Max Barry Company: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9780385514392

Company: A Novel

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9780385514392: Company: A Novel
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A bitingly funny take on corporate life by the author of acclaimed bestseller Jennifer Government.

At Zephyr Holdings, no one has ever seen the CEO. The beautiful receptionist is paid twice as much as anybody else, but does no work. One of the sales reps uses relationship books as sales manuals, and another is on the warpath because somebody stole his donut.

In other words, it’s an ordinary big company. Or at least, that’s what everyone thinks. Until fresh-faced employee Jones—too new to understand that you just don’t ask some questions at Zephyr—starts investigating.

Soon Jones uncovers the company’s secret: the answer to everything, what Zephyr Holdings really does, and why every manager has a copy of the Omega Management System. It plunges him into a maelstrom of love, loyalty, management, and corporate immorality—and whether he can get out again, now that’s a good question.

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About the Author:

MAX BARRY spent the best years of his life in the bowels of Hewlett-Packard, conducting secret research for this book. This is his third novel, following the cult hit Syrup and the bestselling Jennifer Government, which was chosen as a New York Times Notable Book. He was born on March 18, 1973, and lives in Melbourne, Australia. He writes full-time, but enforces a strict dress policy, requires that his desk be kept tidy at all times, and asks that he limit personal calls to less than two minutes.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Q3/2: AUGUST
Monday morning and there's one less donut than there should be.

Keen observers note the reduced mass straightaway but stay silent, because saying, "Hey, is that only seven donuts?" would betray their donut experience. It's not great for your career to be known as the person who can spot the difference between seven and eight donuts at a glance. Everyone studiously avoids mentioning the missing donut until Roger turns up and sees the empty plate.

Roger says, "Where's my donut?"

Elizabeth dabs at her mouth with a piece of paper towel. "I only took one." Roger looks at her. "What?"

"That's a defensive response. I asked where my donut was. You tell me how many you took. What does that say?"

"It says I took one donut," Elizabeth says, rattled.

"But I didn't ask how many donuts you took. Naturally I would assume you took one. But by taking the trouble to articulate that assumption, you imply, deliberately or otherwise, that it's debatable."

Elizabeth puts her hands on her hips. Elizabeth has shoulder-length brown hair that looks as if it has been cut with a straight razor and a mouth that could have done the cutting. Elizabeth is smart, ruthless, and emotionally damaged; that is, she is a sales representative. If Elizabeth's brain was a person, it would have scars, tattoos, and be missing one eye. If you saw it coming, you would cross the street. "Do you want to ask me a question, Roger? Do you want to ask if I took your donut?"

Roger shrugs and begins filling his coffee cup. "I don't care about a missing donut. I just wonder why someone felt the need to take two."

"I don't think anyone took two. Catering must have shorted us."

"That's right," Holly says.

Roger looks at her. Holly is a sales assistant, so has no right to speak up at this point. Freddy, also a sales assistant, is wisely keeping his mouth shut. But then, Freddy is halfway through his own donut and has a mouthful. He is postponing swallowing because he's afraid he'll make an embarrassing gulping noise.

Holly wilts under Roger's stare. Elizabeth says, "Roger, we saw Catering put them out. We were standing right here."

"Oh," Roger says. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize you were staking out the donuts."

"We weren't staking them out. We just happened to be here."

"Look, it doesn't bother me one way or the other." Roger picks up a sachet of sugar and shakes it as if it's in need of discipline: wap-wap-wap-wap. "I just find it interesting that donuts are so important to some people that they stand around waiting for them. I didn't know donuts were the reason we show up here every day. I'm sorry, I thought the idea was to improve shareholder value."

Elizabeth says, "Roger, how about you talk to Catering before you start making accusations. All right?" She walks off. Holly trails her like a remora.

Roger watches her go, amused. "Trust Elizabeth to get upset over a donut."

Freddy swallows. "Yeah," he says.
The Zephyr Holdings building sits nestled among the skyscrapers of Seattle's Madison Street like a big, gray brick. It is bereft of distinguishing features. You could argue that it has a certain neutral, understated charm, but only if you are willing to apply the same logic to prisons and 1970s Volvos. It is a building designed by committee: all they have been able to agree on is that it should be rectangular, have windows, and not fall over.

Perched at the top is the word ZEPHYR and the corporate logo, which is an orange-and-black polygon of foggy intent. Orange and black crops up a lot at Zephyr Holdings; you can't walk down a corridor, visit the bathroom, or catch an elevator without being reminded whose turf you're on. There's a logo on each panel of the lobby's sliding glass doors, and when you're through them, logos adorn the walls at intervals of three feet. A water feature of dark stones and well-tended ferns is a small, logo-free oasis, but to make up for this, the reception desk is practically a logo with a sign-in sheet on top. Even under soft, recessed lighting, the reception desk delivers such a blast of orange to your retinas that long after you've left it behind, you can still see it when you blink.

