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. …