. Can you see how much it’s worth?’

‘When you know, you can.’

‘Yes, when you know, you can. The picture hanging there consists of a few lines, the woman’s head is a circle, a zero without a face, and the colouring is plain and lacks texture. In addition, it was done on a computer and millions of copies can be printed out at the mere press of a key.’

‘Goodness me.’

‘The only – and I do mean the only – thing that makes this picture worth a quarter of a million is the artist’s reputation. The buzz that he is good, the market’s faith in the fact that he is a genius. It’s difficult to put your finger on what constitutes genius, impossible to know for sure. It’s like that with top directors, too, Lander.’

‘I understand. Reputation. It’s about the confidence the director exudes.’

I jot down: Not an idiot.

‘Exactly,’ I continued. ‘Everything is about reputation. Not just the director’s salary, but also the company’s value on the stock exchange. What is, in fact, the work of art you own and how much is it valued at?’

‘It’s a lithograph by Edvard Munch. The Brooch. I don’t know what it’s worth, but…’

With a flourish of my hand I impatiently urged him on.

‘The last time it was up for auction the price bid was about 350,000 kroner,’ he said.

‘And what have you done to insure this valuable item against theft?’

‘The house has a good alarm system,’ he said. ‘Tripolis. Everyone in the neighbourhood uses them.’

‘Tripolis systems are good, though expensive. I use them myself,’ I said. ‘About eight grand a year. How much have you invested to protect your personal reputation?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Twenty thousand? Ten thousand? Less?’

He shrugged.

‘Not a cent,’ I said. ‘You have a CV and a career here which are worth ten times the lithograph you mentioned. A year. Nevertheless, you have no one to guard it, no custodian. Because you think it’s unnecessary. You think your success with the company you head up speaks for itself. Right?’

Lander didn’t answer.

‘Well,’ I said, leaning forward and lowering my voice as though about to impart a secret, ‘that’s not the way it works. Success is like Opie’s pictures, a few lines plus a few zeros, no face. Pictures are nothing, reputation is everything. And that is what we can offer.’


‘You’re sitting in front of me as one of six good applicants for a director’s job. I don’t think you’ll get it. Because you lack the reputation for this kind of post.’

His mouth dropped as if in protest. The protest never materialised. I thrust myself against the high back of the chair, which gave a screech.

‘My God, man, you applied for this job! What you should have done was to set up a straw man to tip us off and then pretend you knew nothing about it when we contacted you. A top man has to be headhunted, not arrive ready-killed and all carved up.’

I saw that had the desired effect. He was rattled. This was not the usual interview format, this was not Cute, Disc or any of the other stupid, useless questionnaires hatched up by a motley collection of, to varying extents, tone-deaf psychologists and human resource experts who themselves had nothing to offer. I lowered my voice again.

‘I hope your wife won’t be too disappointed when you tell her the news this afternoon. That you missed out on the dream job. That, career-wise, you’ll be on standby once again this year. Just like last year…’

He jerked back in his chair. Bullseye. Naturally. For this was Roger Brown in action, the most radiant star in the recruitment sky right now.

‘Last… last year?’

‘Yes, isn’t that right? You applied for the top job at Denja’s. Mayonnaise and liver paste, is that you?’

‘I understood that sort of thing was confidential,’ Jeremias Lander said meekly.

‘So it is. But my job is to map out resources. And that’s what I do. Using all the methods at my disposal. It’s stupid to apply for jobs you won’t get, especially in your position, Lander.’

‘My position?’

‘Your qualifications, your track record, the tests and my personal impression all tell me you have what it takes. All you’re missing is reputation. And the fundamental pillar in constructing a reputation is exclusivity. Applying for jobs at random undermines exclusivity. You’re an executive who does not seek challenges but the challenge. The one job. And that’s what you will be offered. On a silver platter.’

‘Will I?’ he said with another attempt at the intrepid, wry smile. It no longer worked.

‘I would like you in our stable. You must not apply for any more jobs. If other recruitment agencies contact you with tempting offers you must not take them. Stick with us. Be exclusive. Let us build up your reputation. And look after it. Let us be for your reputation what Tripolis is for your house. Within two years you’ll be going home to your wife with news of a better job than the one we’re talking about now. And that’s a promise.’

Jeremias Lander stroked his carefully shaven chin with his thumb and forefinger. ‘Hmm. This interview has moved in a different direction from the one I had anticipated.’

The defeat had made him calmer. I leaned forward. Opened my arms. Held up my palms. Sought his eyes. Research has proved that seventy-eight per cent of first impressions at interviews are based on body language and a mere eight per cent on what you actually say. The rest is about clothes, odours from armpits and mouth, what you have hanging on the walls. My body language was fantastic. And right now it was expressing openness and trust. Finally, I invited him in from the cold.

‘Listen, Lander. The chairman of the board of directors and the finance director are coming here tomorrow to meet one of the candidates. I’d like them to meet you, too. Would twelve o’clock be convenient?’

‘Fine.’ He had answered without checking any form of calendar. I liked him better already.

‘I want you to listen to what they have to say and thereafter you can politely account for why you are no longer interested, explain that this is not the challenge you were seeking and wish them well.’

Jeremias Lander tilted his head. ‘Backing out like that, won’t it be seen as frivolous?’

‘It will be seen as ambitious,’ I said. ‘You will be regarded as someone who knows his own worth. A person whose services are exclusive. And that’s the starting point for the story we refer to as…’ I gave a flourish of the hand.

He smiled. ‘Reputation?’

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