Sorry, I’m not a Company Man
By Nury Vittachi
THE DRAMA AT the heart of the current hit movie Avatar comes from the tension between an individualist and a sycophantic Company Man. It brought back memories for me.
Particularly this month, the first in 64 years that the Far Eastern Economic Review has failed to appear on newsstands. Its absence has caused wailing and gnashing of teeth in large numbers of households (two). I assume the journalist who put it together misses it, and so does its reader (me). I haven’t met any others.
That magazine, which sacked me some time ago, went bust because it stuck rigidly to the theory that individualists are bad, Company Men good. I remember the looks I got when I joined the firm, run by Dow Jones, a large American media corporation, and told them that I wanted my email address to be Zarkon_Lord_of_Darkness @ DowJones . com.
There was a moment of shocked silence.
And then one of the Company Men said, "Uh, I don’t think that will be possible."
I groaned and slapped my forehead. I said, "Oh no! Someone else has already got that email address? Don’t tell me, it’s the chairman, right? NOW what am I going to do?"
The use of the big boss’s title caused further squirming. One of the guys said: "Er, no, no one else has got that name. It’s just that we have company policies which require that email addresses conform to a standard pattern."
I nodded. "But you can make an exception, right? How are my devotees going to find me if my email address isn’t Zarkon_Lord_of_Darkness @ DowJones . com?"
The Company Men looked at each other. I knew they were thinking: "Is this guy for real?" because one of them accidentally said it out loud. That was the moment I realized I was never going to thrive in large corporations.
But I actually survived there for several years. That’s because my boss was wise enough to give me a lot of slack. When I asked for a business card, Company Men gave me horrible white ones bearing the company logo. I dumped them in the bin, except for one, which I passed on to a local printer, telling him to make a blood-red card with my pseudonym plus the Dow Jones office’ address and phone number.
This caused a bit of a problem the first week, since my voicemail had not yet been set up.
I realized this when I overheard the receptionist saying to the boss’s secretary, "Do we have a new post in the editorial department called The Lord of Darkness? What extension is he on?"
I interrupted them. "This company has a great many lords of darkness. But you’d better put those calls through to me."
When the magazine sacked me in 2004, I had more readers than it did. It was the right time to move. Zarkon, Lord of Darkness, can only exist among Company Men for so long.
The era of the individualist has finally arrived. The Internet gives every person with a web connection equal access to the global stage. Unfortunately, there are now several million of us rugged individualists, and we’re pretty much identical, which makes for a conceptual problem.