Ties that bind

When upper management of the MacMillian Paper Cup Corporation decided all male foremen would wear neckties, DePew was elated. DePew, one of the foremen in the crimping department, had always worn a necktie, worn it like a flag. DePew wore expensive neckties with superb correctness. When you looked at him, you saw first the magnificent necktie, and DePew in relation to it.

He eschewed the attitude of Masotti (the other foreman in the crimping department) toward the necktie. Because it was now a rule of employment that a necktie be worn, Masotti wore one. But, in DePew's opinion, Masotti wore shabby neckties, wore them horizontally across the stomach. This flair of individuality was more or less tolerated by upper management because Masotti was a valuable employee. DePew could not ignore it.

As the corporation's ombudsman, I strove to harmonize the problem, because it affected production - too many paper cups were emerging uncrimped because Masotti and DePew were arguing. I summoned them to my office. After letting them air their grievances, I, as tactfully as possible, suggested a compromise - that Masotti begin to edge his necktie (still horizontal across the stomach) nearer the acceptable ''necktie zone,'' and that DePew, yes, actually loosen his necktie a little (I nodded my sympathy at his pained outcry). Explaining in some detail the corporation's reasons for implementing the rule, I wrenched vague commitments from DePew and Masotti to try to improve the situation.

Production in the crimping department improved, but not enough, and I again mustered Masotti and DePew. I praised Masotti's movement of his necktie from his stomach to his pocket and its slight verticalization. I lauded DePew's hint of loosened necktie, emphasized the macho appearance it almost gave him.

From this base of plaudits, I advanced toward a further solution to the problem. I suggested that a beneficial transformation having begun, we must press on. I proposed Masotti move his necktie from his pocket to a mid-position between the pocket and his necktie zone, and that DePew loosen his necktie still more, askew it with some abandon. DePew's paleness, and Masotti's severe words, suggested I'd gone too far, but reasonableness soon prevailed again - when there was acceptance of the fact that upper management, while it was patient, wanted ultimate compliance with the letter and spirit of the law.

During the ensuing months, Masotti's and DePew's neckties, as who should say, converged. The days seemed to pass without apparent progress - but from week to week, close observation revealed that Masotti was ''neatening up,'' and DePew was becoming a ''regular guy.''

One memorable Wednesday morning, it was noticed by us that Masotti's and DePew's neckties were roughly at equipoise, and they were smiling and cordial and presiding over a crimping department that was tops. It goes to show that there's no problem that can't be solved if you work at it.

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