Back to Bristol Ch. 02byGaryAPB©
At eight thirty the following morning I was parking my car in its marked bay at ITI-Franks. I sat there for a couple of seconds, steeling myself to show the kind, considerate leader of men that I was, and not the nervous little schoolboy that was churning my stomach as he tried to get out.
Then with a purposeful and confident stride, I was out of the car and walking up the steps and through the doors to Reception. No sooner was I in the lobby than I was approached by a woman in her mid-forties, smartly dressed and quite attractive.
"Mr Bennett? I'm Carole with an E Thorsen. I was Secretary to Mr Bauer. Welcome to W R Franks & Sons."
I took her proffered hand and shook it, "Thank you, Carole with an E. I hope you haven't been waiting here since the early hours?"
She laughed, "Good Heavens! No. I like working here, but there are limits. No, I got in at eight, but I hoped it was going to be before you. Let me show you to your office." She turned to the security guy on the desk. "George, we'll sort out Mr Bennett's passes and security later. OK?" But she didn't give him time to answer.
She whisked me off until we got to an office suite with an outer office which I assumed was hers. Then she opened the door to the room beyond. I stood at the door way. Somewhere, at the other end of this stateroom there was a desk and a huge chair behind it, but really you'd need binoculars to see them.
"You must be joking! Did Henri Bauer give ballroom dancing lessons as a sideline? It's enormous. I don't need this!"
"Mr Bauer was rather into nice surroundings and status."
"Obviously. Oh, well, I'll sort it out later. What's lined up for me."
"Nothing too much. Lots of introductions, but a pretty flexible day. Most people seem to be keeping their powder dry, at least until tomorrow. But Tim Johnson of IT wants to see you urgently."
"He has some idea about you talking to all the staff that he wants to put up to you."
"OK. Well he can wait. Show me where the Gents is so that I can wash my hands. I guess I've got a lot of handshaking to do, and clean dry hands would be a good start. Then you can give me a conducted tour."
"Your bathroom is through there." She pointed to a door off my office, just a little bit down from where the band would play for tea dances.
"I get my own bathroom?"
"Of course, Mr Bauer was very particular about things like that."
I felt my eyebrows go up an inch, but I didn't say a word. To criticise Henri Bauer to his no doubt loyal PA would be unfair on her.
She waited for me while a went into 'my' bathroom. And it wasn't just a place to piss, or sit and do the crossword. Shower, toilet, a large dressing table with inset basin, and all soft lights, warm coloured tiles and mirrors. But no music playing, Henri Bauer missed a trick there.
Carole was still waiting for me when I came out. I looked around my palace, "There's no conference table?"
"No, Mr Bauer always used the Boardroom. It is expressly kept for use by directors only. But mainly he used to see people in here, and he had a way of letting them know how much in favour they were by how close to his desk they had to stand. If they were really good they were allowed to sit in the visitors' chairs."
I watched her, she was deadpan, I don't think she was joking.
We set off to do a tour of the building, I confirmed my understanding that we had a specialist engineering workshop, building prototypes and solving problems, down in Exeter. I knew from my reading the company history, this was a small engineering company that had been bought a few years ago, but had been left as an autonomous unit. I also confirmed that our only other premises were the Laboratories at Marston Abbey, somewhere out of town.
I was impressed by the whole office-factory complex. Not only was it architecturally very attractive, a showpiece on how to convert Victorian buildings to modern standards, but by the people and the factory itself. It did seem that we were already mainly doing assembly rather than manufacturing, except for some unique specialist parts, so my initial hope that I might make a quick win on insisting on more outsourcing was instantly dashed.
We didn't seek out the bosses, we just toured the building and I shook hands with anybody and everybody I met, irrespective of their role. Of course, I shook too many hands, and was introduced to too many faces. They seemed a nice bunch of people, I was rather happy with the cross mix of people we seemed to have. But, I had to apologise before I started that everyone was becoming part of a sea of faces, and I'd have to be re-introduced to them all over the coming days.
When we got back to my office, some two hours later, I asked Carole to get me a cup of coffee, and then she could ask Tim Johnson to come up and see me.
When she brought me my coffee, I was reading some marketing brochures that I'd picked up on my tour. "Mr Bennett, could I say something please?"
