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?