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Company Men

, 320 pages

16 halftones

August 2001



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Company Men

White-Collar Life and Corporate Cultures in Los Angeles, 1892-1941

America's white-collar workers form the core of the nation's corporate economy and its expansive middle class. But just a century ago, white-collar jobs were new and their future anything but certain. In Company Men Clark Davis places the corporate office at the heart of American social and cultural history, examining how the nation's first generation of white-collar men created new understandings of masculinity, race, community, and success—all of which would dominate American experience for decades to come.

Company Men is set in Los Angeles, the nation's "corporate frontier" of the early twentieth century. Davis shows how this California city—often considered on the fringe of American society for the very reason that it was new and growing so rapidly—displayed in sharp contours how America's corporate culture developed. The young men who left their rural homes for southern California a century ago not only helped build one of the world's great business centers, but also redefined middle-class values and morals. Of interest to students of business history, gender studies, and twentieth-century culture, this work focuses on the "company man" as a pivotal actor in the saga of modern American history.

Clark Davis was an associate professor of history at California State University at Fullerton.

"In a prewar era popularly associated with corruption ('Chinatown') and Hollywood, Los Angeles actively put together a white-collar establishment of team players, go-getters and strait-lacers."

"Business, labor, and gender historians will place Company Men with the best new business histories."

"A valuable contribution... [an] analysis of the corporate side of creating a white-collar work force [that] historians of business will find a valuable addition to the literature, while students of Los Angeles will welcome [as] a new study that adds significantly to the record of the city's past."

"A lively, well-researched, and well-argued study of office work that also illuminates local history."

"The 'company man' is so ensconced in American culture that we take him for granted. Maybe that is why historians have ignored him. In this eye-opening work, Clark Davis reminds us that company men emerged out of specific, often fascinating, historical circumstances and that Los Angeles had a lot to do with it. This book has much to tell us about who we are—as a people and a nation."

"Davis's detailed probing into divergent firms reveals surprising similarities in managerial style, sources of conflict (particularly between the goals of companies and employees), and the development of such things as profit-sharing and fringe benefits to reduce the problem of turnover and strengthen corporate loyalty. Davis argues that corporate strategies evolved in response to employee needs, a refreshing shift of perspective that gives agency to 'agents' and demonstrates the contingent nature of corporate power. Corporate executives' attempts to enfold the desires and needs of employees into their companies' economic and social goals were not always successful; employees, including managers, took what they wanted and disregarded the rest. Rather than omnipotent corporations manipulating vestigial workers, Davis describes the slippery and chaotic accommodations and refusals each side made."

"Clark Davis has painstakingly peeled away much of the social veneer that obscures 'company men' from historical analysis."