The G4S song: When corporate mission statements and rock collide
- 19 July 2012
- From the section Magazine
A rock song released last year by security firm G4S extolling its own virtues has attracted ridicule in the wake of the company's Olympic security problems. Corporate mission statements and rock don't always make a comfortable mix.
G4S boss Nick Buckles said this week he regretted ever taking on the Olympic security contract, which he agreed had become a "humiliating shambles".
It's possible that some senior managers may also be regretting the rediscovery of a song promoting the company's services.
The big production, country-tinged rock song G4S: Securing Your World was co-written and performed by Texan musician Jon Christopher Davis and includes lyrics like: "Because the enemy prowls, wanting to attack/But we're on the wall, we've got your back."
Some might also cringe at such lines as "G4S! Protecting the world, G4S! So dreams can unfurl".
In the light of current events the following sequence might cause eyebrows to involuntarily rise.
"Our mission is to maintain the peace/But make no mistake we'll face the beast/We'll back him down and make him run/We'll never leave our post til the job is done."
Music critic Simon Price is not a fan, rating the song as "sub-Bon Jovi tripe".
"It sounds like they're soldiers against Satan rather than a private security firm. I thought they were there to direct to you the toilet. They sound so heroic."
It appears Independent journalist Laurie Penny was the first to latch on to the humorous potential of the corporate rock number.
"It even has a jolly theme tune, an apparently unironic track called G4S: Securing Your World, which involves pounding synths and teeth-clenching rhymes like 'let your dreams unfurl'," she wrote.
A version that had previously been on YouTube quickly disappeared, although it is available for sale as an MP3 in the US.
The security firm has been quick to deny that Davis's number represents an official "theme tune".
"The song isn't a G4S 'corporate anthem' but a song originally composed for a client event at a trade fair in the States, and which was then used by the business to raise money for charity," a spokeswoman says.
"The song was part of a package of measures included in the US business's corporate social responsibility activities, which in 2011 raised over $500,000 for good causes."
But there is a long history of corporate anthems.
It was IBM who made these company tunes or "fellowship songs" into an art form in the 1920s and 1930s. The firm's founder Thomas Watson Sr felt singing was character building and a good way to instil company loyalty. He collected songs that employees had penned and had them published as book called Songs of the IBM in 1927.
Ever Onward, written in 1931 by employee Frederick Tappe, was sung at the company's training schools.
"Ever onward!/Ever onward!/That's the spirit that has brought us fame/We're big but bigger we will be/We can't fail for all can see/That to serve humanity/has been our aim."
There was even one celebrating "Our IBM Girls". "The office girls surely are always in style/They greet you with smiles, their welcome's worthwhile/The best in the world are our girls, rank and file."
Corporate songs enjoyed a bit of a boom in the 1990s and a decade ago a website dedicated to collecting them acquired a short-lived cult following.
It started when a friend of Chris Rattig sent him a KPMG song which included the lyrics: "We're strong as can be, a team of power and energy/We go for the gold, together we hold on to a vision of global strategy."
Anonymous employees also sent their own entries and the site attracted some 20,000 visitors in the first week. Rattig compiled a chart, with visitors to the now-defunct site voting on their favourites.
One chart-topper was McKinsey's "Challenges engage us/Nothing really fazes us" song.
Companies, like G4S, often seemed anxious to point out that the songs weren't anthems per se.
McKinsey suggested its entry had just been a group of people getting together to have some fun.
And according to PricewaterhouseCoopers at the time, their entry was just one of the songs that staff around the world had come up with as a "novel" way to celebrate the merger of Coopers and Price Waterhouse. "Everyone has a laugh at them," a company spokesman said at the time.
"Company anthems are a bit silly," says Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School. "The Japanese used to do a lot of it in the 1980s. It was part of the idea of the subjugation of the individual to the collective."
Japanese companies have a history of promoting singing, he suggests. In recent times, both Fujitsu and NCR have had company songs.
Some companies may have a temporary song that is, say, used to advertise a product or to promote services to a client, he says. Or they may use a temporary song to drive an identity change.
Just last year, AR Rahman who composed the Oscar-winning soundtrack to Slumdog Millionaire, wrote a theme tune for Indian/Japanese car joint venture Hero Honda.
Set against strings and guitar chords, the song assures employees "there is a hero within us all".
"Corporate anthems are rare nowadays," says Cooper. "It could be seen as a bit like a company mission statement, which a company doesn't normally tend to publicise."
There's a sense that musical promises might subject a company to a special level of scrutiny and, in G4S's case, mockery.
"It's hilarious, I've got to say, but then corporate anthems usually are, because the thing is they are hostages to fortune," says Price. "They're a kind of musical version of a mission statement, and a mission statement is usually a piece of paper posted to the wall with Blu-Tack and defaced at office party.
"By their very nature, corporate anthems tend to be devoid of irony or self-awareness, which paradoxically makes them prone to unintended irony when things go wrong."