It was a cold Sunday in January and Paul Mundelex was having his favorite brand of coffee at the office. He’d worked for two hours already and was building up a head of steam. Next was the big weekly meeting in which all his reports would be giving updates as to their progress on the Johnstone agreement.
The agreement was the child of over six months of tireless work, coming from an early draft through to a development process that required thousands of billable hours in total. People worked all day on this project, some working on weekends or during overtime. Consultants were hired. Accountants were compensated. The lawyers, as always, had their say.
Why was this such a big deal? What was really on the line? Over a billion dollars, that’s what. $1.2 billion to be exact. This deal had only become a reality in the past six months, but people had bandied it about for years. It was always abuzz in conversation, always on the tips of everyone’s lips. People said over and over that someday, Johnstone International would buy them out. It was a guarantee.
Really, both companies were so alike. It was a natural thing. Astrix Corp. and Johnstone International. Both Unicorn companies that started with billion-dollar valuations. Both had made a killing in Asia, one in textiles and the other in furniture. They were making sales and changing ways of doing business across their respective industries. They were both on the warpath, consuming every smaller company that came across their way.
Paul stood there, drinking his coffee, thinking about his situation. What would he do if this deal fell through? What would he do if, if…He didn’t want to think about the implications of what a failure would mean, for both companies. At this critical juncture in their developments, one wrong move could fold them up quickly than an alligator clip on the tongue. This was the only time that most of them would have to see a deal of this size going through.
The regulators were watching this one very closely. There were so many hidden laws and so many ways that this project could fall through the cracks. They were not allowed to do anything that would tip off the public to the idea that they were trading in insider information. They had to keep everything fair and above board.
Standing I the meeting room, holding his Zyme brew to his lips, Paul thought about how happy his father would have been to see him today. A business owner himself, old Max Mundelex had never made a deal this big, but he was a responsible and well-traveled man. One who ran his business to profitability and then made a safe, lucrative exit from the market.
Suddenly, Paul’s reports began to trickle in. It was one at first. The company’s mini tech guru, Lan Jamison, was carrying his stuffed animal with him everywhere, as usual. And then there was Janet. She always had the most fashionable laptops in her arm, though she wasn’t tech literate. There were about eight more people in total. They all trickled in, sitting at their appointed seats and looking up at Paul, who was still drinking his coffee. Just calmly thinking about his situation.
“Alright! My friends!” said Paul, taking control of the situation. “What is the status on the Johnstone International agreement? Don’t everybody drool over me at once. Only the biggest deal this company has ever faced.”
Just then, Paul saw something out of the corner of his eye. He did a double take and, seeing who it was, began to stutter slightly.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Paul, expecting applause. “Maurice Detter, our counterpoint over at Johnstone International.”
There he was, Mr. Detter himself. His three-piece suit screamed MBA. His perfectly coiffed hair could cut camembert. His shoes, while not particularly flashy, were solid and of high quality. The devil wore black. And he made that clear the second he opened his mouth. Starting a slow walk towards the head of the conference room, Maurice clapped slowly as he made his approach. It was that all-too-familiar I’m-better-than-you approach that was all the rage in the corporate boardrooms of America.
“Nice, very nice,” said Maurice. “Really, you all, in here, really have impressed upon me the power of business in America.”
The other attendees were dumbfounded. Did he just steal their lunch, sell it back to them, and then substitute for their digestion?
“Reprising Alec Baldwin in Glen Gary Glen Ross is something I rarely do anymore but let me assure you that this is the perfect time to set the tone for how this is going to go.”
“Johnstone isn’t here to play games or to listen to excuses. We were supposed to have that plan done three hours ago.”
“I told you over the phone. There were extenuating circumstances.”
“I bet. Your team has been slow for the past three months. You’ve been missing targets. This changes the terms, you know.”
“To what?” said Paul.
“More stock? Priority spaces?”
“Hey,” said Paul. “We don’t need to get personal here.”
“Look,” said Maurice. “Let’s think of a way that everyone can come out of this happy.”
“Happy? You just ripped my head off in front of my team.”
“How can I help it? It’s not our fault that we’re crushing it every day at Johnstone – individually and as a group – without so much as a spilled donut tract to speak of.”
“There you go again. Mister big shot. Always trying to make me envious of you. Mister God’s gift to business. Well la-di-da.”
“What does this mean to you?”
Just then, Maurice got a phone call on his Blackberry. He raised a finger, indicating that it was an important call.
“Yes? What is it? Well, I don’t know. It’s not that big of a…Well, didn’t Mark tell you it was coming in the next…? No, I can’t do that. Don’t make me do that. I’m begging you. Don’t…”
Just then, the person on the other end hung up. Maurice stood there, looking like he had a choice between a lion’s cage and a bear’s.
“Trouble in paradise?” said Paul.
“That was Johnstone,” said Maurice. “Calling to inform me that they have decided to go in a new direction.”
“What direction would that be?”
“You’re what? That’s what that was about?”
Suddenly, Maurice became slightly emotional. He’d given twenty years to this company, the best and most productive years of his life. He’d sacrificed everything for the purpose of increasing Johnstone International’s bottom line. He’d ticked every box, attended all the best meetings, worked like a dog when it came down to it.
He’d missed weddings, graduations and funerals, traveled halfway around the country and to other countries. All of this to be treated in this way?
“Wait, are you okay?”
Maurice began crying. His body convulsed in a movement reminiscent of a ship just before it went down. He didn’t know what to do or say.
“Look,” said Maurice. “I’ve sacrificed everything. Everything! I’ve made everything work and now I don’t have squat to show for it. Just kicked out like a pile of trash. Nobody to look after me. I was supposed to get a big bonus this year. They’re probably going to give it to Terry. That idiot. I can’t believe this is happening to me. What am I supposed to do?”
“Look, you should go.”
“Is – is Asterix looking for an executive? Do you know? Could you put in a good word for me?”
“Look,” said Paul. “I get off in a few hours. Why don’t we meet at your favorite pub and talk it over? Just you and me? Huh?”
By now, Maurice had tear streaming down his face and staining his shirt. He couldn’t stop crying, but he agreed.
Later, at the pub, it was still light out and Maurice had already unbuttoned his shirt. He had taken the liberty of starting the drinking early. This was a bad sign. Paul approached cautiously; the memory of this grand reversal already stamped onto his mind forever.
“Maurice? Hey buddy. How’s it going.”
“Yeah, going. How’s it going. How’s…you said that they fired you?”
“They didn’t just fire me. They invalidated me. I was raped, you understand? Raped.”
“I wouldn’t go that far.”
“Well, quite frankly, it doesn’t go far enough.”
Just then, Maurice lost control and started crying again, his hand wrapped around a bottle of Kentucky bourbon.
“Maurice, why don’t you put the bottle down and talk to me?”
“Talk? There is no time for talk. There is no room for talk.”
“Did they make you clear your desk?”
Maurice thought about this for a moment. The perfect opportunity to air his grievances.
“No, no. When I arrived at my place of business, I was greeted with a security guard and told that my things had been collected in boxes and placed inside the dumpster in the alley.”
“Not only that. I failed to absorb my contractual obligations. So now I owe them money. No severance pay for me.”
“Can they do that?”
“You don’t say no to Johnstone International.”
“Look, Maurice, can I say something?”
“We’ve known each other for how long?”
“And that whole time you were lording it over me. You always bragged about your success, about how much better you were.”
“Yeah. And I know that this isn’t the time, but it is a teachable lesson. A lesson that can have implications. Even real implications.”