"Kellogg makes ready-to-eat cerals -- and a lot of money."

"Tenneco has legal scrapes, labor troubles and environmental problems in seven different industries."

"Gallo is a secret kingdom built on the profits made from cheap wine."

"Continental [Baking Co.] is probably the most efficient of the cardboard bread manufacturers."

"Foremost-McKesson is one of those companies that can't decide what they want to be when they grow up."

"Federated [Department Stores] is the Jewish mother of American retailing."

If you get the feeling you're not Standard & Poor's anymore, you're right.

You're in "Everybody's Business," the new Harper & Row compendium of 317 U.S. corporations that tells what they do, how they do it, who owns them and what they're really like.

Stodgy, classy, hip-shooting, aggressive or in trouble with the law, the book lays it all out in language that Harry Truman would have loved and the corporate public relations people won't.

Billed as "the irreverent guide to corporate America," the book is neither a put-down not a take-off, but merely direct, according to editors Milton Moskowitz, Michael Katz and Robert Levering. They say they hope it will change the way the United States looks at business, as well as the way business looks at itself.

"We wrote this book so that the average person could learn something about business," said Moskowitz, a business reporter for 25 years and syndicated columnist. He has worked for J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, written for Advertising Age and Reuters, and is a senior editor of "Business and Society Review."

"Most business news is written in language that no one understands," he said. "Nowhere in this book will you find the words 'earnings per share.'"

Each corporate profile includes sales and earnings figures, Fortune 500 ranking, industry ranking, the price of 1,000 shares of company stock in 1970 and what that stock would cost today. It also includes the addresses, phone numbers and names of chief executives, but the emphasis is on company history and personality.

Moskowitz said companies are referred to deliberately as "they" rather than "it," even though the reference may be ungrammatical, because this "humanized the company and talked in terms of people."

He said he felt corporate histories were important because "we wanted to explain how the companies grew and who shaped them."

Some examples:

Issac Merritt Singer, founder of the sewing machine giant, is described as "a notorious profligate," who once said, "I don't care a damn for the invention. The dimes are what I'm after."

Rowland Macy, founder of the department store, was born in Nantucket, shipped out to sea on a whaler at age 15 and "was tatooed with a red star that was later adopted as a trademark for Macy's." He was described as having had "an uncontrollable temper . . . an ulcer, and a severe case of stinginess; but he also had a flair for advertising and the ability to hire the right people."

Hugh Hefner started Playboy magazine after Eaquire editor Clay Felker refused to give him a $5 a week raise in 1953.

"As big as Atlantic Richfield is," reads the section on the petroleum company, "it bears the stamp of one man: Robert Orville Anderson, a complex, restless figure on the American business scene who is said to be most confortable when he's riding horseback on his 100,000-acre spread in New Mexico. . . ."

In addition to company information, there are irreverent charts, quizzes and bits of trivia, including a complete list of "What the Rockerfellers Own;" a table of ingredients in common foods, titled, "Do You Know What You're Eating?;" a look at which states have the most millionaires, and historical notes on who invented the potato chip and the Cadillac fin.

"Rarely will companies tell you much more than they are required by law, and nobody really asks them questions very often," said Robert Levering, former managing editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian and author of the book, "Beating the Used Car Hustle" (Chronicle Books, 1980.)

"We wanted to tell people about the business they come in contact with every single day," Levering continued. "They manufacture the cars we drive, make the food we eat. Our lives are defined by people running these companies."

Companies were selected for the book first on the basis of having sales of more than $1 billion. Others, such as Hallmark Cards, Mars, and New York City's Off-Track Betting operation, were added because of general interest in them. The authors stuck primarily with consumer product companies.

"I loved it," said Michael Perschuk, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, adding that he bought two copies -- "one to keep in the bathroom because it's great reading and full of delicious information about companies, the other read as a professional concerned with corporate behavior. It's extremely helpful in getting the character of a company. It's a very humanizing book."

Incidentally, the editors profiled their own publisher and didn't bother to gloss over any rough spots there either. Harper & Rowe is described as undergoing "shaky times," and the writers say it bit off more than it could chew with the purchase of J.B. Lippincott Co. in 1978.

"There were some gulps around here," said publicity agent Margaret Flarharty, "but they were silent gulps."