Etiquette Boosts the Bottom Line

Article excerpt

FOUR TIMES A year, corporate executives from around the world gather for a seven-course dinner at the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corners, Va. They drink expensive wine, eat exotic cuisine and socialize with one another. But instead of discussing mergers and acquisitions, the executives talk about which fork to use, how to hold a wine glass properly and where to place their napkins when they leave the table.

The dinner is part of a two-day class in corporate etiquette, a crash course on molding high-powered executives into Emily Posts of the business world.

Chief executives and their high-level colleagues are learning to mind their manners more than ever these days. They are turning to courses such as this one, sponsored by The Protocol School in Washington, and similar classes across the country for help in navigating through the rights and wrongs of social behavior in an ever-growing and ever-changing global economy. While the business of teaching all types of etiquette is expanding nationwide, the emphasis lately has been in the corporate sector.

"In business arenas worldwide, some occasions call for playing hardball; almost all occasions call for civility," says Dorothea Johnson, director and founder of The Protocol School. "Polish pays because it is the hallmark of knowledgeable, successful men and women. Executives who possess these qualities are a valuable asset for any organization."

But wouldn't corporate etiquette lessons be among the first things to go in an era of corporate downsizing and cost-cutting?

Not at all, said Johnson, whose two-day seminar fetches nearly $1,000 a person.

In fact, she said, the opposite is true: Corporate downsizing has increased the need for socially adept, mannered executives. Corporations have to cover more ground with fewer employees, and they cannot afford to make mistakes - especially ones that can be avoided by a few lessons in manners.

According to Johnson, her school has become so popular that it recently began to offer a certification program for etiquette consultants and a training course for would-be manners teachers. To date, the school has 300 graduates. By the end of next year, the school plans to have franchise operations in 14 countries. Etiquette and protocol, it appears, are considered top priorities in the international business arena.

"Etiquette is the ultimate business tool," said Johnson, who has spent more than 40 years in the manners business and who considers herself an etiquette historian. …

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