Vonnegut, Schenectady, and Corporate Values


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?

Previous post:

Next post: