Reader Reactions & Anecdotes

 

13 December 2008

Looks aren’t always everything

I was reading in Fast Company, a business magazine, today that the DuPont Company has named Ellen Kullman CEO — the first woman CEO in the company’s more than 200 year history. And it reminded me of the first DuPont I ever met eye-to-eye — Pierre S., just about the DuPontiest DuPont extant.

I was freshly out of the Army after World War II, and the Wilmington, Delaware, Journal had just hired me and agreed to pay me $55 a week as a general assignment reporter. On the second day on the job, Dick Rinard, the city editor, summoned me into his presence and handed me a slip of paper.

Rinard never smiled. His nose was like an eagle’s beak, and his eyes saw everything, and when he barked “jump” the ceiling was instantly plastered with reporters. He didn’t even look at me.

“Check this out. See if there’s anything we can add to it.”

It was a press release from the DuPont Company, announcing that a new plant would be built in Virginia somewhere. I stuffed it into the pocket of my rumpled Army trench coat, slapped on my rumpled fedora, and made my rumpled way up the street to the DuPont Building at 10th and Market.

One thing my counter-intelligence experience had taught me was that if I needed to know something, the fastest and most efficient way to go about it was to determine who was likely to know the most, cut him out of the herd, and bore in. So I took the elevator to the Executive Suite and went straight to the fanciest entrance I could find.

A pleasant-looking lady with gray hair was at a desk central to what seemed to be a 40-acres of polished, softly lit paneling. A lot of impassive, elderly men stared somberly at me from gilded frames.

“Can I help you, sir?”

“I’m from the Journal, and I’d like to check out a press release you folks sent down our way. Is Mr. DuPont in?”

“Well,” she faltered, flipping quickly through a book on her desk, “do you have an appointment?”

I was about to admit I didn’t when a small man in a black alpaca jacket peered around the corner of an inner door. He had a fringe of white hair, and he considered me curiously through what looked to be a pince nez. “What is it, young man?”

“You Mr. DuPont?”

“I am.”

I repeated my name and mission.

He nodded. “Ah. I see. Well, I must confess I’m not really up on our plans for Virginia, Mr. Hunter, but come in and have a seat and I’ll see what I can find out.”

I went in and sank into a wing chair that must have cost four times my salary and, while he picked up a phone and murmured, I looked around the office and guessed that it had cost more than an aircraft carrier. And yet, for all its elegance, it was oddly unpretentious, like the man himself.

Finally he turned to me, smiling politely, his eyes twinkling.

“Well, Mr. Hunter, I’ve just been talking with Harold Brayman, and he say he’ll be delighted to have somebody fill you in as soon as possible. Will you be returning to your office? Can we call you there?”

“Sure. And I appreciate your help on this, Mr. DuPont.”

“Any time. It’s nice to meet you.”

We shook hands and I toddled on back to the City Room, stopping first to grab a quick milkshake in the Nemours Soda Shop. When I finally walked in, Rinard crooked a beckoning finger. His face was a peculiar red.

“What the hell have you been up to, Hunter?”

I stammered defensively. “Well, I took a minute to get a shake at the Soda Shop. I haven’t had any lunch today, and — ”

“I’ve had two hundred and seventy calls from eighty-five big shots at DuPont, all wanting to know when you’ll be in so that they can answer your questions. What in the everloving hell have you been up to, for crissake?”

“Up to? I’ve been checking out that press release. Just like you told me to.”

“Who did you see? Who did you ask?”

“Guy name of Pierre DuPont. My handbook says he’s the honcho up there, so I went and saw him. Why? What’s the matter?”

“Pierre S. DuPont?”

“Little old fella in an alpaca jacket. Nice guy, actually.”

It was the first and only time I ever witnessed Rinard’s breaking into a belly laugh, and it was an awesome experience, like hearing the sphinx burp.

When he’d regained some composure, he sputtered another question. “If I told you to check out a new church the Catholics are building on Eighth Street, what would you do? Ask the Pope? Jesus himself? God, maybe?” And then he fell into another paroxysm.

“Well,” I said lamely, trying to get into the spirit of things, “it’s my policy when I want to know something I always go to the top.”

Rinard stared at me through teary eyes. “Policy? Your policy? Your first week as a reporter, and you’ve got a policy?” And then he came all apart again.

When I got back to my desk my phone was ringing; it was a man with an ingratiating, mellifluous baritone who said he’d be happy to fill me in on the new plant in Virginia. Should he come to see me? Bring pictures, or anything? I told him that wouldn’t be necessary — just answer a few questions now, if he wouldn’t mind.

The story was a three paragrapher, barely noticeable among the tire ads in the following day’s editions. And by then, of course, I understood what I’d done. I had visited the emperor, and he had politely and affably given me a hand.

I took an awful ribbing about it, naturally. But in my quiet times I saw the humanity of it. Here’s this little old man, so rich, so powerful, he could raise an eyebrow and fifty tribunes and their legions would scramble to open a branch office on the moon.

And what did he do?

He looked out of his inner palace, saw a skinny nobody in a worn GI trench coat and a battered fedora — a poor man’s Sam Spade — and brought him into his office, made him welcome, and sought earnestly to be of help. He was so mighty and sure of himself it obviously never occurred to him to be anything but gracious.

I don’t know anything about the present-day DuPont Company, but it’s my guess that if I tried that today, looking the way I did then, I wouldn’t get to the nice little lady before six dark suits with bulges under their arms would gather around, lift me off my feet, and carry me to the freight elevator, frisking and interrogating me all the way to the cellar.

And Pierre would never have the opportunity to show me what a really nice fella he could be.

* * *

Rasch II

In last week’s blog, I told of my bizarre and somewhat chilling meeting with Helmut Rasch in a 1945 Frankfurt, Germany, “night club.” He attempted to recruit me for something he called “The Consortium,” whose long-term intent is to establish a world government.

There follows here the lead paragraphs of a column written this week by Gideon Rachman, the highly influential opinion writer of London’s Financial Times.

Mr. Rachman, I’m sure, has never heard of Rasch, or of Rasch’s prognostications of 63 years ago, and is writing purely from his vantage point as one of Europe’s most astute and perceptive journalists.

Even so, wherever Rasch is today, I’m sure he’s smiling......

From the Financial Times, 12/8/08:
by Gideon Rachman


I have never believed that there is a secret United Nations plot to take over the US. I have never seen black helicopters hovering in the sky above Montana. But, for the first time in my life, I think the formation of some sort of world government is plausible.

A “world government” would involve much more than co-operation between nations. It would be an entity with state-like characteristics, backed by a body of laws. The European Union has already set up a continental government for 27 countries, which could be a model. The EU has a supreme court, a currency, thousands of pages of law, a large civil service and the ability to deploy military force.

So could the European model go global? There are three reasons for thinking that it might.

First, it is increasingly clear that the most difficult issues facing national governments are international in nature: there is global warming, a global financial crisis and a ‘global war on terror”.

Second, it could be done. The transport and communications revolutions have shrunk the world so that, as Geoffrey Blainey, an eminent Australian historian, has written: “For the first time in human history, world government of some sort is now possible.” Mr Blainey foresees an attempt to form a world government at some point in the next two centuries, which is an unusually long time horizon for the average newspaper column.

But — the third point — a change in the political atmosphere suggests that “global governance” could come much sooner than that. The financial crisis and climate change are pushing national governments towards global solutions, even in countries such as China and the US that are traditionally fierce guardians of national sovereignty. . .

(To read the complete text of Mr. Rachman’s column, see www.FT.com/columnists.)

Jack

Copyright © 2008 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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