Does your local gas man seem more spiritually enlightened now that he's driving a KeySpan truck?
It's been a little over three years since the utilities once known as Boston Gas, Colonial Gas, and Essex Gas came under the corporate umbrella of KeySpan Corp., an energy conglomerate based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Aside from seeing a new name on the fabled Dorchester gas tank and the monthly bill, it's hard to say whether most New Englanders perceive any huge difference in ''the gas company."
This book, whose lead author, Robert Catell, has been KeySpan's chief executive since 1991, explores Catell's relationship with the coauthor, former Roman Catholic priest Kenny Moore, and it argues that KeySpan is indeed a very different kind of company. Moore spent 15 years living as a monk before taking a mid-level human resources job at KeySpan, rising to become its corporate ombudsman and top adviser to Catell.
Working with contributor Glenn Rifkin, a New York business reporter, Catell and Moore's book -- written in alternating first-person chapters -- asserts that the monk's influence on the CEO has helped create an unusually caring, ethical, honest company. ''It is a hugging culture, a 'thank you' culture, a culture where the edges are sandpapered away so that the mean-spiritedness of corporate politics is mostly absent," write Catell and Moore.
Catell, a grandfatherly KeySpan lifer who started in 1958 as a meter repairman, comes off as a CEO who says the right things, espouses admirable values, and looks after his employees during difficult times like the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, just across the river from KeySpan's headquarters.
But the book tends to be longer on tell than show, spinning KeySpan's glorious corporate culture rather than enumerating real-life examples of how KeySpan really is different from other corporations that sponsor blood drives and ballparks and honor the employee of the month.
Getting good PR is a recurring theme in this book. In 2002, animated by a Catell-Moore conviction to do the right thing rather than the most profitable thing, KeySpan sold 550 acres of land on Long Island's North Shore at a deep discount to become a state park. Of course, any KeySpan bid to develop the property would have likely sparked war with environmentalists. And while it may have been an honorable thing to do, Catell makes clear that he had a return on investment in mind: ''The long-term value to our corporate image and reputation would be priceless . . . . When customers thought about KeySpan, those thoughts would likely be favorable."
But KeySpan hasn't stopped aggressively seeking profits. Sometimes it seeks them too aggressively, as Massachusetts utility regulators concluded last year. Coming in for a $61 million rate hike last year, KeySpan was excoriated for greed and accounting violations by Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly. State utility commissioners, dealing their first serious rejection in years to a local utility, denied most of KeySpan's rate-hike bid.
How much you like this book may depend on whether sentences like this one sound meaningful or read like a punch line in a ''Dilbert" comic strip: ''A new style of Employee Care meetings began, this time focused on practical business issues rather than on simply getting employee feedback." Many of the Catell chapters feature this kind of bloodless corporate-speak or bromides such as ''playing the game correctly simply by not playing the game."
If you're interested in CEO thinking, human resources issues, and corporate culture, ''The CEO and the Monk" is worth reading. But to quote one of its the opening pages: ''It may sound like New Age folderol."
Peter J. Howe can be reached at email@example.com.