March 6, 2009
Twenty-seven years ago I sat in my office late one evening going over the pile of mess that cluttered my desk. Suddenly realizing the time, about six in the afternoon, I decided to have a toddy so I ring the office next to me and invited my friend Ken over for a drink.
Ken was probably 15 years older than I and, like me, didn’t have a higher education, but we both managed our respective departments. As we talked and sipped our beverage, the subject turned to this new generation of business men we were being invaded with. They were known as the Yuppies, at that time age twenty something to thirty something. Basically defined, ‘Yuppie’ means “a young city or suburban resident with a well-paid professional job and an affluent lifestyle”. We had several Yuppies working for our company at the time. At some point I asked Ken what was up with this generation. I said “they don’t seem to be satisfied with anything; with what they have today nor the opportunity to build on tomorrow. They want everything today; complete & total success now. And they don’t want just their own slice of the American pie; they want everyone else’s slice too”. It was many, many years later before I truly understood Ken’s response. But this old un-educated “farm” boy knew exactly what he was talking about. History has bore him out. His response was “if you think its bad now just wait until they’re sitting in the board rooms of America“.
Brady Dennis and Robert O’Harrow, Jr. wrote a three-part series for The Washington Post. The first part was called “The Beautiful Machine“. The second part was “A Crack in The System“, and the third was “Downgrades And Downfall“. They talk about a lot of stuff in these three articles, and the series is well worth the time to read them. But what struck me was how the two reporters begin their story in part one with the three principle subjects, Howard Sosin, Randy Rackson and Barry Goldman. Now few people in the real world have heard of these characters, but they truly represent the epitome of my topic; the Yuppie generation.
I won’t go into the detailed backgrounds of each of these guys; the referenced article does that. But in essences, Dennis and O’Harrow gives complete credit to these three guys for devising the schemes that eventually brought our financial system to its knees. And Dennis and O’Harrow indirectly point out something else; these guys, and many that followed in their foot steps, were pure-bred Yuppies; the impatient ones who wanted the whole pie, not just their slice.
Obsessed with status, Yuppies “wore” that status on & around their bodies. Back in their beginnings (early 1980’s) they would settle for nothing less than the $600 tailored suit, $200 tailored shirt with embroidered initials on the cuff and $50 cuff links, $75 tie, and $200-plus shoes, all with recognizable names such as Armani. Then, of course, there was the Rolex wrist watch; they all had to have one. Most of this was purchased with the credit card. As soon as they could figure out a way, they went shopping for the ultimate Yuppie status symbol, a BMW, but usually drove out with a “pre-owned” one because the new cars were out of their price range; usually due to other debt obligations. Most were users of some sort of drugs. Cocaine was the ultimate, but marijuana was their favorite cheap high. They were frequent patrons of the upscale night clubs where they rubbed shoulders with each other, often in search of a higher paying career. When they called it a night, they settled up their bar tab with an American Express card which, at the time, was the card symbol of “success”. They were living the high life; all on credit.
Now, some Yuppies I knew were pretty nice guys. In fact, a few were even thoughtful of others. But mostly they thought about only one thing and that was getting more; more of everything. When they saw something that someone else had, they had to have it. Their goals were never achievable because enough was never enough. For many, their climb to the top ended in bankruptcy court. But somehow, most just started over again. Their greed for it all was too overpowering to accept a “normal” successful life. Unfortunately for us commoners, many of them made it into a position that was suppose to be keeping an eye on the crooks; regulators and law enforcement, but most of all, the political arena.
The affects of the Yuppie will be around for some time, I’m afraid. An inclusion of “The Eighties Club” website is a piece called the “Yuppie Culture“. In it there is one line that caught my eye which kind of sums it all up; “Yuppies were lambasted as excessively consumptive in their pursuit of the American Dream without much regard for those left behind” [bold added]. In that sense, what is hundreds of millions of ordinary people around the world left with today; trillions of dollars of national debt.
Undoubtedly, not all of our (economic) problems can be placed at the feet of the Yuppie generation. But they ushered in a mindset that said ‘enough is never enough, and nobody deserves anything I can take away from them’. Greed has always been around; the Yuppie generation just seemed to take it to a new height.
Howard Sosin, Randy Rackson and Barry Goldman wanted to create and build a legacy whereby they would never be forgotten. Well, I think they can safely say they accomplished that goal. However, it probably won’t be their names that will be remember, although it should be. I’m a believer that names and faces should be used instead of “those people” or “that group” or “the company”, etc. I believe these kinds of people should be personally humiliated during and after life. But we tend not to do that when it’s “one of our own”. So their names will eventually fade to never be remembered again. But their “legacy”, and that of the Yuppie generation, will be remembered for a long, long time. Or, at least, we certainly hope so, so as to never be repeated.
Oh, yea, about my friend Ken’s response! Who’s been in the board rooms of America for the past fifteen to twenty years? You guessed it. Unfortunately for the country and the common folks, many of them will be there for a few more years to come. But does it really matter? The Yuppie generation has shown the way.
Note: Pictured above is Howard Sosin. I was unable to find pictures of Randy Rackson and Barry Goldman.
Never underestimate the difficulty of changing false beliefs [with] facts.
Economist Henry Rosovsky