by Max Barry


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Stephen Jones is a shiny new hire at Zephyr Holdings. From the outside, Zephyr is just another bland corporate monolith, but behind its glass doors business is far from usual: the beautiful receptionist is paid twice as much as anybody else to do nothing, the sales reps use self help books as manuals, no one has seen the CEO, no one knows exactly what they are selling, and missing donuts are the cause of office intrigue. While Jones originally wanted to climb the corporate ladder, he now finds himself descending deeper into the irrational rationality of company policy. What he finds is hilarious, shocking, and utterly telling.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400079377
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/13/2007
Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 1,053,180
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 7.97(h) x 0.75(d)
Lexile: 740L (what's this?)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Max Barry began removing parts at an early age. In 1999, he successfully excised a steady job at tech giant HP in order to upgrade to the more compatible alternative of manufacturing fiction. While producing three novels, he developed the online nation simulation game NationStates, as well as contributing to various open source software projects and developing religious views on operating systems. He did not leave the house much. For Machine Man, Max wrote a website to deliver pages of fiction to readers via email and RSS. He lives in Melbourne, Australia, with his wife and two daughters, and is 38 years old. He uses vi.

Read an Excerpt


Monday morning and there's one less donut than there should be.

Keen observers note the reduced mass straightaway but stay silent, because saying, "Hey, is that only seven donuts?" would betray their donut experience. It's not great for your career to be known as the person who can spot the difference between seven and eight donuts at a glance. Everyone studiously avoids mentioning the missing donut until Roger turns up and sees the empty plate.

Roger says, "Where's my donut?"

Elizabeth dabs at her mouth with a piece of paper towel. "I only took one." Roger looks at her. "What?"

"That's a defensive response. I asked where my donut was. You tell me how many you took. What does that say?"

"It says I took one donut," Elizabeth says, rattled.

"But I didn't ask how many donuts you took. Naturally I would assume you took one. But by taking the trouble to articulate that assumption, you imply, deliberately or otherwise, that it's debatable."

Elizabeth puts her hands on her hips. Elizabeth has shoulder-length brown hair that looks as if it has been cut with a straight razor and a mouth that could have done the cutting. Elizabeth is smart, ruthless, and emotionally damaged; that is, she is a sales representative. If Elizabeth's brain was a person, it would have scars, tattoos, and be missing one eye. If you saw it coming, you would cross the street. "Do you want to ask me a question, Roger? Do you want to ask if I took your donut?"

Roger shrugs and begins filling his coffee cup. "I don't care about a missing donut. I just wonder why someone felt the need to take two."

"I don't think anyone took two. Catering must have shorted us."

"That's right," Holly says.

Roger looks at her. Holly is a sales assistant, so has no right to speak up at this point. Freddy, also a sales assistant, is wisely keeping his mouth shut. But then, Freddy is halfway through his own donut and has a mouthful. He is postponing swallowing because he's afraid he'll make an embarrassing gulping noise.

Holly wilts under Roger's stare. Elizabeth says, "Roger, we saw Catering put them out. We were standing right here."

"Oh," Roger says. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize you were staking out the donuts."

"We weren't staking them out. We just happened to be here."

"Look, it doesn't bother me one way or the other." Roger picks up a sachet of sugar and shakes it as if it's in need of discipline: wap-wap-wap-wap. "I just find it interesting that donuts are so important to some people that they stand around waiting for them. I didn't know donuts were the reason we show up here every day. I'm sorry, I thought the idea was to improve shareholder value."

Elizabeth says, "Roger, how about you talk to Catering before you start making accusations. All right?" She walks off. Holly trails her like a remora.

Roger watches her go, amused. "Trust Elizabeth to get upset over a donut."

Freddy swallows. "Yeah," he says.

The Zephyr Holdings building sits nestled among the skyscrapers of Seattle's Madison Street like a big, gray brick. It is bereft of distinguishing features. You could argue that it has a certain neutral, understated charm, but only if you are willing to apply the same logic to prisons and 1970s Volvos. It is a building designed by committee: all they have been able to agree on is that it should be rectangular, have windows, and not fall over.

