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Posts Tagged ‘Chief executive officer’

The Third Rail Of American Discourse

In behavior, books, business, journalism, news, women, work on June 23, 2011 at 2:30 pm

My new book about working for 27 months as a retail sales associate has been out for two months, and the 40+ amazon reviews are insane — love it, hate it, love it, loathe it.

I’ve been called a princess, racist, slummer, bitter, pretentious, “lazy, lazy, lazy”, elitist and accused, falsely, of despising the very people — my retail co-workers — I say clearly how much I admired.

It’s been an exhausting rollercoaster, with a pendulum of opinion swinging so widely, and wildly, it’s hard to believe.

It took a fellow writer to calm me down, pointing out that “Nickeled and Dimed“, a best-seller from 2001 by Barbara Ehrenreich (to which my book has been compared) is equally provocative and divisive.

Both books are similar in one key respect: middle-class, educated white women — with economic freedom to leave the jobs we described — worked for minimum wage in thankless, difficult, demanding low-status jobs.

Our crime in so doing? Poverty tourism. Slumming it for a book deal, as one WNYC listener commented. We weren’t destitute.

Why did we need to be?

Would this have altered our observations or the accuracy of what we saw and heard?

We’re writers and our goals were the same: find and tell powerful stories that had not been told. The people living these lives, working these jobs, do not have the time, skill or freedom from the shackles of their jobs to tell it as it really is.

I’ve also received extraordinarily personal and heartfelt emails almost every single day since” Malled” appeared:

“Have you been sitting on my shoulder for 23 years?”

“I feel bolstered by your book!”

“I got a raise last year….of 10 cents an hour.”

The filthy secret of American life is economic disparity, the great myth that we are all equal and racing one another along a smooth and level playing field to the equally-accessible goodies of income/home/education/raises/promotions/career success.

Go to college! Work hard! Suck up to your boss! That’ll do it.

Nope.

The reality is that there is no level playing field. It looks more like a greasy pole, the rich at the top, the poor at the bottom and many of us now, four years into a recession filled with record corporate profits and sluggish hiring, scrambling desperately in between.

Here’s a sobering piece in Mother Jones on how much dough corporations are raking in, and how workers aren’t getting the benefit of their labor.

I think speaking truth to power, despite its putative appeal, makes Americans deeply queasy. What if I somehow wrecked your chances, or your kids’, by being rude to the Guys With The Money?

Bowing and scraping to anyone with a payroll is the new black.

I worked for The North Face, owned by the VF Corporation; in January 2009, our hours were cut because the company could not afford them…then sitting on $382 million in cash. (They just spent it to buy Timberland.)

Look at the WalMart class action lawsuit, thrown out this week, screwing thousands of hardworking women employees out of the hope of justice. Of working a full-time job and not needing food stamps to supplement their wages.

Which is worse — ignoring these behaviors and letting business reporters keep fawning over eight-figure-earning CEOs?

Or have people like me or Ehrenreich try our best to open the door to the creepy, greedy, nasty behaviors that drive so much of this economy?

Either way, millions of workers are being screwed.


Why Do The Wealthy So Fascinate Us?

In behavior, business, culture, domestic life, entertainment, film, life, Media, Money, movies, television on January 17, 2011 at 2:24 pm
The Breakers, the summer home of Cornelius Van...

A Newport, RI, "cottage." Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been watching, and enjoying, Downton Abbey on television the past few weeks, the story of an impossibly wealthy British family trying to protect their home and inheritance.

Why do we care?

Sure, the production values are high — the home lovely, the clothing meticulously re-creating Edwardian elegance. The servants’ intrigues and gossip mimic that of their employers, but still, what do we find so fascinating about the wealthy?

In an era today that has come to resemble the Gilded Age in its income inequality, where CEOs outearn their lowest-paid minions by 400 percent, it’s so much less…annoying…to stare in awe and envy at their gleaming motorcars, 20,000 square foot homes, billion dollar yachts, jewels and furs and nannies and neuroses than face our own frustrations and challenges.

As the U.S. recession drags into another year, now its third and with no definitive end anywhere in sight, the rest of us seem to take perverse pleasure in gawping at the rich, with television shows like “The Housewives Of...” ever-popular. Not to mention this show, in which spoiled brat daughters suddenly have to…gasp!…work for their money.

One aspect of Downtown Abbey is its timelessness — the family who own it are patrons of a local hospital that bears their name; I live a 10-minute drive from a hospital also endowed by the Rockefellers, whose enormous estate covers thousands of acres just up the road from where I live.

Their wishes have so altered this suburban New York landscape that my apartment building was re-designed — to be lower and flatter — so as not to spoil their magnificent Hudson River views. They even managed to shut down a local train line because it was…too noisy.

I worked retail from 2007-2009, the subject of my forthcoming book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Portfolio, April 2011).

My greatest challenge? The sense of entitlement the worst of the wealthy carry with them, like some separate form of life support. They slap down their AmEx black cards, snap their fingers in your face, pout and whine when you say “No” to them.

No one says no to them!

Better we should focus our energy and our attention on less amusing sights — like our own work, families and income. After the necessities are covered, our real wealth isn’t material.

When Corporate Kings Go Public — Beware, Meg And Carly!

