Survivors Why has our little band endured when so many others have not? Is it luck? Smarts? Golfing skill? No, not golfing skill...
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – As anyone who looks at this space even occasionally will testify, I have been through it. Not that my experience is unique; most certainly it is not. Like you, I am sure, I have rarely endured even a 12-month period without mergers, cutbacks, reengineerings, or life-transforming acquisitions--not to mention the deaths of rabbis, priests, and others who provide protection and structure in the daily madness of organizational life.

And yet I go on, don't I. Why? Why have I managed to remain on this island and even thrive while others more intelligent, powerful, and physically attractive have been voted off? What qualities distinguish those of us who have neither moved along of our own volition nor been invited to do so? Do we work harder? Do we look better in our swimsuits? Are we more strategic? Better groomed?

These thoughts came to me the other day as I sat at my desk, doing whatever it is I do. My phone rang, and it was my friend Morgenstern, an attorney who works about half a mile above me in the building. This does not approximate his corporate height, by the way. His department is simply on a better floor. We talked about the performance of our stock (excellent) and the prospects of the business during this and the coming quarter (incomparable), and generally shared the self-regard of people whose survival is all but assured in the current cosmology.

"Do you realize that this is the tenth anniversary of Pebble Beach?" said Morgenstern as we were about to part. He was referring not to a mere golfing event (although it was that) but instead to a management retreat hosted by our former chief executive, whom I have called Walt, at that peerless location on the extreme left coast of our nation.

The year, for those who are not good in math, was 1990. There were about 20 of us, the most altitudinous of the great and near great in our kingdom, invited by Walt to settle in the most beautiful accommodations in, well, the world, pretty much, and take stock of ourselves, our future, our common concerns.

The mornings were given over to some of the best business discussions in my deplorably long experience in these matters. We all liked one another. None of us coveted the others' patch of gravel. And most of all, we were bound together by affection for the fellow who had brought us there. There was much passionate chatter, bacon, eggs, and very strong coffee.

In the afternoons we played golf. The serious and manly men, and several equally determined women, sallied forth, sticks in hand, to whack the tiny ball around the most pristine and splendid acreage known to humankind. Walt went out with the biggest swinging dudes, the guys who could take the emotional intensity of a game with the chairman. Several other grim and frosty teams launched themselves after that. Then, at the very end of the parade, with imaginary toilet paper trailing from the bottoms of our shoes, came we, the Final Foursome in every sense of the word.

There was Morgenstern, our chief counsel, natty and handsome, who combined a very, very bad golf game with the overcompetitiveness characteristic of attorneys. Morton, a high senior operating officer, came along, loose and jolly, because there was no fishing party organized. He could play a little. Rafferty, who headed up human resources with a measure of subversive humanity, was on the verge of thinking he could swing a club, and consequently wore a glove. And then there was me. I had played six or seven rounds in my life, and had hit the ball very well at least one time during each of them.

On the first day we played, our little group lost 96 golf balls. Perhaps it was 95. At any rate, we were forced to quit on the 14th hole when we ran out of things to hit. Nobody can possibly measure how badly we stank. The next day we played a little better but also ran out of steam a couple of holes early due to overingestion of fluids. The other ladies and gentlemen, of course, were far more successful. We ran into them each afternoon on the 19th green, where we all quaffed beers and told tedious stories about the day's contests. Aside from losing the greatest numbers of balls, our pathetic group of straggling losers had very little to say for ourselves.

The meeting ended, but those four days still shine in our minds as a small island of luxury, friendship, intellectual stimulation, and sensual indulgence that has never quite been equaled.

Afterward there came first one acquisition, then another, then a couple of prodigious mergers, and at least five separate iterations of senior management. Time, in short, happened, as it does to us all.

"The tenth anniversary?" I said stupidly to Morgenstern. Could it possibly be that long? Sure. Walt has been out of the company for three years now. Morgenstern was talking. "You still have that picture of our little group?" I could tell he was getting at something.

"Yeah," I said. "So?" And then I got it.

We are, indeed, the Final Foursome. Morgenstern. Morton. Rafferty. Bing. About a month ago, Hertzberg was retired with nearly full honors. Koerner bit the dust not long after. They followed Walt and Ted and Dan and Ed and Betty and Freddy and Bortz and Vreeland and Natowitz and Jankowsky and Ianello and Kropotkin and...well, really there are too many to name. They went alone. They went in clumps. But they went. And now there's

So what do you think? Were we smarter? Faster? Better equipped? More inherently powerful that those who used to determine whether or not we slept at night? I'd have to say no. Was it that we were big and strong enough to make it, but not so big and strong as to attract enemy fire? Good enough to play, but not so good as to annoy better golfers into punitive action?

Or was it just pure, dumb luck?

"Wow!" I said to Morgenstern. Then we said so long, confident that we will most certainly speak to each other again.

I broke open my picture drawer and had the first look I'd had in a while at those younger guys posing on a golf cart, more than a decade ago. There we were. A little stupid. A little happy. A little hung over. With no idea of what lay ahead, the status that would one day unite us.


It's not a permanent gig. But it sure beats the alternative. While it lasts.

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name. He can be reached at