This isn't just a book review. It's investigative journalism. It's an exposé of one of the most prolific authors of modern times, drawn from years of research and undercover work.
It's a sordid, but true, story that will use the release of his latest book, The Curriculum: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Master of Business Arts, to rip the cover off of one of the literary world's greatest mysteries.
This is about Stanley Bing, one of the foremost experts on business practices. Author of 14 books, columnist for Fortune magazine (for those under 65, a magazine is a printed pamphlet that aggregates content for people unable to turn on a tablet or smartphone.) Bing has long been a top dog in a world of true blowhards: people who give business advice.
Some charge outrageous fees as "consultants" and deliver their advice with PowerPoint presentations to clients who pay dearly for the private advice so they can make dumb decisions.
But Bing is an expert who brings his message directly to the public through books, writings and blog posts. He eschews personal contact that might expose a bit too much about himself for comfort. What, you ask, does Bing have to hide?
First, the book world's worst kept secret: It is now "common knowledge," which means it has been reported in social media, that Bing's real identity is that of CBS executive Gil Schwartz, a close consigliere to the most powerful man in media, CBS boss Leslie Moonves. Most people in the know believe Schwartz invented the "Bing" persona to protect himself in the event that anything he wrote upset someone important (anyone close enough to Moonves to call him "Les").
Second, this book, like the previous 13 by Bing, leaves the reader convulsing with laughter. But we can't figure out if we are laughing with or at the author. It's so funny, the reader never knows if it was meant to be funny or a serious search for the great clichés of the business world. Like the work of any consultant, the result! s are so obvious, the reader doesn't know whether to laugh or cry about how much the consultant's report cost.
Is this Stanley Bing or Gil Schwartz?(Photo: Cliff Lipson, Harper Collins)
In researching this story, a search for the identity of the elusive, brilliant Stanley Bing, I went undercover as an executive at CBS myself from 2005 to 2007, when I befriended Messrs. Schwartz and Moonves. During that stint, I ascertained several significant facts about Schwartz that question his true false identity.
Frankly, I never understood why Moonves kept Schwartz around, except for the fact that Moonves often needed someone to show up in his office with a "crisis" as an excuse to get rid of some star begging for a spot in a new show.
And I never saw Schwartz do any actual work. He was always at his desk on the phone or reading a newspaper or magazine. Every once in a while, he had a guitar and would practice on it for a country music performance at a CBS meeting. But I never saw him write a word. This raised my suspicions, since he published three books during my time there. If Gil Schwartz is Stanley Bing, he has written more books than he has read.
I don't know if that is a criticism or the sign of a true guru.
Let's take a look at some of Bing's advice from his latest book. He offers a "Core Curriculum" with chapters that include "Not Appearing Stupid" and "Fabricating a Business Personality." He makes a dramatic observation: "The appearance of intelligence is an asset, and the inverse, not so much."
There are detailed chapters on grooming ("We are not a dignified species. Those who do achieve dignity are in danger of looking equally ridiculous if they overgroom,"); image implications of personal h! ardware (! "Functionality is not the primary issue in the selection of hardware for those wishing to construct their helpful persona. If it were, the BlackBerry with the physical keyboard would still be around. Get something new. People will love you.") and Approach to Aggression ("A certain amount of anger is expected from the senior ranks. Those who do not display sufficient rage when thwarted or frustrated are secretly judged lacking in some key component of classic executive chops. At just six displays per quarter, this particular executive is deemed something of a 'sissy'").
Armed with an overwhelming number of graphics, charts and tables, the book may contain every management and business cliche ever cited. It's a magnificent piece of work. I should know. I spent two years of my life getting an MBA in Bing's world.
Only one question remains: Who really wrote this epic?
The conclusion of my years of research and investigation is clear:
Sir, I served with Stanley Bing, I knew Stanley Bing, and Gil Schwartz, you're no Stanley Bing!
Larry Kramer is President and Publisher of USA TODAY. He researched this article while working undercover at CBS with Gil Schwartz.