Download In Control fb2

by Ethan Cooper
Download In Control fb2
Thrillers & Suspense
  • Author:
    Ethan Cooper
  • ISBN:
  • ISBN13:
  • Genre:
  • Publisher:
    SJE Pubublishing; 1st edition (October 5, 1999)
  • Pages:
    262 pages
  • Subcategory:
    Thrillers & Suspense
  • Language:
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    1435 kb
  • ePUB format
    1884 kb
  • DJVU format
    1642 kb
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Harry Kramer, the gleefully manipulative Chairman and CEO of a major bank, finances the construction of a sixty-story office tower, even though he knows the local market for office-space will be saturated when the building is finished. He then pulls a young executive named Gordon Elliam from the pack and makes him the front person for the loan. In telling this story, Harry describes the distant and controlling relationships that he establishes with Gordon and other banking associates. He tells of his wily effort to outsmart other major players in this business deal. And he talks of his own son, Hay Kramer, who bears a certain resemblance to Gordon. In this way, he begins to talk about his marriage and family. At the novel's conclusion, Harry wins again. But he has shown us the effects of his need to be in control.

I didn't know much about corporate life. I only knew that it existed. But a few weeks ago I discovered this great novel which, according to a few reviewers "is a terrific book for commuters." I don't commute. I am retired. So I just stayed home but still enjoyed reading about banking and CEOs. And I soon realized that Harry Kramer has nothing to do with the other Kramer. The one from "Seinfeld."

I spent my professional life in windowless rooms with powerful lights and large TVs. But instead of watching CNN or CNBC, all I saw on the high-definition screens was the insides of human bodies. I did have contacts with CEOs but, those contacts only took place when one of them had a hernia repaired, a prostate resected or a gallbladder removed and, believe me: during those moments, I was the one IN CONTROL. I am a retired Anesthesiologist.

I am not here to compete with John P. Jones III. His August 20, 2010 review said it all. I am here to re-emphasize that Ethan Cooper's book is well written and super-readable. My only disappointment came when I realized that this author who uses a "nom-de-plume," can't spell "hors d'oeuvres."

If I told you this book was about a bank facing financial ruin when the real estate bubble bursts, you'd probably think this book was set at the end of the 2000s. You'd probably never guess that the story takes place in the early 1990s in Minneapolis and that the book was published in 1999, nearly a full decade before some banks ceased to exist while others were deemed "too big to fail."

The story focuses on Limestone Bank in Minneapolis, which is run by the manipulative Harry Kramer. During a real estate boom, the Minneapolis skyline changed drastically as companies began building huge skyscrapers. There seemed like no problem at the time when Limestone gave a loan to Aldco to build another skyscraper for a large company. Then that company decides to back out of the deal, leaving Aldco building a tower with no tenant and Limestone with a huge loan that might end up defaulting.

Another CEO might have decided to bailout and take his golden parachute or whine to the government about needing a bailout. Not Harry Kramer. No, Harry is always in control of the situation. The book then follows how Harry manipulates events and people to wriggle free of the trap and avert financial disaster. At the same time, we also see into Harry's personal life with his amiable partnership to his wife Holly, strained relationship with schoolteacher son Harry, and far less strained relationship with his doctor daughter Elizabeth.

I was reminded a little bit of Philip Roth's "American Pastoral" that focused on a businessman, who beneath the gilded veneer of financial success faces personal turmoil. Harry's life isn't nearly so much disarray, but behind his success at the bank we can see that his marriage is passionless, his son a disappointment, and his protege Gordon Elliam a fraud. So maybe Harry isn't as in control of things as he likes to think.

In the end if you've ever wanted to see what makes these high-powered movers and shakers tick, "In Control" is a good start. Not to mention the sort-of-sequels "Smooth in Meetings" and "Tom's Job." They all provide a fascinating look beyond the headlines in the Wall Street Journal.

