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The Liar's Ball: The Extraordinary Saga of How One Building Broke the World's Toughest Tycoons by Vicky Ward

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Chapter 6 The Age of the Wolf

He was beyond mean. He was crazy. He made Leona Helmsley look like one of the sweetest young women on earth. That's how bad he was. . . . I've never known anybody meaner than Disque Deane.

—Donald Trump

General Motors looked impregnable in its gleaming white fortress. There was a popular saying, “What's good for General Motors is good for the country.” It was derived from a slight misquote from the Senate confirmation hearings of Charles Erwin Wilson, the former GM president and CEO who was appointed Secretary of Defense in 1953. He was asked if he could conceive of making a decision as Defense Secretary that would be adverse to the company. He said he could but he could not conceive that such a situation should arise. “For years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.”

He might have added that what was bad for the United States was very bad for GM. When the Arab oil crisis of 1974 hit, GM was plagued with product issues. In 1980 the great recession struck; there were standoffs with the unions, and slowly the behemoth's fortunes began to slide—and with them the building's polish. It became “dirty, shabby” and asbestos was discovered, according to Ira Millstein and Harvey Miller. They knew things were amiss when GM's Frigidaire division on the first floor disappeared. The next thing they knew, GM employees were eating in Weil Gotshal's cafeteria. This was a real turnabout. For years, everyone had eaten ...

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