Synopsis: The Abacus International has hired Jared Badenhop, a ruthless manager, as its new president. Winston, a long time employee and a high level executive, is concerned about his future. In his first face-to-face meeting with Jared, Winston is faced with making a decision that could alter his life.
An all-hands meeting was held at the Abacus International to introduce Jared Badenhop as the newly appointed President. The meeting was broadcast over the company’s video conferencing system. People got a glimpse of the new president by logging on to their personal computers. That is where Winston saw him first. A week later he met Jared in person in the corporate boardroom for a brief encounter with the first line managers. It was an occasion to just shake hands, not to talk much.
Winston learned from a published biography that Jared was 45, a decade younger than him, and had a reputation for being a financial wizard and a corporate turnaround genius. Winston didn’t trust people who made big changes fast. He thought they didn’t stick around long enough to implement their ideas, moving on to other opportunities and leaving behind a mess for someone else to clean up. Winston had discovered that Jared’s success was based on his penchant for improving the bottom line by staff reduction and mergers and acquisitions.
Abacus International’s main office was located at 42nd and Madison in midtown Manhattan. According to the office grapevine, Jared had completely renovated his office décor with expensive rugs, paintings and new furniture soon after he arrived. Winston thought there were other things needing his attention, such as getting to know the management and the company culture. It was well past four weeks after Jared had joined Abacus, but he had not met all the managers individually, deciding to huddle with the comptroller and human resources director instead and make some out-of-town trips.
Rumors were circulating within the company that big changes were imminent in the form of staff reductions, office relocations and a merger with a competitor. Winston didn’t always believe the office rumors, but as days passed and no contact with Jared continued, he started to get concerned. He wondered what was to happen to the company as a whole and for his own existence there, having worked at the company for more than 25 years. Starting as a junior engineer, he had worked hard and risen to be the chief of the quality control department, a position at the first level of management. He had a mild personality and his subordinates treated him with respect. They would often stop by his office for advice regarding personal matters or questions regarding their assignments. Winston had hoped for a meeting with the new president within the first few weeks of his arrival and to have a chance to talk about his work. That did not happen.
Six weeks passed by. One Thursday afternoon Winston got a call from Ms. Gore, Jared’s executive assistant. Winston saw her name displayed on his telephone screen and was surprised.
“Mr. Badenhop would like to meet with you next Monday, if you are available.”
What kind of question was that? Winston thought that the new president would just ask him to come and meet him at the chosen time.
“Sure,” answered Winston. “Will there be anyone else in the meeting?”
“No. It’s just the two of you.”
“What time will it be?”
“First thing in the morning, at 9 am.”
“I’ll make a note on my calendar.”
“Great. I’ll call and remind you half an hour before the meeting. Have a nice day.”
“That would be great. Thank you.”
Winston wondered how he should prepare for this one-on-one meeting with the new president. Perhaps he was the designated person on the chopping block and Jared wanted to accomplish it with a quick meeting early in the morning.
“Guess what?” Winston said to his wife Emily that night as they were cleaning up the kitchen after the dinner.
“I’m meeting our new boss next Monday.”
“So,” Emily said as she loaded the dishwasher. “He is finally getting around meeting with the people.”
“Yes. Rumor is that he is planning to make changes.”
“What kind of changes?
“I don’t know exactly. I suspect he will reduce staff.”
“ You’ve been there for nearly three decades. Surely you don’t have to worry about it.”
Winston kept quiet.
“What do you think will happen?” asked Emily, looking at Winston quizzically.
“I don’t know. I don’t know what to think. Everyone is vulnerable at times like this.”
“Well! You certainly must have some idea.”
“Jared has been so secretive about everything that we don’t know what’s in his mind. He has a reputation for making companies meet the bottom line with ruthless disregard for personnel.”
“Don’t think too much of it. Sometimes rumors are just what they are — rumors.”
“We’ll find out soon, won’t we?”
Emily knew Winston was worried. Having been married to him for 30 years, she could feel his vibes.
The next day at work Winston attended a meeting to plan the quality assurance review that was coming up. It was sure to come up in the meeting with Jared. He had an eerie feeling that Jared was up to some re-organization. He knew that whenever companies had to cut costs the first thing they trimmed were the quality and training budgets. He had to prepare himself to face the consequences. His dislike for Jared was turning into revulsion. He was concerned that he may get into a defensive argument with Jared, which will not be so good.
“Winston, what do you think of the Power Point presentation? Is it too long? Do you want to change anything?” Sam asked.
Sam was one of the department managers working for Winston.
“It looks okay to me,” Winston replied. He had to say something. In realty he had not been paying attention. He was lost in his thoughts.
At noon Winston told his secretary Meredith that he would be taking a longer lunch break. In fact he skipped lunch and walked straight up Madison toward Rockefeller Center and then into St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He was surprised by the security check at the church entrance. The world is changing — no place is safe, he thought.
Winston was not a Catholic, but he liked the serene atmosphere within the church. A few tourists were standing at the entrance, just observing the structure. A few were lighting the candles. A sermon was in progress against the background of the soothing bells. Winston approached an empty bench, folded his arms and sat there, motionless. He had done this before, sometimes, when his mind required peaceful reflection.
After spending an hour in the quiet of the church, he returned to his office and called his friend Al. Al and Winston had attended the University of Pennsylvania together. They had moved to New York in search of a career and had settled down there. Al lived in Brooklyn and Winston on Long Island. Al was an architect.
Al agreed to meet him at the Blarney Stone on 34th street that evening. This was a place they had frequented many times before. They liked the casual atmosphere there and it was always fun to have a couple of drinks.
At 10 minutes to five that afternoon Winston donned his jacket and walked out of his office. He usually worked late into the evening, answering emails and returning calls that he had missed during the day. Today, he thought, it was more important to meet Al.
It was April. The weather outside was sunny and the temperature in the high 50s. People were wearing light winter clothes. Days were getting longer. The streets were full with shoppers, tourists visiting the Empire State Building and office goers hurrying to catch a train or to meet friends. Winston decided to walk rather than take a cab or the subway. He turned left on 42nd toward Fifth Avenue. He guessed it would take him about 25 minutes to reach Blarney Stone.
Winston walked at a leisurely pace. At Bryant Park a couple of men in ski caps were selling purses for five dollars each. There were a bunch of ladies rummaging the stock. Winston wondered if the merchandise was genuine. On the next block a young Asian man had a cart with large pretzels stacked up on two iron rods. He had hot chestnuts fired up as well. The aroma of the hot pretzels made Winston hungry. He thought of buying a salted one smeared with spicy mustard but decided against it. At Seventh Avenue he turned left and proceeded toward Penn Station. At 34th street he could see Macy’s to his left.
As Winston entered Blarney Stone, he noticed Al had already arrived and was sitting on a stool in the bar nursing a beer. He had his head turned toward the TV over the counter. They were showing highlights from last night’s Mets game. The restaurant was starting to fill up. Waiters were tidying up the tables.
“Hello there,” Winston said, tapping him on the shoulder. Al turned and shook his hand. The stool next to him was not vacant so they moved to a booth in the back. Winston ordered a Killian’s.
“So, you got a new boss, huh?” Al asked, as he slid into the bench seat opposite Winston.
“That’s right,” Winston replied with a smirk on his face. “I’m meeting him next Monday. 9 a.m. sharp.”
“Well, that’s good. You’ll know what’s coming straight from the horse’s mouth.”
“I am not sure how I’ll take it.”
“Why? Do you think you’ll be fired?”
“It’s possible. People are talking all kinds of things. I heard Jared is a turnaround master. From past history he had done it by cutting expenses and staff. Alex, our past president, was a people person. He always asked everyone who worked for him about their families and well-being. I heard the Abacus board was not happy with him for not reaching the sales goal and letting the company stock drop.”
“So they think Mr. Jared will set things right.”
“Yes. And you know, quality is costly and that’s where the cuts are made first.”
“That’s not right. If quality goes down the company’s reputation goes down in the long run.”
“That’s true, but it helps them in the short run to cut corners. I think I should be ready for the worst.”
“I understand. If something happens at least you have the experience and the finances to look for something better. Maybe you can start a consultancy. Be your own boss.”
“That’s all good to say, but who knows what the realty is? I am not a spring chicken to go through the struggle and heartaches of starting a new business. Kyle has almost a year to graduate.”
Winston and Al could hear the din of background talk in the restaurant. Four people, all men in business suits with ties untied, were standing around the bar counter with beers in their hands, heatedly discussing about the stock market. The TV was showing Brian Williams doing the nightly news. The voice was muted.
“Gentlemen, are we ready to order or would you like to wait a bit?” The waiter came around to their table and asked.
Winston and Al ordered another round of beers. Winston ordered a reuben and Al ordered a pastrami sandwich with french fries.
“I would say that you should put your best foot forward. Brag a bit about yourself and let Jared know what you have done for the company all these years.” Al said.
“I’ll try. But if Jared had already made up his mind there’s not much I can do. He is young, brash and has his sights set for higher achievements, I am sure”
“Well, let’s hope for the best.” Al said.
“Hope. That’s all I have.” Winston said..
Winston and Al spent the next hour catching up on other things and left the restaurant at 8:30.
