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The Unfair Marketplace

The Emperor’s New Clothes on Steroids

by DAVID MACARAY

Some years ago, it was reported that Donald Ivestor, CEO of the Coca-Cola Corporation, had considered equipping the company’s vending machines with built-in thermometers, so that, on the hottest days of summer, the price of a Coke could automatically be raised. One of those supply-and-demand moves we’ve all heard about.

Apparently, Donald Ivestor was even quoted as saying that such a practice was a “fair” response to the dynamics of the marketplace. It was only after word of this gouging enterprise leaked out, and consumers hit the ceiling, that Ivestor pretended the company had never considered it.

In 1995, I had a conversation with the plant manager of a Fortune 100 company (I’ll call him “Fred”) regarding executive compensation. This was but one of many discussions Fred and I had had over the years, with me taking the view that we must have lost our ever-lovin’ minds, because CEO compensation had reached absurd proportions, and Fred taking the view that the only way to attract “quality people” was to offer a salary commensurate to their talents.

This particular conversation was focused specifically on the CEO of United Way. A recent newspaper story had reported that United Way’s CEO was not only being paid something on the order of $400,000 per year, but was being squired around in a chauffeured limousine, as if he were a Saudi Arabian oil sheik rather than some guy who was running a charitable organization.

Fred adamantly insisted that, given the “realities of the market place,” you wouldn’t find anyone who was sufficiently qualified to run United Way unless you were willing to pay them $500,000. I jokingly said, “You mean you couldn’t find some swinging dick out there who could do the job for, say, a measly $300,000?” Not realizing I was mocking him, he emphatically stated that No, you would not. Good god, the man was serious. He honestly believed $500,000 was the bare minimum.

One of the games we union guys used to play was speculating on how long a person—a clever, motivated but entirely “unqualified” person—could get away with pretending to be the plant manager before he was exposed as an imposter. Put him behind the plant manager’s desk, dress him in plant manager’s duds, give him a $90 haircut, and see how long he could fake it.

We’d all seen Fred in action. While he was a bright, honorable man, his management style wasn’t complicated. He asked a lot of questions, he praised people, he did a lot of delegating, and he used a lot of “management speak.” In our opinion, once a person mastered that corporate lingo, he would be home free. In our opinion, he’d be able to fake the job for a minimum of weeks, if not months.

Of course, pretending to be somebody you’re not applies only to managerial positions, because you could never hope to get away with it on a job that demanded demonstrable skills. For instance, you couldn’t pretend to be a bricklayer or shipping checker or seamstress. People would realize you were a fraud within 30 seconds. The same goes for a musician, pottery maker, and electrician.

Alas, it seems that the only jobs where you can trick people into believing that you are who you say you—despite any discernible evidence to prove it—happen to be big-time managerial jobs, jobs that come with generous salaries. How ironic is that?

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd edition), is a former union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net