The Story of
Arthur Carstairs

Digging through some old notes I found the following poem. Across the top of the faded paper was the title, "The Story of Arthur Carstairs."

Decades ago (in the dark ages of the 1980s) I worked for a publisher who had all sorts of tricks up his sleeve for avoiding expenses. Like long-distance phone calls, for example. He did not want to pay us for the increase in our phone bills that resulted from calling him, but he wanted us to report daily on sales. He had an interesting routine:  call his office person-to-person collect and ask for "Arthur Carstairs." The call would be rejected, and a few minutes later the publisher would call us back at our office telephone number.

Carstairs White Seal.jpg

I don't remember exactly when or where I found this poem, but it does come from that period when I worked to build a local music newspaper, and we constantly paid attention to our cash flow. So this poem must date back to the early 1980s, in the depths of the post-Carter recession that became the Reagen recovery. What I find interesting about the poem is that it is timeless, and spells out the fate of many of a failed start-up—and failed legacy company.

Monthly, to plead and wheedle, our corporate officers go To the bank that lends us money when our cash account falls low, Monthly, through the lobby, he follows our leaders in— Carstairs, the broken beggar, tattered from toe to chin.

Hatless, coatless, and soapless—homeless, halting of speech, Seeking a dole at the doorway he mumbles his tale to each; Over and over the story, ending as he began: “Tame your cash-hungry business that eats like a ravening man!

“I had cash in the bank, a family, a home—a tan, When I started to build ManiaCor, as described in my business plan. I looked my last at my savings; I looked my last at my son, When I started to build ManiaCor, ‘twas just ten summers and one.

“I knew my customers’ problems, and I sold a solution that fit. Each day brought stacks of new orders, taxing my time and my wit. I learned how to build and to borrow, desperate to do both and because I felt competitors lurking, waiting for shipments to pause.

“Bankers and vendors gave credit, gladly with smiles in their eyes, ‘Together we’ll grow,’ they told me, watching my offices rise. But customers waited to pay me, and my warehouse filled in a flash. More people, more assets, more problems…consumed my vanishing cash.

“Feeding the growth was my passion, raising more cash was my life, I looked my last at my savings. I looked my last at my wife. Raving, rapacious, and human, craving more cash like cocaine Grew ManiaCor, my business—compelling, demanding, insane!

“I sold then leased back my assets; cut prices for cash in advance; Paid only the vendors I needed, calming their raves and their rants. Europe and Asia sent orders, while bankers and vendors would bray… My wife and my stock, my assets in hock, they lawyered it all away!

“I know you're proud of your business—selling goods of a newer style, Your pitch (I have heard) is seductive and customers queue for a mile. Luck to your fast-growing business that looks so fine and so true, But pay and I’ll open my briefcase and show what that growth can do.” (Lawyers’ demands by the dozen, bills turned yellow and gray— When Carstairs folded his business he owed quite a sum in his day.)

“Keep your customers happy, and ask them to help you to grow. Borrow as much as you ought to and ship ‘til your trucks overflow. But—pay, and I’ll finish my story—this is the time to fear, When growth itself consumes you, when the next big order is near...

“When strangers plead for your products, demanding you ship right away, When vendors offer more credit, postponing when you’ll have to pay, When bankers take you to breakfast with checks and forms in their lap, THAT is the time of your peril, the time when growth is a trap!”

Cashless, beaten, and broken, asking a dole at the door, Carstairs, the humble beggar, he tells it o’er and o’er; Fumbling and fondling his briefcase, like warming his hands at the fire, Catching the eyes of the strangers all dressed in banking attire; Over and over his story, ending as he began… “Tame your cash-hungry business that eats like a ravening man!”

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