Perched at the top is the word ZEPHYR and the corporate logo, which is an orange-and-black polygon of foggy intent. Orange and black crops up a lot at Zephyr Holdings; you can't walk down a corridor, visit the bathroom, or catch an elevator without being reminded whose turf you're on. There's a logo on each panel of the lobby's sliding glass doors, and when you're through them, logos adorn the walls at intervals of three feet. A water feature of dark stones and well-tended ferns is a small, logo-free oasis, but to make up for this, the reception desk is practically a logo with a sign-in sheet on top. Even under soft, recessed lighting, the reception desk delivers such a blast of orange to your retinas that long after you've left it behind, you can still see it when you blink.

On one side of the lobby is an arrangement of comfortable chairs and low-slung tables, where visitors browse Zephyr's marketing literature while waiting for whomever they're meeting. Sitting there with his hands in his lap is young, fresh-faced Stephen Jones. His eyes are bright. His suit glows. His sandy-brown hair contains so much styling mousse it's a fire risk, and his shoes are black mirrors. This is his first day. So far he's been shown a series of corporate induction videos, one of which contained glowing buzzwords like teamwork and best practice rocketing at the screen, and another of which featured actors from the late 1980s talking about customer service. Now he is waiting for someone from the Training Sales department to come and collect him.

He accidentally catches the eye of the receptionist for about the fourteenth time and they both smile and look away. The receptionist is gretel monadnock, according to her nameplate; she's quite young, has long lustrous brown hair, and sits on the right side of the desk. On the left a nameplate says eve jantiss, but Eve herself is absent. Stephen Jones is a little disappointed about this, because while Gretel is nice, when he was here for his job interview and first saw Eve, he almost dropped his brand new briefcase. It would be an exaggeration to say he took a job at Zephyr because of the beauty of its receptionist, but during his interview he was very enthusiastic.

He looks at his watch. It is eleven o'clock. His videos finished twenty minutes ago. He folds his hands back in his lap.

"I'll try them again," Gretel says. She smiles sympathetically. "Ah . . . sorry, it's going to voice mail again."

"Oh. Maybe something urgent came up."

"Ye-e-e-s." She seems unsure if he is joking. "Probably."

"The thing you have to remember," Roger says, "is that it's all about respect." Roger has one elbow on Freddy's cubicle partition wall, his lean frame blocking the entrance. "The donut itself is irrelevant. It's the lack of respect the theft implies."

Freddy's phone trills. He looks at the caller-ID screen: reception. "Roger, please, I have to pick up the new grad. They keep calling."

"Just a moment. This is important." Roger knows Freddy will wait. Freddy has been a sales assistant for five years. He is quick-witted, inventive, and full of ideas, so long as that's okay with everybody else. Freddy is a participant. A member. He is happiest when he's blending in with a crowd. In any group of people, the one you can't remember is Freddy. He has wriggled so far inside Zephyr Holdings that Roger sometimes has difficulty telling where the company ends and Freddy begins. "I'm explaining why I want you to go to Catering and find out exactly how many donuts they gave us."

Desperation enters Freddy's eyes. "If I get this new grad, he can do it. He's your assistant."

Roger ponders this for a moment. "He may not appreciate the need to treat a situation like this delicately." This means: Keep it from Elizabeth and Holly.

"I'll tell him. Please, Roger, you're getting me in trouble with reception."

"All right. All right." Roger holds up his palms in surrender. "Go get your graduate, then."

"Your graduate."

Roger looks at him sharply. But Freddy is not being disrespectful, Roger realizes; Freddy is just being accurate. "Yes, yes. That's what I meant."

Stephen Jones ignores the ding of the elevator, because it has dinged plenty of times over the last twenty-five minutes, and none of those ended with him meeting new co-workers. To stretch his legs, he has taken to wandering around the lobby and reading the plaques and framed photos. The biggest of the lot is a huge, gleaming thing complete with its own light and glass case.


