Rebirth of Reason


The Classic Atmosphere of American Business - How It Shaped Me
by Richard D. Engle

There were many reasons that I so quickly embraced Ayn Rand’s novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, but two of them were the ways she critiqued and paid tribute to business, and her depictions of what she called “prime movers.”
Although I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, my father was transferred to New York City in 1964. He was an executive for a railroad (talk about cutting close to the bone!), and ended up in an office on Madison Avenue. We lived there until 1969, when he was asked to return to Cleveland. Even before we moved, my father had his Cleveland office in the Terminal Tower (Cleveland’s epicenter, sort of a mini-Empire State Building). I grew up in the world of business, and trains. My dad was self-made, born about as far out of privilege as you can get, a son of two deaf mutes (his father was a barber) who grew up in Arkansas during the Great Depression. I mention this because it might help to emphasize the deep reverence that I felt for business, and the men who did it. Going to my father’s office was tantamount to a religious experience; I marveled at the building, the desks, the suits men wore, what they talked to each other about—even the typewriters and teletype machines were like icons to me. That impression was mine from my earliest memory; even though I did not embrace business for awhile—I was a writer, and a musician. Later, it all came back to me when I seriously entered the business world.
When Ayn Rand described buildings, the city, and trains, I already knew about the sense of awe she conveyed so well, although I had never seen it described so well.
Later on, of course, I learned that Ayn was there during that time, doing what she was doing, right under my young nose. I often laugh (bitterly) because I later realized that there was a copy of The Fountainhead sitting on our family bookshelf for years—my mother was a voracious reader and book club subscriber, but somehow I had passed that one over because I thought it was a romance novel (which I suppose, in part, it was).
The way I feel about business and businessmen is deeply imbued in my being, and because of that, it often serves me without my even knowing it—it simply shows in my business demeanor, practices, courtesies and protocols that I saw demonstrated before I could even read. 
I sit here now, a Director of New Business Development for a prime mover—another self-made man from Cleveland, OH., who I have proven myself to, well enough that he entrusts me with key projects for his organization—I sit by his side as part of his inner circle, one of his lieutenants.  
Through all the complexities, the motions, the different ways that business is conducted these days, I still have the same feeling of awe every time I walk into my office—which was given to me because I earned the value and respect of my employer. Sometimes, I stop for a moment and look at my desk, knowing it was one we bought at auction, a very expensive model that once belonged to a bank president. I look at the office equipment, the bustle of activity. Sometimes we drive out to the buildings we own (or are about to buy), and look at them. We stand inside empty buildings and envision what they will be.
Currently, my main project is the revitalizing of a large shopping mall—a sleeping giant that we have restored and are about to reactivate. One of the first things my boss did when he bought this mall was get the beautiful, modern, indoor fountains turned back on. It wasn't necessary from an operations standpoint, but it was necessary. They look like this now:

My boss has a very solemn, loving reverence for buildings, yet I know he has never heard of Ayn Rand or her books. He is a prime mover, and I think he has mostly been in the business of moving, over the last thirty years or so. Still, one day I was walking this, our largest property, with him, and he stopped, glancing around. “Look at it. Look how beautiful this building is. Do you see it? Do you know what it means?” We are going to bring this back.
I couldn’t help smiling at this man, who started out in the poorest city in the country, selling cookware and paintings door-to-door, and parlayed it into a small empire, an empire that now I am a part of.
One day soon I will write here, about this fellow. I still smart from thinking about Ayn Rand’s deep depression, post-Atlas Shrugged, spurred by her belief that the prime movers never came, that maybe they were never there in the first place. But they were there. They are always there.
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