The Ugly Excesses

15 November 2002

Power, position and prosperity as life’s sole pursuits define the ’rat race,’ and ugly excess.

In today’s Wall Street Journal is an article titled Why Grubman Was So Keen
To Get His Twins Into the Y.
(You may need a subscription to read it. The story is about the overly ambitious Jack Grubman of Salomon Smith Barney. If you want to see what types of behavior might have been possible in Jack Grubman’s world of telecommunications company analysis, you only need to examine the following excerpts:

Excerpt #1: On Manhattan’s wealthy Upper East Side, it’s an annual race more brutally competitive than the New York Marathon: application for a spot at the 92nd Street Y’s nursery school.

Excerpt #2: The school has 65 openings each year, for children ages 2 to 5. Applications are available only at the end of a school tour. There are just 300 tour appointments. The school books the appointments on the day after Labor Day, starting at 9 a.m. The slots are invariably gone within hours. To get through on the phone, parents line up friends and relatives to engage in a frenzy of speed-dialing and redialing.

Excerpt #3: In the message, Mr. Grubman said he upgraded his rating on AT&T Corp.’s stock in part because Sanford I. Weill, chief executive of Salomon parent Citigroup Inc., agreed to use his influence to help Mr. Grubman’s twins secure admission into the 92nd Street Y.

Excerpt #4: For four- and five-year-olds, the Y charges $14,400 for a full-day program. Threes pay $11,800. Tuition for still-younger children depends on the hours and the days they attend.

Excerpt #5: When Erin Flanagan Lazard was applying to nursery schools last year, she thought, ”I don’t know if my child is a Brearley child or a Sacred Heart child or a Spence child”—rattling off the names of elite private schools that are, in turn, feeders to top colleges. ”I don’t know her that well yet—she’s 20 months.”

Excerpt #6: In fact, it’s not like other schools. The outdoor playground has a retractable roof for rainy days. The annual March fund-raiser and auction has earned the school more than $250,000 in donations in recent years. Past contributions included European ski vacations, jewelry and stays at vacation homes in the Hamptons. At noon dismissal, there is a line of chauffeur-driven Lincoln Town Cars and sport-utility vehicles waiting outside.

Excerpt #7: One esteemed alumnus, Robert Katz, special counsel and advisory director to Goldman Sachs & Co.—and the firm’s former general counsel—says that during the course of his professional life, ”No one has asked me where I went to nursery school.”

What have you done for your kids lately? Might I suggest a big hug, an ”I’m proud of you” and an hour of simply talking together? This works whether they are 2 or 22!

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