Zephyr Holdings aims to build and consolidate leadership positions in its chosen markets, forging profitable growth opportunities by developing strong relationships between internal and external business units and coordinating a strategic, consolidated approach to achieve maximum returns for its stakeholders.

This isn't the dullest thing Stephen Jones has ever read, but it's close. Oddly, it makes no mention of training packages, the selling of which is, as he understands it, Zephyr's main purpose. Then he realizes that a short man with dark hair and glasses is standing a few feet away, staring at him. "Jones?"


The man's eyes flick over Jones's new suit. One of his hands wanders down to where his own shirt is stuffed awkwardly into his pants and tries to fix it. "I'm Freddy. Nice to meet you." He extends his free hand, and they shake. Freddy's watery blue eyes look huge behind his glasses. "You're younger than I thought you'd be."

"Okay," Jones says.

Freddy looks at his shoes. Then he glances at the reception desk, at—if Jones is not mistaken—the empty chair behind the Eve Jantiss nameplate. "Do you smoke?"


"I do." He says it apologetically. "This way."

"It's a good department." Freddy sucks at his cigarette. It is a fine day: the clouds are high, there is a light breeze, and the gray Zephyr tower even seems to be emitting reflected warmth from the grid of tinted windows. Freddy's eyes follow a blue convertible inching toward them through traffic, then jump to Jones. "I mean, once you get used to things."

"I'm ready for a steep learning curve," Jones says, employing a phrase that came in handy during his job interviews.

"You're Roger's sales assistant. You have to process his orders, type up his quotes, file his expense forms, that kind of thing."

"What's he like?"

"Roger? Oh . . . nice." Freddy's eyes shift.

"Ah," Jones says. "So . . . he's not?"

Freddy glances around. "No. Sorry."

Jones snickers. "Well, I don't plan on being a sales assistant forever."

Freddy says nothing. Jones realizes that Freddy has probably been a sales assistant forever. "Roger's got a job for you, actually. He wants you to ask Catering how many donuts they gave our department this morning." In response to Jones's expression, he hurries on: "See, we get morning snacks; some days it's fruit, some days cookies, and occasionally, rarely, donuts. This morning there was an incident."

"Okay. Sure thing." Jones nods. This may not be a glamorous assignment, or make much sense, but it is his first task in the real business world, and by God, he's going to perform it well. "So where's Catering?"

Freddy doesn't answer. Jones follows his gaze until it intersects a midnight blue Audi sports car entering the Zephyr lot. The bulk of Zephyr's parking is subterranean, but there are a few valuable ground-level spaces, and the Audi slides confidently into one of these. The driver's door pops open and a pair of legs climb out. After a moment, Jones registers that the legs are attached to something. The something is Eve Jantiss.

She looks as if she is just stopping off at Zephyr on the way to an exclusive nightclub opening. Her hair, long, tousled, and honey-brown, bounces off exposed tan shoulders. Two delicate straps appear to play no functional role in suspending a thin, shimmering plum-colored dress; more mysterious forces are at work. She has lips like big sofa cushions, the kind of ancestry that probably includes nationalities Jones has never heard of, and liquid brown eyes that say: Sex?
 Why, what an intriguing idea
. In the nights between his job interview and now, Jones has occasionally wondered if he wasn't building Eve Jantiss up in his head, remembering her as more attractive than she really is. Now he realizes: no.

"Morning," she says, clacking past on high heels. "Hi," Jones says, and Freddy says something like, "Muh." Jones turns and sees Freddy practically dribbling love. Freddy's gaze is fixed on the back of Eve's head, not flicking up and down her body. Jones feels suddenly sordid. He was checking her out: Freddy's infatuation is pure.

When the sliding doors block their vision of Eve, or at least tint it, Jones says, "The receptionist has a sports car?"

"What?" Freddy says. "You think she doesn't deserve it?"

Jones's business shoes squeak as he and Freddy cross the lobby. It sounds as if he is conducting a mouse orchestra, and he feels the eyes of the two receptionists, Eve and Gretel, swing onto him. "That's him," Gretel says to Eve. "His name is Jones."

