Stories > No good deed shall go unpunished - How a Christmas gift went horribly wrong
No good deed shall go unpunished - How a Christmas gift went horribly wrong

No good deed shall go unpunished - How a Christmas gift went horribly wrong

Published 2022-12-23 by Peter Ternström

Today, we fittingly have a Christmas story for you. The story of how fifty homeless people in Stockholm were given a very expensive jacket, and some cash as a gift from a large and well-known international consulting firm with offices on Kungsgatan, Stockholm.

Fifty expensive jackets and cash, you say? Isn’t that a bit too generous? Yes, it was. That wasn’t the idea in the first place. It was a bumpy road, and in the end the company had no choice. Let me explain.

The year was 1999. The company’s annual Christmas party happened during Lucia (13th of December). The business was booming, and the party was legendary. As a gift, all employees received an incredibly lavish winter jacket, with the company logo all over the back and on the chest. However, the number of jackets ordered was slightly exaggerated. At the end of the evening, there were about fifty jackets left that nobody claimed.

The jackets were discovered by the company’s receptionist the following day. After confirming that nobody really wanted them, she decided to donate them to a homeless shelter nearby. It was a cold winter and there were a lot of people who could really use a winter jacket. The City Mission picked up the jackets the same afternoon.

It sounded like a good idea. So generous. Good and warm jackets for the less fortunate.

It only took a few days. Then the head of finance saw a man sleeping on the floor of the central station with a jacket exactly like the one he was wearing. The homeless man was lying on his stomach, on a bed made of pieces of cardboard. Next to him was a plastic bag full of beer cans.

Several people noticed the homeless man, and his nice new jacket. The same day, reports flooded into the office. Not just one homeless man, but virtually all of Stockholm’s homeless had new winter jackets, with the very recognisable logo of the well-known consulting firm.

Pictures spread like wildfire by e-mail. I also saw one of them, a picture showing three depressed drunks sitting on a bench in Vasaparken, each wearing a jacket with the company logo. Underneath, the caption read: “Ernst and Young is doing well now!”.

The company was mocked, not only by industry peers, but also publicly. Soon rumours were circulating that it had gone bankrupt, and that all employees ended up on the street.

The straw that broke the camel’s back came in the following days. The company’s owners, based in the US, received the news that all Stockholm’s homeless were wearing their logo. One conference call later, the head of the Swedish subsidiary understood the gravity of the situation. The jackets had to be returned. Immediately. Like, yesterday.

This turned out to be a lot harder to pull off than they thought. Don’t think that homeless people are stupid. Street-smart as they were, they quickly added two plus two. They understood that now their jackets were priceless, and that the consulting company would do pretty much anything in order to get the jackets back. At the same time, depriving the homeless of their winter coats in the middle of Swedish winter was a delicate issue, to say the least.

The solution was to provide all the homeless with a new and expensive jacket of a well-known brand. The deal also included an unknown amount of cash for each. The jackets were paid for by the company. The cash was paid for by the head of the Swedish subsidiary in full, out of his own pocket. The receptionist quickly found a new job. All’s well that ends well.

And with that, we would like to take this opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy new Year.

Peter Ternström
Peter Ternström
peter@granturismo.org

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