Life at Up Up and Away Investment International: Chapter 5: (A serialized novel by Robert K. Stephen)

Chapter 5

The lament of the lost Martini lunch

OK, we have moved along at a good clip here so perhaps let us take a bit of a rest to digest the Blessed Event and get a bit sidetracked.

Sometimes it takes the passage of time to determine the true nature of events and the Blessed Event just might turn out to be one of those! There is the power of positive thinking! Perhaps the tone of sarcasm and bitterness should be set aside and your conclusion will be that this book is a testament to largecorp and of course for the incredibly wise, pocket stuffing people that run it and run many of our lives which I refer to throughout as the Senior Management Team or SMT for short.

Before proceeding further with deep subject matter, you may want to know my credentials. Who I am might influence your decision to buy this book. I am not a senior executive at a largecorp nor am I ever likely to be. Ooops! I can see I am losing credibility as you were expecting a learned book by a super CEO. Therefore I didn’t have this chapter as some sort introductory chapter! So I have hidden this fact deeper in the book! I detest largecorp and their in the pocket schools of business management. The Canadian Business Hall of Fame makes me puke. The public institutions named after the filthy rich CEO robber barons (provided a huge donation was made) show a massive failure of anyone to put the brakes on largecorp.  OK, I am laying my cards on the table.

I am a lawyer by trade. There goes even more of my credibility! I was born in 1953 in New Haven, Connecticut so I am seasoned enough to be familiar with the night The Beatles appeared for the first time on the Ed Sullivan Show. I lived through the Vietnam War and the countless protests and newsreel footage. I saw Kennedy shot and Jack Ruby too! Computers befuddle me. I may be an anachronism in terms of technology, but boy do I know largecorp!

I really don’t have many memories of corporate life from my father. He was a firm believer in separating work and home. He refused to invite over business colleagues to advance his career.

He rejected one current rule of corporate advancement that the distinction between home and office should not be blurred. Senior executives were the highest class and hence should socialize amongst each other? He used to say, “I am here away from the office to enjoy myself and get away from what goes on in the office.” Yes, again a bad lesson taught a little boy that would be a disadvantage in the current corporate culture. But in the 1960’s there were many who agreed with my father’s approach and they simply refused to bring the office and its management cadre home with them. They demanded free time to enjoy their families. And how many Filipino nannies were there in the 60’s? Was it my fault I got stuck with the rules of corporate life in the 60’s?

To really get off the track I can remember one facet of corporate life which was the arrival of a new car my father was entitled to each year as a corporate executive.  Here was a definitive corporate perk that left a favourable impression on me as a young tot. However it was hardly sufficient to deliver my soul to largecorp at some point in the future.

There were frequent business trips my father took and I recall missing him but he was there each weekend and for that matter home for a late supper almost every night. In fact, the whole neighbourhood was around for the weekend. The street was alive with neighbours doing their chores and chatting with each other. And there were many a week-end party. There was a sense of community.

The 1960’s corporation gave its employees an opportunity to inter-act with neighbours in a meaningful and non-businesslike fashion. Mom and Dad were most often at home to tuck in their children to bed. These days Mom and Dad may still be off at the office and a Filipino nanny feeds and tucks in the children. The streets are deserted on the weekend as many mothers and fathers are in the office and even at home with mobile devices and remote access employees being enslaved 24/7. Capitulate to this exploitation to survive! The hell with family life! We are now back to the Industrial Revolution except the coal mine has been replaced by the office tower and the only grime on today’s office tower employee is shame at deserting family responsibilities. Corporate survival and the Filipino nanny may have gone so far as to obviate shame. After all, getting ahead is more important than family and decency. And that mega Mercedes SUV is a must.

Now I have gone through (or have been devoured by) largecorp but hopefully you’ll note I derive some meanings from my experience. I remember that many executives of the 1960’s liked to party hard and the multiple Martini lunch was a reality. This may have been because of the war trauma many of these executives had suffered during WWII and the Korean War. Life was brief and meant to be enjoyed in the moment. Sounds a bit like mindfulness!

In those days, there was no Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. It was the hard stuff usually rye and ginger ale or rum and cola. And the crowning glory of the 1960’s corporate executive was the Martini lunch. As a child, my siblings and I used to sit at the top of the stairs and listen to the goings on of these neighbourhood parties. No one got plastered just lots of noise, laughing and good times and no such phrase as “designated driver” existed and it meant we could pig out on leftover soft drinks the next day! Unlike the legions of obese children of North America many of us children of the 1960’s were banned from consuming soft drinks except for very special occasions. There was little obesity in those days.

