Twenty Years After
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs, about the lilting house and happy as the grass was green....

No, wait a minute. That was Dylan Thomas. Actually, I joined the corporation 20 years ago as a pimple on the rear end of a sub-department that served headquarters with a variety of services that need not be enumerated. I was tiny, with a lot of hair and a nervous expression. I had reason for my anxiety. Senior management was peopled by gigantic monsters who fed on creatures like me. They yelled. They brandished. They had moods that needed placation or raw meat, whichever came first. And they were old, man. Very, very old.

Time passed, as it does whether we want it to or not. In fact, the happier we are, the faster it passes. Why is that?

My status got calcified. I started to feel comfortable. Suddenly, all around me were peers who felt a lot like friends. There was Markle, a cool metallic blonde with infinite energy who ran our future business, which was mostly smoke, but who knew that? There were Schotz and Lazenby and Greiff and Bortz and a variety of bozos who, I saw after a time, were faking it just like I was, basically. I mean, they were doing their best. What more can anybody ask?

Over us all there was Chet, who rose from VP to chairman in a heartbeat and turned our little group into a family. And over Chet there was Larry, impossibly elderly, I thought, who presided without ever raising his voice. Larry whistled while he was coming down the hall, so you could look busy by the time he got to you. That's the kind of guy he was.

And of course there was Finster. Finster served Chet. That was his job. He was inexplicable, ubiquitous, and effective, and wherever you looked he was popping up, popping off--just, you know, popping. In a world of plodding, popping can get a little irritating, but if nobody popped where would we all be? I'll tell you. We'd be pooped.

Anyhow, we became a family, and then the liver-spotted, greasy, greedy senior managers who ran the parent corporation divested our division in order to achieve a $5 bump in the stock that was almost immediately given back, but not before they all cashed in a bunch of options. And our little family went away, and I've never experienced that kind of thing since. I've worked for conquering armies, and embattled squads, and triumphant teams, and even a few guerilla operations...but a family? No.

Last week we all met again at a restaurant in New York. About 50 people came, some from across the country.

I'll give you one guess who met me at the door. "Bing!" It was Finster, pumping my hand with a great goofy grin. "It's Finster!" he added, quite unnecessarily. He looked pretty much the same, once I got a focus on the man within. Yep. Finster, all right.

"Finster!" I said, pumping him back. It was good to see him. I imagine I looked pretty much the same to him, in spite of the 20 pounds I've put on since. He's done well, although like everyone else except me, he's never worked for a really big corporation again.

On the other side of the room, Chet was in the center of a gaggle. He has a bit less hair, perhaps, but the old Chet was quite evident, quietly commanding, slightly ironic, affectionate, and surprisingly youthful. A couple of feet away stood Larry, also in the center of a group receiving warmth from his paternal glow. He looked pretty good, too. In fact, he looked weirdly younger.

A nice audio-visual program showed where we had all been and what we had each accomplished, and reminded us of the demented stuff we had done to build Quality and Unity or whatever. Back then we had annual theme songs to rally the troops, and we heard them once again, and laughed.

And hovering behind us, as we chuckled together, and remembered things we had accomplished, and marveled at our energy and the strength of our drive to do what had never been done, win what had never been won, were the ghosts of our old selves, timidly poking their heads out from behind us, naive, innocent, smiling back at us in a cloud of youth.

For how young we all had been! Chet wasn't 40 when he became chairman. Larry, who seemed as old and wise as Yoda? Possibly 50 at the time. Each of these guys sitting near me, a little grayer, a little thinner, a little shorter...each had been years younger than I am now. And how I'd mythologized them! Feared them! Loved them, too. Until that love was broken up for its asset value.

That was the ultimate truth we learned together. Business families, unlike others, do not last. Which makes them all the more precious, doesn't it?

"Stay in touch!" said Finster as we parted. And you know what? We just might. Not every group gets together after 20 years apart.

Some things can never be divested.

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