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Book of perks.


Most of us tend to look furtively over our shoulders as we slide a personal letter through the office postage meter or stuff a few notepads into our purses. We can only imagine the luxurious extras--the perquisites, or perks-- enjoyed by high-level business executives. James R. Baehler's Book of Perks gives us a chance to drool to our hearts' content.

Reading the book is like watching The Six Wives of Henry VIII on television, except that corporate royalty exists in the present. Baehler, who was been a member of the royal families of I.B.M., Macmillan, Xeron and CBS, does not cower before the rabble of corporate democrats, common shareholders and Securities and Exchange Commission watchdogs. He belongs to the Marie Antoinette school of management: one pictures him exclaiming, tongue only halfway in cheek, "Let them fly coach.'

For most people, however, the taste of luxury will be doubly vicarious: Baehler does not address his guide to the good life to them, but to managers seeking to join the expense account elite. The tone is inspirational--"If somebody's going to grab that brass ring, why shouldn't it be you?'--and shamelessly hedonistic. After all, "self-denial is a worthy principle, but there should be limits to it.'

Baehler plays strategist to high- and mid-level managers alike, providing them with a "shopping list' of perks and instructions for combating "the forces of evil,' which may include company auditors, the I.R.S., one's boss, peers or subordinates, Congress, the courts or the S.E.C. The tone is upbeat and aggressive: "The enemy [i.e., the above-mentioned forces of evil] cannot be overwhelmed by muscle; it must be made impotent by wiliness.'

Like most self-help writers, Baehler dots his pep talk with instructive anecdotes. From the case of Frank, who borrowed the company hotel suite for a lunchtime fling and surprised the company president in mid-fling himself, we learn the value of caution--and the creative uses to which such a suite can be put. Other anecdotes betray an irreverence bordering on cynicism or even lawlessness. One middle manager frequently flies across country on the cheapest night-flight available, acquires a bogus first-class receipt from a friendly travel agent and pockets the difference of $300 or so. Another acquired the wardrobe to become a vice president at the age of 35 by charging items of clothing on his company credit card and passing them off as business lunches and dinners. Some sense of propriety prevents Baehler from explicitly recommending either exec's course of action, but the joyous manner in which they are described makes you wonder.

Although the tone Baehler uses can often be taken for self-mockery or satire (as when he claims that certain perks serve to "separate anointed executives from the proletariat'), it's clear that conspicuous consumption has come out of the executive-suite closet. We are asked to admire Armand Hammer for spending $1.5 million of Occidental Petroleum's money to install four private dining rooms, a kitchen, a board room, a formal reception area and an art gallery, all with walnut-paneled walls and oak parquet floors, to be used by him and six top assistants. After all, "who is to say that a $4,000 Bokhara carpet is not essential to the serenity of mind needed to properly manage your business?' Some executives treat themselves to a penthouse suite at the San Francisco Hyatt, complete with butler, bar and brownies. "The price tag for these elegant digs is $600 a night but, what the hell, you only live once and it's time you stopped worrying about the company's cash flow.' Baehler is so funny and frank that it is hard to take offense at his go-for-it philosophy-- until we look at the jacket copy and discover that he's now leading seminars for the American Management Association. Is this the kind of expertise he gained at I.B.M.?

Baehler is unconcerned with the final cost of all the prizes in the "perks game.' They are simply there for the taking. "Corporate perquisites . . . are like the stockings you hung up each Christmas for Santa. A few items protrude, but underneath is a host of goodies that can only be guessed at. The purpose of this book is to help you dig down into the pile of goodies to find those you want and to offer some guidelines on getting and keeping them.' In reality, of course, "Santa' turns out to be the company's stockholders, and the stocking is their collective purse. The stockholders may not be aware that Baehler's proteges are rummaging through that purse, but if they are, they probably aren't saying, "Ho, ho, ho.'
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Author:Tenneriello, Bonnie
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 11, 1984
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