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CEO Focused on Materialistic Competition

Peggy Noonan describes an encounter with an American CEO:

I am talking with the head of a mighty American corporation. We're in his window-lined office, high in midtown Manhattan. The view—silver sky-scrapers stacked one against another, dense, fine-lined, sparkling in the sun—is so perfect, so theatrical, it's like a scrim, like a fake backdrop for a 1930s movie about people in tuxes and tails. Edward Everett Horton could shake his cocktail shaker here; Fred and Ginger could banter on the phone.

The CEO tells me it is "annual report time" and he is looking forward to reading the reports of his competitors.

Why? I asked. I wondered what he looks for specifically when he reads the reports of the competition.

He said he always flipped to the back to see what the other CEOs got as part of their deal—corporate jets, private helicopters, whatever. "We all do that," he said. "We all want to see who has what."

He was a talented and exceptional man, and I thought afterward that he might, in an odd way, be telling me this about himself so I wouldn't be unduly impressed by him. But what I thought was, It must be hard for him to keep some simple things in mind each day as he works. Such as this: A job creates a livelihood, a livelihood creates a family, a family creates a civilization. Ultimately, he was in the civilization-producing business. Did he know it? Did it give him joy? Did he understand that that was probably why he was there?

I thought: This man creates the jobs that create the world in which we live. And yet he can't help it, his mind is on the jet.

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