When Stephen Fairchild first approached me with regard to interest in his novel, “The Silver Lining Betrayals,” I confess, I didn’t know what to think of it. But as I read the book it dawned on me that he had written it, not only as a business tool, he was delving into new genre territory. Now I’m so enamored of what he’s done that I thought my review deserved a follow-up interview. One follows.
GF – Your novel takes an unusual form – much emphasis on invention and business. How did the idea for such a novel come about?
SF – I have worked for and with various technology companies and family businesses over the last 50 years. Observed and supervised many brilliant engineers who invented interesting technologies and products. But when it came to commercializing the technologies into profitable revenue streams, these engineers often failed. They fell in love with their technologies and forgot that politics (aka customer relationships) are equally important. You always need to balance technology and politics when practicing the art of commercialization. When you add the complication of family issues into the mix, then you get strange decisions and consequences.
GF – Your central character, Pug James, is just such an idea guy, and inventor, a product creator and, as you imply, not a particularly good businessman. But let’s talk about him as a person for a moment. Would you spend a moment describing Pug’s character, his inner conflicts?
SF – The Pug character is a composite of many engineers whom I have seen and worked with over the years. Starting with the base material of “ego and asshole” mentality, my imagination added the following elements:
Pug’s father is a very hateful person who abused his wife, refuses to recognize Pug’s accomplishments, and remains jealous of Pug. Pug wants his father’s approval but never achieves it. Pug resents that his father favors his nephew and namesake, Darin.
Despite Pug’s estrangement, he nevertheless inherited several of his father’s bad traits such as infidelity, paranoia, biased opinions, delusional thinking, etc. It probably bothers Pug internally that he is more like his father than he cares to acknowledge.
Pug ignores important lessons and advice about balancing technology and politics and like the definition of insanity, he repeats the same errors over and over expecting different outcomes.
Pug thinks he is developing his sons to inherit his business legacy. He doesn’t realize that his management style and thinking will produce the opposite. Skip is hopeless and finally resorts to betraying his father while Dave departs and seeks a better life in Japan. Ironically, Dave will learn the lessons that Pug could never learn.
GF – Much of the novel is taken up with of Pug’s dealings with Japanese business types. Can you give your readers an idea of the dynamics of these dealings?
SF – Having worked and lived in Asia for six years, I realized the importance of recognizing and adapting to the diverse business cultures and traditions. Generally, the General Patton tactical approach does not succeed. You have to play the long game and think in terms of years, not months. Relationships are everything and Pug never learns that lesson.
One quickly learns that you must respect local practices, spend hours developing relationships and trust, and be very methodical in your steps. The “checkers” approach may succeed in the very short term but it’s the “chess” approach that succeeds in the long game.
When I first read Michael Crichton’s “Rising Sun”, it resonated. The success and failure of dealing with Japanese businessmen, was clearly highlighted by the differing styles exhibited in the movie version by Harvey Keitel’s, Sean Connery’s and Wesley Snipe’s characters.
Asian businessmen, especially the Japanese, appreciate the value of IP (Intellectual Property) and will acquire it by many different means. Business espionage is a fact of life (more so for Korea and China) and one has to proceed cautiously. Pug is too impatient to accept this reality and hence his approach is doomed.
GF – Steve, you’ve been a businessman in real life – do you think your novel accurately represents the modern business community?
SF – Since the setting occurred between the mid 1980’s and 2002, the novel did reflect reality more as it existed then. Now, the business community is much more sophisticated and their techniques are less transparent thanks to the internet and technology progress. Pug’s style and actions would not be tolerated today like they were in the earlier years.
Protecting one’s IP is a critical process. Resorting to litigation is an instinctive reaction and short-term satisfying. But considering other alternatives like licensing, JV’s, win/win approaches will be much more successful in the long term. The modern business community tends to adopt this approach more and more.
GF – What’s next for you? Will you continue to write on this subject?
SF – Plans include writing a sequel to continue the firsts novel’s themes and to resolve unfinished matters from the first novel.
I plan to develop a series of case studies for use in the business and law schools that draw on events described in the novel. Hopefully, professors can use these in teaching courses that involve protecting and commercializing IP, managing family businesses, and developing executive talent.