business, the machine age, turning into machines, still humans
looking AMife -By Erich Brandeis rpHE president -of one of the 1 country's great industrial pr- ganizations and I were discussing human relations in business. He was worried about all the labor troubles and he was confronted with the possibility of a strike. I don't know much about business - Business has never interest- ed me ver y much and figures have always been my weakest T ,, . . T , B , Ut J tnl " k l Q? Know a little £ rt . about human beings, and I ma ' 1taln that "° beings who transact it. The president __.„„„_ of that firm-, on BRANDEIS the other hand, knows a lot about business and double-entry ledgers are as entertaining to him as the comic sheets are to me. Which, by the way reminds me of the week I was a bookkeeper for the United States Steel corporation out in San Francisco. I knew nothing about bookeeping, anyway, but I got fired primarily because there was a telephone exchange across the street from us and I, being young and gay, was more interested in the girls than in the figures in my books. I understand it took three men a week to untangle my mistakes. However, that isn't what I was going to talk about. « * * This president, as I told you, was worried. And like many people who are worried he started to reminisce. He told me how his father had started the business from scratch out in Cleveland. There were just a few men with him and he knew every one of them by his first name. He knew their wives and their kids and he visited them in their homes and they exchanged birthday and Christmas presents and visited when anybody in their families was •ick.. The business grew and pretty soon there were more than 100 employees: The father had taken two of his brothers in as partners: and between the three of them they managed to maintain their personal relationship with their employees." When any of them had a grievance the three partners and the men sat around the table together and smoked cigars or pipes—and pretty soon the grievances were ironed out and everything went all right. * * * A; rpHE business kept on growing -L and hired executives had to be taken in, men who had no personal interest in the business or the employees. Their attitude was. impersonal, everything was done on a "business basis." All these executives cared about was .t.o make a good showing with their bosses so that they might get ahead themselves. "When I got into the business," he told me, "my father had retired and my first experience was a strike. "1^11 never forget how Dad, then a very old man, came back to the office, called in a few of his old employees who were still there and together they talked it over. Those men went back to the workers, talked to hem, and in 24 hours the strike was over. We yielded some and they yielded the rest." * * # As I told you before. I know- very little about business. But sometimes I wonder whether the machine age hasn't made machines out of us. I wonder whether there isn't a way, somehow, to sit down together, to talk things over and to remember that all of us are human beings together. I wonder sometimes whether it wouldn't be a good thing to use less machine oil and a little more of the best lubricant I know—the milk oi human kindness.