Book Report: Executive Blues: Down and Out in Corporate America by G.J. Meyer (1995)

I have been waiting almost a decade to read this book, ever since its excerpt appeared in Harpers when I still read that rag. I remember recognizing that Meyer was a St. Louisian, as was I. I read the hints of his heartbreak of losing his cush executive job and thought the excerpt was interesting enough to warrant further attention. Unfortunately, I waited a decade until I found a used copy at the JCC book fair for a buck (autographed, too!) before I could delve into it.

What a bunch of sour grapes.

The book spans 1991 and 1992 after Meyer is laid off from a vice presidency at J.I. Case as their communications leader. He’d been laid off previously from McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis from a similar position. The book purports to delve into the new uncertainty in the marketplace for super-executives of billion dollar companies and how hard their lives are when they discover that sometimes at-will means at-won’t-anymore.

I mean, the guy’s laid off, but he’s shocked at the prospect for starters and lacks any imagination for anything other than landing another equal position at another billion dollar company. Atop that little bit of hubris, he attempts to indict corporate America for being what it is. That is, he resents (he actually uses that word) corporate America for not feeding his addiction to power and a big salary. Which corporate America somehow corrupted him into.

Jeez, the one thing I learned from the excerpt was to always downplay your current/recent positions so you don’t overqualify yourself for lower positions in that time of desperation. I could have stuck with the excerpt and had all I could learn.

On one hand, I come from another generation and another industry, raised in a turbulent world of dot-coms and tech companies where your expertise matters more than your pedigree and where it’s expected or okay to work as a contractor or to bounce around. Also, I’ve not worked for many of the big companies, particularly at the highest echelons, but that makes it easier to project a future that’s no more turbulent than the past. As I work in a “fluff” job myself–QA, like communications, is a nicety and not a necessity when it comes down to struggling for a profit–I accept my tenuous position. But someone of the boomer era in the late 1980s, no doubt this would have been terrifying.

But the resentment and the indictment on every page, interspersed with the longing for the irrationally exuberant perks of that upper echelon, really ground on me so much that I didn’t enjoy the book as much as endure it. Do I recommend it to you, gentle reader? Perhaps, if as a historical document whose advice and situations are anachronisms to study, yes; or perhaps as a moral fable of how not to grow to accustomed to the current gravy train in your life and to have something upon which you can fall back, yes. Maybe even as an indictment of hiring English majors for anything, anytime. But this book is hardly a serious study engendering serious attention. It’s like Nickel and Dimed (by Barbara Ehrenreich, which was also excerpted by Harpers in the same era); it’s an indictment of capitalism by people who purposefully refuse to understand it.

Books mentioned in this review: