Books by Alecia Swasy

Released: June 1, 1997

A journalist's unfocused take on Eastman Kodak and the ripple effects its troubles have caused over the past decade or more. Drawing on personal interviews and secondary sources, Swasy (Soap Opera, 1993) tries and fails to tell at least three stories. First, there's the cautionary tale of a firm that once ruled the wide world of photography only to be brought low by its own complacency and by aggressive rivals like Japan's Fuji. Next come mawkish accounts of how the commercial woes of a traditionally paternal organization affected host communities (notably, Rochester, NY) and laid-off workers, who had taken their highly paid jobs for granted. Included as well are discontinuous and inconclusive reports on the wrenching campaign mounted by George Fisher (an outsider recruited at vast expense from Motorola) to put the company back on an upward track. Unfortunately, the author (business editor at Florida's St. Petersburg Times) does not capitalize on the drama inherent in any of these narrative lines. Nor does she integrate them into any kind of coherent whole that could inform corporate executives, makers of public policy, municipal officials, those threatened by downsizing, or merely interested parties. Veering on and off course, Swasy intersperses raw reportage on the plights of the unemployed with such things as briefings on a spinoff (Eastman Chemical) that may or may not be an object lesson for its erstwhile parent; as a practical matter, her potpourri approach strongly suggests that she has no idea whether Kodak can thrive in a competitive new environment where digital technology promises to have a decidedly negative impact on film suppliers. A blurred picture of an enterprise whose triumphs and travails are not to be captured in the editorial equivalent of tintypes. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 4, 1993

Wall Street Journal reporter Swasy was, she tell us, spied upon, followed, and bugged while writing this admirable—if ultimately somewhat disappointing—history of the dark side of Ivory-soap and Tide manufacturer Proctor & Gamble. According to hundreds of interviews Swasy conducted with current and former P&G managers, contractors, and company watchdogs, P&G—a founder of the national brand name and a pillar of Cincinnati civic life since 1837—turns out to be a paranoid corporate strongman obsessed with controlling the lives of its employees and preserving the sacrosanct reputation of its brands. In chapters devoted, respectively, to the single-minded career of CEO Ed Artzt, to racism and sexism at headquarters, to totalitarian demands for worker loyalty, to hushed-up environmental debacles in P&G plants around the nation, and, finally, to the ruthless marketing here and abroad of brands—including Crest, Pampers, Tide, and, most notoriously, Rely tampons (which were responsible for a number of deaths in the toxic-shock syndrome scandal of the 1970's), Swasy thoroughly dismantles P&G's wholesome image. The documentation of various kinds of corporate malfeasance—including the well-publicized but still shocking episode in which P&G persuaded friendly local county law-enforcement officials secretly to search the private phone records of hundreds of P&G employees, looking for calls to Swasy's Pittsburgh phone after an unfavorable story by her appeared in The Wall Street Journal—is heroic. But the cumulative tale isn't shapely enough to stand on its own as a cautionary story, and Swasy is too close to it to ask what it tells us about corporate America today. For all Swasy's careful work, the book finally has a little ring of an author's rant. Must reading, however, for company watchers, P&G shareholders, curious consumers, and citizens of Cincinnati. (Sixteen pages of b&w photographs) Read full book review >