Accent on Living

MANY organizations harbor, in varying quantities, executives who are known to be not quite bright. Why these men have been singled out to direct policy and wield authority, or why their presence on the payroll is indulged at all, is not always clear to others concerned. As to the unbright 86 per cent of the salaried group earning $12,000 a year or more, the reference shelf fails to inform us; what has been written about executives has usually dealt with the hot shots. Of the boneheads in the managerial elite, the literature is scanty.

Preferment of the bonehead is of course age-old. Ever since men first subjected themselves to the disciplines of association, most executives have been accredited boneheads,* but it is only now that I am able to report the findings of a recent private survey of why this is so and why it doesn’t make any difference.

By far the most startling fact disclosed by the survey is that the American economy is indifferent to the mistakes of the 9000 unbright executives studied. A curious equilib-

* This does not refer to executives in Illinois, where a novel “group libel” law, upheld recently by the U.S. Supreme Court, i.s presumably in force. rium was noted between their errors and the wholly independent phenomena which in every case compensated for them. It was as if some benign natural force were operating unperceived to protect from these men the fortunes of their employers. Strangely enough, a similar balance was found to exist between executive decisions that were (a) right for the wrong reasons and (b) wrong for the right reasons, and a more detailed study is projected for this subject.

A few examples selected at random from the 9000 ease reports reveal the bizarre quality of executive reasoning and its consequences;

BUNKER. — A high-rent retail area had grown up around Bunker’s job priming plant, but Bunker could never muster enough energy to move to a less expensive and more efficient location. His real reason for not moving was his reluctance to give up his private office, a wooden enclosure in the middle of the main floor, cluttered and stuffed with a quarter century’s debris old catalogues, defunct galleys, samples, clippings, and rubbish. Real-estate taxes were heading Bunker towards a receivership, when the city decided to build an arterial highway. In the land takings that followed, Bunker’s property fetched for him a colossal profit. Now installed in a highly modern suburban plant, he is making pots of money and inveighing bitterly against life in general. His stockholders are sure he possesses second sight.

APPLEBY. This manager was talked into a ruinously expensive public relations campaign by a handsome young woman, because she happened to remind him of an unattainable girl who had sat next to him in school thirty years earlier. The campaign caused so much ribald comment about Appleby’s company that his resignation was about to be demanded, when it was discovered that sales were up 48 per cent. The reason sales were up was that department store buyers had taken a scunner against the main competitor of Appleby’s company, but neither Appleby nor his superior ever did find that out. Appleby got a $10,000 raise on account of the public relations fiasco.

CALLOW. — Head of a large investment trust, Callow was in a liquid position (quite by accident) in 1927. A true disciple of inertia, he drove his associates almost to madness by missing out altogether on the securities boom. As the ‘29 crash progressed, Callow — still liquid — took on heroic dimensions. By the summer of ‘32, he became convinced that President Hoover would be re-elected, and acting on this hypothesis he filled the trust’s portfolio. Callow was shocked by the election of President Roosevelt, and after an interval of brooding he decided to sell out. But before he could make his move, the new President suspended all trading in securities. Callow next reasoned that the President would be impeached for devaluing the dollar, and that with impeachment would come a restoration of business confidence and higher prices, and he held on, once the markets were reopened. The President never was impeached, but Callow’s portfolio multiplied itself tenfold, to his utter mystification.

DEARTH. Eastern story editor for a major film studio, Dearth conscientiously rejected every first-rale book or play submitted to his office. But the same books and plays were always considered at the same time by the studio’s West Coast office, which adapted from them a rich grist of box-office successes. Dearth remained undisturbed in his position, however, because his uncle was the studio’s principal stockholder.

VAGUELY. — Personnel man in a vast organization, Vaguely could never make up his mind about, anything. Timid, seclusive, he sought escape in a woozy mysticism and became the principal client of an ast rologer. The notion that his doings were directly related to the movements of heavenly bodies fired Vaguely with a new self-confidence in laying down the dicta supplied to him by the astrologer. Because the astrologers decisions were no worse than those of Vaguely’s colleagues, and because Vaguely enunciated them with assurance, this executive became celebrated as a man of action. The astrologer’s errors made no difference in this case, because Vaguely was working for a government agency in Washington.

Space is not available here for that part of the survey which explains why the not so bright executives ever got their jobs in the first place. Many, naturally enough, were advanced by the other not so bright managers who had recruited them, but all had a broad common characteristic: they never alarmed their employers or took them by surprise. Bunker, Vaguely, Dearth, and the rest were consistent, if nothing else: they could be counted on, absolutely, to do the same thing every time.