Language expert analyses DGL boss Simon Henry's apology to Nadia Lim over 'Eurasian fluff' comment

A language expert says DGL boss Simon Henry's apology to Nadia Lim over his 'Eurasian fluff' comments was lacking. 

Henry, the founder and CEO of specialty chemicals company DGL, made the comments during a rich list interview with NBR last month.

During the interview, Henry hit out at the My Food Bag co-founder and celebrity chef, suggesting her looks were to blame for the company's disappointing entry into the public market.

"I can tell you, and you can quote me," he said. "When you've got Nadia Lim, when you've got a little bit of Eurasian fluff in the middle of your prospectus with a blouse unbuttoned showing some cleavage, and that's what it takes to sell your scrip, then you know you're in trouble."

He went on to suggest Lim, a well-respected businesswoman and entrepreneur, was using her "sensuality" to sell the meal delivery service.

The remarks have been widely condemned by business leaders, the Race Relations Commissioner and even the Prime Minister - and led KiwiSaver fund KiwiWealth to add Henry's company to a list of businesses it won't invest in.

In a statement on Friday, DGL said Henry had apologised to Lim, however she said she hadn't received it. The board later clarified an apology had been couriered to her.

On Wednesday Lim told Newshub she received an apology through email. She said the DGL officer manager emailed her with a letter signed by Henry.

"Dear Ms Lim," the letter began. "I have tried calling you several times on your cell phone to make an apology but was unable to get through.

"Therefore, please take this letter as my sincere and formal apology for my inappropriate language in relation to you used in the interview."

The letter was signed by Henry and dated May 6, 2022.

Lim told Newshub it was "good to finally receive something. Albeit through the office manager, and six days later". She said she has no record of any missed calls or voicemails.

Auckland University of Technology associate professor of applied linguists Dr Sharon Harvey analysed Henry's letter and told Newshub the language missed the mark.

"The key to getting an apology right is to directly apologise (e.g. 'I apologise for....'), properly acknowledge what wrong has been done and then say how the offending person will make sure it won't be repeated in the future. It's also important to express empathy for the hurt caused," Harvey told Newshub on Thursday.

"If undertaken properly, an apology can go some way to mitigating the hurt and embarrassment we cause to others through inappropriate and even harmful things we say and/or do."

Harvey said in her view his apology didn't come close to meeting the above criteria.

"In the English language what comes first, or in initial position, is usually seen as the most important point. Henry therefore should have begun his letter with a direct apology. This could have set the tone for a more empathetic and sincere letter. Also, saying, 'Please take this letter.....' is not as clear as saying directly 'I apologise for....'."

She said the lack of detail in the letter could also reduce its impact.

"The letter is very brief and this lack of detail reduces how convincing the apology is. Henry needs to be explicit about what transgression he has made beyond 'my inappropriate language'. Moreover, 'inappropriate language' may be too soft a description for the denigrating comments he made.

"In not explaining further what he is referring to by 'inappropriate language' it's not clear that Henry understands what was inappropriate about his language and its material effects on women, and particularly Eur/Asian women. It would have been helpful for Henry to be more direct.

"He could have stated that he now understood that his comments indicated his own lack of education about and appreciation of the positionality of powerful, rich white males viz just about anyone else in society."

She said if Henry explained what he would do in the future to ensure he didn't make the same mistake again, the apology would have sounded more meaningful.

"He could have offered to report back publicly in the future as to the changes such education have had in improving his and his company's understanding of the effects of racist and sexist language."

Henry has been contacted for response to Harvey's analysis but is yet to reply.