Why Another Santa
Why, indeed. "Santa"
wasn't begun as the story it came to be.
What started as a whimsical story
based upon a rather simple and obvious premise
(What if Santa ran his operation as a full-fledged
business instead of an isolated toy operation?)
quickly grew to become the story that sweeps
you along, if you've read the book.
All of us have seen
business" idea before, whether in popular
movies such as "The Santa Clause"
or in commercials. In these stories
and ads, Santa is usually a stick figure
(if present at all), the business is treated
as secondary, and the main plot of the book
is pitched toward children.
Anyone who's lived the modern corporate
life, however, can tell you that left unguarded
the business will swoop in and overtake
lives and families and elbow its way to
the forefront of our existence. Santa,
CEO is no different. The trademark
phrase of the novel, uttered by one of its
characters, sums this situation up: "Business.
An animal that consumes us all."
If it weren't so, if business didn't
have such all-consuming potential, we wouldn't
have books devoted to work-life balance
and sermons reminding us to put deity before
Why is this the case? What is it
about human nature that causes it to succumb
again and again to such compelling internal
drives? Is this always bad?
In her book, An Unquiet Mind,
Kay Redfield Jamison describes in harrowing
prose her personal struggle with the complex
and many-clawed demon of manic-depressive
illness. Yet when confronted with
a "what if" hypothetical choice--illness
or no illness--she answers (with an acknowledged
nod to lithium's saving presence) that she
would choose to be who she is, rather than
who she might have been. Without drive--indeed,
without mania in some form, our world would
be grey, flat, and confined.
Though we might not suffer the ambitions
of dictators, without this drive we also might not enjoy the
creations of a Beethoven, a Picasso, or
a Goethe. In the words of Grandpa
Sycamore from the classic stage play, You
Can't Take It With You, "There's always
people to do the work, you can't stop them."
Thus we acknowledge our intensities,
varied as they may be across the scattered
spectrum of human personalities. Those
who enter (and enter into a contract with)
large corporations do so for many reasons,
not all of which have to do with such consuming
fires. But those who have this "fire
in the belly," coupled with a good
dose of savvy as well as (all too frequently
and tragically) a certain heartlessness
will advance, and with each step up may
leave behind colleagues and, if not careful,
a sense of self.
The trick, then, is to emerge from this
winnowing fire with your kernel unchanged,
with your core values intact. We leave
for now to psychologists and priests the
measuring scales of good and evil and adopt
instead the simple razor that states that
on the whole and on the average we know
right from wrong, regardless of the tangles
either business or any other situation employs
to obscure the distinction.
In the novel, Santa is introduced as
CEO of North Pole Industries, or NPI. It
doesn't matter how he became CEO; he simply
is. As the story unfolds, it becomes
clear that Santa has lost touch in fundamental
ways: with his workforce, with the
business, with his departed wife, but most
crucially, with himself. Before we
even turn to the opening scene, we're presented
a children's phrase that captures part of
Santa's core values:
He knows when you've been bad or good,
So be good for goodness' sake
You can judge for yourself how far Santa
has drifted. Keep that children's
phrase in mind as you explore the soul and
structure, not only of Santa, CEO,
but also of modern business. Think
about this question, which will stand behind
all the questions you will encounter in
it possible to be good for the sake of being
good, in a modern world full of competition,
speed, and greed?
Many of us have bemoaned both the excesses
of the business world and the conduct of
CEOs within that framework. Part
of this problem may be rooted in what our
media (themselves a business--an interesting
exercise for the recursive- minded) choose
to present to us: an evil story trumps
a good one every time. But as Ida
(whom you will meet deep in the book) tells
Santa in a tea-laden back-porch conversation:
she grunted. "You make it
sound like it does things to you. Maybe.
Sometimes. But business
didn't push your wife away. You
did that. Business didn't even
push you out. You did that yourself.
This talk about markets, and the
forces you went on about. What
are markets? People. Who's
in your business? People. Sometimes
they're dumb, sometimes they're so far
ahead of you."
So look in the mirror we must,
and rediscover that the vague targets of
our anger and derision are our own human
constructs, and in human cases such as CEOs,
people uncomfortably like us. Walt
Kelly's Pogo put it in words long become
famous: "We will meet the enemy,
and not only may he be ours, he may be us."
What we deride we must be prepared
to repair, and if the road to a better place
seems too difficult to traverse, that may
mean we're just not to the point where we're
prepared to pay the toll.
A final, humble word. This author
wrote Santa, CEO both to entertain
and to inform and enrich. Too often,
fiction about business either slights the
business issues or slights the respect for
the reader that good fiction tries to achieve:
Crisp dialogue, a compelling story,
and characters whose struggles, change and
growth reflect our own existence. It's
tough to tell in writing fiction whether
you've hit the mark--some will like it, and
some will no doubt be bored to tears. In
writing "Santa," I've tried to
present our frenzied business world in a
way that will make you laugh, carry you
along, and at the end of the day, cause
you to pause and think. If I've missed
those goals, I have only myself and my shortcomings
as a writer to blame. A profound thanks
to you for your willingness to travel the
"Santa" road with me.
© 2004 David Soubly