Corporate Lab Rats
by Anne Fisher

(FORTUNE Magazine) - "Does Zephyr have high turnover and poor morale? Yes. Do its employees complain a lot? Yes. Would it be more successful if it addressed those problems? No, because ... happy employees are not more productive." So says an advisor to the CEO in Max Barry's new novel, Company. The reluctant hero of this tale, an idealistic new B-school grad named Stephen Jones, soon realizes that Zephyr isn't a real company at all: It's a kind of management-theory laboratory, and all the employees (unbeknown to them) are merely lab rats in suits. Jones's response to his masters' cynicism is to rouse the troops, with startling results. Granted, Zephyr would never make our Best Companies list, but Barry has packed these pages with hilarious, if acid-etched, vignettes of corporate characters you may find all too familiar. The author says he researched the novel by working in lots of different businesses. The main thing he learned? "It's amazing just how clear a company can make it that you're completely unimportant." Top of page