I looked up, "Of course. And it's Chris, by the way."
She smiled, "I just wanted to say that I understand that the relationship between a director and his secretary is very important, not only for both of them, but for the Company."
"Well, if you would rather make your own appointment, I am happy to go and see Personnel and see what else they might have for me."
"Have I upset you that quickly?"
I didn't fluster her for a second, "No, but you should be free to choose your own secretary."
"Well, thank you Carole. Let's just see how we get on. How long have you worked here?"
"Sixteen years. I came as a secretary to a junior director. He got promoted all the way up to being Managing Director until TDF bought the company. I remained as Mr Bauer's secretary then."
"Well, I'd be a fool to turn my back on all that company knowledge and experience unless I had to. Tell you what, what's in the diary for tomorrow?"
"Well, I'd better be around here for lunch today, but book us a long lunch somewhere outside. Not over the top, but nice. And we can get to know each other. How about that?"
"That's very kind. Thank you, Mr Bennett."
"Chris." I reminded her, as she went out of the door.
Soon after that Tim Johnson came in, he seemed a nice guy, and he had an idea that I might like to introduce myself to everybody by doing a network broadcast. Everybody, including those at Exeter and Marston Abbey had easy access to a screen. I thought it a rather good idea, and instantly agreed, although I hadn't any idea what I would say. Five minutes after he arrived, he was leaving to send out an email alert for half past four.
Then I called to Carole to ask if all other directors could join me in my office, as soon as possible, to give me a briefing on all issues of the day.
That went well, and took us up to lunch. Now I'd seen the staff cafeteria on my tour, and my quick five minutes in the kitchen had looked as if they served decent food. And so, off we all set for lunch.
We got to the corridor with the canteen off it, when they opened a door to me, I looked in; it was set with several tables, neatly laid for lunch.
"A Directors' Dining Room?" I asked incredulously.
"Oh, no. We can't have one of those these days, it wouldn't be acceptable. No, here you pay fifteen percent more than in the cafeteria. It's still buffet service, but a waitress does lay the tables, and clear them for us."
"So, who uses it?"
"Well really just us, a few other senior managers, some of the girls if it's someone's birthday, and sales if they've got a client in."
"Well, I guess I'll be seeing a lot of it. But for today, I'll go to the usual cafeteria, it'll be a chance for me to meet some of the troops. But you guys can go where you want, I'll be chatting to others over lunch. But let's all reconvene in my office in an hour say."
And I left them there wondering what the hell to do!
Having gone round the serving run, I stood and looked at the canteen. Then I spotted exactly what I wanted. A table for six, but with only five people sitting at it, and I was pretty sure I hadn't been introduced to any of them. "Excuse me, I'm new here today, may I join you?"
They obviously didn't recognise me, "You chose a good day to join, mate. You're in good company. We've got a new managing director starting today."
Then another, "Have you seen, he's giving a presidential broadcast at half past four?"
"Sounds typical. Talk to the workers, but don't actually come into contact with them."
The only girl in the group spoke up in my defence, "I didn't see him, but apparently the new guy did a tour of the building this morning. Didn't any of you lot see him? Martin Chyte said he seemed OK."
The guy on my left said, "I heard he shook a few hands." He turned to me, "What's your name, and what department you in?"
"I'm Chris, and I suppose you'd say I was in sort of Management."
Most of them looked a bit nonplussed. It was the girl who caught on first, "Shit! You're...Ooh sorry ... pardon my French, but you're him, aren't you?"
After that we had quite a good chat. I noticed that some of my hand shakers of the morning had also spotted me there.
When I got back to my office, Carole looked up and smiled, "Well that put the cat amongst the pigeons."
"News travels fast."
When my fellow directors had reconvened there was a loaded atmosphere. I went straight to the point: "Look, I'd just spent well over an hour with you guys, and I knew we were going to spend more time together this afternoon. Don't you think it did me more good to be seen by everybody, and chat to some others with a different point of view of the Company?
It was Bill Elswood, the Client Service Director, who spoke, "Well, actually it made me think. It wouldn't do me any harm to have lunch with a few of my juniors once in a while. I hardly remember their names.
We hadn't got much further when Tim Johnson turned up with cameras and monitors and trailing cables.
