My New Year’s Resolution for a Beardy 2014

I’m not sure why, but I’ve never been a fan of facial hair (on men or women). Dmitriy Ioselevich of Walek Peppercomm disagrees, though, and believes the right beard will take the right man a long way in the business world. Here’s his take on bearded guys who’ve done very well (as well as a few clean-shaven ones who’ve well, given an unsuspecting public quite a haircut…

This is NOT the guest author of today’s RepMan.

I take great pride in my beard and, judging by the appearance of some of my fellow New York City commuters, I am not alone. Beards have become so popular in the United States that the shaving industry is desperately trying to get men to shave more.

But beards weren’t always fashionable and, in some parts, still aren’t.

The New York Yankees are famous for their no beard policy, instituted in 1973 by former owner George Steinbrenner. The boss wanted a team full of classy, professional-looking ball players (creepy mustaches are OK though), and actively punished any players who were beginning to show the slightest signs of scruff. Former Yankee legend Don Mattingly was once benched in 1991 for refusing to cut his long hair, and in the late 1990’s lefty David Wells nearly suffered the same fate for refusing to shave his goatee, although he eventually relented.

Even though Steinbrenner is now gone, the policy still continues today. Earlier this baseball offseason the Yankees announced that they wouldn’t sign relief pitcher Brian Wilson because he refused to shave his majestic beard.

It was a strange excuse for a team that had just finished an ignominious third place in the AL East, but still one consistent with the Yankees corporate culture. (They must have missed the bearded wonders over in Boston winning their third World Series this decade).

The financial industry is also well known for its aversion to facial hair. With the exception of a few high-profile figures (Ben Bernanke, Carl C. Icahn, Lloyd C. Blankfein), beards are more rare on Wall Street than a non-tailored suit.

Dr. Allan D. Peterkin, co-author of “The Bearded Gentleman: The Style Guide to Shaving Face,” offers one interesting explanation: “Older people tend to view facial hair with more suspicion than young people do…you don’t want to have an ironic hipster handling your funds.”

Given what the likes of non-bearded luminaries such as Bernie Madoff, Steven Cohen and Philip Falcone did with investor money, an ironic hipster doesn’t sound too bad!

There have been countless other organizations with arcane rules about appearance. Even management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. has a decades-old policy prohibiting employees from wearing argyle socks. But does suppressing individual expression really help build a tighter culture? Do clients really care what their bankers, lawyers, doctors, etc. look like?

It’s a delicate question and certain policies do have merit. For instance, showering and wearing pants are generally good ideas. Showing up to work in a blood-stained shirt reeking of alcohol is probably a bad idea.

One obvious solution for bearded or otherwise out casted individuals is to find a culture that matches their own set of ideals. David Price, a cherubic, bearded starting pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays, elegantly summed up his feelings on playing for the Yankees: “I wouldn’t stay there very long. Those rules, that’s old-school baseball. I was born in ’85. That’s not for me. That’s not something I want to be a part of.”

What is a culture if not something that people want to “be a part of”? Too many companies today choose to enforce a particular culture upon their employees—often at the behest of the founder or CEO—rather than shaping the culture to accommodate the various eccentricities of each and every employee.

With 2014 upon us, it’s time to change that.




16 thoughts on “My New Year’s Resolution for a Beardy 2014

  1. You are soooo wrong, Bubbles. Ed sported dreadlocks the first four or five years after we started Peppercomm. He saw it as a very visual way in which to express his entrepreneurial freedom. And, btw, he was meticulous in keeping his dreads clean. Sadly,he lost the ability to grow dreads after that holiday fire a few years back.

  2. I am floored to realize that men’s facial hair is viewed as worthy of comment. As long as it is clean and tidy, my opinion of a man doesn’t change based upon the degree or extent of fuzz on his chinny chin chin. But dreadlocks are another thing. I don’t care what anyone says, they cannot be kept clean.

  3. Forcing employees to do anything is an invitation to disaster, Dmitriy. I remember working for a PR firm that insisted every employee sign-in and out at the reception desk every single day. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before William Shakespeare, John Hancock, Herbie Hancock and Jesus H. Christ himself began signing in and out. The mandatory registration program disappeared a few weeks after it began. On a related note, we’ve just installed a time clock behind Ray’s desk at reception. Please punch in and out beginning Monday. Thanks.

  4. My biggest concern when growing a beard was how to maintain a level of professionalism while making the transition from stubble to full beard. I ended up waiting until I was out on vacation for a week so I could avoid looking too unkempt in the office.

    While I’m happy with my beard, I can understand why it might send the wrong message if I worked in a particularly conservative industry. Employees are another face of a company so it’s not unreasonable for there to be a policy that dictates some rules about how we represent ourselves to clients / customers.

    • Fair points, Alex. And my complements on the beard, btw.

      Every company has the right to dictate employee performance and behavior. My concern is what if companies abuse this right? For example, the company that forces employees to exercise daily to lower healthcare costs (for the company, not for the employee). Is that taking it too far?

      • Hmm good point. There definitely should be a line and I think what you said towards the end of your article is the best middle ground. Companies should lean towards job candidates who can fit their culture (whatever that may be) and vice versa.

        And thanks for the compliments on the beard haha

  5. Just an FYI, Dmitriy, but Ed authorized our placing surveillance cameras in your work station. Not sure why, but forewarned is forearmed.

  6. Yes and no. Every workplace culture is different. So, while we embrace variety and diversity in expressing one’s fashion tastes at Peppercomm, we do draw the line, Dmitriy. As you know, we no longer allow men to wear mandals (with or without socks) in the office. We enforce that rule for one reason, and one reason only: it’s gross.

    • Fashion and appearance is a very small piece of this trend. It encompasses every decision an employee might make, whether it’s in the office or at home. I think part of the reason we see this happening is because social media and modern technology (smartphones especially) has made it possible for every employee to have their own voice, 24/7. As we saw with the Justine Sacco/IAC fiasco, this can sometimes be very dangerous. As a result, companies are using some questionable defensive strategies to keep their employees in check. Maybe instead of spying on their employees to make sure they’re exercising enough (this actually happens!), their time and money would be better spent on training employees how to make better lifestyle decisions. Either way, this is a First Amendment lawsuit waiting to happen.

  7. As I was writing this I watched a 60 Minutes special about how some employers enforce strict rules regarding their employees’ lifestyle choices–everything from smoking cigarettes to donating to a political candidate. And it’s all perfectly legal! Discrimination laws only protect employees from decisions based on age, sex, race, orientation and religion. My question is do discrimination laws go far enough? And are companies just hurting themselves with some of these policies?

  8. E. I must come clean about my distaste for beards. They’re threefold:

    1) I’ve seen too much food caught in too many beards.
    2) Beards are itchy as hell.
    3) I’ve never been able to grow a proper one, so I tend to disguise my admiration as contempt.

  9. Beards are especially important among old-school male academics, so that they can do the proper chin gesturing while performing “deep thought.” However, my own beard’s origins were a.) a bout with the flu and b.) my wife’s subsequent decision that she liked seeing less of my face.

    • You forgot c.) it hides any embarrassing baby fat (this may be related to b), and d.) it saves time in the morning. But the value of appearing wise to an otherwise oblivious student body can’t be overestimated!