The Unheralded Paragons

In my former life (which seems a million miles away these days), I used to be a Vice President for JPMorgan Chase.  Yes, your long haired once a hippie always a hippie, ex-burn out and formerly drunken scribe, used to work in Corporate America.  As in Ivory Tower Corporate America…for 17 years at JPMC no less.  I dealt with people who existed in what I used to call the “Adminisphere”.  That’s the place where you go when your Title and Pay Grade take you to where the air is thin because you are going higher up in the Ivory Tower.  Well, I was on the border of the Adminisphere at the higher echelon of Middle Management; I dealt almost exclusively with Senior Veeps and above…hence, a really good idea of what The Adminisphere is, and where my layer of Corporate Atmosphere ended.

These are the guys who don’t want the details, all they want is everything condensed into a nice 10 page deck or Powerpoint presentation.  These are the guys who will love your presentation but will bitch about your font size and type.  These are the guys who will request another 10 page deck to a question they have when a simple answer from you at the meeting should have sufficed.  And these are the very same guys who, when they get into The Adminisphere, are handed their Golden Parachutes just in case they have to jump or are forced out of that Ivory Tower.  Or if it falls.  Oh, and one more thing…they will not hesitate to turn on each other and eat their young.

My old job used to involve incentives for a group of individuals in the bank; roughly 6,000 of them in fact.  I had a $28 million budget which I consistently managed to the penny and usually saved the Bank a few million dollars a year because there would be no waste.  I probably could have saved them a lot more, but we had the usual threats of legal action of a bonus wasn’t paid because of “X”, even though they really didn’t deserve it. (These were the real whiners in the economy, Ladies and Gentlemen, the ones who have and want MORE.)  Rather than deal with the lawsuit, we paid them to shut up.  I argued against it, it wasn’t the right thing to do in my book, but hey…it was their money.  If they wanted to spend it and waste the shareholders’ good faith, go ahead.  Such were the typical directives that came forth from the mighty Adminisphere.

I used to do quarterly bonus cycles, and one of those cycles just so happened to fall right during the first two weeks on September.  After the 9/11 attack, we had no office to go back to.  I worked out of my home, while others worked out of other corporate locations close to them while our building was supposedly being cleaned and decontaminated.  We would have a daily conference calls at the beginning and end of each day to review what we had done, and what we needed to do the next day.  Business partners who I dealt with (including the Adminisphere) had my home phone number where I could be reached so we could continue doing business as usual.  A number of people knew I was caught in the middle of the attack and were sympathetic, but just continued to go on as if nothing had happened.  Only one Executive really took the time to talk with me, ask about my family, was there anything she could do, etc.  Thank God for her, because without that one, lone soul to cling on to; my impression of Corporate America would have sunken even lower than it already was.  For the most part, it was all about the money.

Even though I was totally at the edge of a breakdown in those early days after the attack, I still managed to pay 6,000 people ON TIME and UNDER BUDGET.  Months later, my Boss (who is worthy of several posts on his own…definitely at another time) who was a complete and total anal retentive individual was harping on me for some little thing.  Maybe it was the size of the font in a deck, maybe it was his incessant looking over my shoulder to make sure that I worded an e-mail properly…who knows.  One day, I just turned to him and said, “You know , after 9/11 I managed to pay everyone on time with absolutely no waste in the budget, even though I was a basket case.  You think that one person ONE PERSON would have just said a simple , ‘Thank you for your hard work’ to me.  I just wanted to hear a thank you…I wasn’t interested in money.  Just a simple thank you note from some one Senior that would have been nice to have in my file.”

His response: “It was your job.”

It was at that moment that I realized that Corporate America and I were heading on an inevitable collision course that would come to a head a few years later and culminate in my having a nervous breakdown, going on disability, and eventually leaving the Company altogether.  It was at that moment that I realized that no matter how much hard work I put into my job, how hard I worked to get up high in the ranks, no matter what I could ever do…it was all for THEM.  THEY OWNED ME WHOLESALE, and that’s the way it is with anyone working for Corporate America today.  Just ask the 12,000 Lehman employees who are out of a job while their CEO walks away with a Golden Parachute of $22 million.  Just ask any poor soul working in an office, pushing papers, and keeping the economic engine running in a way that no one could imagine, and certainly no one recognizes.

After 9/11, people acknowledged the heroes of the Police and Fire Departments and First Responders (rightfully so).  The forgotten, Unheralded Paragons of that day and the days after were the thousands of people who worked in the Financial District and kept this country’s economy moving.  If it weren’t for them, then America would surely have collapsed economically seven years before it has.  If it weren’t for the Unheralded Paragons, going back day after day and endangering their physical and mental health, America would not have been able to exist.  Today, they still perform their thankless jobs for their Corporate Masters, upholding the economy while getting no recognition at all.  No ceremonies.  No bonuses.

Not even a thank you.

“If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” – James Madison

TOMORROW: A Danger To The Republic Part III