On the way back to Huntington on the Long Island Rail Road, Winston started ruminating about his professional life. He thought of the late nights he had worked many times at Abacus to prepare for a hot opportunity, the weekends he had missed with Emily and Kyle when he had to be out of town. He had made several presentations at conferences to promote Abacus. Suddenly he thought of the Jack Nicholson character in the movie About Schmidt. In the beginning scene of the movie Mr. Schmidt, an actuary for an insurance company, is seen sitting in his cleaned-up office on his last working day of a seemingly successful career, staring at the cardboard boxes packed with documents, presumably all the important papers that he thinks should be preserved for the benefit of his successor, a much younger person. He returns to his office after two days to talk with his replacement, with some recommendations. On his way in he notices all his boxes dumped outside for pick-up by the garbage collectors. Winston smiled as he remembered the scene. He wondered if anyone really cared about the work he had done at Abacus, especially a new boss who didn’t know anything about him.
Emily was watching a re-run of the House Hunters International show on the Home and Garden (HGTV) channel. A young couple was looking for a house in Nicaragua. Winston’s house was dark except for the porch light and the light in the family room where Emily was sitting.
“How did it go with Al?” she asked without turning her head.
“It’s always good to talk with him,” Winston said as he removed his top coat and hung it in the closet in the entry foyer. He walked in the family room and sat on the sofa next to Emily. He summarized his talk with Al and how he had advised him to think positive and brag a bit to the boss.
On Saturday morning Winston got up earlier than usual and took a longer route to walk his dog, Sparky. Trees in the neighborhood had started to get buds and the forsythias in front of some houses had bloomed to perfect yellow. He spent some time later in the yard doing spring cleaning, but his mind was still fixated on his Monday meeting.
Monday was going to be a big day. He felt like he was going for a job interview. He put on his best blue suit, a light blue buttondown shirt and a burgundy tie with light grey pinstripes.
“Hope all goes well,” Emily said.
He kissed her and left.
Ms. Gore called at 8.30 am to remind Winston that Jared would be ready to meet with him at 9 as scheduled.
“He may be a few minutes late. He is on a conference call, but he knows about the meeting,” She said. “You can just come on over.”
Winston wondered whether the conference call was about staff reduction and when to make the announcement.
He took a sip from the coffee cup and put it down on his desk. He stopped by the men’s room to freshen up, looked in the mirror to see if his tie was not crooked, combed his hair, brushed his coat lapel and stepped out to go upstairs to Jared’s office.
Ms. Gore greeted him with a smile and led him to a small conference room by a side door. She was a short, lean, middle-aged woman. She wore a casual grey pant-suit with a scarf wrapped around her neck.
Winston could hear Jared talking on phone. His voice was smooth and not argumentative. That was a good sign. He did not want to meet Jared if he was in a bad mood.
Ms. Gore asked Winston if he would like some coffee or water. Winston said he was fine.
The conference room was small, wood paneled with a cozy round dark cherry table in the center with four matching chairs with curved backs. There were copies of Golf Digest and an old bound History of Abacus on the table. There was one window on the opposite wall that looked over the parking lot. The walls had large framed paintings of country estates, one of them depicting a hunting scene. The room appeared isolated to block noise from outside. Winston wondered if there was a hidden recorder somewhere to tape the conversations in the room.
It wasn’t long before he heard the click of the phone handset being placed in the base and a soft knock on the door that led to Jared’s office. Jared opened the door and walked in. He had blond hair and was wearing a light brown suit, white shirt and a yellow tie with small green polka dots. He appeared tanned and more mature for his age than during his first brief meeting in the board room. Winston could not get a peek at Jared’s office from inside to see if he had really done the makeover, like people had said. Jared removed his jacket, folded it vertically in half, and placed it neatly on the back of the chair.
“Hi, Winston. Sorry to keep you waiting,” Jared said as he extended his right hand.
Winston got up to shake his hand and sat down. He didn’t know what to expect next.
“So, how’s your family? Did you have a nice weekend?” Jared asked.
Winston wondered whether this was just the sweet talk before the bad news.
“Family is okay. Emily is a stay-at-home mom and Kyle is a junior at Binghampton.”
“Kyle — that would be your son?”
“That’s a good school. You should be proud of him.”
“He is a good boy.”
“I hear you have had a long career at Abacus.”
“Twenty seven years.”
“That’s a long time to be at one place.”
Is this a hint that I should be on the move?
“It’s been good, though there were some rough periods.”
Winston felt as if he should have said something else, but didn’t know what. Perhaps he missed an opportunity to brag about his work.
“I know what you mean. Every company goes through some periods of hardship. I was hired to make Abacus meet its commitment to the shareholders, improve the profit margin, expand the business scope.”
Oh, oh. He is setting the stage for the bad news.
“You can call me Jared.”
“ Okay, Jared. That’s what I heard.”
“We are looking into acquiring some new businesses to complement our weaknesses in manufacturing. Do you like to travel?”
Winston had no idea where this conversation was heading. He wondered why Jared was not coming out straight saying that there was going to be reorganization and that his services would not be required anymore. His job would be taken over by someone earning less money from the newly acquired company. Maybe Jared wanted to send him on a sabbatical somewhere with a one-way ticket?
