Jewish World Review Nov. 19, 2003/ 24 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports

LET'S HEAR IT FOR THE B TEAM! | Harvard Professor Thomas DeLong's work tells corporate America that it ain't the superstars who see them through. Rather, Prof. DeLong explains, those B players, the foot soldiers, the unsung heroes, the grunts, those are the stuff that success is made of. Forget the Jack Welches, the Warren Buffetts, the Oprahs and the Bill Gateses. Let's hear it for the B team!

In an era of constellations of household words, we dismiss those who fly, or more likely take the train, below the radar. DeLong says the B-teamers are those employees who are not hotshots, but who are also not the weakest links. The B's show up each day and work diligently. Their distinctiveness and value come from the fact that they have lives, priorities and a sense of self outside the claw-to-the-top work world.

People of integrity, the B players put in an honest day's work, but they don't self-promote or seek notoriety. I love these people. Where would the world be without them?

The owner of the car dealership sends me letters about his dealership's phenomenal sales. But, if his mechanics don't show up for work, I won't be taking my car to him, and no letter or latest ROE can convince me otherwise. B team mechanics are my men and his draw.

The American Express CEO writes to me often about some highfalutin silver card, but if he left and our correspondence ended, I wouldn't miss him. If, however, he loses those women who help me with disputed items on my bill, I'm headed to Visa. The value of the AMEX's B team customer services reps? Priceless.

Approaching nearly 3 decades at a large state university, I have witnessed the superstar professors come and go. We just hired a slew of top guns.

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Newspapers, from the campus to the state's largest, brag that we have bagged the big ones. We in the trenches roll our eyes and head to another meeting our new hotshot colleagues will be too busy and important to attend. Standards committee service? Too boring for the A team. Covering classes for colleagues?

One-on-ones with students to critique their papers or presentation skills? No way. We foot soldiers handle that. Superstars do what got them to be superstars: limelight stuff.

The New York Times has its problems, but no newspaper in the country does a better job on obituaries. Assuming that the people really are dead (and who knows with the Times' crackerjack reporters?), the Times' choices for obit write-ups are first rate and must-reads because they are loaded with B-teamers.

For example, it was a sad day when Rockets Redglare passed. Rockets, and pardon my first-name informality, but Mr. Redglare seems awkward, was an actor who never approached Oscar level. But Rockets was an unforgettable B-teamer.

As one reviewer put it, "When he was on the screen, you couldn't take your eyes off him." He played the hotel clerk in Tom Hanks' "Big." When he checked Hanks into the beneath-seedy New York City flophouse, Rockets' appearance, attitude and limited lines were sheer perfection.

God bless B-teamer Fred Tuttle, the Vermont dairy farmer, who passed away at 84. But, at age 79, he was the Republican nominee for the Senate. He lost to Sen. Patrick Leahy in that 1998 race, carrying 9 towns in Vermont despite telling his potential constituency that they were better off voting for Leahy. Ah, the unassuming nature of B-teamers.

Warren Zevon was another Times obit. A composer, performer, and a one-hit wonder with his 1978 song, "Werewolves of London," complete with howling in the chorus, Zevon was a self-deprecating B-teamer. On his final album, released just before his death a few months ago, he chided death's icy finger with song titles such as "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" and "My Ride's Here," a tribute to the hearse. Mesothelioma took this recovered addict just as his first grandchild was born. Cruising beneath the Top 40, Zevon was a wit and a talent, but a B-teamer.

Flying below the radar, but where would the world be without these unassuming contributors? Why, in just the past year we've lost John Fox, the man who developed frozen orange juice for Minute Maid! And Marcel Jovine, the inventor of the Visible Man, that plastic doll we all studied, altruistically, and otherwise, during the 60s. William Henson, the animator for "The Bullwinkle Show," has gone to cartoon heaven to be with Charles Dupuis, the man who brought us the Smurfs. Engineer Eugene Gregorie gave the world the Lincoln Continental as he labored for Ford, and now he's cruised in style to that great design room in the sky.

This year's biggest B-teamer loss? If there is such a thing, it's Denis Thatcher, aka Sir Margaret Thatcher, who was once labeled, "the most shadowy husband of all time." When asked how he stayed thin, he offered, "Gin and cigarettes." When asked who wore the pants in his family, Sir Denis quipped, "I do. I just happen to press them as well." But Lady Thatcher wrote in her autobiography that she could not have been prime minister without him by her side.

Sir Denis is the essence of a B-teamer. Comfortable in their britches, even those they press. Self-deprecating. And an integral part of a world that needs them desperately, but somehow denies them their due. Until now. Let's hear it for the B team.

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JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2003, Marianne M. Jennings