AS the curtain rises, Finch, a window-cleaner, is diligently studying How to Succeed in Business. He is a brash, self-confident, but endearing young man determined to follow the rules of the book and confident of the goal to which it will lead him. The book's first rule is to get a job in a large firm, and Finch easily contrives to find a place for himself in the mail room of World Wide Wickets. This is a typical big-business establishment with a plethora of departments, department heads, secretaries and intrigues. The girls file to their desks at opening time, remove the covers from their typewriters and forthwith leave for their "coffee break". This morning there happens to be no coffee, a situation that causes general panic ("Coffee Break"). One of the secretaries is lovely Rosemary who, at first glance, finds much in Finch that is appealing, and who forthwith informs us of her ideal man ("Happy to Keep his Dinner Warm").
In the mail room Finch's immediate boss, Frump (the company president's nephew), is ambitious to get ahead, and continually telephones his mother to further his interests in the firm. Mr. Twimble, the head of the mail room, is about to be elevated to a new post; Frum has every hope and intention of getting Twimble's job. But after Twimble has amplified on the methods that had made him successful in the mail room for a quarter of a century ("The Company Way"), he announces that his successor is Finch. Finch's "Bible"--How to Succeed--had specially warned him, first that he will get a job in the mail room, and second, that to get ahead his energies must be concentrated on the problem of getting out of the mail room. Finch turns down Twimble's job in favor of Frump--"for the sake of the team", he explains. This gesture does not pass unnoticed by the higher-ups in the firm, including the president himself, J.B. Biggley. After that Finch is never at a loss for the proper maneuver, word of cajolery, successful intrigue or correct gesture by which to gain continual promotions in the firm. All the while Rosemary has become more determined than ever to capture Finch, and though he is much too busy with getting ahead to think of romance, he is finally maneuvered into taking her out for dinner ("Been a Long Day").
Finch's secretary complicates his romance for a while. She is Hedy, a flaming sex-pot who is Biggley's personal property, and for that reason brought into the establishment. She proceeds to create havoc among the male workers, who are reminded (in one of the show's finest production sequences) that "A Secretary is Not a Toy". Finch uses her to good advantage to eliminate one of the higher-ups and thus gets his job. Hedy, however, has eyes only for Finch, and eventually succeeds in enticing him into her arms for a passionate kiss. This kiss fills the atmosphere with music as far as Finch is concerned; his emotions are stirred for the first time--but with love not for Hedy but for Rosemary.
Finch keeps on working his way up the ladder in World Wide Wickets. He finally endears himself even to Biggley, the president, by allowing himself to be caught at his work desk after appearing to have spent the whole night dedicated to his job; by permitting Biggley to discover that he, Finch, is a graduate of Biggley's Alma Mater ("Grand Old Ivy"); and finally by dropping a hint that he, like Biggley, finds relaxation in knitting. Recognizing him as a brother-under-the-skin, Biggley is finally tempted into appointing Finch vice-president in charge of advertising. In this office Finch conceives a treasure-hunt television program to advertise World Wide Wickets, with Hedy as the star. The idea proves a fiasco; for the first time it seems that Finch has come to the end of the road. But he wins the sympathy of Womper, chairman of the Board of Directors, when the latter discovers that Finch had been a window cleaner; Womper himself had started out in business the same way. Finch uses his good influence to convince Womper to be merciful to his dealings with the employees, since all men are brothers ("Brotherhood of Man"). It does not take long for Hedy to attract Womper's interest once she sets her mind to it. After Womper marries her he decides to devote all his time and energies to her. He resigns his post at World Wide Wickets and selects Finch to succeed him. As for Rosemary, whether Finch is just a window cleaner or the chairman of the Board, she still loves him ("I Belive in You").
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