Thursday, March 29, 2007

Corporations -- an opinion

Note: Following is very similar, but slightly different from an op/ed piece in the March edition of LareDOS in Laredo, Texas. That can be seen online, in pdf, at and in print in Laredo.


A local corporate executive recently told me not all corporations are bad.
I won’t hold him to it, but surely, there must be one, or two out there who haven’t completely tossed out their soul and lost sight of their original purposes and drive to make money. There’s nothing wrong with making money. Nothing at all, but too many corporations – being the loose-fitting strings of structure, people, facilities and mission statements that they are – lose sight of what enabled them to get where they are today as growth, ambition and faraway leadership steer their course.
Case-by-case examples prove leadership can be faraway and still in the same building as they try to solve problems and direct the local operation as the bosses at corporate would do it.
Not many people, whether they work for a corporation, or not, really like them, but many people are trapped, having to work for one because they seem to have more money than the sometimes more realistic, practical, clear-minded local operation.
“I don’t like it. I wish I could go somewhere else, but what are you gonna do? I got to feed the kids,” said a corporate soldier to me not long ago.
Unfortunately, not all locally-owned places are run by level-headed bosses with competition and imagined competition twisting their vision. Sometimes, when on the dark side, local owners might see their holdings and personnel as toys to be hurled around the room when frustration sets in. Keeping those wages down at the local level and still getting good, competitive results isn’t easy, either.
But before anyone starts to read too much into, or between the lines here, I am combining information from some 38 years in the workforce when I first latched on with a corporate ice cream shop in Houston.
Since then, I’ve been paid – I want to say nickel and dimed, but that’s not fair to all – by various bosses in Brenham, La Grange, San Marcos, Austin, Belton, Temple, San Antonio, Alice, Corpus Christi, Waco, Hempstead, Bryan, Copperas Cove, Wharton, Lufkin, Edinburg, Laredo, Florence, S. Carolina and overseas in London. And I might have forgotten some of those former workplaces, too, so please don’t necessarily read yourself into this, but all of my experiences combine to say that we all lose when our corporations and businesses get off track and stay that way. Someone in the driver’s seat needs to keep an eye out for sleepy eyes at the controls.
When we hear, “I’m not going home until the other bosses leave” and “I’m afraid to take my vacation time because the bosses might fire me” – trouble and foggy-headed, fatigued thinking usually aren’t too far ahead. Don’t take my word for it – please research that one on your own.
When we have reached that point – and way too many corporations have here and elsewhere -– we are taking the human element out of the corporation’s local office and that isn’t healthy. Do you want examples of people feeling dwarfed and pushed to extremes and bad health by high stress, or would you rather do that on your own? Have you seen anyone take a job and noticed as their weight blasts through the ceiling, or his or her health leaps out the window?
If you work for a corporation, you might have a boss who’s trying to kill you without trying to kill you. They’re just following orders to heighten production – it doesn’t matter how, with whom or if anyone falls by the wayside.
Do your bosses care if anyone dies?
It struck me as entirely too sad a few years ago when a very dedicated editor at a big city newspaper died and his memorial service was held in his office. It read too much like an ironic and fitting note for someone who might have bit, bought and swallowed their corporate dedication a little too far.
When people tell friends to get a life they aren’t just talking to hear the sound of their own voice.
People have to work and sometimes very hard. It isn’t easy to find any job that doesn’t go through some tough periods now and then, but a telltale sign of what I would call corporatitis is when that tough boss, or the one driven nuts by other bosses already beaten to death by poorly-prioritized efforts, really doesn’t show any sincere regrets when one of their employees dies. Are we that disposable now?
I still don’t know how efficient a dead employee can be.
Probably the simplest and most profound lesson learned in my high school years in the Houston suburbs was that there’s a big difference between tough and stupid. Someone needs to – please – start telling some corporate supervisors to wake up. The life they save could be their own.
You can be entertained, and educated in some ways, by this corporate thing, too -- if not already.
One of the best corporate-based dramatic movies in recent years was 1999’s The Insider, starring Al Pacino, Russell Crowe and Christopher Plummer. The Insider cut two ways, peering into corporate woes in the tobacco industry and at CBS where 60 Minutes had corporate-induced problems in simply airing whistleblower Jeff Wigand’s interview.
Both the book and movie, The Corporation, drew strong reviews when released only a few years ago, but 1975’s Rollerball, starring James Caan, continues to be mentioned whenever corporate extremes are the topic.
Caan plays a futuristic gladiator, playing this deadly game in a corporate-controlled world.
Online, Antipreneur: The Mark That Changed Capitalism has emerged, adding another corporate-aware voice to the struggle for realistic thinking and controls in the corporate world.
“While giant corporations run roughshod over our lives, we whine and complain, protest and boycott,” the Web site forum said.
Well-written complaints, protests and boycotts are a place to start, but some of those targeted corporate executives would only thinking of the free advertising they’re getting and nothing about the protest aims.
Good, or bad, it looks like we will have to deal with corporations for some time to come, but they and us will all work and perform better once they make a sincere, profound effort to clearly see the people in front of and around them. All of the people – not just the presidents on those dollar bills and legal tender.


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