In The Goal, industrial plant manager Alex’s struggle to keep his family together is interwoven with his discovery of newer, better processes for managing complex systems. Although only a subplot of the story’s main arc, Alex’s fraught personal life provides a revealing window into the cost of a high-powered corporate career path. Alex’s corporate career exacts mental and relational tolls upon himself and his family, suggesting that the satisfaction and prestige of corporate success come with a significant cost to one’s personal life.
Alex’s management woes at the manufacturing plant become not only a workplace problem but an intense personal burden, suggesting that a corporate management career exacts a heavy toll on one’s personal life and mental wellbeing. As the manager of a failing plant, Alex experiences near-constant stress. His regional director, Bill Peach, often threatens Alex’s career and yells at him for operating a failing plant. Often, Alex cannot sleep because he is thinking about the problems at the plant. His work occupies his mind even when he goes home for the day, suggesting that one’s daily life and health can become plagued by the constant pressures of the job. On top of his own personal stress, Alex feels the weight of responsibility for the hundreds of employees who work in his plant. Situated in the midst of a depressed industrial town, Alex knows that if the plant fails and his employees lose their jobs, most of them will have nowhere else to turn for employment. He recalls that when he was brought in as the manager to rescue the plant, the local papers heralded him as a hero. However, now that Bill Peach threatens to close the plant, Alex wonders if he will become the town villain—the man who shuttered one of the few remaining job-providers in the town. Alex’s burden of responsibility adds to his own personal stress, suggesting that a career in corporate management comes with the increased pressure of hundreds or thousands of other people depending on oneself. As Alex struggles to find solutions to all of his managerial problems, he realizes that he no longer enjoys simple, everyday things, like a sunrise in the spring. He reflects, “What makes me mad sometimes is that I'm always running so hard that […] I don't have time to pay attention to all the daily miracles going on around me. Instead of letting me eyes drink in the dawn, I'm […] worrying about Peach.” Alex’s frustration suggests that a corporate management career can cause so much preoccupation that one fails to slow down and appreciate life’s simple pleasures.
Alex’s corporate management career not only negatively impacts his own life, but his family members’ lives as well, suggesting that another cost of a corporate career is the disruptive effect it may have on the health and wellbeing of one’s family. Although Alex does not intentionally neglect his wife, Julie, he spends so much time dealing with workplace problems—which, to him, feel unavoidable—that he does not give her any time or attention. This causes Julie to feel unwanted and invisible to her husband, especially because Alex tends to prioritize salvaging his career over salvaging his relationship with her. Julie feels so neglected that she leaves Alex and the children for a time, and she considers divorcing him. Although Alex and Julie eventually work out their problems, this notably happens only when Alex begins to solve some of his management problems as well, which frees up more of his time. Alex’s relationship with his children also suffers due to his commitment to his corporate career. When Alex is working a late night at the office, his second-grade daughter, Sharon, waits all evening next to the door, eager for him to come home so that she can show him her straight-A report card. She’s crushed when Alex never appears. Often, Alex spends so little time at home that he doesn’t see his children for days at a time, leaving his mother or Julie to take care of them on their own. Though he lives with his children, they lack a consistent father figure. Even when Alex does start to spend time with his kids—again, as he starts to solve some of his management problems—they only ever spend their time together brainstorming about how he can solve problems for the manufacturing plant. Not once does Alex spend any time just relaxing with them or asking them what they care about. Even in his family relationships, Alex’s whole world remains oriented around his career. This unfortunately suggests that a corporate management career, with all its great demands, can easily detract from one’s relationship with one’s immediate family and can become the greater priority.
The novel never truly justifies Alex’s corporate career or the heavy cost of it on his health and his family. Although he finds satisfaction in doing his job well, after Alex saves his plant and gets promoted to be the division manager, he admits to Julie that the promotion feels like “just winning a point in the rat race,” suggesting that it all seems somewhat meaningless. Even so, Alex accepts the promotion and suddenly declares all of the struggle and emotional pain to be an “exciting, worthwhile journey” without ever naming what makes it worthwhile in the first place. Though The Goal is first and foremost a novel about business management practices, Goldratt’s inclusion of Alex’s personal and familial struggles alludes to the cost that a corporate career can have on “any manager who is to some extent obsessed with his work,” raising the question of whether such a career is worthwhile.
The Cost of Corporate Success ThemeTracker
The Cost of Corporate Success Quotes in The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement
So where was I last night, [Peach] asks, when he tried to call me at home? Under the circumstances, I can’t tell him I have a personal life. I can’t tell him that the first two times the phone rang, I let it ring because I was in the middle of a fight with my wife, which, oddly enough, was about how little attention I’ve been giving her. And the third time, I didn’t answer it because we were making up.
When I came back to manage this plant, the Bearington Herald did a story on me. I know, big deal. But I was kind of a minor celebrity for a while. The local boy had made it big. It was sort of a high-school fantasy come true. I hate to think that the next time my name is in the paper, the story might be about the plant closing. I’m starting to feel like a traitor to everybody.
Halfway to the city, the sun rises. By then, I’m too busy thinking to notice it at first. I glance to the side and it’s floating out there beyond the trees. What makes me mad sometimes is that I’m always running so hard that—like most other people, I guess—I don’t have time to pay attention to all the daily miracles going on around me. Instead of letting my eyes drink in the dawn, I’m watching the road and worrying about Peach.
“Everything is for your job,” she says. “It’s all you think about. I can’t even count on you for dinner. And the kids are asking me why you’re like this—”
There is a tear forming in the corner of her eye. I reach to wipe it away, but she brushes my hand aside.
“No!” she says. Just go catch your plane to wherever it is you’re going.”
She walks past me.
“Julie, this is not fair!” I yell at her.
She turns to me.
“That’s right. You are not being fair. To me or to your children.”
“Alex, tell your children what’s bothering you,” my mother says, “It affects them too.”
I look at the kids and realize my mother’s right.
“I’m working.” I tell her.
“Can I help?” [Sharon] asks.
“Well…I don’t know,” I say. “It’s kind of technical. I think you’ll probably be bored by it.”
“Oh,” she says. “does that mean you want me to leave?”
“No, not if you want to stay,” I tell her. “Do you want to try to solve a problem?”
“Okay,” she says, brightening.
Living and breathing within range of my sight are 30,000 people who have no idea that one small but important part of the town’s economic future will be decided tomorrow. Most of them haven’t the slightest interest in the plant or what we’ve done here—except if UniWare closes us, they’ll be mad and scared. And if we stay open? Nobody will care. Nobody will even know what we went through.
A chill goes down my back as I remember it. I was in deep trouble. My plant was under a real threat of being closed down; over 600 people were about to join the already long unemployment lines; my career was one inch from being kissed by limbo; and on top of all that, the unbelievable hours I was putting in at work had pushed our marriage to the brink of going down the tube. In short, I was about to change from a bright, rising star to an ordinary bum.