An MBA falls in the forest.

I know I may be the only person who cares about this, but hey, whaddaya know, Bill Agee died. He was 79. Complications of scleroderma, although it sounds a broken heart may have been a complicating factor.

We talked about the Saga of Bill and his second wife, Mary, right here on this blog, man, seven years ago. (The post makes me sad, because I was much freer with my opinions then, before I had to start curbing my tongue in public. Maybe one day I’ll be that crazy and free again.) You can read that blog to realize why I took a special interest in them, but I didn’t know this about him:

William Agee was 38 and a rising corporate star in 1976 when the Bendix Corporation, a large auto parts maker, made him one of the youngest chief executives of a major American company.

Handsome and articulate, with an M.B.A. from Harvard, Mr. Agee personified a new, more fast-moving, less bureaucratic management style that was starting to take hold. He got rid of Bendix’s boardroom table as a stodgy artifact of the past, banned executive parking spaces and often dressed in a style now known as business casual.

Three years after he took the reins at Bendix, Time magazine featured him in a cover article with the headline “Faces of the Future.” He was personally appealing, and so was his message: Success at his company should be based on merit rather than seniority or tradition. He acted on that notion by recruiting and promoting young managers.

The cover of Time magazine, at 41. Running a major auto supplier. Shakin’ things up. And then he hired Mary Cunningham, and both of their lives were never the same. The tl;dr of his career: He ran Bendix into a ditch. Then he went to Morrison Knudsen, and ran it into a ditch. Then he more or less retired to California with Mary, where he “managed his investments, consulted for businesses and worked as a local philanthropist and volunteer, reading once a week to the youngest students at a Roman Catholic school.” Washed up at 57, basically. Cunningham never amounted to much after she met him, either, at least not career-wise. After having her mentor promote her to a vice-president position at Bendix, and leaving under a cloud, she sidestepped to a similar spot at Seagram, washed out there, and hitched her wagon to Agee’s star. I’m sure California and a couple of serial buyouts provided a comfy cushion, but man, if that isn’t ’80s business-worship madness in a nutshell, I don’t know what is.

And we’re still doing it. Business people run for public office on platforms that extol how they’ve “met a payroll.” As someone who receives a paycheck, I certainly appreciate that skill, but it bears little relation to what you want in a senator.

I wonder what Bendix’ boardroom table ever did to hurt anyone. It’s the people who sit around a table that are the problem, but getting rid of the table makes for better PR. Stand-up meetings were a thing for a while, but as someone who likes to spread out papers and look at them, I doubt they’d be for me.

Anyway, back to Bill. Note these final three grafs of his obit:

Mr. Agee’s second marriage caused a break with his children from his first, and even from his mother. She refused to speak to him, prompting him to legally change his middle name in 1990, after she had died, so that it was no longer her maiden name.

The estrangement between the two families lasted for decades. But in October, Suzanne Agee said, her father, in frail health, contacted the children from his first marriage, all of whom live in Seattle, and went to stay with them.

“That was the great gift of these last two months,” she said, “all of us spending time with my father.”

He died in Seattle. Did he leave Mary to do this? Did she come with him? Bless his journey? Suzanne was the one who announced his death.

Oh, and he changed his middle name from McReynolds to…Joseph. Husband of Mary. Hmm.

Enough about that guy, though. Glad to hear everyone had a wonderful holiday, or at least a peaceful one. We certainly did, although driving back from Ohio on Christmas eve was no picnic – winter storm, and on nearly untouched roads. It took hours, but we made it OK. Then hot chocolate on the holiday, presents, snow-blowing and a late-afternoon screening of “Lady Bird.” It all worked for me.

Just one piece of bloggage, a couple days old, but absolutely worth reading and absolutely chilling: How the Kremlin played its long game on hacking. And we’re not ready for 2018.

Maybe one more post coming here before 2018, though. Resolutions, anyone?

Posted at 10:10 pm in Current events |

24 responses to “An MBA falls in the forest.”

  1. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on December 27, 2017 at 11:06 pm

    Yeah, impeachment or not, we have to get our act together on how to deal with the way social media empowers intelligent, targeted trolling. Trump’s team was stupid enough to think they could taste poison and make others sick, but the Russian strategy is less interested in either party than it is destabilizing the whole.

