A few years ago I took a left when I should have taken a right in the library stacks and found myself standing in front of a shelf lined with CEO autobiographies. You remember when these were all the rage, back in the ’90s — a heavily Photoshopped cover featuring the author, looking wise/heroic/approachable, a stupid title (“Winning,” “The Art of the Deal,” “The Road Ahead”), and page after page of utterly unreadable writing. I selected a title; it was Jack Welch’s “Jack: Straight From the Gut,” opened it at random and started to read. I found myself in the middle of an account of playing golf with Greg Norman. I waited to see what this might have to do with either business or Jack’s gut, and was not satisfied; it was the equivalent of being seated next to the world’s most boring man at a dinner party. An hour later, I put this fascinating volume back on the shelf with a screenplay idea germinating:
It would be about a recently laid-off worker at a large corporation who accidently kidnaps the CEO of the same company. (Yes, accidently — it’s a comedy.) Unable to release the little tyrant without consequence and unsure what do with him until he figures things out, the ex-worker holds him prisoner in his basement and makes him read and explain passages from his own CEO book. He has the book because it was given to him as part of his severance-package paperwork. A drone at one of these companies told me once that he knew all the big company news 18 hours before it happened, because his department had to prepare the media kits and other related ephemera. In my movie, our hero would be handed a folder as he leaves the meeting where the layoffs are announced, emblazoned, “So You’ve Been Laid Off…” and Dear Leader’s book to help the newly unemployed find the strength to go on. And of course our CEO knows how to goose sales of his own book with bulk orders.
I thought there would be nothing funnier, in a bleak way, than hearing this sort of paint-peelingly bad prose read aloud by the “author.” There would be a Ransom-of-Red-Chief subplot where the disappearance of the CEO actually makes the company’s stock price rise, and, well, my mental outlining sort of hit a wall around the middle of the second act, so this is yet another idea that will remain unwritten. It would have to be a period piece now, as no one would buy the idea of CEO as anything but scoundrel. Too bad, because I fear it will lead to a lot of stupid action thrillers like “The International” instead of the black-ass comedies the current situation requires. If you can’t laugh, what can you do?
This is probably why my eye was snagged by a Facebook posting my pal Lance Mannion made over the weekend, a column from The Agonist about Jack Welch’s new idea, which you should not be surprised to learn, differs from his old idea. I haven’t read anything about this elsewhere, so I’m not sure where it’s coming from, but it is amusing, if true: Old Jack believed in something called “rank and yank,” where every year all employees in all departments in GE were ranked from top to bottom, and the bottom 10 percent severed. Having a bad year? Too bad; you’d really be happier elsewhere. New Jack now believes employees are part of a CEO’s “main constituencies,” not Fisher-Price figures to be plugged in and out of holes at will:
When have you ever heard a CEO say his main constituency is his employees? This is radical, dangerous, and heretical thinking. It comes after a quarter century in which companies all across the industrial world have treated their employees like cattle. Employees are utterly expendable in this world. They can be fired, dismissed, laid off, made redundant, riffed, downsized, or whatever convenient euphemism management may use, entirely at the whim of the company. Performance, experience, or years at the company are meaningless in this environment.
But I don’t want to spoil it for you. Go read.
So, how was your weekend? Mine was divine, pretty much, if you consider the first yard work of the year divine, which I do. I filled half a dozen of those brown paper bags with winter lawn detritus, but the place still looks basically the same. I did find those crocuses hiding under the leaves, though, so that’s good. (And yes, they’re crocuses. The daffodils are nearby, however, and coming up, too.)
Not much bloggage today, but:
I found this link during my drug-searching the other night and tossed it in the to-be-blogged file. I just want to throw it out there:
The aerial assault on cocaine is wiping out everything — apart from coca plants.
The counter-drugs strategy of the United States is clearly failing. U.N. figures cited in this week show that the cultivation of coca, the plant from which cocaine is derived, has surged in the Andes. The most dramatic rise has been in Colombia, the only country in the region that allows the use of pesticides to eradicate coca leaf – a policy promoted and funded by the U.S..
I recently received a disturbing email from southern Colombia warning that the fragile Amazonian soil could “soon be turned to desert.” They were the words of a Catholic priest, so I rang a church worker whose parish lies deep in the Amazonian state of Caqueta. Military planes targeting coca farms, funded by the US, had been spraying mists of pesticides over food crops, grazing animals and even areas where children were playing, she said: locals were complaining of breathing problems and rashes; “strips of skin” have been peeling off cows, and chickens have died; and maize, yucca, plantain and cacao crops have wilted and shrivelled. “We fear there will soon be a very serious food shortage in the region,” she said.
I don’t know how credible this account is. The author has a book coming out.
She confuses pesticides and herbicides. [ADDED: No, she doesn’t. See comments.] The sourcing could be better. But doesn’t this just have the ring of truth? The United States has a cocaine problem, so our response is to dump poison from airplanes over Colombia? Why is our foreign policy so boneheaded, so often? A question for the ages, or maybe just Monday. And so another week begins.