SOUTH KENSINGTON — Sox was my granddad (left, above). He died when I was about 6. He ran a business called Ingersoll-Rand out of an office in Montreal. I remember visiting the office. I walked by the building two weeks ago. It had long, dark halls, red carpets, a mail trolley and a lovely secretary in a tiny office who knew all our names and birthdays.
I am reading the galley proof of a book called Crisis of Character by Peter Firestein. He talks about the industrial heartland of America shutting down in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. When companies like Studebaker, General Electric and General Motors supported high streets filled with cinemas, ice cream parlours and department stores.
And I think (because I don’t really know) that that was Sox’ world. Firestein explains that Studebaker shut his town almost overnight because their paternalism was bigger than their success. There were too many people who were getting paid for not working.
Businesses were a series of islands where you trusted good people to do good work. Change was slow and tended to mean either growth or else “we can’t talk about it”.
Those kind of businesses are gone. Except maybe in countries like China where GONGOs (my all-time favourite; Government owned, non-governement organisations) still hold the day. But we move past those like a nervous driver passing a car accident.
I wouldn’t have had a job in Sox’ world. Not this job anyway. I don’t make anything, count anything or oversee people who do. My work doesn’t exist. There’s no smoke stack above my workplace.
Although my near-sighted, military-educated, son-of-a-Gloucestershire-immigrant grandfather was not beyond understanding people. He drove an MG, watched endless hours of golf, supported a small army of battery operated Christmas toys and occasionally tortured an electric organ. He would recognise economies on the rise and on the steep decline. He’d see that people were increasingly the vital resource that could become more and more scarce.
He’d still ask what the hell I had made today.
Breakfast for my kids, is all I can answer.