The Pyramid Climbers, Vance Packard, Penguin Books, 1962, 319 pp
This is the fourth book I have read by Vance Packard. It concerns big business in America, how it is structured (as a pyramid though not to be confused with today's pyramid schemes) and how employees climb that pyramid to executive, company president, and chairman of the board.
Though it is one of the driest yet of Packard's books, it was interesting to read about the amount of control and influence those companies wielded over their executives in the early 60s. It mattered what sort of wife they had, where they bought their homes, what clubs they joined. People of color, Jews, women, and recent immigrants stood little chance of reaching executive positions.
Personality and psychological testing came into common use beginning in the mid 1950s. Regular assessments of how a man was doing on the job and how he was perceived by his superior and co-workers were conducted. Demands for increased production year after year led to unethical practices in order to meet the quotas.
It all paints a picture of these big corporations as almost a cult. The early 60s were a time of transition from promoting within the companies to using head hunters to steal men away from other companies. It was also the beginning of the overseas branches and multinational conglomerations that led to the situation we have today of out-sourcing and its accompanying unemployment in America.
Basically WASPs ran everything and a corporate culture of blandness rather than the outrageous types who we now call the Robber Barons were being replaced by executives bound by their Boards of Directors and shareholders.
Sometimes the author fell prey to generalities though he attempted to show differences between various kinds of industries. Aside from that complaint and the boredom that comes from reading too many statistics, I felt I learned as much as I wanted to know about the transitions in business that led to where we are now.
My husband and I were both children of fathers who worked for a major corporation: Ford Motor Company and United States Steel. Neither of us has ever had a desire to follow that path. My father-in-law made it pretty far up the pyramid and died of a massive stroke at age 52. My father chose to not angle for promotions and took early retirement. He had some health problems later in life but lived to be 85.
Being a person who is concerned about climate change and the unsustainable culture we have today, I got a glimpse of the inner workings of businesses based solely on profits and growth. Where will it all end?
(The Pyramid Climbers is out of print and not found in my libraries. Used books are available.)