by Ethan Cooper
If I told you this book was about a bank facing financial ruin when the real estate bubble bursts, you'd probably think this book was set at the end of the 2000s. You'd probably never guess that the story takes place in the early 1990s in Minneapolis and that the book was published in 1999, nearly a full decade before some banks ceased to exist while others were deemed "too big to fail."
The story focuses on Limestone Bank in Minneapolis, which is run by the manipulative Harry Kramer. During a real estate boom, the Minneapolis skyline changed drastically as companies began building huge skyscrapers. There seemed like no problem at the time when Limestone gave a loan to Aldco to build another skyscraper for a large company. Then that company decides to back out of the deal, leaving Aldco building a tower with no tenant and Limestone with a huge loan that might end up defaulting.
Another CEO might have decided to bailout and take his golden parachute or whine to the government about needing a bailout. Not Harry Kramer. No, Harry is always in control of the situation. The book then follows how Harry manipulates events and people to wriggle free of the trap and avert financial disaster. At the same time, we also see into Harry's personal life with his amiable partnership to his wife Holly, strained relationship with schoolteacher son Harry, and far less strained relationship with his doctor daughter Elizabeth.
I was reminded a little bit of Philip Roth's "American Pastoral" that focused on a businessman, who beneath the gilded veneer of financial success faces personal turmoil. Harry's life isn't nearly so much disarray, but behind his success at the bank we can see that his marriage is passionless, his son a disappointment, and his protege Gordon Elliam a fraud. So maybe Harry isn't as in control of things as he likes to think.
In the end if you've ever wanted to see what makes these high-powered movers and shakers tick, "In Control" is a good start. Not to mention the sort-of-sequels "Smooth in Meetings" and "Tom's Job." They all provide a fascinating look beyond the headlines in the Wall Street Journal.
That is all.