Chapter 1. Motor City Sadness

The Boeing 737 rose above the LaGuardia Airport tarmac. Across the East River was Manhattan's symphonic skyline. Below me, Queens was spread out like an abstract expressionist painting, something Jackson Pollock might have produced after a bad hangover. My girlfriend, Sarah, is rubbing off on me. She loves art and literature. When she isn't teaching kindergarten in Hoboken, she is guiding me through the Metropolitan, Guggenheim, and Frick galleries, and through the experimental art galleries that flourish in Brooklyn's nooks and crannies.

I don't mind at all. As an engineering student, my electives were usually art, literature, or psychology. My pals looked at me cockeyed but all that learning served me well when I became an auto plant manager.

Tom Papas is my name. Our family name is Papachristodoulou. My brother Harry and I shortened it, we said, to fit on the back of our football jerseys. Harry is a PhD biochemist, a big wheel in pharmaceuticals, where you can charge 80 bucks for a little pill. I'm plant manager of New Jersey Motor Manufacturing (NJMM), which is part of Taylor Motors. We transform substandard processes, a spaghetti-like supply chain, and rigid management system into the Desperado, a magical muscle car the public loves. What do we get for our efforts? Negative margins and a catastrophic balance sheet. But I don't have to tell you how Taylor Motors is doing. You've heard it all.

Rachel Armstrong, our formidable senior vice president, ...

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