Vonnegut, Schenectady, and Corporate Values

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I met Kurt Vonnegut when I was a senior in college—right before I started my career in Human Resources.

Vonnegut was my professor‘s best friend, and my [college] boyfriend and I had the opportunity to sit in a room and listen to two old friends have a conversation about literature, politics, and music. It was an amazing afternoon, and Mr. Vonnegut was a hoot. He spoke at length about two things: his time in the Army and his time spent as an employee of General Electric. Vonnegut worked in the public relations department in Schenectady, and he earned a good living and made lifelong friends.

At the end of the discussion, we had an opportunity to ask questions. I asked Mr. Vonnegut—a noted socialist and anti-war activist—if he could explain his love of General Electric in the context of their involvement in the nuclear power industry and a lack of advancement for women and minorities in the organization.

I asked, “Can you expound on this?”

Vonnegut looked at me like I was speaking Farsi. He said, “No, no, no. They were a fine company when I worked for them. I have many good memories.”

To say that I was disappointed was an understatement. Now that I’m older—and I have worked as both a corporate professional and as a writer—I understand his answer a little better. Corporate America offers a posh and fun lifestyle. I might have good memories, too, if I was a white man at GE in the 50s and 60s.

Have you ever worked for a company that had shady management practices or didn’t stick to its values but you loved the company, anyway? What made you love the company? Why did you stick around?

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