By day, he was a cog in the corporate machine. By night, he was its chief critic.
Gil Schwartz, the longtime media executive who for two decades wrote insightful, biting, and witty columns for Fortune under the pen name Stanley Bing, died in his Santa Monica home on Saturday. He was 68.
Representatives of CBS, where he once served as chief communications officer, confirmed the news Sunday, adding that his death was unexpected but due to natural causes. Schwartz led his department “with creative flair, craftsman-like expertise, and an abundance of personality,” the company said in a statement.
A graduate of Brandeis University, Schwartz built his career working first as a public affairs associate for the Teleprompter Corp.; then Westinghouse Broadcasting, which acquired Teleprompter in 1981; then CBS, which was acquired by Westinghouse in 1995. He was also a musician, photographer, playwright, and actor, and co-founded The Next Move, an improv troupe in Boston. Schwartz retired from CBS in November 2018 in the wake of the forced resignation of his longtime boss, chief executive Leslie Moonves.
For 13 years, the New York City native secretly and successfully skewered office life in the pages of Esquire magazine under the byline “Stanley Bing.” (The name of his column? “Executive Summary.”) The cigar-chomping, silhouetted Bing took his wry talents to Fortune in 1995, where he took over the magazine’s final page for a new column called “While You Were Out.”
Less than a year into his Fortune assignment, a New York Times exposé rocked corporate corridors nationwide: Schwartz was Bing. As Schwartz’s former editor David Blum told the newspaper at that time: “It’s pretty much unheard of for the top P.R. guy at a major American corporation to write a humor column.”
“Nobody but my editors had a clue who I was,” Schwartz recalled in a Times essay published in 2018. “I was Zorro, Clark Kent, putting one over on Perry White. But with this cool little secret came the fear—debilitating, crushing, sleep-destroying. Because, you know, I simply could not be fired. I had a mortgage, a little girl about to go to a preschool that cost more than my car each year … So, while Stanley sneered at authority and sauntered about town going to magazine parties, Gil lived in dread. Our most precious secret was Bing’s anonymity, which assured the continued well-being of both of us.”
Contrary to his expectation, Schwartz’s (and Bing’s) well-being continued. Schwartz rose in the CBS ranks even as Bing’s profile grew larger. He wrote 13 books—among them Crazy Bosses: Spotting Them, Serving Them, Surviving Them and 100 Bullshit Jobs . . . And How to Get Them—that satirized the corporate world he inhabited. And he continued to fill the last page of Fortune magazine, and later, the “Bing Blog” on Fortune.com, with gimlet-eyed columns about the idiosyncrasies of business: “The perils of spending more time with your family,” “Exclusive: Interview with a lemming,” and “Why crazy works in the office,” among so many others. His final column, “How business has changed over two decades,” was published in 2016.
Schwartz is survived by his wife of 14 years, Laura Svienty, two children, two step children, and two grandchildren. A memorial service is expected to take place in the fall. In lieu of flowers, the family requests anyone seeking to honor Schwartz donate to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, Food Bank for New York City, or San Francisco-Marin Food Bank.