Sunday, May 3, 2009
Excerpt from my latest project
“Swear to God!” Danny slowly skimmed through the document in his hand for a second time. He was in total disbelief, and for the first time in his young, professional life, he felt as though he had walked into a minefield. After reading the document, he turned it down on the table and looked around the Harris Group conference room. “Do we know how the information on the Neretic sale would have gotten leaked like this? I mean, you’re telling me that we didn’t even know with certainty that the Perrano family had accepted our offer—and this is how we found out? So how the hell did these guys find out before we did?”
Danny Brantley had asked several legitimate questions. Unfortunately, no one had any answers. All four of the founding Harris Group lieutenants were either sitting or standing in the conference room with him, and they were just as confounded as he was. That was not a good sign.
Over an hour ago, a local news website broke the story that shareholders of Neretic Offshore Services, Inc., had quietly agreed to a buyout by this little-known investment firm. According to the report, the Harris Group planned to restructure the oil & gas construction company, by immediately replacing its CEO, and by reducing the company’s workforce by approximately 500 employees, mostly from facilities in Belle Chasse. Though accurate, the article’s timing was not good for the Harris Group, because the firm took pride in its privacy, and because much of the information, particularly the details of the restructuring, was never intended for public consumption. But now, after years of operating in anonymity, the Harris Group was about to introduce itself to a world that would not take kindly to its latest plans. Consequently, these individuals—Danny and the four others gathered in the posh conference room overlooking the city—were obliged to craft a response, perhaps some form of damage control.
“The report first appeared on Metrobiz.com,” Shane Fleischer volunteered, as he began to pace. As director of intelligence, he also added, “We think the leak came from HR at Neretic, possibly from the supervisor. Her brother is a staff reporter for the website. We never caught that fact before, but we know now. Unfortunately, the damage is already done. The local TV outlets will have picked up the story for the five o’clock news.”
Jacob Bergeron, the CFO of the Harris Group, interjected quickly. “The markets have gotten wind of this news, and Neretic’s small stock float is up in trading.” He spoke in a very dry and matter-of-fact tone. “Now a rise the stock price was to be expected; however, this activity is premature. It is probably too early to tell if this is going to have any impact on our ability to take the company private.”
“Shit,” Danny sighed. The full magnitude of this moment was beginning to weigh on him, and the young man with a freshly-minded MBA was beginning to feel very small. As an eerie silence resurfaced in the room, he tried to figure out what came next. “I don’t know,” he uttered, almost inaudibly. In his role as an advisor to Christopher Harris, he was responsible for gathering and deciphering as much pertinent information as possible, and then offering clear and sage-like recommendations to the owner of the Harris Group. The only problem was that, because of the public outcry, this situation was about to morph into something that he had never experienced, and he wondered if he could offer any salient advice at this point.
“Danny, what do you think?” Shane asked, while still pacing.
It was clear that everyone was waiting for that answer, and so, Danny sat up in his chair, determined to at least look like he was in control. Instinctively, he grabbed a pen and scribbled something on the back of the infamous document. Never looking up, he asked, “Well, do we know if it’s true? Did the Perranos accept our offer?”
Jacob leaned forward. “I conferred with the Neretic chairperson about the family’s decision, and she confirmed the veracity of the report without compunction.”
“In English, please,” Derrick Salmon, the director of operations, begged.
“They did accept the offer,” explained the marketing and public-relations strategist, Kayla Verdin. In these testosterone-laden settings, her lone, female voice always seemed to petition for sanity and reason.
“Thanks for cleaning that up,” Shane said, and Derrick nodded in agreement.
Danny finally took one last look at what he scribbled on the paper. It was a note for simply his own benefit, and its message was unmistakable: STAY IN CONTROL HERE.
“Do we genuinely see this news leak as a bad thing?” Derirck asked. “This information would have come out sooner or later.”
“Preferably later,” Jacob mumbled.
“We have not had the time to introduce our firm to the general public in a positive light.” Kayla explained, looking directly at Derrick. “If we leave it to the press, then the Harris Group ends up looking very bad—like some shadowy, corporate chop-shop.”
“Not good,” Danny replied. “Kayla, do you have a plan in mind?"
Everyone’s eyes were now fixed on the attractive, black woman. This was not the first time that she would have to save these boys—and it would not have been the last time. “Well, Dan, reporters are ringing our lines already. We can only have ‘no comment’ for so long. I believe that we will have to meet the press at some point.” Kayla watched as a few heads dropped.
“Is that advisable?” Derrick asked. “Shouldn’t we let Christopher make the decision? After all, this is his company.”
“Well, it will be a simple process, really. At first, we publish and disseminate a press statement about the Neretic buyout. We tell them that we are not solid on this restructuring path. Then, in a few days or so, we give an interview or two.” Kayla suggested to everyone. “I know Christopher will agree with this, given the alternative.”
Shane sharply disagreed. “I am with Derrick on this. The decision to address the press is Christopher’s decision, alone—not ours. We cannot force him down that path. We should not plan to do anything, to say anything, until he’s been briefed on this matter.”
“C’mon, Shane,” Jacob replied, “it would be colossally irresponsible not to plan a public statement. To sit silent would be detriment to our public image. Christopher will understand that, and we ought to go ahead and prep things.” The financier rose to his feet, and proceeded to the wet bar for a glass of water. “And then, Shane, you need to think about the employees of Neretic.”
“What about them?” Shane questioned.
“Well, those people watch the news, too. They’ll see the stories. Hell, they are probably watching video trucks pull up along Belle Chase Highway, right now.”Jacob explained, as he returned to his seat. “You think that silence on our part is good for them, for overall morale at a company we’re about to acquire?”
Shane Fleischer had the ability to be somewhat intimidating. Standing at only 5’11”, his incredibly muscular physique harkened back to his days in law enforcement, while his cold and emotionless expressions attested to a very difficult childhood. Perhaps the latter fact helped to explain his routine lack of caring. “Let me get this straight,” he began evenly, pausing only for a second to assume a seat at the table with his peers. “All of the general facts are out now. You guys just want to publicly deny some of them, for now, because you think that it will help to paint us in some more positive light. That’s like putting the genie back into his bottle, and hoping he forgets that we already used one wish. But that’s not all. After all of the denying, we are going to go forward, as we planned, with quiet and purposeful steps—from buying out the Perranos to buying out the public shareholders, from dismissing the chief to axing a couple of hundred—and we are gonna pray that no one notices this.” He started to laugh. “You think it’d be better to encourage Christopher to deceive those people in Belle Chasse—let them think that there are no plans to let them go, when there actually are.”
“Shane,” Kayla attempted to interrupt.
“No, face it, Kayla,” Shane went on. “We are profiteers. Our motive is money—has been and will be. That’s the nature of our business; it is vicious and crude, but it’s who we are. We cannot expect to hide that behind some false façade of smiling faces and clever press releases.” He was very adamant in his position, and he was willing to continue in order to drive home his point. “Your arguments about the company’s image are, well, immaterial. Public opinion has little to do with our success or failure here. We buy companies, and we either build them us or turn them apart, so that we can extract value and make our profit. You need to understand that.” Then he turned to Jacob. “And your argument about those people—well, man, it does not hold, because, like any deal before this one, it has been our job not to care.”
Kayla was just as strident with her words as Shane, and she was willing to refute him with an equal degree of passion. “Shane, we need to encourage Christopher to do what’s best, particularly as we transition into the public eye. After all, this is not a good time for our type. We ought to consider keeping the press on our side in order to insure the integrity of future deals. We do not need to be labeled as Wall Street raiders.”
“What about Canal Street raiders?” Jacob remarked. “Perhaps we should spin that, because it doesn’t sound as bad.”
“Jacob, it has been four years. Four years—and we have never concerned ourselves with looking pretty for the cameras,” Derrick demurred. “So I, for one, say ‘to hell with public image’.”
Instantly, the meeting devolved into an unintelligible debate, with everyone speaking all at once. This was not helpful, Danny thought. This team had worked together on countless deals over the past four years, but now, in the face of scrutiny over one deal—albeit, their biggest deal—the team was descending into chaos. If Christopher had been here, Danny thought, things would have been different. But the boss was not here, and his absence left a void in the leadership of the Harris Group at a crucial time. That was very unacceptable, and someone had to step up to the plate.
“Okay, chill out,” Danny urged, unfortunately, to no avail. The debating continued. “Hey, chill the fuck out!” Now that silenced the Harris lieutenants, and it was a good thing, too, he figured; the staffers on the other side of the glass wall were beginning to stare. Danny paused to look at the personal note again. “Why is the boss in Houma today—of all days?”
“He has personal business to attend to. I suspect it was in preparation for the wedding.” Jacob spoke in a very tempered manner.
“Shane, you said ‘…until he’s been briefed on the matter’. You do not think that Christopher knows anything about the leak, do you?” Danny asked the intelligence expert.
“Not likely.” Shane was just being honest, and that led to a few deep breaths and shaking heads. “He would have called, if he knew anything about this. Hell, he’d been here by now.”
“Given everything going on,” Kayla said, “it might not be a good time to burden him. Surely, this can wait until he gets back into the city.”
“And when was he supposed to be coming back?” Danny continued to demand answers. He undoubtedly found a bit of twisted comfort in assuming the leadership role over these seasoned business professionals.
Unfortunately to his question, there was no answer—just silence and blank stares. Then, rather unexpectedly, Shane endeavored to reply, saying only, “He’s not. At least, he’s not today.”
“Well that’s bullshit!” Danny protested. He rose to his feet. “No offense—but we cannot afford for Christopher to get this news from any other source, before he gets it from us. My job is a little too important for that.” Danny grabbed his Blackberry, and pressed a single button to speed-dial his employer. After two rings, he spoke. “Christopher, this is Dan. I need your full attention.” He paused for a reply that he had no interest in hearing. “Well, that’s fine, but I am sure your fiancée and wedding planner won’t mind this interruption.” Then there was another brief pause. “Listen, man, we need to get you back here, pronto. We have a problem, and it’s a big one.”
Written by Gary C. Harrell. © 2009, G. Harrell Literary Properties Group, Inc.
Posted by Gary C. Harrell