That is all.
...and was richly rewarded. Thinking about how many books I have left to read, or re-read, and weighing that against the allotted time, how many new books by "unknown" authors should one try? Particularly when I have been disappointed by a few recently. And the premise of this novel stirred memories of corporate days, for which I was admittedly ambivalent about rehashing. But I am thoroughly glad I did since Ethan Cooper (a nom de plume) has rendered a wry and sardonic account of corporate life, and the CEOs who have a deep visceral need to always be in control. The title is most appropriate.

The story is set in America's heartland, as typified by Minneapolis, Minnesota. Harry Kramer is the CEO of a "go-go" bank, Limestone; it is heavily invested in transforming the downtown skyline, by funding the building of 60-story glitzy office buildings. The story is set at the beginning of the `90's, when there was a real-estate "bust," (admittedly a small one by today's standards), and many of those buildings would become "see-through," that is, lacking tenants. The novel is written with Kramer as the narrator, and his wife is used quite effectively as a "Greek chorus," with Kramer relating her usually much more critical and accurate assessment of the situation. The novel alternates between depictions of corporate machinations, and Kramer's highly dysfunctional personal life, centering on his family relationships. Cooper utilizes some flashback chapters to describe Kramer as he works his way up the corporate ladder, with dumb-blind luck being a major determinate to his "success."

Cooper has a knack of relating anecdotes of corporate life that are all too revealing of power relationships. In one he describes the trivia involved in a meeting of the top brass to decide if the bank should close early due to a snowstorm, which unfortunately reminded me of an entire day I lost on a "strategic retreat" of the School Board I served on: in my case, the net result of the intensive review of the school's operation was to add one word to the mission statement: "student"! In another Kramer is busily walking through the bank, dedicating answers to memos, to staff who scurry to keep up. In another scene Kramer writes his response to an important paper submitted by a subordinate prior to reading it. Everything, and I do mean everything, is carefully calibrated for show. In the opening chapter, at the annual Memorial Day party, Kramer makes a very public "anointment" of one of the "hustling" junior bankers, Gordon Elliam, to work out the bank's relationship with Aldco, the builder of what will be an empty 60 story building. Does this put Elliam on the fast-track to the top, or is he a sacrificial lamb?

Kramer, in his family relationships, is absolutely wooden; devoid of any real feeling other than a paramount concern for appearances. The reader naturally empathizes with his daughter and son, who very much have to find their own way, and establish adult independence of their father. There are telling vignettes of his daughter's, Liz, wedding and one on his son, Hay, giving a speech at the VFW. Some of the scenes with his wife screech, like chalk on the board, particularly the "spectacle" of her illness. It is one of the very few scenes in which Kramer, like most all of us, are "out of control" since he is in the "alien territory" of a hospital, where other power rules apply.

I chuckled numerous times as Cooper's acerbic pen describes the rituals and manners on the upper class in various settings: the country club, the Skybox of the annual Viking-Bears game, money missing from an Ivy League fraternity house, and the Pierre hotel in NYC. The author has a keen eye for the class distinctions favored by those who need to be in control.

Cooper has clearly been there, deep in the corporate world, and has marvelously not only survived but has managed to present a scathing portrait of those who we let rule our lives. Consider a couple more observations the author places in Kramer's mouth: "Naturally, a significant element in my job was to align this view with his expectations, presenting a spectacle of attractive well-tailored bankers working together effectively. This, unfortunately, was no mean feat, as only the most gifted corporate players could work shoulder to shoulder in my fickle Machiavellian pressure-cooker without soon despising each other." Or: "In public forums, I feign chagrin at the behavior of such characters, particularly after the media highlights their influence at distressed companies. But actually, there's much to admire in their lives. It's their grabbiness that makes the world go."

Cooper writes well, and with much insight. Another excellent recommendation for this book is the two 1-star reviews. Quite clearly, they have been posted by someone whom Cooper once worked with, and who saw their unflattering portrait in the book. Fortunately I am not in the book, although I've "been there." After the recent debacle on Wall Street which required a massive government bailout, this book is even more relevant than when it was first written. A solid 5-stars plus.