Company Business - chapter four

 

Chapter four: Smile

James managed to keep his feet dry as he jumped out of the taxi.  Avoiding rain and puddle alike he dashed into the building at the World Financial district in lower Manhattan.  He shook his umbrella out onto the green marble floor, much to the chagrin of the security supervisor who quickly alerted an underling on his walkie-talkie.

There you are!  We’re late!”  This was Shari Perkins, the team’s other Engagement Manager.  “What kept you?”

James refused to rise to the bait. “Nice proposal you put together.”  In truth he had barely skimmed the PowerPoint deck on his way down.  Its colorful pie charts and garish bar graphs barely concealed an empty assessment of the complicated conglomerate.  But Noble had perfected the art of useless, multi-tiered proposals.  Unlike other, more austere firms, who prided themselves in brevity and pyramid principles, Noble preferred the long form.  Wow them with research when you don’t have any conclusions was the prevailing attitude.

They marched toward the security desk, Shari’s heels clicking like castanets. “Well, you can shred that presentation, the team put together a new one this morning, there are copies upstairs.” She turned to the security guard. “Perkins and Morrison.  Noble Management!” she announced with obvious pride, perhaps expecting a fanfare, at the very least a hearty hurrah.

The bored guard looked through the list, spotted their names. He printed out two badges while Shari talked uninterrupted.

“I was a bit surprised when Bud told me you were joining the team.  I’ve been with American since investigation began a few months ago, and you’ve been mostly in the infrastructure practice, so I’m unclear as to what they’ve got in mind.  Something innovative, you can bet.  Bud loves to innovate.” 

James pondered how the word innovate, like passion, had been co-opted by the consulting world to stand in for original ideas – it was another trope, a symbol standing in for nothing much.  Needless to say, most consulting innovations were hardly innovative in the real world.  But, impressive things impressed them.

James eyed Shari on the way to the elevator.  She fit the suit well. Hair perfect; ankles tapered nicely into pointy shoes.  Hard to believe that this vision before him was Princeton’s top nerd, Harvard’s number one recruit, and Noble Management’s short-list for partner.  If not quite pretty, she was well turned out.  Shari made up for her obvious lack of sex appeal with a practiced sense of style, honed by too much caffeine, too little sleep, and vigilant exercising. 

“New divisions, new president, old employees – time to outsource and sell off.  Restructuring.  The whole deal.” Shari nattered on about the study.

“Tell me about this client…the big guy.” James had learned to ignore others’ agendas when he was going into a meeting.  Fortunately, the Shari Perkinses of the world rarely picked up on social cues.

“James Malcolm.  President of the Global Private Client Group.  Transferred from Merrill where he was the golden boy.  You should know this – prior to Merrill he was Noble.  Apparently he was the youngest director ever elected.” They stepped into the elevator.  Both consultants automatically checked their reflections in the chrome control panels.  “I haven’t met him yet, but I’ve read up.  Even caught a video of him giving a presentation at Davos.” Shari dabbed at the corner of her lips with a well-manicured pinkie.

James whistled through his teeth. “Of course, Malcolm, he’s legendary.”  It was a safe comment.  They were all legendary – every director who left Noble Management under favorable circumstances achieved some sense of fame and fortune, if not downright world domination.

“Well, his commitment is to the corporation, not the consulting firm,” she intoned, pledging allegiance to American.

The elevator doors opened, and the two consultants stepped into a gleaming reception area.  A harried-looking associate in yesterday’s rumpled skirt and blouse hurried over to them.  She shoved two new PowerPoint packs into their hands, dexterously removing the old deck from under James’s arm.

“Suki, this is James Morrison.  Bud brought him in to clinch the deal – not that I think we’ll need it.” 

Suki glanced shyly up at the towering figure in front of her.  Clearly names and faces meant nothing at this point. “Very nice to meet you, this is the new pack.”

They were fast approaching a glass-walled conference room.

Suki, buzzing from her own program of caffeine and sleep-deprivation, continued at a clip. “We added a new section on the BUs, removed some charts on world trade, and adjusted the language in the overview section. Their team is inside, but they haven’t started – there’s coffee in the back of the room.”  She had her hand on the door handle, poised to open it.

“Just a minute.” James commanded.  He thrust his dripping raincoat and umbrella at Suki, realigned his neck with a crack, and passed the deck to Shari.  He was ready to do what he was brought here to do; meetings were his specialty.  With a glint of blue eyes, jut of his cleft-chin, he readied himself for battle, displaying all of WASPdom’s finest.

Suki looked at the coat and umbrella with dismay, her dark almond eyes blinking some ancient Asian code; she turned to find the nearest closet.

Shari held out the business plan for James.  “You’ll need this.”

James smiled.  This was so easy!  “No I won’t.”

Shari nearly sputtered her disapproval. “But…but…”

“I’m just going to listen!” James smiled, took a deep breath, and swung the door open. 

The conference room boasted a panoramic view of Manhattan – the nearby Woolworth Tower, the Empire State Building peaking through the fog, and just a glint of the Chrysler building beyond.

Eames-era chairs in rich ebony leather surrounded the gleaming black granite conference table; tall backs concealed anyone facing the other direction.  A paunchy middle-aged man with an unfortunate mullet stood at the opposite end of the room, and then another woman stood next to him.  Soon all were standing, except for the chair closest to James.

“Well, I believe we have the rest of the Noble Management team here,” the paunchy man announced.  James felt a bit like a visiting dignitary.  He decided on a humble smile coupled with a princely wave.  He eyed the smiling faces, the out-stretched hands.

The chair closest to him swiveled in his direction, and he got a good look at the man sitting there.  For a moment James stood frozen, breakfast making an appearance in the back of his throat.  The man got up, a friendly hand thrust out in James’s direction, his face lit up in eager anticipation of this greeting. And James knew that his eyes hadn’t played tricks on him the night before. 

There it was.

The smile.

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