above the sky was blue and cloudless. On the ground thousands of people
stood facing a stage flanked by screens and with a scaffold of lights
and cameras on a crane overhead. Loud music thumped.
They were staring straight ahead, frozen. A few arms were raised bearing
phones to capture what was possibly the most embarrassing corporate
rebranding event ever.
Thus Siemens chose to tell its staff that henceforth its 120-year-old
healthcare division, which makes sensible things like hearing aids and
MRI scanners, was to be known as Siemens Healthineers. On stage a couple
of dozen badly co-ordinated dancers in turquoise and orange spandex
bodysuits gyrated to a lyric spelt out in giant letters on the screens:
“Reaching out for more / For the best and never alone . . . One
vision / One mission / One focus / One name / One culture / One
dream/ One team” — building up to the mighty chorus, “We are, we are, we
A homemade video of the event has been attracting much attention online,
where hundreds of people have posted comments variously saying: “This is
how you destroy a company”, and “Welcome to a more soul-crushing 1984”.
Some are suggesting that GE, Siemens’ main rival, will be rubbing its
hands in glee as customers decline to buy life-saving medical kit from a
cheesy team of Healthineers.
I suspect Siemens will survive this naff folie de grandeur. One of the
greatest mysteries of capitalism is the way that companies can say and
do boneheaded things while their business sails imperviously on.
Even so, it has set an example to companies everywhere of how silly you
can look when you ignore three basic rules of corporate communication.
The first says large companies must never turn to song. There is not a
single example of a business putting its values to music without mass
There was the terrible rendition of U2’s “One” at Bank of America, in
which a balding banker pretended to be Bono. Then there was the Ernst
& Young recruitment song: “Oh happy day / when Ernst &
Young / Showed me a better way,” featuring accountants swaying and
clapping out of time. The KPMG effort (“KPMG, we’re strong as can be / A
team of power and energy / We go for the gold / Together we hold / To
our vision of global strategy”) was ridiculed.
Songs are fine in church where the words tend to be decent and where
people gather because they believe in the same thing. Pop songs are fine
too, so long as the people singing them are either young or cool.
Recent corporate examples include “innovalue”, “sustainagility”, “edgenuity”
and “ideation”. Occasionally a company pulls it off: a few decades ago
Bill Gates and Paul Allen created the rather successful Microsoft,
though I daresay with those two it would have flourished whatever the
Explaining the new name, the CEO of Siemens Healthineers recently held
forth about “leveraging expertise”, “customised clinical solutions”, and
the “journey to success” before getting to the nub of it. “Our new
name . . . expresses our identity as a people company.”
In that case he has forgotten that people, unlike MRI machines, have
feelings. They can feel embarrassment and alienation and are most
disinclined to feel more warmly about their jobs after receiving trite
messages at 110 decibels and watching dancers in orange and blue Spandex