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  2. Deborah said on December 27, 2017 at 11:14 pm

    So it sounds like Mary Cunningham Agee and Callista Gingrich have something in common, both were good little Catholic home wreckers.

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  3. Dexter said on December 28, 2017 at 3:27 am

    Resolutions? I quit doing that when I was a child, but I did want to share one I heard from the late Joe Lewis of Waterloo, Indiana, sitting in the old Shamrock Inn bar in Waterloo: ” I resolve to hose more women next year than in any other year past.” Blunt, gross, forthcoming, to the point.

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  4. Alan said on December 28, 2017 at 7:21 am

    But, but . . .

    Don’t leave us hangin’ on “Lady Bird,” which I mostly liked. You too?

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    • nancy said on December 28, 2017 at 8:17 am

      Absolutely loved it.

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  5. Connie said on December 28, 2017 at 8:23 am

    I started this year learning to walk on my new prosthetic foot. My resolution is to run on a tread mill before the year is out. Which means I will be joining the Planet Fitness just down the road from my office. This resolution had to wait on my current year’s resolution: to get my handicapped drivers license and hand controls on my car. So I can drive myself to Planet Fitness.

    I have completed my adaptive drivers training and will be getting hand controls on my car as soon as my doctor signs all the paperwork. I have been driving for 40 plus years, but this is a whole new world and way of driving.

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  6. adrianne said on December 28, 2017 at 8:41 am

    Ladybird rocked. We also saw the Disaster Artist, totally hilarious.

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  7. Suzanne said on December 28, 2017 at 9:01 am

    I really liked Lady Bird as well. It rang so true to life.

    I have a vague memory of Bill Agee now that Nancy mentions him, but that’s about it. What I do hate tremendously is the whole shtick of the CEO/Coach/Entrepreneur who runs a company or team or whatever into the ground and walks away with another similar position and a goodly amount of compensation while the workers/players/investors get zip but unemployment and crushed dreams.

    Perhaps I should make my new year resolution to be in a better mood and let things run off my back a little more. I am starting to sound like the quintessential angry old man. And I’m not even a man.

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  8. Julie Robinson said on December 28, 2017 at 9:33 am

    Connie, I fervently hope you achieve your resolution, and good on you for not giving up.

    My resolution this year is to prepare: to drag my 85 yo mother to an attorney to plan her estate, and then to plan ours too. Oh, and finish up my sister’s estate, though that will be quite a feat.

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  9. Judybusy said on December 28, 2017 at 9:49 am

    Connie, I think you’ll be running on the treadmill–you have some grit! Will you be working with a physical therapist at all in conjunction with the gym?

    Speaking of gyms, I’m looking forward to the opening of the new YMCA that I go to. The current facility is great, but I think parts were underutilized and so the organization decided to rehab a newish building downtown. I am happy because it’s much closer. They are getting very fancy new bikes for spin class that really help track your effort. I think there is a VR component too. The former is great if you’re training for a specific event. I think the majority of us who go just like keeping in shape.

    If we can brave the subzero temps, we’ll be going to see The Darkest Hour this weekend. I’ve got a friend coming over for lunch and The Crown on Saturday.

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  10. Julie Robinson said on December 28, 2017 at 10:25 am

    Circling back to say I remember reading several glowing articles about William Bendix and his marvelous romance with Mary. This was about the time my own dad left Mom for a younger woman, and I didn’t see any marvelous romance at all, just a lot of hurt family members.

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  11. Heather said on December 28, 2017 at 10:54 am

    If you need a post-holiday pick-me-up, check out this thread with screenshots of the editor’s comments on the unpublished (and rejected) manscript by professional troll Milo Yiannopoulos, one of the exhibits in his lawsuit against the publisher. Heartwarming for any liberal, but especially for editors and writers. There are several links to the entire documents in the replies too.

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  12. alex said on December 28, 2017 at 11:55 am

    Home today with a sinus headache for the record books and a hacky cough that makes me hyperventilate. Trying to get it together enough to go buy some Robitussin and sinus pills and stuff to make soup with.

    Yeah, it does seem curious that Bill Agee’s estranged kids were the ones taking care of him on his deathbed and announcing his passing. I’d bet anything that about two months ago he revealed a new and more magnanimous estate plan to the surprise of both his former and current families, and that their love for him rose or fell in accordance with the value of their anticipated share. See, he wasn’t such a dumb businessman after all.

