Together, Executive Suite, a 1954 drama of a Cameron Hawley novel about the big-business machination of a furniture company after the death of its president, and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, a 1955 novel by Sloan Wilson centering around a young family debating whether to accept a larger scale business job, showed how difficult it was to be successful in the business world while remaining honest with one’s colleagues within the workplace and with one’s self. Hawley and Wilson take seemingly opposite views on how to be honest when actually both stand points are needed consecutively.
Hawley implored that a businessman is dishonest if he refuses to recognize the company’s social responsibility to its employees and the town. Don Walling, the hero of Executive Suite, was encouraged by his wife to leave the company that he was an executive designer for, supporting Walling’s individualism that made him distinctively unique. But Walling’s close ties with the company trumped any sense of individualism he had. Hawley identified any businessman who cherished individualism over the recognition of the social responsibility as one that is cheating everyone else within the company. Thus, when Walling pounced upon the opportunity to continue this social responsibility as president, he succeeded just as Hawley believed every businessman could.
Wilson took the opposite stand and believed that some businessmen are not cut out to do what is required at such higher level jobs. Some men, like the hero of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Tom Rath, are just nine-to-five employees. According to Wilson, any man who forces himself to be the kind of businessman he is not, is dishonest with himself and cheats other men out of the opportunity of becoming who they are meant to be. By the end of his novel, Wilson satisfied the question of honesty by stating that if a man wanted to be honest, he must recognize that not everyone was not cut out to do “the big jobs” (252).
But these arguments made by Hawley and Wilson are not pitted against each other. Instead, they are personal decisions that should be made together by any person in any occupation. In order to reach honesty for the goals of one’s company, or more generically, the goals made by any collective group of people, a single individual must come to the realization on how to be honest with one’s self. If a family man takes the job of a business executive, the family man jeopardizes the one thing that he values over the time spent in the office—the time spent with his family. Only after coming to individual honesty can a person then move onto collective honesty so that progression and efficiency is maximized as individuals and as a group. It is only once a person who is best suited for a job can this individual then go on to find out how to best suit the community and, in broader spectrums, the world.