Thursday, 23 November 2017

F Fic, Non-fic

Cut

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Cut

by Don Tassone

The lanky man stood at a small table in the corner of the conference room and stirred cream and sugar into his coffee. His hand was shaking.

"Cuts?" he asked.

"Yeah," said an older man, sitting alone at the oblong conference table. He was tense.

"What kind of cuts?"

"Personnel."

"Big?"

"Yeah."

"How big?"

"Paul, I want to wait until the others get here."

"Okay, Bob."

Paul nodded, sat down across from his boss and sipped his coffee. Bob had always been so energetic. Lately, though, he seemed utterly worn out.

Bob had a daunting task. He was the middle man between Lance, the new CEO of the company, who cared only about the balance sheet, and his team, which cared only about developing, making and selling great medical devices. Trying to reconcile these opposing interests, Bob was at loose ends.

The door opened. A petite woman entered the room.

"Good morning, Barb," said Bob. "Help yourself to coffee."

In her mid fifties, Barb was even older than Bob. But she looked about twenty years younger. She was a runner, and she dressed like a fashion model. A mystery to everyone, she had remained single.

"Good morning," Barb said. "What's up?"

"We're going to be announcing some enrollment reductions."

Just then, a youthful-looking man in a plaid shirt, navy blue pants and tan shoes walked in.

"Enrollment reductions?" he asked.

"Good morning, Tom," Bob said. "Grab something to drink."

"What kind of enrollment reductions?" Tom asked.

"Let's wait for Julie and Dave," said Bob. "They should be here shortly."

Tom looked at Paul, who was sitting at the conference table, staring blankly into space.

"Okay," said Tom. He walked over to the small table in the corner, squatted down and pulled a Diet Coke out of a mini-fridge underneath.

A minute later, a forty-something woman with short, salt-and-pepper hair walked in. She looked anxious. Ever since her cancer, she always seemed on edge.

"What's happening?" she asked.

"Good morning, Julie," Bob said. "Grab some coffee. I've got some organization news to share. We're just waiting for Dave."

"I'm not sure I like the sound of that," said Julie.

A few minutes later, Dave strolled in. He had never been on time for a meeting in his life. But what he lacked in punctuality, he more than made up for in big sales.

He glanced around the room with a look of surprise. He was used to seeing this group, the department heads, on Mondays. It was Wednesday.

"What's up?"

"Grab some coffee, Dave," Bob said. "Then we'll get started."

Once they were all seated, Bob began. "Thank you all for being here, especially on such short notice. I'm afraid I've got some tough news. This Friday, we're going to be announcing a fifty percent reduction in personnel, across the board, all departments."

There were several gasps.

"Did you say fifty percent?"

"Yes."

"You can't be serious."

"I'm afraid I am."

"Why?"

"Lance," said Bob. "Apparently, he's promised the street he's going to shake things up. He wants to tell investors about these cuts and the projected cost savings on the earnings call next Monday."

"He'll shake things up all right," said Tom. "With cuts that deep, we'll go out of business."

In his early 30s, Tom was the only millennial in the group. He had few filters. Bob knew he could always count on Tom to speak his mind, and he encouraged it.

"I share your concern," said Bob.

"What are we going to do?" asked Barb.

"Well," said Bob, "that's why I called you all here. So we can decide how we're going to manage our way through this."

"What's the timeline?"

"We'll make an announcement internally this Friday. It'll go public on Monday. We're all supposed to submit names by next Wednesday. Those people will have four weeks."

"Four weeks?"

"You're kidding!"

"I told you this is going to be tough."

"Tough? It's brutal."

"It's insane!"

"How are we supposed to decide who to let go?"

"Lance is leaving that up to us."

"Well, that's nice of him."

"How in the hell are we supposed to pull this off?" asked Tom.

"To be honest," said Bob, "I'm asking myself the same question."

"What are you saying, Bob?"

"We've all been through downsizings. But nothing like this. We're already lean. Like Tom said, I don't know if we can cut so deep and still run the business."

"Damn straight," said Tom.

