The Joy of Severance
Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) - What's wrong with this picture? My friend Dewey is sitting at his desk, the weight of his operation pressing on his spine like gravity on Jupiter. Things aren't always easy over there, as I'm sure they aren't for you either. Revenue grows, but slower than it used to. Costs accrete. People get in your face every couple of minutes. You never know out of which closet the next monster will pop.

Dewey sits and thinks, "Gee, I wonder how Throckmorton is doing." Throckmorton is/was a friend of Dewey's who recently had to be decruited from the corporation along with quite a few other expensive senior managers. Dewey finds that he has significantly fewer friendly faces to greet in the elevator.

"I think I'll call Throckmorton," says my friend Dewey to himself. "He could probably use a little bucking up." So he looks up the former financial officer's home number, and after a couple of rings, there's Throckmorton, a little out of breath. Poor guy, thinks Dewey. Probably woke him from a nap.

"Hey, Bud," says Dewey kindly.

"Hey!" says Throckmorton. "How ya doin', pal?"

"Well, you know," says Dewey, befuddled by the jocular tone. Is Throckmorton drunk? On meds? "How about you, Bud?" he offers gently.

"Great!" says Throckmorton. "I wish I could talk to you, but me and the wife are off to London!"

Dewey sits there for a minute, taking it in. Four lights on his phone are blinking on hold. "London," he says. "That's great."

"We're gonna see a bunch of shows, take in some museums," says Throckmorton. "They have decent restaurants there now."

"I heard that," says Dewey. "Well, I'll let you go."

"See ya!" says Throckmorton with the exuberance of a young man on the verge of a great adventure, and he hangs up.

Of course, Throckmorton isn't the only old pal in need of a pat on the shoulder. Dewey calls Roover. "Hey, Lenny," he says with infinite tact. "How's it hangin'?"

"Yo! Mah man!" says Roover, always a jolly fellow with tremendous energy. What was it like for such a man to be severed in the prime of a heretofore high-octane career? "I wish I could stay and chat, Dewey," he says, "but me and Falkenberg are going out right now to shoot 36 holes down here, and if I don't motor I'm going to miss my tee time!" Falkenberg. Another gone dude.

"Where are you?" says Dewey, a little dejected. Somebody is knocking on his door, which he has closed for privacy. What could it be, to interrupt him that way? It can't be good.

"Florida!" Roover says, and departs.

It takes Dewey an hour to mop up all the issues that appeared while he was making his calls. When he's done, he calls me, possibly because he knows that I'm not in Florida and not going to London, and that my butt is almost as deep in alligators as his. He tells me the story, which gives any working person food for thought.

"But still," I say to him, "it's better to be working. At the top of the game. Get good tables in restaurants. Power. All that."

"Yeah, definitely," says Dewey.

"And you can't play golf for the rest of your life," I observe.

"No," says Dewey, sounding unconvinced.

Both of us have to go. He has a meeting with a group of Korean advertisers. I have to call eight people about a matter I don't want to commit to e-mail. After that I go to lunch.

Egbert looks rested. He has cut his hair and shaved the beard he wore for 35 years, which makes him look 15 years younger. His demeanor is different since he departed the corporation, somewhat violently, six months ago. I know what it is: The worry is gone.

I was prepared to be solicitous, but the guy is so friggin' happy.

"I've got a little office downtown with a view of the river," he tells me. "I've got appointments up the wazoo, but I'm going to be very careful about what I end up doing."

"You don't have to worry about money, then?" I ask him.

"Oh," he says, with a little smile. "Not for a while."

I inquire about Lundgren, who has been out since the last century. Surely the uselessness, the sadness, the vacuity of premature executive demise are wearing on him?

"Paulie?" says Egbert. "He's in Scottsdale. He and a couple of guys invested in a country club down there that's really taken off. He drops by the club every morning and then kind of bombs around for the rest of the day. He looks terrific."

I'd like to talk a bit more with Egbert, whom I miss, you know, but I see he's looking at his watch. "I gotta run," he explains as I throw down my plastic for the check. "There are so many people who want to talk, I don't know which way to go right now!" All the anticipation and hope of youth are in his face.

"Well," I tell him as we part, "it's a nice problem to have."

STANLEY BING's new book, Rome, Inc.: The Rise and Fall of the First Multinational Corporation (Atlas Books, W.W. Norton), is available at finer bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at stanleybing@aol.com. Top of page

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