McCall is a notorious financial maverick and mysterious millionaire who
buys depressed companies, makes changes to them, and sells them to make
profits. He acquires companies in order to sell them rather than to
operate them. He adds value by making companies more effective and/or by
taking advantage of overlooked opportunities. Cash McCall’s name has
become legendary and he has become the subject of much gossip, rumor,
and innuendo. Many people call him a pirate and believe that he is an
evil, unprincipled, and immoral man. Others are jealous and envious of
him. Throughout the novel the reader, as well as characters in the book,
discover the true character of McCall, what he represents, and what he
In the novel we meet the weary Grant Austen, who is worn down by the
responsibilities of running his company, Suffolk Moulding, a small
family-owned plastics company. The only two owners are Grant and his
daughter, Lory. Although Grant Austen appears to be in a rut and is not
a great businessman, he is not exactly ready to retire. However, he does
fear that he is in danger of losing a vital contract.
Austen’s largest customer, Andscott Instrument Corporation represents
around 60 percent of Suffolk’s business and wants Suffolk to produce a
new, larger television cabinet. In order to do so, Suffolk would need to
install a new press costing a quarter of a million dollars. General
Danvers, Andscott’s President, threatens to take all of his business to
another company if Suffolk does not do as he says. Later in the novel we
discover that Danvers was bluffing about moving his business
elsewhere—he knew he could not because of certain patents that Austen
While reading a newspaper, Grant Austen sees an ad that gives him the
idea of selling his company. He discusses this idea with his daughter,
Lory, and then he tells Gil Clark, a management consultant with
Corporate Associates, that he is contemplating selling his business and
retiring. During their discussion, Austen does not disclose to Clark the
precarious situation that Suffolk is in with Andscott. He wants to
create the image that he simply wants to retire. Gil estimates to Austen
Clark that two million dollars would be an extraordinary amount to
receive for his company. In a later conversation in the novel, Will
Atherson, President of Freeholders Bank and Trust Co. of Philadelphia
provides Austen with a similar estimate of Suffolk’s value. Atherson,
who has worked with McCall, tells Austen that he could be lucky to get
Gil Clark is a young management consultant with integrity who
understands the moral and practical value of capitalism, business, and
careers in business. He realizes that business can improve human
existence through the production of increasingly better products that
contribute to the fulfillment of individuals’ lives. In the beginning of
the novel Clark does not know that McCall owns the consulting firm that
he works for.
Harrison Glenn, Gil’s boss and President of Corporate Associates,
suggests Cash McCall to Gil as a potential buyer of Suffolk and arranges
for Gil to meet with McCall over lunch. In the beginning of the story
Gil is skeptical and has a negative impression of Cash based on hearsay.
He thinks that McCall is a person who would not hesitate to throw an
entire community out of work if it meant making a quick profit. This
attitude soon changes to approval when he meets with McCall and sees him
When Gil meets Cash he finds him to be a moral businessman and a true
gentleman who treats all parties in a business deal with justice and
fairness. Cash inform Gil that he is the owner of Corporate Associates.
Impressed with Gil’s character and business, Cash offers him a job as
Gil explains to Cash that he has no objection to making money. In
response, McCall proclaims his agreement with this view: “In case there
is any doubt in your mind, Gil, I don’t belong to the better circles.
I’m a thoroughly vulgar character—I enjoy making money.” (153).
Cash then scolds America for its ambivalence regarding capitalism and
“We have a peculiar national attitude toward money-making… We
maintain that the very foundation of our way of life is what we call
free enterprise–the profit system. We’re so serious about it that
we’ll fight to preserve it – literally go to war – but when one of
our citizens shows enough free enterprise to pile up a little of
that profit, we do our best to make him feel that he ought to be
ashamed of himself.
…it still strikes me as something of an anomaly that here, living
under the profit system—fighting and dying to defend it—we’ve come
now to regard the accumulation of profit as a crime against society.
It’s gotten to the point now where the only way a millionaire can
expiate his sin is to endow a charity or a cancer research
McCall does not condone the government’s numerous and arbitrary tax laws
and other regulations but he abides by and adapts to them, and profits
while so doing: “I don’t make the rules Gil, I only play the game. I
never thought much of the kick-for-point after touchdown, either, but as
long as it’s in the rule book, that’s the way the game is played.” (164)
Will Atherson, McCall’s banker and friend of Grant Austen, is advising
Austen regarding what to do with his company and tells Austen that he
thinks that Cash McCall might be interested in buying the company. Of
course, Gil Clark has already brought the possible acquisition of
Suffolk Moulding to McCall’s attention.
Atherson calls Cash to tell him about Austen’s company and mentions that
Austen is meeting his daughter, Lory, at three o’clock in the lobby of
the hotel where Cash resides. Lory and Cash had a brief romantic
relationship in Maine prior to the events of the novel. Cash and Lory
spot each other in the lobby at the hotel—she has no idea that McCall is
the person interested in buying the company.
Lory and Grant Austen go with McCall to his apartment to discuss the
possible sale of Suffolk to McCall. There Lory, an illustrator of
children’s books, sees the frontispiece drawing she had done for a novel
hanging on his wall. The drawing is clearly a portrait of Cash McCall.
Austen makes Cash aware that he and Lory are the sole stockholders in
the company and McCall informs Austen that he is the owner of Corporate
Associates where Gil Clark had worked and who has been advising Austen
on business matters. Cash wants to make certain that Austen is aware of
the potential for bias in Clark’s business advice. Cash explains that he
had discussed the possible purchase with Clark and that Atherson’s
suggestions to Austen of McCall as a potential buyer are just
coincidences. Austen states that he is only willing to accept money, not
stock, for his company. General Danvers of Andscott was interested in
buying Suffolk but he was only able to offer stock in exchange for the
company. Austen fails to inform McCall about the possibility of Andscott
pulling out its business. Cash offers Austen $2 million and the deal is
sealed by a handshake.
Lory Austen for years had wanted to be independent of her parents, and
the sale proceeds of her ten percent ownership in Suffolk (i.e.,
$200,000) could at least provide her with financial freedom. In turn,
Grant Austen’s wife, Miriam, yearns to be free of her daughter.
Possessing an unhealthy jealousy of her daughter, Miriam wants to have
Grant all to herself. She resents the late night talks about business in
which Lory and Grant frequently engage. Miriam does not know that Lory
also dreads their late night talks. Lory wants to travel to Italy to
develop her talents as an artist. Miriam views McCall as potential
marriage material for Lory.