A bitingly funny take on corporate life by the author of acclaimed bestseller Jennifer Government
Company: the Novel That Answers the Big Questions
What are the relative merits of sleeping with your boss versus someone at the same level? Which causes the more spectacular career implosion?
When is physical violence an appropriate response to management policy?
The Mission Statement: It can't be that incomprehensible by accident, can it?
Why is that one reserved parking space always empty?
Taking an extra donut during mid-morning snack: Trivial matter or criminal offense?
If the company is reorganizing again, doesn't that mean the last reorganization was a total waste of time and money?
What does Senior Management really do up there all day?
. . . and the big one . . .
What is the Meaning of Work?
At Zephyr Holdings, no one has ever seen the CEO. The beautiful receptionist is paid twice as much as anybody else, but does no work. One of the sales reps uses relationship books as sales manuals, and another is on the warpath because somebody stole his donut.
In other words, it's an ordinary big company. Or at least, that's what everyone thinks. Until fresh-faced employee Jones--too new to understand that you just don't ask some questions at Zephyr--starts investigating.
Soon Jones uncovers the company's secret: the answer to everything, what Zephyr Holdings really does, and why every manager has a copy of the Omega Management System. It plunges him into a maelstrom of love, loyalty, management, and corporate immorality--and whether he can get out again, now that's a good question.
With broad strokes, Barry once again satirizes corporate America in his third caustic novel (after Jennifer Government). This time, he takes aim at the perennial corporate crime of turning people into cogs in a machine. Recent b-school grad Stephen Jones, a fresh-faced new hire at a Seattle-based holding company called Zephyr, jumps on the fast track to success when he's immediately promoted from sales assistant to sales rep in Zephyr's training sales department. "Don't try to understand the company. Just go with it," a colleague advises when Jones is flummoxed to learn his team sells training packages to other internal Zephyr departments. But unlike his co-workers, he won't accept ignorance of his employer's business, and his unusual display of initiative catapults him into the ranks of senior management, where he discovers the "customer-free" company's true, sinister raison dtre. The ultracynical management team co-opts Jones with a six-figure salary and blackmail threats, but it's not long before he throws a wrench into the works. As bitter as break-room coffee, the novel eviscerates demeaning modern management techniques that treat workers as "headcounts." Though Barry's primary target is corporate dehumanization, he's at his funniest lampooning the suits that tread the stage, consumed by the sound and fury of office politics that signify nothing. (Jan.)
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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March 12, 2007
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Excerpt from Company by Max Barry
Monday morning and there's one less donut than there should be.
Keen observers note the reduced mass straightaway but stay silent, because saying, "Hey, is that only seven donuts?" would betray their donut experience. It's not great for your career to be known as the person who can spot the difference between seven and eight donuts at a glance. Everyone studiously avoids mentioning the missing donut until Roger turns up and sees the empty plate.
Roger says, "Where's my donut?"
Elizabeth dabs at her mouth with a piece of paper towel. "I only took one." Roger looks at her. "What?"
"That's a defensive response. I asked where my donut was. You tell me how many you took. What does that say?"
"It says I took one donut," Elizabeth says, rattled.
"But I didn't ask how many donuts you took. Naturally I would assume you took one. But by taking the trouble to articulate that assumption, you imply, deliberately or otherwise, that it's debatable."
Elizabeth puts her hands on her hips. Elizabeth has shoulder-length brown hair that looks as if it has been cut with a straight razor and a mouth that could have done the cutting. Elizabeth is smart, ruthless, and emotionally damaged; that is, she is a sales representative. If Elizabeth's brain was a person, it would have scars, tattoos, and be missing one eye. If you saw it coming, you would cross the street. "Do you want to ask me a question, Roger? Do you want to ask if I took your donut?"
Roger shrugs and begins filling his coffee cup. "I don't care about a missing donut. I just wonder why someone felt the need to take two."
"I don't think anyone took two. Catering must have shorted us."
"That's right," Holly says.
Roger looks at her. Holly is a sales assistant, so has no right to speak up at this point. Freddy, also a sales assistant, is wisely keeping his mouth shut. But then, Freddy is halfway through his own donut and has a mouthful. He is postponing swallowing because he's afraid he'll make an embarrassing gulping noise.
Holly wilts under Roger's stare. Elizabeth says, "Roger, we saw Catering put them out. We were standing right here."
"Oh," Roger says. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize you were staking out the donuts."
"We weren't staking them out. We just happened to be here."
"Look, it doesn't bother me one way or the other." Roger picks up a sachet of sugar and shakes it as if it's in need of discipline: wap-wap-wap-wap. "I just find it interesting that donuts are so important to some people that they stand around waiting for them. I didn't know donuts were the reason we show up here every day. I'm sorry, I thought the idea was to improve shareholder value."
Elizabeth says, "Roger, how about you talk to Catering before you start making accusations. All right?" She walks off. Holly trails her like a remora.
Roger watches her go, amused. "Trust Elizabeth to get upset over a donut."
Freddy swallows. "Yeah," he says.
The Zephyr Holdings building sits nestled among the skyscrapers of Seattle's Madison Street like a big, gray brick. It is bereft of distinguishing features. You could argue that it has a certain neutral, understated charm, but only if you are willing to apply the same logic to prisons and 1970s Volvos. It is a building designed by committee: all they have been able to agree on is that it should be rectangular, have windows, and not fall over.