I first started working as a corporate journalist 15 years ago, at one of South Africa’s big mining houses. It was as hierarchical as a company could be, with levels and grades and people who had corner offices and important art and people who worked in cubicles, like me. As part of my job, I had to interact with the senior executives, some of whom were very pleasant and human, and others who were not. Every article I wrote had to be signed off by the relevant executive, so the coal guy signed off the coal articles, the diamond guy the diamond ones and the gold guy had his say on the gold articles.
Each article would be printed out and put, along with a polite note, into an inter-office memo envelope (yes, it was before email) and sent along to the person for checking. If I was up against deadline, I would run it along to their offices myself and plead with the secretary to get it through for me. If not, I posted and waited. The articles all came back, duly checked, with terse comments and, as per company style, the person’s initials. Very taut, very mining house, very 1990s.
This week I had an article back, via email, from a chief executive. It said, “I am happy with the article.” And then there was a smiley.
I’m not really a fan of the smiley or any kind of emoticon. I like words to convey how I am feeling. But that smiley, from that 21st century executive, was a good one.
And in mining house terms, it was practically a proposal of marriage.