Fast Company

Between the Lines

The stories behind this issue's stories

What's on the Menu in Boston

Having covered the Boston restaurant scene for many years, I was totally intrigued by the notion of longtime restaurateur Lydia Shire taking over the city's historic dining landmark, Locke-Ober. Shire was one of four main characters in "Sudden Impact" (page 106), my article on how new leaders can make a big difference fast. Who better than Shire to shake things up? She was the chef who made offal (Webster's calls it "the viscera and trimmings of a butchered animal") a dining staple at her trendy restaurant Biba. Think menu items such as "Pigs-ear salad with chicory and sorrel," and you have a taste of what was available at that now-closed eatery.

Shire was too smart to add sashimi or tripe to the menu at Locke-Ober, but her efforts to update some of the old Boston classics met resistance nonetheless. Tofu in the lobster stew was considered a crime against shellfish. The new, fluffier roast-beef hash was deemed a travesty among her change-resistant regulars. "I tried to make it a little lighter, not so much like canned dog food - type hash," says Shire. "But in the end, people wanted it that way. So I had to make it more like Alpo."

Despite those setbacks, the menu now looks much like it did in 1875, when the restaurant first opened -- but it tastes strictly 2002. I can personally vouch for the lobster stew. JFK would have loved it. Linda Tischler

White-Collar Prison Blues

It's not every day that I get to interview a true-blue white-collar criminal (although the likelihood of it happening is increasing, as more executives go "From the Penthouse to the Big House" [page 120]). So I was curious to hear how David Novak's time in a minimum-security prison compared with the public perception of Club Fed.

Inmates at minimum-security facilities enjoy one enormous privilege, says Novak: the benefit of uncontrolled movement. They are free to go pretty much anywhere they want on the compound when they aren't working.

At the same time, having the freedom to move around is less compelling when there's nowhere to go. Ultimately, says Novak, prison camp feels remarkably like . . . prison. The endless downtime is particularly hard on executives, who are accustomed to busy, highly structured lives. "This is where you get into emotional distress," says Novak. "Boredom is a constant challenge. You have to find ways to fill the time, or you get depressed."

Like other inmates, white-collar felons often turn to exercise. Once-paunchy CEOs emerge looking trim and tan, as if they had spent time at a spa with a personal trainer rather than been incarcerated. Novak himself ran more than 100 miles a week.

So Club Fed isn't all it's cracked up to be. Still, the high-life perception remains so ingrained that first-time white-collar convicts have been known to bring tennis rackets, laptops, personal stationery, pajamas, and bathrobes -- all of which are promptly sent home. "There was one dentist who showed up in a town car with a driver, and the driver got out with several suitcases and a golf bag," says Novak. "One of the more acerbic prison staff members told the dentist, 'You come with me, and tell your caddy to hit the road.' " Chuck Salter

What's on the Agenda in Redmond

The Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington is an awfully serious place. Or at least it feels that way to first-time visitors. For my article, "Microsoft Eats the Dog Food" (page 46), I paid a visit to the House That Gates Built. In Building 18, where the Project team is creating the next version of its Project software, engineers are writing code, bosses are bossing, testers are testing.

But it quickly became obvious that the cloud of pervasive seriousness does lift every once in a while. First, there are the well-used foosball tables that populate the empty spaces. (That's pretty normal play for a serious software company.) But then there's the "Dear Diary" treatise written in black marker on a three-foot whiteboard in the Project team's testing room. Nobody really knows who wrote it. And nobody has the heart to erase it. Everyone who comes into the room seems to get a good chuckle from it. It sounds as if it were written by one of the dozens of servers that fill the chilled room -- if servers could write -- sometime around Christmas.

Here's an excerpt: "Dear Diary: Today I found myself stuck in this cold place. Why don't they heat it up? Do they want me to get sick? Maybe this is where Santa Claus lives and this is why it is cold." Fara Warner

BMW by the Numbers

The 3 Series . . . the 5 Series . . . the 7 Series . . . What's up with BMW's predilection for numbering its cars? I wrestled with that small but intriguing question in the course of my exploration of "BMW: Driven by Design" (page122).

Ever since it was founded in 1916, Bayerische Motoren Werke has had a strong engineering tradition -- and engineers have numbered their projects. The first number on a BMW denotes the car's body type and scale; the number that follows indicates the engine size. For example, the "745" is a 7 Series with a 4.5-liter engine.

Numbering is simply the German thing to do. "In World War II, the Americans flew Mustangs and Thunderbolts," says design chief Chris Bangle. "The Germans flew ME 109s."

But there's more to BMW's numbers theory than history. By numbering its cars, BMW ensures that it doesn't dilute its brand. "Some of our high-volume competitors get confused over what's a brand and what's a model," says Tom Purves, chairman and CEO of BMW North America. "The BMW brand always takes precedence over the model." Bill Breen

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