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  13. basset said on December 28, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    Meanwhile… some call it the Hamburglar, others say it is just an ugly statue along the highway, but it’s even uglier now:

    Someone claiming to be a columnist from the Allentown, PA paper called me a few years back demanding to know Why The City Hadn’t Done Something About That Terrible Statue, yes indeed he knew about the First Amendment and that the statue was on private land but that didn’t matter because this thing was Offensive, I’m pretty sure I never did get through to him.

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  14. beb said on December 28, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    One wonders how someone was a Masters in Business Administrator could run a company into the ground, then go and run a second company into the ground. You would think that all that education in Business administration would teach you how not to do that. And, like Suzanne said, the CEO gets to walk away with their Golden Parachute while the workers get squat.

    With all the talk about firing Mueller I wonder if he has made any contingency plans? Like the old “letter to be sent to the police in the case of my death” kind of thing. I know Mueller has been coordinating with the New York AG on some matters that can be pursued on a state level. I wonder if Mueller has lodge secret indictments against Trump that would be opened as Mueller’s last duty as special prosecutor. Some insurance against Trump’s fecklessness.

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  15. beb said on December 28, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    basset @13: I sometimes think that a couple sticks of dynamite and a willful disregard for the law would solve a lot of these Confederate War memorial problems.

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  16. Judybusy said on December 28, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    And does Roy Moore really think his antics are going to change anything? Well, let’s hope I’m right, and Jones gets seated.

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  17. Jeff Borden said on December 28, 2017 at 1:35 pm


    One reason Robert Mueller has been working closely with the New York state attorney general is that there are no pardons on state charges. The Orange King could preemptively pardon his entire criminal cabal, but if they have run afoul of New York laws, they will be fucked.

    This has been the longest year in a long time. Each day brings some horrible news about this ugly bunch of criminal incompetents. Two days ago, we learned the woman who had run Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources into the ground while servicing polluting industries –she has no college degree and no real training in anything related to her position– will now be in charge of the region that includes the Great Lakes. That’s right, folks. An anti-science crank who never met a polluter she didn’t embrace will oversee the health of 85% of the fresh water supply for the United States of America.

    Fucking Mueller better get his team in gear. Each week takes our nation a little further down.

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  18. David C. said on December 28, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    Speaking of taking out nation a little further down.

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  19. Julie Robinson said on December 28, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    Moore’s “black women voted so it must be fraud” suit has been tossed out and Jones will be sworn in Jan 3.

    When I was at IU, the business school was where you went if you couldn’t get in to a science or liberal arts program. Not saying it’s still true, but it was then.

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  20. Mark P said on December 28, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    Regarding confederate monuments — here in Rome, Ga, the confederate monument was moved from the middle of Broad Street to the top of a hill overlooking town that has served as a cemetery for many years. A few days ago someone damaged it. The local paper’s headline said it had been desecrated. Not damaged. Not vandalized. Desecrated. I think that gives a pretty good idea of the state of mind of white southerners in a relatively moderate community.

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  21. Deborah said on December 28, 2017 at 6:41 pm

    The weather in northern NM has been spectacular but also scary for the long term. It’s going to get up in the 60s in the next few days, sunny but windy. This is unusual for the end of Dec and there has been very little snow. Very, very dry. We’ve had a respite from drought the last few years, our land has never had as much grass on it since we bought it in 2000. I hate to see it go back but it is the desert southwest, so such is life.

    We used some of our Harry and David pears before they go bad, peeled them, cut them up and stuffed them in a jar which we poured bourbon in to. I have no idea what to do with them when they’ve soaked for a while. Any suggestions?

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  22. susan said on December 28, 2017 at 6:45 pm

    deborah, make a smoothie? with half and half, bit of fresh ginger, maple surp.

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  23. Jolene said on December 29, 2017 at 7:27 pm

    Google “pears in bourbon” for ideas. I only glanced at the recipes I found, but many look delicious. They don’t necessarily call for marinating the pears in bourbon, but seems like the recipes could be adapted based on what you’ve already done.

    Also, look up grilled pears. Here’s a recipe for grilled pears salad. Sounds delicious, though it calls for ingredients that may not be in your pantry.

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