I work in the financial sector and have done for over 25 years, so I am no stranger to suits and ties, but I think it is time to commit them to history as work attire. The world is moving in a different direction and the formal business suit and tie will soon be gone the same way as the telex machine and the typing pool; a relic of 20th century business culture that has outlived its usefulness. They are uncomfortable and impractical, so why do we persist with something that adds no value?
I work advising entrepreneurs, in particular in the technology and natural resources sectors; they want advisers that they can empathise with and trust to be a key part of their business, not someone who seems distant and condescending. How many clients (not other advisers like lawyers and accountants) actually wear suits and ties? Certainly a minority of the ones I come across, and the number shrinks every year.
The last decade has seen has two of the greatest seismic shifts in the business world of modern times: the rise of the internet from the play thing of geeks and pornographers to become a dominant and still growing part of modern business life and the financial crash of 2008. One of these was led by guys wearing hoodies and chinos and the other wearing Saville Row suits; who have been the successes and who the failures? Bankers, politicians and estate agents are all reviled by the public and all well known for their suit and tie wearing; where does the trust lie?
I am someone who reads widely on business, economics and society, and the key to the future is not to be left behind. The business world of the next decade will be about being smarter in the non-sartorial sense. We should be worrying less about whether we wear ties and more about how much we know; that is what our clients and prospective clients are worrying about.
Instead of worrying about whether we look like a GQ model, we need to seriously increase the level of learning and development we undertake, and by that I do not mean the box ticking of “continuing professional development”; we need to be smart in the networked, global, 21st century sense of the word. The world is moving so fast that to rely on knowledge acquired 20 years ago and just keeping up to date through experience will just mean that you fall behind. Unless you have the knowledge you cannot know whether you can deliver what is needed or not.
I work at a small firm that cannot rely on a big balance sheet or captive customers; we need to be both the smartest guys in the room and the one that the client feels in their bones to be the closest aligned to their interests; we need to be more Steve Jobs and less Bob Diamond.