“An unpretentious, tactical, and sure-footed examination of the events that shaped his own life.”
--Jay Parini, author of the best-selling historical novel, The Last Station
Bruce Piasecki’s book on business strategy Doing More With Less: the New Way to Wealth, was an immediate success, becoming a New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestseller. Indeed, Doing More With Less is not just a clever book title; it explains the core philosophy of a man, who propelled from an impoverished and fatherless childhood, became an internationally, sought-after resource for the world’s largest corporations—from Toyota and Wal-Mart to Shell and Suncor Energy.
Those who helped and shaped Dr. Piasecki are the focus of his latest work Missing Persons: A Life of Unexpected Influences. Indeed, in this set of 70 vignettes Piasecki channels his poetic side - a side that was first noticed at Cornell when his little-known book of poems was published under the title Stray Prayers in 1973. The memoir, one part autobiography, one part creative non-fiction and written in vignette form, recounts the author’s formative relationships and experiences with intimacy and longing. Meet his mother, and father, his interracial brothers and sisters, his early and late business partners, his lovers, his daughter and his wife. It is told in a unique third person narrative that provides intrigue for the reader as they follow the protagonist through loss, passion, self-invention, a litany of fears and dreams - each revealed in eloquent prose. Through his uniquely informed perspective, Bruce allows us to understand the power of memory and how it influences us. The simplicity that made Doing More With Less a bestseller makes this new work not only compelling, but also life-affirming.
Missing Persons explores the meaning and power of memory, and offers an opportunity for the reader to pause, reflect, and recount the myriad of influences in their own lives.
Bruce Piasecki, PhD is the president and founder of AHC Group, Inc., a top management consulting firm specializing in energy, materials, and environmental corporate matters, whose clients include Suncor Energy, the Warren Buffett firm Shaw Industries, to Toyota, and other international companies. In addition to his bestseller Doing More with Less, Dr. Piasecki is the author of nine other books on business strategy, valuation, and corporate change, including the Nature Society’s book of the year, In Search of Environmental Excellence: Moving Beyond Blame, as well as his recent bestseller Doing More With Less. Since 1981, he has advised companies on the critical areas of corporate governance, energy, environmental strategy, product innovation, and sustainability strategy. A highly sought after speaker and educator, Dr. Piasecki gives lectures, workshops, and seminars throughout North America and the world.
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Good Reading Becomes Introduction
“I count myself in nothing else so happy
As in a soul remembering my good friends.”
—William Shakespeare, Richard II
My name is Bruce Piasecki.
I know that’s a long name, and an odd one. It has proven difficult for many Americans to pronounce and even to remember. Once, when I had rented a home situated high above the fog of Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains, the landlord eyed me sideways, refusing to turn over the key until I had verified that I was, in fact, the strange fellow with the small family he was expecting. I pronounced and spelled my name slowly, making sure he heard. But when I got to the “a” and then the “s” followed by the “e” then the “c”—he interrupted with, “Wait a minute now, son! Letters can’t fit together that way in Tennessee!” When I persisted, he handed over the keys, saying “Well, I suppose you speak pretty good American, for a Polack.”
I start with my Polish name because I can still remember the out-of-body sensation of watching myself as my grandmother—my Bapci—tried to teach me to say it: “Pi-a-sec-ki, Pi-a-sec-ki.” This was the beginning of my ability to see myself in the third person, which is how I have written my story. You can blame my name.
My Bapci, who spoke only Polish, held dominion over my early attention like an exotic queen. Her attempts to teach me to say my name that day persisted for nearly an hour. Later that same day, she and I played an amazing game of catch. Many years afterward, my mother, Lillian, would say, “There is no way you could have played catch with Bapci, Bruce. She was already totally blind by then.”
My mother may have insisted it wasn’t possible, but I can still remember the wind swirling around my grandmother that day, the bandana in her hair, the Eastern European patterns on her blouse, her aged fingertips, and how proud she was that I could catch what she had thrown my way. And I do remember that catch, vividly—even as I prepare to turn sixty within a few short months. I also remember her catching the ball, many times. I remember the ball bouncing around near her breasts, and her arthritic fingers groping for it in this new world. And I remember her insisting that I pronounce my name the correct Polish way. That, I’m afraid, I never got right.
My grandmother died a few years later. Her death was not my first major loss: that would have been the death of my father, Walter, when I was three. There would be other losses to follow—not necessarily deaths, but endings or disappearances. This book traces my encounters—some real, some imagined—with the “missing persons” who have shaped my life.
During the past seventeen years, as I wrote Missing Persons, I came to see that telling stories about my life continued to actively shape my identity—the sense of who I was, and who I had been. I felt that the crucial relationship between memory and identity was best captured in a cinematic vision of personal history—complete with close-ups, tracking shots, flashbacks, and the occasional lurch of the handheld camera. I hope to have captured these moments, these magical memories, in a series of vignettes that are housed in the three parts of this book.
The vignettes that make up Part One explore what it felt like to grow up poor, to make it as a basketball player, and to find myself in the early 1970s on full scholarship at Cornell University. I was raised near the railroad tracks of West Islip, Long Island, by a widowed mother who took in foster children from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. Even through high school, most of my teachers didn’t believe that the Chinese or Puerto Rican kids they saw me hugging in the hallways during school or after basketball games were my brothers and sisters. My youth was magical, but leaving home and moving on to college was even more so. It was like manna from heaven—except that the manna was actually chocolate-coated bread and full of the nutrition (and poppy seeds) I had desperately needed on the courts and in the alleys of West Islip.