The corporate parties one goes to today are demure and too loud a laugh leads to gossip that you are plastered. Parties are viewed as “networking events” to make contacts and further your career and corporate survival. Party goers have been transformed into weasels and moles to collect information that will lead to self advancement. As many people, as possible are to be “networked” and ranked as to usefulness. The consumption of food and alcohol is closely monitored as “discipline and control” are important characteristics for advancement in largecorp.  One too many a drink or shrimp can sink your future!

One indication of the power of largecorp over the individual is the disappearance of the Martini lunch. I recall chatting with one of our most successful salespersons within my division at CRAP. Hubert was in his late 50’s and becoming more disillusioned with his job. Hubert lamented the disappearance of the Martini lunch which he scornfully remarked was replaced with some healthy stir fry or sea bass and MINERAL WATER! As Hubert said, “We used to get together with a prospective client and start lunch at a nearby steakhouse with a few Martinis. By the time we had finished it was three and we used to be so tired we’d head home for a nap before dinner. We really got to understand our clients and build a relationship. It was a humane way of doing business and it produced results. Now we are pressured to have no alcohol lunches and ordered to sell, sell, sell. How can you build a relationship over a 45-minute lunch? Instead of the long Martini lunch where we could slowly slide in our sales pitch now we must do it in 45 minutes. Clients perceive this as obnoxious and high-pressured selling. Not only that I have to write a detailed report on the lunch!”

Today Hubert would be pegged by largecorp as a corrupt and an alcoholic Willy Loman. Largecorp demands a mineral water lunch. Prospective clients now are a force to be managed according to a strict set of “relationship building” techniques invented as you may have guessed by business management faculties funded by largecorp. Isn’t it very odd that this academia who have little or no experience or use for business relationships are designers of relationship management programmes? Friendship has been reduced to superficiality and designed solely for profit taking purposes. The elimination of the Martini lunch shows the soullessness of largecorp.

Having a father on the inside would have been an unbelievably valuable asset to have but that asset depreciated instantly with my father’s death at 45. Fortunately, he had a massive life insurance policy so financially I never really suffered. Now his death did put me in “an outsider” position continually embarrassed by not having a father. It scarred me psychologically. I lost more than a father but also a valuable mentor and connection

As I had mentioned previously one of my father’s last wishes was to make a “man” out of me so I was shipped to one of New Haven’s top WASP private schools, “Penton Academy” which was an excellent introduction to corporate life. This was a semi-militaristic school that was full of Second World War and Korean War vets that thought the students were military recruits about to be sent off to battle and in retrospect I must admit they were not too far off the mark. We were abused and beaten regularly but thank God not sexually (at least not me).

Although a WASP my fatherless status put me into the ranks of the Jews that were accepted as tokens and had to bribe their way into Penton Academy with large “donations”. What in earth was a Jew? I had never encountered one before but like me they were outsiders and we bonded immediately. They were good people. WASPS were suddenly distasteful to me unfortunately making me yet more of an outsider. In those days the word “global inclusion” would be met with a hearty chuckle.

In this private school, there were lessons about corporate life to come. Prefects were like a junior division of senior management. They could turn you in for violations of the rule and you’d then be beaten on the ass with a cut-off goalie stick by a teacher. Keep on their good side and you would be fine. Thank God. In our dining room in grade 7 I was an assistant table captain which meant at our table I could serve dessert and for that matter seconds to whomever I chose. Being a table captain or assistant table captain meant you had no waiting duties. Strangely or purposely the Jews were never table captains or assistants. They were waiters along with all the others who had not been appointed as table captains or assistant table captains. Hierarchy even in the dining room.

As the English were being persecuted and denied many rights in Quebec my wife Fay and  I joined the hordes of Anglo refugees and ended up in Toronto articling for a sole practitioner in a less than tony part of Toronto. I was a decent law student but neither brilliant nor a cheater and coupled with no connections in Toronto my articling position was far from Bay Street but as for diverse experience in corporate, family, criminal and employment law it was an extraordinarily rich and rewarding experience.

Perhaps I was unskilled in corporate politics of the big law firm but I was happy in the shadows of power and prestige. And I was grateful for the diverse and wonderful articling experience. One very memorable experience I had was listening to a terribly upset woman who had worked as a secretary for 27 years for an insurance company. She was hit with the Blessed Event and offered a paltry 16 weeks of severance. Inexperienced as I was in the law of termination of employment I felt this poor lady was getting the rawest deal possible. It was more unpalatable as this insurance company was in the midst of an advertising campaign emphasizing how much it cared for its clients. Obviously it did not care for its employees. We settled for two years of salary as severance. I quickly saw that Canadian corporate image and corporate reality were two different realities.                         

Published by Robert K Sephen (CSW)

Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden and the University of Toronto. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he has established this publication. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."

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