"Ah." Eve smiles. "Welcome to the Titanic, Jones."

Corporate humor! Jones has heard about this. He would like to respond in kind, but is too self-conscious about his shoes. He settles for: "Thanks."

They reach the bank of elevators at the lobby's rear and Freddy pushes for up. "People say she's Daniel Klausman's mistress." Klausman is the Zephyr CEO. "But that's just because she's hardly ever in reception."

Jones blinks. "Where does she go?"

"I don't know. But she's not his mistress. She's not like that." The elevator doors slide closed. "So anyway, Catering's on level 17. When you're done, come on up to 14."

"You mean come down to 14," Jones says, but even as the words come out, he sees the button panel. The floors are numbered top down: level 1 is at the panel's apex, marked ceo, while level 20, lobby, is at the bottom.

Freddy snickers. "Reverse numbering. It throws everyone at first. But you get used to it."

"Okay." Jones watches the numbers click over—20 . . . 19 . . . 18—while his body tells him he's rising. It feels unnatural.

"They say it's motivational," Freddy says. "As you move into more important departments, you rise up the rankings."

Jones looks at the button panel. "What's so bad about IT?"

"Please," Freddy says. "Some of them don't even wear suits."

On level 14, Elizabeth is falling in love. This is what makes her such a good sales rep, and an emotional basket case: she falls in love with her customers. It is hard to convey just how wretchedly, boot-lickingly draining it is to be a salesperson. Sales is a business of relationships, and you must cultivate customers with tenderness and love, like cabbages in winter, even if the customer is an egomaniacal asshole you want to hit with a shovel. There is something wrong with the kind of person who becomes a sales rep, or if not, there is something wrong after six months.

Elizabeth doesn't rely on the usual facades of friendship and illusions of intimacy: she forms actual attachments. For Elizabeth, each new lead is a handsome stranger in a nightclub. When they dance, she grows giddy with the rush of possibilities. If he doesn't like her product offering, she dies. If he talks about sizable orders, she feels the urge to move in with him.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"A raucous black comedy about corporate management that's tailor-made for anybody who's ever gone to the office feeling like a lab rat...Comic relief for any b-school grads (or Office Space fans) who've had their fill of Collins, Druckerand Peters."