It was at Cornell that I met my magical wife, Varlissima. That is not her real name. I would like to have used her real name, but since my Sicilian-American wife is mostly American now—as well as being reserved, private, and far better educated than I—she insisted that I use a fictitious name in this book. Was this to ensure that her real name would remain unknown? Was it to protect the innocent? Was it her way of distancing herself from the facts and fantasy of my life? I think it was because of her deep humility, which renders memoirs fundamentally foreign to her way of being.
The vignettes in Part Two explore the delights and sensuality that come with a successful path in life, as well as the many fears we face as we age. For me, during the long valley of middle age, the magic of my life with Varlissima was complicated by the growth and success of my management consulting firm, which necessitated global travel; by the emergence of an increasingly strong desire to establish myself as a writer; by the death of my mother; and by the presence of the many muses in my life.
One of the central characters in this part of the book is Darlene—who actually exists and who has indeed improved the life of my family and my firm. But like other characters in the memoir, Darlene is a combination of herself and others I’ve met as I traveled the long road of middle age. How else to sum up that magic but through the composite flowers before you?
While echoing some of the themes found in Parts One and Two, Part Three is perhaps the most magical section of all. Inspired by a hopeful passage from best-selling author Oliver Sacks about life after eighty, this part involves the fascinating idea that one’s reputation can continue in the future. It presents a flash forward of my life—a visionary journey of memories and new adventures—during my final decades.
When I think back to my childhood memory of playing catch with my grandmother all those years ago, I can still hear my mother’s voice telling me that it could not have happened. But the memory was absolutely real to me. In that same manner, the future vision of my life—the essence of Part Three—is as vivid and real as those moments with my beloved Bapci.
For once we come to appreciate the power of memory, we can make out the patterns that will likely precede our end. This might prove the most magical stage of all.
Foreword by Jay Parini, xvii
The Discovery of Colette
Vignettes of Innocence and Youth
Uncle Zigmund, 9
Edwin Torres and Suie Ying Chang, 11
Mary Beth and Trespass, 15
An Angry Young Man, 17
Encounters with Al Oerter and Marcus Aurelius, 19
With Lefty at the University of Maryland, 22
Hurricane Sandy, 26
The Blind Alley of Birth, 28
Lillian Ann Piasecki, 30
A Second Mother, 32
Stories by Lillian That Last, 34
A Funeral Message, 36
Coastal Bliss, 38
Walking with Varlissima, 41
A Maddening Couple, 45
Pregnant and Unchanging, 47
Frida and His Fly, 49
Another Visionary, 51
The Discovery of Colette, 52
Colette at Night the First Four Years, 53
The First Obsession, 54
Attic Bliss, 56
Meeting Jay, 58
His Neighborhood After Meeting Jay, 61
Moby Dick After Meeting Jay, 64
Appreciating Varlissima, 68
The Sensual Middle
Vignettes of Experience and Middle Age
The Art of Being a Dog, 76
Extending a Life, 79
The Sensual Certainty of Youth, 83
His Father Glimpsed in Istanbul, 87
Divine Compensation, 89
Surprise Is Never an Isolated Event, 92
Granting Himself Forgiveness, 95
Forgiveness Is a Journey, 98
What He Found Next, 102
Meeting Darlene, 107
Adding Vermont Stones to Stone Church Road, 110
Woman with Many Tongues, 111
Choosing the Right Pond, 113
A Mother’s Death, 116
A Father’s Death, 118
We Flower Under Stress, 119
Frankly Torn, 121
Freedom and Fate and William Hogarth, 123
All Ice Is Dangerous, 125
Venture Understanding, 127
Regression Is Progression, 129
The Second Obsession, 131
Varlissima in Wonderland, 134
An Afterlife, 138
At Old Stone Church
Vignettes of the Magic in Old Age
A Drunken Hercules, 143
The Push of Humanity at His Door, 148
Colette at Night, Again, 149
Sacred Memory, 151
The Dragon Arum, 154
Mr. Plumer, His Teacher, 157
Old Age at the Lotos Club, 159
Norah Jones, Faith, and the Fabulous, 162
Success at Home, 165
The Last Obsession, 168
Good Reading Becomes His Mistress, 170
The Wind in His Backyard, 172
Further Reading About the World, 174
Karl Marx and His Nurse, 176
Seldom Seen in Saratogam, 177
Titillating the Amygdala, 179
The Beach Where He Was Born, 181
The Incredible Rightness of Resolve, 182
His Succession Plans, 183
He Imagined His Readers, 187
Colette Discovers This Memoir, 188
Homes, Hope, and the Hidden, 192
Memory Is the Accomplishment, 194
Around Here, Everyone Talks Like Lions, 196
About the Author, 199
WAMC-FM (Northeast Public Radio) - "Round Table"
NPR (syndicated) "Author's Corner on Public Radio"
WGAU-AM (Athens, GA), "The Barbara Dooley Show"
The Saratogian ("Five Questions for Bruce Piasecki")
The Troy Record