On one side of the lobby is an arrangement of comfortable chairs and low-slung tables, where visitors browse Zephyr's marketing literature while waiting for whomever they're meeting. Sitting there with his hands in his lap is young, fresh-faced Stephen Jones. His eyes are bright. His suit glows. His sandy-brown hair contains so much styling mousse it's a fire risk, and his shoes are black mirrors. This is his first day. So far he's been shown a series of corporate induction videos, one of which contained glowing buzzwords like teamwork and best practice rocketing at the screen, and another of which featured actors from the late 1980s talking about customer service. Now he is waiting for someone from the Training Sales department to come and collect him.

He accidentally catches the eye of the receptionist for about the fourteenth time and they both smile and look away. The receptionist is gretel monadnock, according to her nameplate; she's quite young, has long lustrous brown hair, and sits on the right side of the desk. On the left a nameplate says eve jantiss, but Eve herself is absent. Stephen Jones is a little disappointed about this, because while Gretel is nice, when he was here for his job interview and first saw Eve, he almost dropped his brand new briefcase. It would be an exaggeration to say he took a job at Zephyr because of the beauty of its receptionist, but during his interview he was very enthusiastic.

He looks at his watch. It is eleven o'clock. His videos finished twenty minutes ago. He folds his hands back in his lap.

"I'll try them again," Gretel says. She smiles sympathetically. "Ah . . . sorry, it's going to voice mail again."

"Oh. Maybe something urgent came up."

"Ye-e-e-s." She seems unsure if he is joking. "Probably."
"The thing you have to remember," Roger says, "is that it's all about respect." Roger has one elbow on Freddy's cubicle partition wall, his lean frame blocking the entrance. "The donut itself is irrelevant. It's the lack of respect the theft implies."

Freddy's phone trills. He looks at the caller-ID screen: reception. "Roger, please, I have to pick up the new grad. They keep calling."

"Just a moment. This is important." Roger knows Freddy will wait. Freddy has been a sales assistant for five years. He is quick-witted, inventive, and full of ideas, so long as that's okay with everybody else. Freddy is a participant. A member. He is happiest when he's blending in with a crowd. In any group of people, the one you can't remember is Freddy. He has wriggled so far inside Zephyr Holdings that Roger sometimes has difficulty telling where the company ends and Freddy begins. "I'm explaining why I want you to go to Catering and find out exactly how many donuts they gave us."

Desperation enters Freddy's eyes. "If I get this new grad, he can do it. He's your assistant."

Roger ponders this for a moment. "He may not appreciate the need to treat a situation like this delicately." This means: Keep it from Elizabeth and Holly.

"I'll tell him. Please, Roger, you're getting me in trouble with reception."

"All right. All right." Roger holds up his palms in surrender. "Go get your graduate, then."

"Your graduate."

Roger looks at him sharply. But Freddy is not being disrespectful, Roger realizes; Freddy is just being accurate. "Yes, yes. That's what I meant."
Stephen Jones ignores the ding of the elevator, because it has dinged plenty of times over the last twenty-five minutes, and none of those ended with him meeting new co-workers. To stretch his legs, he has taken to wandering around the lobby and reading the plaques and framed photos. The biggest of the lot is a huge, gleaming thing complete with its own light and glass case.
MISSION STATEMENT

Zephyr Holdings aims to build and consolidate leadership positions in its chosen markets, forging profitable growth opportunities by developing strong relationships between internal and external business units and coordinating a strategic, consolidated approach to achieve maximum returns for its stakeholders.

This isn't the dullest thing Stephen Jones has ever read, but it's close. Oddly, it makes no mention of training packages, the selling of which is, as he understands it, Zephyr's main purpose. Then he realizes that a short man with dark hair and glasses is standing a few feet away, staring at him. "Jones?"

"Yes!"

The man's eyes flick over Jones's new suit. One of his hands wanders down to where his own shirt is stuffed awkwardly into his pants and tries to fix it. "I'm Freddy. Nice to meet you." He extends his free hand, and they shake. Freddy's watery blue eyes look huge behind his glasses. "You're younger than I thought you'd be."

"Okay," Jones says.

Freddy looks at his shoes. Then he glances at the reception desk, at--if Jones is not mistaken--the empty chair behind the Eve Jantiss nameplate. "Do you smoke?"

"No."

"I do." He says it apologetically. "This way."
"It's a good department." Freddy sucks at his cigarette. It is a fine day: the clouds are high, there is a light breeze, and the gray Zephyr tower even seems to be emitting reflected warmth from the grid of tinted windows. Freddy's eyes follow a blue convertible inching toward them throu...

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9781400079377: Company

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ISBN 10:  1400079373 ISBN 13:  9781400079377
Publisher: Vintage, 2007
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9781921215643: Company : a Novel

Scribe..., 2007
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