"Oh, I'd hoped your office would be where you'd want to do it from. But I can set up somewhere else." He looked slightly bewildered.
"No, we'll clear out and go to the Boardroom. You set up in here. How are we going to do it?"
"Well, I thought you'd just sit at your desk and talk." He said, somewhat lamely.
"No, I'll come round the front of the desk, perch my arse on it, and do a shirt-sleeved, friendly chat."
We left him to set up, but I was back by half past three, to rehearse a bit and understand how it was going to work. I wrote myself a few notes of what I was going to say, but I decided that I'd do it off the cuff, unscripted, and honestly admitting that I'd been too busy on my first day to really sit down and write out what I wanted to say.
Apparently it went well, several people, including Carole with an E, were impressed. The PR girl from Marketing wanted to know if she can work on getting me a few external interviews and appearances.
After that, for the rest of the day, it was taken up with Admin. Getting myself security passes so that I could get around all parts of the building. Getting myself a whole set of computer passwords for various systems and generally becoming a member of staff.
I sent Carole home just before six o'clock, and I didn't take too long to leave as well.
I grabbed a Chinese on the way home, and just sat and watched television that evening. But just before eight o'clock my phone rang.
"Hi, Chris, it's Keith."
"Oh, Hello Keith, I wasn't expecting to here from you."
"No, but I wondered if you fancied a pint?"
"Honestly? No. It's been my first day....."
"Of course, sorry, I should have asked: How did it go?"
"Good. But considering I didn't really do very much all day, it was absolutely knackering. I'm dead on my feet.."
"Nervous exhaustion I expect. Tomorrow will be easier."
"Yes, I'm sure it will. So, how about tomorrow evening?"
"Can't. I've got an old client buying me a farewell dinner."
"Sounds good. Why not my Golf Club? I might as well get full benefit out of membership while I'm still here. And you used to like it there, and they do a great steak these days."
"Sounds good to me. Seven thirty OK with you?"
"Great, I'll see you."
First thing Tuesday morning I sat in on the weekly Sales and Marketing meeting, two hours to learn five minutes worth of facts, but it was worth it in getting to know the Company. When I got back to my office I stopped at Carole's desk for any messages.
"Neil Davidson has asked to see you urgently."
Now I knew Neil from yesterday, he was the Personnel Director.
"Any idea what about?"
"He wouldn't tell me. But he has Dr McBaine with him."
"Who's head of Marston Abbey if I remember my organogram. But you didn't answer my question." I raised my eyebrows and waited.
Carole smiled, "I think they'd better tell you."
"OK. Fetch them over. And I guess you better get some coffee for everybody."
About two minutes later Neil was coming into my office accompanied by a man that I would guess was in his late fifties. He was average height, short grey hair, gold rimmed spectacles and very blue eyes.
"Chris, this is Dr Piers McBaine, Head of our Laboratories out at Marston Abbey."
I shook his hand. "I'm looking forward to coming out to Marston Abbey and seeing you all."
They looked at each other, "Will you tell him or I?" asked Neil.
Just then Carole came in with a tray of coffee which she put down on my desk, and I suggested "Well why don't you both sit down, and then one of you tell me."
Dr McBaine looked at Neil, "I'll tell him." He looked round at me, "I had my deputy come and see me this morning, he is very upset and worried. His name is Peter Davies......"
THANK YOU GOD! I believe in you now, and you're not such a bastard after all!
I busied myself to pour the coffee. I hoped my face did not show how I felt, I hoped I was just sitting there looking thoughtful, as I took my first sip of coffee.
"My ex-wife's husband?"
I was looking at Dr McBaine, and he answered, "Yes. He fears that you will make his working here impossible."
"And what did you say?" I noticed Neil was sitting there, sipping his coffee but watching this conversation, or probably more accurately, watching me.
"I told him that his work was important to the company, and he has my full support. Then I phoned Neil and came straight over here."
"You did the right thing." I looked straight into Dr McBaine's exceedingly blue, and I thought intelligent eyes, "Whatever I think of Mr Davies, he is an employee here. He has the full support and protection that the group personnel policies provide for everyone. He is no exception. You should make that clear to him." I turned to Neil, "And Neil, if necessary you should go over to Marston Abbey and tell him as well."