Bob looked around the table. These were his people. They were like family. They trusted him. He had never misled them, and he wasn't about to begin now.

"Before we go any farther, let me ask you something."

"Shoot."

"Who here thinks we can run our business with half our people?"

No one raised a hand.

"Nobody?" Bob asked.

"I don't see your hand up, Bob," said Tom.

"Look," Bob said. "All Lance cares about is our stock price. He knows that as soon as we announce these cuts the stock will spike. He's banking on it. So we're going to have to give him something, and it's going to have to be meaningful. Now who wants to put a number on the table?"

Everyone glanced around nervously.

"All right, Bob," said Paul. "Ten percent."

Paul was a functioning alcoholic. Bob had protected him for years, but sometimes Paul really tried his patience.

"Come on, Paul. I'll get thrown out of the room."

"Twenty percent," said Julie. "But no higher."

"I agree with Julie," said Dave. "But if we get rid of twenty percent of our people, we'd better be serious about getting rid of twenty percent of the work."

Three divorce settlements had taught Dave the value of driving a hard bargain.

"Yeah, right," said Tom, rolling his eyes.

"Dave's right," said Barb. "A twenty percent cut in people has to come with a clear commitment to cut twenty percent of the work."

"I hear you," said Bob. "Are we agreed?"

"You mean you'll push back on Lance?"

"I'll push back as hard as I can."

"When?"

"I think I can get a meeting in the morning."

"Good."

"I'll keep you posted. Let's plan to meet back here tomorrow."

"Bob," said Julie. "Hang on."

"What is it?"

"What if Lance says no?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, what's our fallback plan?"

"Good question," said Bob. "Options?"

"Well," said Dave. "For starters, I don't think twenty percent is negotiable."

"Do we all agree on that?" Bob asked.

Every head nodded.

"So," Bob said, "what happens if Lance balks at twenty and insists on fifty?"

Everyone fidgeted and glancing around.

"Look," Bob said. "You all just agreed we can't run our business with only half our people."

"We were talking about running this business," Tom said.

"What do you mean?" Bob asked.

"I mean that if you sold off half the business, maybe then you could make it work."

"Do you think Lance is going to give up half of an empire he just took over, Tom?"

"No."

"But he's willing to part with half of his employees," said Barb.

Bob looked at Barb. He had always seen beyond her beauty. He had long admired her ability to think one step ahead.

"Where are you going with this, Barb?"

"You said it, Bob. Lance is all about the numbers. If he wants to eviscerate his workforce, I have no doubt he'll do it. But he hasn't told us who to let go and who to keep. What if we comply with his ridiculous request and arrange it so that our best employees leave -- and we go with them?"

"We go with them?" asked Paul. "Where?"

"We form our own company," Barb said. "Smaller. Focused on just a few categories, where we can win. Of course, we'll need investors. But we know this business. We know our customers. We know our suppliers. We know the FDA. We're innovators. And we'll have the very best people."

Everyone was looking at Bob. He was not only their boss, he also had two kids in college, and his daughter was about to get married. And he was probably two years away from retirement. Starting over at fifty-three was not part of his plan.

"Is that even an option?" asked Tom.

"Technically, yes," said Bob. "None of us has signed a non-compete clause."

"So what exactly are we proposing?" asked Julie.

"What we're saying is that I'll propose a twenty percent enrollment reduction. If Lance balks, I'll tell him that the six of us will be leaving."

"What do you think he'll say?"

"I doubt he'll argue. After all, we're the highest-priced talent around here."

"Are you going to tell him we'll be taking our best people?"

"I don't think that'll be necessary."

Everyone nodded.

"See you all tomorrow," said Bob.

He still looked tired, but now he sprung up out of his chair, as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.


Don Tassone lives in Loveland, Ohio and teaches public relations at Xavier University in Cincinnati. His latest stories have appeared in the Olentangy Review, TWJ Magazine, Red Fez, Five 2 One Magazine, Ray's Road Review, The Zodiac Review and Flash Fiction Magazine.

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