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Company 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 43 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Picked this up on a whim a few years back, loved it. I now own all Max Barry's books and haven't been disappointed yet!!
foofoomcbarson More than 1 year ago
Great read, but a little short!
Guest More than 1 year ago
As I started reading this book I kept feeling that it was a long string of Dilbert-like situations. My copy came with the donut on the cover and the donut is very prevelent throughout the story as a whole fiasco is created at the beginning of the book when Roger (one of the Sales people) complains about a missing donut. This leads to an employee firing and the dismissal of the food services department. The donut may also symbolize the company as a whole. The more I read the book I kept thinking of Terry Gilliam's movie Brazil, where Robert DeNiro is kind of running things in the background or the Wizard of Oz where the wizard is just a plain man who hides behind a curtain. The main protaginist is known mostly as Jones (his first name is Steven). Jones has a habit of asking a lot of questions even though all the employees tell him not to question anything. Little by little Jones gets to the bottom of what the company (Zepher) is really about. He has to decide if he wants to upset the balance or go along while being mesmerized by the mysterious 'Eve.' This was a fun book on corporate philosophy and the treatment of the workers as individuals.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down. After completing Company I had to go out and by Jennifer Government which I am now reading. A great break from all the legal thrillers out there.
yosarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A wonderfully over the top satire at the expense of any and all corporations. Set in the fictional corporate world of Zephyr Holdings; all of the small minded, seemingly petty politics in the office are pointed at, exposed and ridiculed. A must for any office worker who feels that their boss is not entirely sure of the real world around them!Jones is starting his first new day at Zephyr a company where no-one knows exactly what they are doing, why they are doing it or indeed how it is going to get done. Desperate to know more Jones starts to dig around, ask questions he shouldn¿t and talk to people (notably senior management) thought to be un-reachable. Without wishing to give too much more of the story away for fear of giving clues to the twist in the story suffice to say that nothing in this office is quite as it appears to be.This book reminds me of Joseph Heller and I think the best description for it is Catch 22 in an office. Having said that it doesn¿t quite match the continued satire and humour of Heller¿s anti-war masterpiece, the twist to the novel occurs very early on and I think that it would have been better had Barry explored the office a little bit more before revealing what is really going on. The rumours that run around the Zephyr office started by the employees (typical, I think, of any business) could have had the readers¿ imagination going off in several directions trying to work out the plot. Having said that it is the characters and the ridiculous and often surreal situations that the management put the staff in to that really drives the novel. Every aspect of the office from the mundane filing and photocopying to the rather less mundane fear of being downsized and fired is explored by Barry and no-one clocks out at 5pm to go home without having been made to feel a little bit foolish first.
bplteen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
view by: Ben Q This book provides an insightful look into the inner workings of the corporation. Max Barry is a brilliant writer who has obviously spent a lot of time working at large companies, secretly plotting to bring them down with his wit. This book is full of that and has a good story too. Jones is the new hire at Zephyr Holdings, a company whose purpose is unknown, even to its employees. No one has ever seen its CEO, and a missing dounut is cause for a full-scale investigation. Jones is a curious guy, and decides to investigate despite the warnings of his co-workers. What he discovers will astound and amaze you. This book works on many levels: as satire, as a drama, and as a protest against the corporate workplace. Barry succeeds in all the areas a writer needs to by making you care about the characters while providing an interesting and fast-pace storyline. The book is an easy read and will entertain you for hours.
Spiceca on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is absolutely hysterically funny - especially for anyone that has worked for a big corporation (still funny if you haven't). I didn't really guess the ending and even afterward- I still felt the idea was worth pondering over.
Djupstrom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While I feel that Company was funny and an interesting take on the lunacy of the corporate world, it got a bit much.
kishields on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Much better than I expected. Real insight into the corporate experience. A believable ending for the most part. Satisfying. Reminds me of Christopher Buckley - Thank You for Smoking, etc.
mbrown33 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A rare book for me that starts good and goes downhill from there. A very biting satrical look at corporate America. Most office dwellers will identify with portions of this book. However in the end I felt this was just too over the top and I never really identified with Jones or was invested in his success. Very quick read.
jshrop on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Max Barry's latest novel Company is a fantastic satire on the business world and those corporate "fad" management techniques that already seem absurd in real life, and more so as exagerated in this story. It is a hilarious glimpse into a company where monkey see monkey do and the blind leading the blind take on whole new meanings. Company makes you think about all of the things you take for face value in your career and life that really if you dive down to the why would make you insane if you tried to comprehend it!Company provides a lot of laughs, makes you sympathize with the corporate drones encountered and gives you the ambition to think, I'm not going to take some wackos word for why this is best practice. Barry's ability to create characters that you really connect with, become emotionally involved with, and feel sorry and happy for is what makes this a great read, and in the meantime if it makes you think, geez this sounds a little like the crazy things my managers do, then it will have brought a little more spice into your life (just don't blame me if you read this and decide to have a revolution in your office!)
