The Old Boardroom Table
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Here's to you, O massive hunk of gleaming wood! Long have you sat in this august space high in the sky--and now we must part. The things you have seen, my friend! The deeds you have witnessed! And now is it all to end? As we reorganize ourselves yet one more time, mashing ourselves down post-merger like a Pontiac in a car compactor--will you be one more casualty? Yes, indeed you will. For this is our boardroom no more. We have a new one now on a lower floor, with a bright and sassy teakwood runway waiting for the next chapter to be written on it. And so we say...

All honor to you, O enormous plank of burnished mahogany! The things you would have seen, had you but eyes (actually it's a pretty good thing you didn't). The material you would have enjoyed talking about, had you but lips to speak (come to think of it, that would have been a disaster too). You were born when the corporation stood tall and independent, a name among nations. Great were the titans who gathered around you to smoke their cigars when smoking was allowed! To nurse their Scotch and water when the bar in the corner was an integral part of business. To laugh in delight at the numbers rolling across the spreadsheets that lay before them, spreadsheets that were done by hand.

You were young then, and gorgeous, and proud and unscuffed, and there was at least one woman in little white gloves whose job it was to keep you shined to a high gloss and smelling sweetly of wax and polish. Later they hired a company to do it. Then, after a time, nobody did it, except maybe office services once a month. But that was all right! You remained beautiful nonetheless--an icon for succeeding generations of fungible managers who enjoyed the privilege of putting their well-shod feet upon your increasingly scarred surface.

Do you remember the 1970s, you platform of schemes and dreams, when the old squares who used to run this place were in the reclining thrones of honor? Of course you do! Those were wild times, were they not? How many nights did you stay up with a lone small light burning in the corner of the darkened room while one sleek executive or another bent his latest conquest among the support staff down over your smooth and amiable surface! They did those kinds of things back then--and you saw it all, the good and the bad. Were you ashamed of them, those rutting lions (or were they goats?), or of yourself for providing a solemn, totemic venue for such foolishness?

The 1980s! Years of conquest and acquisition, as the corporation moved across the landscape like Rome through the Goths, the Vandals, and even the occasional Hun. Yes, many was the late-night cup of spilled coffee that you had to endure while the lawyers labored over due-diligence papers. And there you were the next morning, hosting two dozen proud gorillas in blue pinstripes clustered around one of the earliest of squawk boxes, trumpeting their triumph to the Street! And you, my old accommodated them all. We needed your size then, because our hearts and our greed were so big, and so wonderful to us.

It is not so easy to think now of the 1990s, although I know you do. A succession of nabobs and moguls camped around you. First came one of the tiny titans who leave little but rubble in their wake. Then we arrived--and who can say how you will judge us? For it is we, in this not-so-brave new world of terror and Enron, who now abandon you.

"We're going downstairs," the recording secretary said at the meeting not long ago. "We'll get a new conference table. This one is shot anyway." And it's true, you do look like hell.

But then, so does the recording secretary, and he's sticking around to make the move.

So goodbye and fare you well, dear companion, senior soldier in a war that transcends those who fight it. May you find a quiet firm in which to do service, and not be cut down for firewood like so many great institutions that have come before.

And hail to thee, our brand-new boardroom table! You look marvelous!

A preview of Stanley Bing's new book, Throwing the Elephant: Zen and the Art of Managing Up, will appear in the next issue of FORTUNE.

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