“We have made a few trips abroad — Brazil, Spain, and Italy.”
Get to the point, young man. Do what you have to do and let me get out of here.
“That’s great. How would you like to spend a few years in a foreign country?”
The question took Winston by surprise. He didn’t know Jared’s motive behind this.
“You mean for a long time or a visit?”
“It could be for a short time or for an extended period. It depends on you.”
What does he mean “It depends on me”?
“I don’t understand. Can you be a little more specific? What do you mean it depends on me?”
“I’m sorry. As I said before, we are looking into acquiring a small company in Singapore and we want to know if you would be interested in going there as an Executive Vice President of operations reporting directly to me. They need a solid hand to look over the matters in the first few years of acquisition. I have heard plenty good things about your work here. What do you say?”
“But you didn’t answer why it depends on me how long I can stay?”
“We think you are the best person for the job. But after going there you may like it and stay for many years or you may not like it and decide to return after a couple of years.”
“What if I decide to return after a couple of years?”
“I can’t predict the future, Winston. It depends on what is available here and what’s the situation at Abacus at that time.”
“And, what will happen to my department?”
“If I were you, I would look after myself first.”
Rats. You, rascal, you. You are finally showing your colors, and you don’t even show any emotion.
“Is there anyone else you are considering?”
“You are the first one we have talked to. If you’re not interested, there will always be someone who will jump at the opportunity.”
“Frankly Jared, you have sprung a surprise. I will need some time to think it over. Talk with Emily.”
“By all means. Things are in beginning stage. Take a few weeks and get back to me, and keep it low until it’s made public.”
“Oh. By the way, what if I want to stay in my current job?”
“Frankly, Winston, I’m trying to help you. If you decide to decline the offer, you will have to announce that you are retiring to spend more time with your family.”
Yes, sir. I get the message, loud and clear.
“Thank you, Jared. I’ll get back to you. Will that be all?”
“Yes. On your way out would you ask Ms. Gore to come in please?”
Winston was shocked. He didn’t know whether to be happy or sad. Here he was, almost sure of losing his job and wham! a surprise offer comes in with more responsibility and visibility, but with a caveat that he would have to leave should he decide not to take the offer.
He returned to his office on the tenth floor and closed the door behind him. He sat in his chair and propped his feet up on the desk and looked at the ceiling with his arms crossed. What would Emily say about living abroad? What about Kyle? Would he be able to stay by himself if his parents are living in a far away foreign country?
After a while he walked up to the window and looked outside. The traffic on Madison was moving just as it did on a normal day. He saw a few pedestrians walking with shopping bags, yellow cabs zigzagging through the traffic lanes hurrying passengers and a fire truck passing by with sirens blasting. All normal in a day in New York City. Meanwhile his life was about to change drastically.
He called Emily, but she did not answer. She is never there when she is needed, he thought. He left a message for her not to cook that night but to make reservation for two at the Bonwit Inn in Commack. They were going out for dinner.
“What happened today?” Emily asked when they were seated in a cozy corner at the Bonwit. “Let me guess – you got fired and you want to have a good time instead of crying, or you got a bonus from the new boss and he pleaded you to stay.”
Winston ordered a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.
“Stop kidding. Here’s what happened today.”
Winston told Emily about his meeting with Jared.
“That’s great, Winston. Take it. Don’t even think twice about it.”
Winston was surprised by Emily’s instant reaction. He had thought that she might be against leaving the United States, her friends of many years and her parents.
“You sound so sure about it.”
“I am. Look at our life here. There is no excitement anymore. We visit the same friends every few weeks; we go for vacation a couple of times a year. It’s become so routine and monotonous. It will be so adventurous to live abroad, get to know a new culture. Make new friends.”
Winston had no idea that Emily was not happy with the status quo. He had spent too much time at work.
“I guess you are right. But what about our house? Kyle?”
“We can rent our house. Kyle is a junior. It’s only a matter of few months. He is old enough to start life on his own when he graduates. Maybe he can look for a job in Singapore or maybe you can hire him as an intern.”
“You sound so sure about it.”
“Look Winston, what are you going to do here? You will have a new challenge in a new job. Get your adrenaline running again, enjoy the job as you used to a few years ago.”
“Yes. I had heard that a jaunt outside the United States is always good for a person’s career. Perhaps I could come back as President of Abacus if Jared does not work out.”
“There you go.”
“What if I can’t get along with Jared?”
“You are not marrying him, Winston. It’s all business. Besides, you always get along with people. You’re not an asshole.”
Winston admired Emily’s directness. He had never heard her use cuss words before.
“I’ll buy that,” he replied.
That night Winston slept well. He waited two weeks before telling Jared of his decision.