Piers McBlaine looked at me, picked up his coffee, "Would you come out to Marston Abbey, or could he come and see you to reassure himself?" He drank some coffee, but he was watching me intently.
"Certainly not. As I said, he is no exception. I do not chase around to reassure individual members of staff because they have got it into their heads that they may be bullied or unfairly treated. That's Personnel's job. And as you heard, I have told Personnel to do it."
Piers McBaine smiled. I wondered what he was thinking, but I smiled back and closed the meeting, "Well if that's all for the moment, then I guess we're done. But I did mean it, I do want to get over to Marston Abbey soon, perhaps you could sort something out with Carole as you leave, sometime next week say. And make sure that you and I have plenty of time for a lunch together, I want to learn more about all your work and what goes on." I smiled again, but so as they would know that the meeting was over.
They both put their coffee cups down and got up to leave, as they got to the door I called out, "Oh, Neil, if you've got a minute...."
He looked round at me, as Piers McBaine headed for Carole, I waited, Neil turned back into the room, "Close the door." I added.
As Neil approached my desk, I asked, "That was the reassurance I was meant to give?"
"Perfect, but I felt there was an undercurrent from you."
"You felt right then. I think Peter Davies is an immoral little shit. If I ever meet him on a dark night .....well. let's say that if this place had a choir then Peter Davies would end up well qualified to sing soprano."
Neil smiled, but looked worried.
"I think he's a miserable human being. He stole my wife...."
"But I've met her. They seem happily married....."
"Maybe they do. But it started by a man spotting an attractive woman, and despite the fact that he knew she was married, despite the fact that he knew she was the mother of two young boys, he chatted her up. That was an immoral thing to do. The fact that she eventually succumbed, and that they even fell in love, is all subsequent to his immoral act. Until Peter Davies came along I had a wonderful marriage to a girl I adored, and I thought adored me......"
"I don't know how they met, but they seem happy enough now. Not that I know them at all well. But I do know that he is very important to this company. A lot of the good work of the research labs was under Peter."
"Look Neil. I called you back to help me, not to argue. I don't doubt that Peter Davies is good at his work. But I think that as one of God's creatures he is pretty far down the food chain. But precisely because I think he's a shit, is precisely why I won't risk my career, or expose this company to a multi-thousand pound lawsuit. He isn't worth it. I won't tread on a slug, if that slug is going to cost me that much."
"OK" Neil sounded hesitant.
"So, if you hear or see that I have done anything towards Peter Fucking Davies that could be open to a negative interpretation, then you are to run here as fast as you can and tell me, so that we can put the matter right. I'll be doing my best, but I am only human. Do you understand?"
"Good, Now go and catch up the good Doctor."
Within a minute Carole was in my office. "How were they?" I asked.
"Dr McBaine seemed quite happy. He booked you to go over to Marston Abbey at eleven o'clock on Wednesday of next week, by the way. Mr Davidson seemed more troubled. May I ask what you said to him?"
"I reiterated what I'd told Piers McBaine, only I also told him that I may have difficulty sticking to it, and it was his responsibility to keep me on the straight and narrow."
"You really are upset with Peter Davies?"
I looked at her, wondering how much I should tell her or could tell her. "Something to talk about over lunch, now what have you got for me?"
"Well you had an easy day yesterday, but the war starts today. Here are your messages, some you won't be interested in, others are simple and some you can deal with. But for the last few, I suggest you talk to me first."
"OK, I'll go through them." I took the sheets of papers she held in her hand. I glanced at them, and was surprised at the detail and accuracy with which she had annotated each message. This lady was good.
I looked up, she was watching me "Anything else?"
"Yes. Mr Bauer was big on committees. You've inherited the chairmanship of thirty eight working committees inside the company, and he sat on a couple of external committees as well. And, of course, there's the Board, and the committees that it sets up."
"Well, I can tell you now, I have absolutely no intention of sitting on thirty eight committees. I doubt whether we actually need thirty eight committees, whether I sit on them or not. Can you draw up some details, exactly what they are, what their purpose is, how often they meet, who else sits on them, you know the sort of thing. Then we can go through them and sort out that mess."