mchrzanowski on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was so much fun to read. I was seriously laughing out loud at many parts. I had the audiobook version of the book and it was outstanding. They did a great job with it and made it very entertaining. I think it is very relevant to read for anyone who has been in an office setting. I definitely could relate to much of what went on. I think it is an interesting take on how mega corporations are turning their employees into nothing but cogs in a wheel.
orangemonkey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Company tells the story of a man named Jones that starts working for a company named Zephyr that provides training services. He's not there long, however, before he discovers that there's more to Zephyr than meets the eye ...I thought this was a fantastic book. On one hand, it had the same type of "offices are crazy" comedy that you'd find in Office Space, or an episode of The Office, but at the same time with a more bitter, angry edge to it. Barry's main objective with the novel seems to be a reminder that capitalism can't exist without an underclass - one character muses that there would be no point in being rich if there wasn't an underclass to lord it over.
phillyexpat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was pretty disappointed. The premise was, for lack of a better word, cute. But it was so flat, two-dimensional, and predictable. I couldn't see the characters. Jennifer Government is 1,000 times better in terms of corporate satire. I struggled through this one because I liked Government so very much.
kjarcand on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Barry's imagination is wonderful in this novel, as was expected. I have enjoyed his writing about 'real world' scenarios -- especially when you can only fear this is what we may be coming to. Company makes light of the worker bee and takes a different look at needing meaning in our work. How far can people be pushed if they think their career and everything they have worked for is on the line? I was disappointed in the ending, but the overall book held my attention and left me wanting more.
naillig on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great parody of life at a big company that pokes fun at how management treats employees, how employees (some of them) take whatever is dealt to them like sheep, and all the other things you'll be familiar with if you've ever worked for a large organization
silea on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
With a style and message similar to Jennifer Government (also by Max Barry), Company just isn't as compelling.To review the general plot of both books, the protagonist is stuck dealing with company politics and bureaucracy, but generally stays above and outside it. Ultimately, there is conflict, things come to a head, and the resolution is gratifying and comedic.Actually, that last bit is less relevant to Company than Jennifer Government. I felt no particular resolution at the end of this book. The social commentary was amusing, the corporate structure was amusing, the characters were amusing, but mostly this story was just air. I read it in one sitting, not because it was so compelling but rather because it was so light and weightless. I never had to stop to think, to ponder the ramifications of the plot or character development. It made no particular impression on me, despite the flagrant parallels between the fictional company upon which the book centers and real world companies we've all seen, experienced, and been baffled by. I read it, laughing out loud perhaps once or twice, then set it aside. It would have been good beach reading or airplane reading, but that¿s about it.
gazzy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A satirical look at corporate culture, that attempts to pierce deeper than t.v. Office or film Office Space, but seems uncomfortable going for the jugular. First 2/3 are great last 1/3 loses steam.
DaveFragments on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you have ever had a Total Quality Management, SIgmz Six, Moved my Cheese, ISO9000, ISO 14000, or 7 Habits SHOVED down your throat at work. You'll love this satire.
arsmith on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a delightful little novel to read over the holidays. As if the movie Clockwatchers and Orwell¿s 1984 were put into a blender and told through the voice of Douglas Adams¿sort of, anyway. I have had my fair share of working for big corporations and this book convinces me of what I already felt, that it is not me who is crazy, it is the corporations. What is insane is that some of the stuff that happens in the book is really not far off base from what big companies are actually doing.
bigorangemichael on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For want of a doughnut, a company is reorganized pretty much sums up Max Barry's latest novel Company. If the premise sounds absurd, you're right. But just like the corporate world, a single dougnut brings about the decline and fall of a company. It serves as a catalyst for the absurdity that can be and is corporate life. What Jennifer Government did for the advertising industry, Company does for corporate life. But where Company trumps Jennifer is that the story follows a single protagonist in the story of corporate absurdity. If you've seen Office Space or The Office, you have a taste for what you'll find in these pages. Thankfully, the story is more linear and doesn't work as hard to have characters' lives intersect ala Crash as was the case in Jennifer Government. Stephen Jones is hired right out of college to work for the Zephyr Company. Within a day he's promoted over people who have been with the company for years and tries to discover the rhyme and reason as to why certain decisions are made. As he tries to figure out the mind of the suits and just what it is Zephyr does, he's drawn into a whole different world, one he never expected. Max Barry's satire is biting, especially as you recognize fellow co-workers in the pages of Company. The absurdity of behavoir from Roger the guy who can't let go of his doughnut being eaten to Elizabeth, the sales rep who falls uncontrollably in love with her clients...that is until they sign the contracts, you will recognize people you know and have worked with. Yes, Barry does make some of the characters one-dimensional but overall, his wry comments on corporate life and the corporate world are dead-on. The only negative is that the reveal of what is really behind Zephyr comes to early in the story and the novel coasts from there.
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