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The Plan

H. Paul Lillebo

Thursday, December 17, 10 a.m.

The show of hands by the Board was unanimous.

"The operations plan has been approved as proposed.  I want to thank you for your confidence."

Wednesday, December 16, 5 p.m.

I'm frankly worried about the Board meeting tomorrow.  There's a hair in the soup.  I'll call Johnson in.  He disgusts me with his righteousness, but I need him.
"Mr.Markham, you wanted to see me?"

"Sit down, Johnson.  This should only take a few minutes.  Can I pour you a Scotch?"

"No thank you, I'm driving home."

"Well, I hope you don't mind if I have one.  Johnson, I'll come right to the point.  You've had a chance to review my proposed operations plan.  It's important to me, Johnson.  More important than you know.  I had thought we were all onboard, but now I'm told you have reservations.  I'm not flattering you when I say you have considerable influence with the board.  I need your support tomorrow, Johnson.  Can I count on it?"

"Well, Mr.Markham, the plan looks good on the surface, but ..."

"It is good, Johnson.  It's opportunity with a capital 'O'.  Can you visualize where this plan can take us, a year from now?"

"It could take us to jail, sir."

Great!  He's sharp; that's why I hired him.  But right now I just don't need his nitpicking.
"Come now, Johnson, you're picking at details.  The lawyers will work them out.  Trust me.  If we didn't test the law on occasion, we'd be sitting still.  Which means pedaling rapidly backwards in this business.  Isn't that right?"

"Well, yes sir, but they're not just details.  It seems to me that this proposal violates both laws and regulations.  It's just not very apparent."

Good point, Johnson.  And who is it not very apparent to?"

"Uh, to anybody, at least not immediately.  The violations are subtle, but they'll come out in time."

"Well, now.  Here, let me get you a cream soda.  Look, the acquisitions stretch the fabric a little.  Some of this is innovative.  Hasn't been done before.  But there's a lot of good in it for all of us, Johnson.  For both of us.  Anyway, I didn't hire you to be a lawyer.  So if it's just this legal detail that ..."

"Well, actually, my main concern is financial.  It looks to me like these mergers could untimately sink the company.  They may result in some temporary paper gains, but ..."

"Gains are gains, Johnson!  They're only temporary if they're frittered away.  What you're missing is that I will have authority under this plan to place these temporary gains.  You will see, they'll be permanent enough."

"I hadn't missed that, Mr.Markham.  That's an extraordinary authority.  Investments on this scale have always been a Board decision."

"They'll remain that, Johnson.  We're only speaking of a relatively risky portion of our operations.  It should be clear to you that the only way this plan can work is if decisions can be made in minutes on these funds."

"Yes sir, that's certainly clear.  But it's also clear to me that any short-term gains would be overwhelmed by the long-term obligations that are evident here."

But there aren't going to be any long-term obligations.  Not for me, at any rate.  Unless you count the condo mortgage in Rio.  No, I'll pay that in cash.
"You're being overly critical, Johnson.  That's a flaw in you.  Anything else?"

"I'm sorry, sir.  I didn't mean to offend.  No, I think I've said enough.  Although, some others may object to ..."

"Who may object to what?"

"Well, no one in particular, sir. Again, this isn't very evident at a quick reading, but these acquisitions are bound to have serious effects in the midwest.  Have you calculated how many would be put out of work?"

"This is quite enough, Johnson!  I hadn't expected this kind of attack from you.  So my plan is illegal, it will bankrupt the company, and create starving families across the country!"

I turn away from him.  This isn't working out.  I'm at a loss.  I can't fire him without the Board's OK, and I sure as hell can't take this to them.  But this twerp isn't going to stand in my way.  I pour another Scotch.  I'll have to try another tack.  Perhaps offer him a cut.  These finance types are always aching to get their hands on real money.  I've suffered his evangelical moralizing for years.  Let's see how deep it runs.
"Look, Johnson, I'm sorry I blew up.  I think you're sensing that this is important to me, and you're right.  It's the greatest opportunity I've ever come across.  Let me speak plainly.  You've been here a long time down in that dingy twelfth-floor office.  You've served loyally and well.  And underpaid.  Underpaid, Johnson.  I really believe that.  The Board has been overcautious with salaries.  You've really deserved more.  Well, here's an opportunity for you to be compensated as you should be.  There's money in this, Johnson, and part of it a large part could be yours.  You get my drift?"

"Mr.Markham, I hope I don't!  You are right, I have been loyal, and I still am.  I have served honestly, and I still intend to.  I suspected this proposal the moment I saw it.  Are you asking me to conspire with you to embezzle funds we are entrusted with?"

Crap!  Gushing his pious indignation.  I don't know what made me think I could get this past him.  Comes across as Mr.Clean, and probably is.  I'd assumed he had his price.  So, I've played my last card.  Or maybe I can still raise him.  Perhaps lower him would be the term.  He-he.  Another drink.
"Ha-ha, Johnson, you're a card.  You certainly are not getting my drift.  I mean there's money for a raise, of course.  I'm sorry about your suspiciousness.  It doesn't become you, Johnson.  It's a good thing I'm not thin-skinned.  But I don't think you meant any harm.  Let's forget it....  Look.  Look at that sunset.  You know what they say?  No one ever saw sunsets like these, before smog.  See that purple ring?  That's new, maybe fifteen, twenty years.  Michelangelo never saw that.  Well, I guess he never painted sunsets, anyway....  You know what calms me every day before heading home?  A gulp of fresh air out here....  No, it's not really cold, you'd be surprised.  There's no wind on this side of the building.  Here.  The door slides....  Look at that scene!  I think this is my favorite time of the year.  I never tire of it.  Purple sunset, pink snow on the rooftops, car lights on the dark streets.  And silence, up here.  Prettier than a Christmas card, isn't it?"

He's a little guy.  Leaning over the flower box, staring at the tail lights.  A solid bump should do it.  But quick!  One ... two ... now!
... Wait ... No! I didn't ... Holy God, forgive my mortal sin! ...

Thursday, December 17, 10 a.m.

The show of hands by the Board was unanimous.

"The operations plan has been approved as proposed.  I want to thank you for your confidence.  As I've explained, without this plan we'd be sitting still.  Which means pedaling rapidly backwards in this business.  The plan is innovative, there's stuff that hasn't been done before, it stretches the fabric in new directions.  The bottom line is that there's a lot of good in it for all of us, and for the whole economy!

"I have invited the pastor of the Baptist church down the street to lead us in a moment of silence for our dear departed colleague.  Again, I appreciate your confidence in selecting me to lead our work forward under difficult circumstances.  I believe Mr.Markham would have approved.

"And now, Pastor ... Gordon?  How do you do.  ...  That's right 'Johnson.'  Please proceed."

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© H.Paul Lillebo 1988