A Bunch of Suits Get the Red Carpet

COMMENT

July 23, 1995|By ELISE ARMACOST

I used to believe what Tom Jefferson wrote about all men being created equal.

That was before 100 power pinstripe suits came to Annapolis last week.

These guys, as one city policeman mused in awe, "are bigger than presidents."

For four days, these captains of industry, who had come to the state capital for the Forbes CEO Forum, were wined, dined and pampered.

We're not talking cocktail weiners and Cheez Whiz here. We're not even talking your standard stuffed chicken breast and wild rice entree. No, these guys got a red carpet treatment Prince Charles would envy.

Pheasant pate and chicken with saffron dipping sauce. Free helicopter shuttles, limousine service and police escorts. When it rained, there were people running around with umbrellas lest a stray raindrop pounce on their powerful heads. Musicians dressed in colonial garb serenaded them.

And goodies? These guys got goodies galore.

Everybody, it seemed, wanted to give them something. You and I, we visit a new city and come away with a bar of hotel soap and a matchbook. These corporate giants went home with enough free merchandise to furnish the guest house.

Monogrammed leather cases, coffee mugs and coffee from Forbes. MCI phone cards. Bulova clocks from Loews Annapolis Hotel, which, by the way, did everything for these people but carry them from room to room on velvet-covered chaises.

The CEOs got so many gifts that the Loews' staff stocked their rooms with shipping boxes so they could mail their loot home instead of cramming it onto their jets!

We taxpayers gave them something, too: a little cherry wood box with an engraving of an Annapolis scene on top. Nice of us, wasn't it?

And why was everyone from local businesses to the governor kowtowing to these million-dollar suits?

Well, for starters, they have a million dollars. And the companies they work for have even more.

TTC Treat them nice, the thinking goes, make them go home with nice thoughts about Maryland, and maybe one day they'll move their companies here.

Or at the very least, maybe they'll come back for a long weekend with the wife and kids and actually spend some of that money.

Sure, I can just picture Albert J. Dunlap of Scott Paper Co. sitting up there in his jet, caressing the little cherry wood box and thinking, "God, I love this box. Any state that gives away a box like this must be something special. Tomorrow, Scott Paper moves to Maryland!"

And Frank V. Cahouet of Mellon Bank is probably now so hooked on Old Bay seasoning that he's informed his wife, "Forget the villa in Mustique. We're going down-ee-oshun."

C'mon. You know where that cherry box will really end up. In a bunch of upscale yard sales.

These guys didn't come here to learn about Maryland.

They came to live high on the hog for three days at company expense. They came to schmooze with each other and voice deep, original thoughts like, "You have to think globally and act locally." I swear -- one guy really offered that as the key to corporate success.

Hoping that a few of the CEOs would be interested in what Maryland has to offer businesses and their employees, the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. set up an interactive computer program with everything they could possibly want to know about the state.

The computer was a hit. But only after the CEOs discovered they could use it to access the Golf Web.

Down the road in Washington, Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke must have watched all this pomp and pampering in amazement.

There he is, rich as Midas and positively desperate for the royal treatment, and nobody will give him the time of day -- not to mention a cherry wood box. He wants to bring the state one of the biggest private enterprises it's ever had. But as he's learned, locating a major business isn't as simple as shaking hands with the governor across a plate of grilled venison.

If one of these CEOs does decide to move here, the royal treatment will only last so long.

Instead of walking on red carpets, he'll be wading through red tape. There would be taxes to pay, regulations to follow and NIMBYs galore. He wouldn't be bigger than presidents any more.

But at least he'll still have that cherry box.

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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