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by Robley Feland 1920
Brown is gone, and many men in the trade are wondering who is going to get Browns job.
There has been considerable speculation about this. Browns job was reputed to be a good job. Browns former employers, wise, grey-eyed men, have had to sit still and repress amazement, as they listened to bright, ambitious young men and dignified older ones seriously apply for Browns job.
Brown had a big chair and a wide, flat-topped desk covered with a sheet of glass. Under the glass was a map of the United States. Brown had a salary of thirty thousand dollars a year. And twice a year Brown made a trip to the coast and called on every one of the firms distributors.
He never tried to sell anything. Brown wasnt exactly in the sales department. He visited with the distributors, called on a few dealers, and once in a while made a little talk to a bunch of salesmen. Back at the office, he answered most of the important complaints, although Browns job wasnt to handle complaints. Brown wasnt in the credit department either, but vital questions of credit got to Brown, somehow or other, and Brown would smoke and talk and tell a joke, and untwist his telephone cord and tell the credit manager what to do.
Whenever Mr. Wythe, the impulsive little president, working like a beaver, would pick up a bunch of papers and peer into a particularly troublesome or messy subject, he had a way of saying, «What does Brown say? What does Brown say? What the hell does Brown say? Well, why dont you do it, then?» And that was disposed.
Or when there was a difficulty that required quick action and lots of it, together with tact and lots of that, Mr. Wythe would say, «Brown, you handle that.» And then one day the directors met unofficially and decided to fire the superintendent of No. 2 Mill. Brown didnt hear of this until the day after the letter had gone. «What do you think of it, Brown?» asked Mr. Wythe. Brown said, «Thats all right. The letter wont be delivered until tomorrow morning, and Ill get him on the wire and have him start East tonight. Then Ill have his stenographer send the letter back here, and Ill destroy it before he sees it.» The others agreed, «Thats the thing to do.»
Brown knew the business he was in. He knew the men he worked with. He had a whole lot of sense, which he apparently used without consciously summoning his judgment to his assistance. He seemed to think good sense.
Brown is gone, and men are applying for Browns job. Others are asking who is going to get Browns job bright, ambitious young men, dignified older men.
Men who are not the son of Browns mother, nor the husband of Browns wife, nor the product of Browns childhood men who never suffered Browns sorrows nor felt his joys, men who never loved the things that Brown loved nor feared the things he feared are asking for Browns job.
Dont they know that Browns chair and his desk, with the map under the glass top, and his pay envelope, are not Browns job? Dont they know that they might as well apply to the Methodist Church for John Wesleys job?
Browns former employers know it. Browns job is where Brown is.
Brown is a remarkable example of practical intelligence.
This is why its included in my book The Power of Stupidity.
Browns Job was first published in 1920 in The Wedge, the house organ of the George H. Batten advertising agency and as an advertisement in 1928, when Batten merged with Barton, Durstine & Osborn to become BBDO (where Robley Feland was a director).
I had read Browns Job in the Seventies, when I lived in New York but I lost my only (paper) copy and for many years, though I tried in every possible way, I couldnt find it. It had disappeared, not only from files, shelves, drawers, computers and networks, but also from peoples memories. Unexpectedly I was able to recover it in March, 2002. Some bright person had put it online. But later it vanished from where it was and now this appears to be the only place where it can still be found in the internet.
I guess it doesnt need any comment. Let me just say that if we are lucky enough to meet a Brown at any time in our life its very unlikely that we shall ever forget that person. And if we are very lucky we can be Brown if only occasionally.
Giancarlo Livraghi firstname.lastname@example.org
(some comments updated May 2009)