Company - Max Barry

Last month we had to sit through a presentation on eliminating redundancy, and it was a bunch of PowerPoint slides, plus a guy reading out what was on the slides, and then he gave us all hard copies.

I read Max Barry's previous novel, Jennifer Government, a few years ago, and then re-read it this year (and still enjoyed it). This one's new, published this year, and is a little less sci-fi and more satire. It takes place at Zephyr Holdings, a Dilbert-esque company with a lot of your business stereotypes: clueless Senior Management, the Omega Management System which all executives believe, ultracompetitive salespeople, and ridiculous business practices that everyone just seems to accept. Roger is willing to get somebody fired over his missing donut. Elizabeth forms deep emotional attachments to her clients. Eve is a drop-dead gorgeous receptionist who drives a sports car and doesn't appear to actually do any work.

Into this mess we introduce Stephen Jones, the new guy who's been snuck in through the back door because of the hiring freeze (through some creative accounting, his salary is expensed as copy paper). He wants to do a good job, and therefore breaks all the unwritten rules. When he has a question for his manager, he walks into her office to talk to her. He talks to people in other departments. He asks why things are done the way they're done. And for some reason, he wants to know what Zephyr Holdings actually does.

Interestingly, Barry reveals the surprising truth fairly quickly into the book rather than keeping the reader in the dark. I'm not sure if it would have made a better book, but then discovering the truth doesn't become the ultimate end of the plot. Instead, once the reader discovers what Zephyr is up to, Barry takes us on a darkly funny tour of management techniques.

I've only worked briefly in the business world, but I could recognize a lot of the things in this book, and anyone who's had to deal with cost-cutting, "retrenchment," or been referred to as a "headcount" would get a kick out of this book. It's a pretty fast read, so all you executives will have time to read it. The ending's a little weak, but forgiveable.

Fed to jonathan's brain | December 25, 2006 | Comments (0)


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