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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

August 29, 1993|Alex Raksin

PERFECTING A PIECE OF THE WORLD: Arthur Imperatore and the Blue-Collar Aristocrats of the A-P-A by David Rounds (Addison Wesley: $21.95; 304 pp.). Arthur Imperatore took one used Army truck and expanded it into a multimillion dollar business--A-P-A Transport--that has flourished for three decades at a legendary level of profit and productivity. His story of doing well by doing good, recounted glowingly in these pages, will appeal to those of us who want to rise above the '80s and keep "thinking about tomorrow," as Fleetwood Mac urged at the Democrats' victory party. Thus we trail along eagerly after Imperatore and journalist David Rounds as they tour an A-P-A freight dock, clanking and rumbling with dozens of trucks and tractor-trailers. Imperatore talks about the need for companies to give workers "a bigger purpose in life. They have to feel that they're not only being fed with worldly goods . . . they have to be fulfilled. This is where I believe this country lost."

Rounds tries so hard to hold a halo over Imperatore's head that we eventually become suspicious of its glow. Was Imperatore really able to be a "gold-giving Norse chieftain" in the '80s, a decade when deregulation made the transport industry so cutthroat that scores of truck lines drove each other out of business through low-ball pricing? Rounds wins our trust, though, in later pages, when it becomes clear that he is less interested in promotion than in philosophy. Companies like A-P-A, he writes, offer an alternative to the kind of coldly competitive capitalism that predominates today, for they show why "an insistence on the flourishing of working people (is) the surest source of profit." This may sound like pie-in-the-sky philosophizing, but Rounds uses it to justify such controversial notions as the monitoring of employee performance (for which Imperatore is infamous) and to argue that pride in craftsmanship can be a better motivational tool than fear of failure.

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