CEO's wry managerial `laws'

Augustine's Laws, by Norman R. Augustine. New York: Viking. 380 pp. $18.95 Former Yankee manager Yogi Berra once noted: ``You can see a lot by observing.''

Norman Augustine, now chief executive officer of Martin Marietta Corp., has drawn upon his years of observing the aerospace business to produce a scathingly witty catalogue of 52 management principles. Something akin to Murphy's Law.

Since tongue remains firmly in cheek throughout, many of the principles are of dubious face value. But each law is backed by a chapter of intriguing charts, studies, proverbs, and amusing anecdotal lessons. It seems Mr. Augustine takes great pleasure in gleaning managerial truths from business gone amok.

Augustine also delights in debunking management myths. For instance, he trots out the idea that higher pay for management is an incentive that produces a more productive, more profitable enterprise.

Then he punctures the concept by comparing a chart of the highest paid executives with that of the most profitable companies in this country. Alas, no correlation between the two. And thus, Augustine's 13th law: ``There are many highly successful businesses in the United States. There are also many highly paid executives. The policy is not to intermingle the two.''

Given his aerospace roots and former post as Undersecretary of the Army, it's not surprising that Augustine's jabs and out-of-school tales hit the defense industry the hardest. The Final Law of Economic Disarmament: At the current rate of cost increase, ``in the year 2054 the entire defense budget will purchase just one tactical aircraft. This aircraft will have to be shared by the Air Force and Navy three and a half days a week except for leap year, when it will be made available to the Marines for the extra day.''

But Augustine spans such a spectrum of topics -- computers, time use, corporate takeovers, advertising, quality control -- that any manager would find the material amusing, if not useful.

He also takes a few pokes at traditional business irritants: government and lawyers. He points to an American Productivity Center study covering the period from 1960 to 1982 that shows thatthe higher the number of lawyers in a country, the lower the increase in productivity. And extrapolating the growth in the number of government employees, he comes up with Law 51: ``By the time of the United States Tricentennial [2076],there will be more government workers than there are workers.'' Augustine also wryly correlates the multiplying mass of government workers with the ongoing rise in the number of regulations.

Even if one fails to find real-life applications for Augustine's Laws, or somehow misss the humor, the book remains fine fodder for speeches and toasts. It's stuffed with off-beat quotes ranging from the latterday sagacity of Berra and Bombeck to the timeless acuity of Pyrrhus and Voltaire.

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