Book Review: The Business Novels of Cameron Hawley

I saw a reference to an author named Cameron Hawley, who wrote novels centered on business during the 1950s thru 1960s…sounded interesting, so I read one of them and went on to read two more. Here they are, in the order that I read them.

The Lincoln Lords. Mr Lincoln Lord has been a successful executive at several companies, but he seems to make a practice of changing jobs when the going gets tough.  He has amazing social skills and is viewed as a first-class speechmaker…however, he has often relied on his friend (sometimes his employee), Brick, to write those speeches.  Lincoln’s son has a closer relationship with Brick than with his dad…and Linc’s wife, Maggie, has begun to wonder if her husband’s skills are limited to being a good front man.  Brick has long had a thing for Maggie, and she has sometimes found herself very attracted to him.

When Linc loses his job just shy of age 50, the couple has to move out of their suite in Manhattan’s Waldorf Tower and are having difficulty paying their son’s private school tuition.  The executive recruiter that Linc is working with is not very positive about his chances, given his age and his record of job-switching. But Linc does receive a lifeline in the form of an offer to run a small canning business–‘a little Jewish cannery’, as some refer to it. He takes the offer, and the book portrays the problems of a big-company man running a not-so-big company.  The cannery, Coastal, is beset by many problems, the most serious of which is that their largest customer, Gellman Stores–which represented over half of their business–has dropped them as a customer.  Linc reflects that he has always been very effective at analyzing the alternatives presented to him and choosing the best one, but now things are different–he doesn’t just need to analyze the alternatives and select from among them, rather, he needs to develop these possibilities himself.  Can he succeed without the resources, name, and momentum of a large company behind him?

Here’s a recent review in a pwc publication.

Cash McCall.  The title character is a mysterious individual who has rented an entire floor of a prominent Philadelphia hotel (which he may or may not own) and flies himself around in a WWII B-26 which he has converted into an executive transport.  He describes himself as  ‘a dealer in secondhand companies’…he acquires them, fixes them, and then sells them.

Grant Austen has spent three decades building his modestly-successful plastics company. But, like the Coastal cannery in the first book discussed, he has allowed his business to become overly-dependent on a single customer–and that customer is demanding that he invest in a very expensive specialized press, with no guarantees at all about the volume they will purchase.  This problem, combined with his other frustrations (many of which have to do with the tax code and government controls), leads him toward a decision to sell his company.

Grant’s daughter, Lory, is an artist, specifically, an illustrator of children’s books. She had previously met Cash while on vacation, without knowing anything about who he was, and the two were very attracted to one another. The budding romance broke off in some confusion, partly because Cash felt he was too old for her and partly because Lori was afraid of the intensity of her own sexual desire–but the mutual attraction remains.  She is surprised and conflicted when she meets Cash again in the role of potential acquirer of her father’s company–in which she owns a 10% share.

In addition to being a significant shareholder, Lori often serves as her father’s confidant in discussing business issues. Which makes her mother unhappy, because she sees it as one more thing demonstrating the absence of closeness in her relationship with her husband.

Another complexity involves Andscott, the company which is Grant Austen’s company’s main customer (they’re buying cabinets for the television sets they manufacture).  Andscott is being run by a former USAF general; he was an excellent wartime leader but not so impressive as a civilian executive. The success or failure of Andscott is even more important than the success or failure of a typical company, because a very large block of stock is owned by a medical research foundation which is supporting vital research–and is entirely dependent on its Andscott dividends.

The book was made into a 1960 movie with James Garner as Cash McCall, Natalie Wood as Lory Austen, and Dean Jagger as her father Grant. I thought both the book and the movie were very good: the movie has a lighter tone than does the book and is almost–not quite–a comedy.

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