In business, Media on June 9, 2010 at 6:44 pm
A fake copy of the Financial Times is pictured...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via @daylife

Are you familiar with Lucy Kellaway? She’s a much-respected British journo at the Financial Times, whose column on management is a must-read.

She recently tore a wildly successful British businessman a new one, devoting an entire column (ouch!) to his inane pomposity in publishing a book of his “rules”:

Ray Dalio is deluded, insensitive, emotionally illiterate, simplistic, breathtakingly smug, weird and plain wrong.

Harsh words, but I know the founder of one of the world’s most successful hedge funds will welcome them. The Bridgewater chief has just made a list of his top 300 rules for life and number 31 is to write down the weaknesses of others. Number 11 is never to say anything about a person you would not say to them directly, while number 22 is to “get over” fretting about whether comments are positive or negative. All that matters in Dalioland is whether they are accurate or inaccurate.

These rules are contained in the most curious management document I have ever come across. Simply entitled “Principles”, it is being handed out to staff at Bridgewater to help them be as successful as their boss. It is also being passed gleefully from pillar to post on the internet.

I love her taking the piss out of this guy, who probably earns more in the time it took me to post this than I’ll make in my lifetime. Tant pis.

Jack Welch is one of many ex-CEOs who write best-selling books, persuaded  — like this guy — their bons mots are going to transform our miserable lives. If you read business books, and I do, occasionally — as hungry as anyone for smart, helpful advice — you know how many of them are deeply, annoyingly, self-righteously dull, stupid and eagerly swallowed up by people who use “impact” as a verb or say things like “This robust suite of products is mission-critical”.

Just because you’ve “created shareholder value” and made big fat profits for your company doesn’t mean your in-house brilliance will translate to the rest of the world, who are not actually breathlessly awaiting your next PowerPoint. (A lesson Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, both corporate legends now entering the bare-knuckled fray of politics, are learning as well.)

It can come as a terrible shock when those who are not your underlings find your “wisdom” risible.

Which business book did you find a total waste of cash?

Any one you did like?

Hey, Rich Kids! Work Retail, Learn The Value Of A Dollar. Not.

In behavior, business, parenting on May 30, 2010 at 6:41 pm
A Range Rover car is pictured in central Londo...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via @daylife

This is the sort of story that makes me want to throw a chair. From today’s New York Times:

Steven D. Hayworth, chief executive of Gibraltar Private Bank and Trust, is thrilled that his daughter will be working this summer at a women’s clothing store before heading to college in the fall. It is not the particular job that pleases Mr. Hayworth. Rather, he is hoping his daughter will make the connection between how much she earns each day and what that will buy.

“As a parent who has worked his whole life and has had a little bit of success in my career, one of the huge life lessons I learned early on is the value of a dollar,” said Mr. Hayworth, whose bank is based in Coral Gables, Fla. “Particularly for children of upper-middle-class and affluent families, there’s no perspective on value. When the new Range Rover pulls into the driveway, there’s no concept of how many hours of hard work went into owning that vehicle.”]

Unlike many collegebound children today, Mr. Hayworth’s daughter would have had no worries if she had not been able to find a job. She could have spent the summer by the pool knowing her parents had the money to put her through college.

I’m finishing my book this month, a memoir of working retail in a national chain of stores for two years and three months, part-time, for $11/hour. However much little Miss Hayworth learns from slumming it for a while on the sales floor, I doubt she’s going to learn “the value of a dollar” from crossing over to the dark side of the cash wrap

She doesn’t need the money. She’s taking work away from someone — maybe one of the millions of workers over 40 or 50 or 55 who can’t even get a job interview in their field or industry, even with decades of experience — who does.

Yeah, a little rich kid showing up to please Daddy is going to fit in just great with a group of co-workers who know the value of a dollar because they count every single one they earn. They may have many kids or be single moms or be putting themselves through college or, as were three of my colleagues, be working retail despite a prior criminal record, making it really tough to get any job.

Rich kids think work is sorta cute. Something to do before they head off the Hamptons for the weekend or start Harvard med school or head off on Mummy’s yacht.

A Range Rover costs $78,425 to $94,275. At a median national retail wage of about $8, she’d be working full-time for five years if she didn’t, like people who really need her job, have pesky stuff like rent, food, car  payments, insurance or student debt.

In the world of investment banking, $78,425 is pocket money.

You want to teach kids what a Prada/Range Rover/pair of Manolos really costs? Send ‘em far away from home, so they’re paying the real cost of housing and commuting to that job. Make sure it’s the only job they can get. Make ‘em stay in it for a full year, including the holidays.

They’ll still have no idea — because they’ll be too tired to shop and too intimidated to go into a store full of expensive shit they can’t afford. Many of our customers drove Range Rovers. They were some of the most spoiled, nasty, entitled people you could imagine.

I worked retail with two kids, both in their early 20s, one of whom stayed barely  three months who was clearly from a well-off family. Not an unpleasant guy, but his sole raison ‘detre was scooping up as much of our product at the healthy employee discount as possible. The money, as anyone working retail knows, is low and the work both physically and emotionally grueling.

Playing poor is an insult to those who really are. Playing poor is no joke to those earning poverty-level wages selling overpriced crap to the rich.

She won’t last a month — because she won’t have to.

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