MORE OF SOMETHING MORE,
a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
and the woman important to each
At just past the hour, the board of directors sat around the oblong table waiting for the chairman to call the meeting to order. The CEO was not present despite their invitation, and his absence made them uneasy.
Graham Slade, chairman, company founder and former CEO, had dominated for nearly thirty years when no differences separated guiding and operating principles. The board rubber-stamped his wishes and the company prospered. But when son Stephen became CEO, it faced a new reality –conflict-- and found trying to satisfy both was like bending backwards till shoulders touched the ground then springing into somersaults.
Jeff Simmons, managing partner of a law firm, had boyish charm which had encouraged strangers to ruffle his hair and, later, colleagues to beam favorably. Now his hair was lacquered black but that charm still showed through. He avoided declaring the absence a slight without further evidence and tried to mollify the chairman with conversation about his grandkids.
Peter Morgan, owner of a string of banks, was the oldest member and started life with a different name. His manner suggested an Old World background, often alluded to but without details. “Past is past,” he liked to say, which was a nod to the prosperous present that afforded rich suits to clothe his expansive figure. His mane of silvery hair and self-satisfied demeanor suggested everything would work out.
Life insurance was Joseph Parker’s business and his faith in actuarial tables the foundation of a backslapping nature: the tables delivered the hard news, allowing him to focus on the sunny side. Height and weight corresponding to recommended guidelines, he believed he’d age the prescribed 82.57 years. Only infrequently did worry fret a chevron between his brows.
Mark Storts, the newest member, was Stephen Slade’s college buddy and an ally in wanting to take the company public, which he sought to underwrite. Stephen’s failure at communication concerned him, as he believed perfect information best served the marketplace. He checked his watch and at fifteen after punched a number on his cell --voice mail. Then he stood, his dark, curly hair a statement in that room. “I’ll see what’s keeping him.”
He made his way through the C-suite hallway to executive reception, where Betsy Murray greeted him professionally then frowned at his request. “He went up this morning and hasn’t been down since.” She pantomimed summoning the elevator: the button refused to light. She pushed the intercom button on the phone, which did light and flash until pushed again. He returned to the meeting. They listened to his report, to which Simmons said, “I don’t like the idea of locking it from upstairs. What if he’s injured?”
“The code requires another exit.” piped up Parker who, on considering the CEO’s age and good health, reasoned it wasn’t time. “He must have gone another way.”
“Of course, he’s okay,” said Morgan, waving a sagacious hand.
Irritation tweaked the chairman’s granite face. “Let’s get started. Mark Pointer is the company’s long-time claims manager, and I’m advised that his impending retirement is not entirely voluntary. Assertions have been made of unsatisfactory performance, and the inability of adjusters to handle the volume of claims. At the same time, his requests to expand staffing have been denied. I’ve known Mark a long time. He gets the job done, if allowed to. Slade Insurance will suffer for losing him.”
The room lapsed into silence, until Storts spoke up. “According to the numbers, Slade would be better off.”
“Numbers?” The chairman glared.
“Mister chairman, certainly the claims manager is worthy of your support, and I don’t argue against him as a person but as a kind: a high-salaried manager. Through retirement and other means we can reduce expenses and increase our profit margin.”
“Have you talked to him about Mark Pointer?”
“Not in particular, but he endorses the strategy.”
“Strategy requires vision, and I don’t see it. Mark is a leader who has nurtured many fine claims adjusters who interface with our customers and contribute to a robust company. Financial statements don’t capture the whole picture.”
“Wall Street doesn’t care about that.”
“Good reason, then, to avoid it.”
Around the table, small gasps and body language urged restraint.
“If you’re not in the market, you’re not anywhere. It’s just the way things are. Slade’s value will increase on the exchange, which we can maximize by getting our financials into shape.”
The chairman looked ahead at no one in particular. “Thank you for your insight. I only wish Stephen had the grace to argue for himself. His absence, I think, supports my position that figures on a page are well and good, but don’t compel like a flesh-and-blood leader. I’m not convinced about ending Mark’s career.”
“That’s not on us. He can go someplace else!”
The chairman raised his hand. “Enough. I move that we re-issue our request to the CEO.”
“I second that,” said Simmons.
“In favor?” Hands shot up as the door opened. “The motion is carried--“
“Unanimously.” Stephen Slade stood within the doorframe and watched the raised hands fall. He took a seat at the farthest end from the chairman. His dark gray suit enveloped him neatly and the satin blue of his tie reflected off a pale neck. Smooth dark hair and narrow-set eyes contrasted with the chairman’s crew cut and visionary gaze. “Here I am.”
At one end, Simmons sat to the right of the chairman who had Morgan on his left, and then Parker. Storts was on the other side between Simmons and the CEO. Looking for someone to reset the meeting, the directors gazed from left to right and back.
“Thank you for attending,” said Simmons. “We had just finished discussing Mark Pointer’s situation. The chairman expressed that he contributes necessary leadership, which would be missed and impact customer service. Director Storts pointed out that high-salaried managers inflate expenses and reduce profits. The board desires your input.”
“That’s a fair recap,” said the banker with a salute to the attorney.
“Thank you,” said the CEO. “Mark Pointer has served Slade long and well, but salaries like his are a burden. Human Resources has identified areas of high cost where the company can seek advantage through attrition.”
“Mark Pointer doesn’t want to retire,” growled the chairman.
“At my direction, HR has presented available options to certain managers. Retirement would be their choice. If enough accept, we won’t have to take other measures.”
“If this is about expenses,” the chairman said, “I don’t see how it squares with those in other areas, such as the private elevator, the limousine and the chauffeur.” The chairman leaned forward; the CEO did not blink.
“I hope you will grant that the company is well run and profitable. Pay attention to the numbers that matter, and you will see the proof. It’s easy and tempting to grasp at the odd figure or expense and make of it something more than it is. Easy and hurtful. I am hurt at the lack of trust.
“True, I seek to make of Slade something more. The chairman founded and made a success of the company that provides for his retirement. If Slade is to grow and provide for others, changes must be made.
“Since the company’s founding, jet travel for business and pleasure became the norm, the Concorde came and went, and hijacked jets brought down the Twin Towers. Does it make sense that Slade should remain static while the world shifts? The future demands change.”
“If I aim higher and step quicker, it’s because I want Slade to succeed. Everything I do benefits the company. See it in the results.
“The board owes me the same trust and support it gave my predecessor. Don’t fracture or snipe. Stand united. If you do, the sky’s the limit.”
Without awaiting a response, he stood and vanished as suddenly as he had appeared, having silenced them though the chairman still glowered and the directors still yearned for consensus. Once again, the meeting needed resetting.
“He did show up,” said Simmons. Parker added, “I knew he was okay.”
“A flesh-and-blood statement,” chuckled Morgan.
“Leading where?” asked the chairman.
Nothing remained but to schedule the next meeting and close. The board went through the motions, the while aware of the quirk in its DNA: impotence against an aggressive CEO. The directors sought to make the best of it, but verbal gymnastics failed to convince anyone they weren’t witness to power wielded by one man.
The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.