Remembrance of fads past
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Now as we were young and easy under the swaying palms, about the great hotel as happy as the roughs were green ...

Three hundred of us there were, an auditorium stuffed with chubby bozos from the great Northwest and soft, friendly financial analysts from Atlanta or Tuscaloosa, guys with square heads buzzed virtually clean, dancing to "I'm So Excited" by the Pointer Sisters with the first big crop of female executives fresh out of Wharton and Kellogg, all of us there for one thing, for Quality.

For those were the days when Quality was king and we were its servants, because the corporation was in the grip of that great gray fad, and we had lost our common sense, and wow, it was fine.

I miss that. We haven't had a good fad for years.

Business is so inherently tedious, isn't it? We try to tart it up like a sassy after-dinner dance, but my God, in reality it's a walk along a gray highway whose median strip lost its yellow edge long ago. It's meetings and greetings and oh so many e-mails and faxes and taxes, and like the sands of time through an hourglass, so are the days of our lives. Especially these days, when big, bloody deals that keep things interesting are decades apart.

Gee, that's a fad that seems to have gone the way of dodos like Ivan Boesky. Greedy raiders: Where are they now? How they quickened our blood with their capacity for gore! We would wake in the morning with no idea what the day might hold. Would we be invaded by some moral moron intent on busting up our 100-year-old company for the pleasure of feasting on our bones? Was unemployment and a big old country house--paid for with our demise as a corporation--just an irresponsible venture capitalist's heartbeat away?

There's another fad I miss: guys in blue pinstripes with white shirts and those ugly yellow power ties with blue dots on them. And suspenders. You didn't have to know squat to look like a banker! I liked the whole concept of dressing for success.

What was the dude's name? Ah, yes! Molloy. John. Guy almost singlehandedly created the woman in the man-tailored suit, with a bowtie yet. There were tons of rules establishing looks for men and women that, in the rebellion that followed, produced the next sartorial fad--the millionaire in the skuzzy torn T-shirt. I was sorry to see that one go, simply because it was such good fun to laugh at. I remember being at Michael's one lunchtime when the trillionaire web genius of the moment sauntered through the main room in porous jeans and a Swiss-cheesy tee. Pretentious slob!

He's gone now. I mean, he's not dead or anything, or at least not as dead as the Internet. Oh, now it's easy to poke fun at all that interactive nonsense and journalistic hyperbole, but hand in hand with that came a whole culture, gone now for most of us, of shooting for the moon, of enterprise and moxie and stock options!

How about stock options? How great was that fad? Little gifts on top of our dollop of monthly porridge that sent us to bed with visions of sugarplums! How they festooned our dreams, rising in value like a fine wine in a big old bottle in the mental cellar. Future wealth content to lie there awaiting the next gaseous concoction of shallow, greasy-haired weasels in pursuit of the democratization of capital.

Remember that? The democratization of capital? Hahahahaha!

I'm sorry. It's not nice to laugh at those things. All fads--from the Victorian bustle that exaggerated a part of the female anatomy that people now pay money to surgically reduce, to the Hula-Hoop, to the sanctification of everything Japanese in the 1980s--all fads look ridiculous in the harsh light of what we know now, whatever the hell that turns out to be.

And yet ... and yet ... I remember making sandcastles on the beach at the Del Coronado hotel. We were all beered up at two in the afternoon, and the barbecue was very good, as boondoggle food sometimes is, and Rick Berman and his team stayed at their stupid project until the sun set, constructing the company logo out of sand, which was more prescient than we could have guessed, and afterward we rinsed off in the surf and made our way back to our rooms, where we showered and dressed in our khakis and Brooks Brothers blue shirts and blazers, each with our little Q pin for Quality, and then went down to cocktail after cocktail and rubber filet mignon and wassailing that ended at 11 with the ritual singing of our company song.

Lord, how we cared! How we pulled together in the search for Excellence! Remember Excellence?

Call it loyalty. Team spirit. Love. Whatever numbnuts thing it was, I wish we had a little bit more of it now. Some fads should never go out of style, don't you think?