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Fat Cat

I know most people think being a big boss is easy. Calling us “fat cats” is quite wrong, you know. Fat cats don’t have much of a life. Particularly if they’re stuck outside and can’t get back in through the flap. Of course, some things are easier. I don’t have to go shopping. I don’t have to get on crowded trains or tubes. I put on a clean white shirt every morning, nicely ironed, fresh from the cleaners. Every morning my Bentley rolls up at our house in Bromley. Why Bromley? Well, we’ve been here ever since we came down. My wife liked the shopping. She didn’t drive, you see, and she wanted to be somewhere she could walk to the shops. Anyway, John opens the door and I get in. He’s made my usual flask of coffee. Half an hour later, I’m at my office. Mind you, that’s at six o’clock. I’ve been in the office at 6 for thirty years, even when I had to come by train and tube,

Fred, the doorman, always greets me with his friendly “Good morning, Mr Anderson”, whatever problems his poor wife gave him last night. She’s in a wheelchair, you know. I always say, “Good morning, Fred, how are you both?” After all, if your doorman doesn’t like you…. I mean, the man that greets all your staff and your big customers…. Every Monday morning, he tells me how he got through the weekend. He knows two minutes is all he’s got. But I do listen. It’s not like I’m looking at my watch. He knows if he’s got a real problem, I’ll get my secretary Alice to pop down and see what we can do to help.

Where was I? Oh yes. I go to my nice corner office on the fortieth floor. Alice is already in. She’s my morning secretary. It sounds odd, doesn’t it? Two secretaries. One for morning. One for afternoon and early evening. But I work a sixteen hour day. Every day. Sometimes Saturdays too. Alice is great for mornings. She’s been doing it for twenty years. I know she goes to bed at nine – she’s a widow with no kids and this job’s all she’s got. Bright, mind you, well turned out too. Don’t really know why she didn’t remarry. But she had a rough time with him – that’s why she liked the job. Her husband played around. Heart attack got him.

Tamsin’s my evening secretary. I only took her on last year. She’s quite something. Only twenty-four, but wise as an owl. A cracker too. Well, she has to be. I often go out to dinner with customers after work. I take her with me. You see, my wife, rest her, she died of cancer five years ago. Tamsin, she’s even come with me on conferences. No hanky panky, you know. Fat cats can’t do much! They’re not much to look at either. Like me – Mr Average, slightly bald, bit of a tum. Anyway, just think what the staff would say. No messing on your own doorstep, I say. I think of her as my daughter. You see, we had no kids. Anyway, Tamsin comes in at one. She spends half an hour with Alice – a sort of hand-over. Then if I’m in, they’ll pop in to go over the rest of the day.

Then, I check the papers Tamsin gets ready for me the night before. I sign what must be signed. I keep the television tuned in – sort of in the background. If anything comes up on our business or markets, I stop reading and checking, and listen. At 7:30, Giovanni, one of our chefs, comes in with breakfast. I don’t care what they say, I’m going to enjoy my breakfasts till I die. Two juicy bacon sandwiches, a few fried mushrooms and tomatoes, and a couple of slices of black pudding. Can’t do without my healthy bit, though – a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. Nice cup of fresh coffee at the end. I couldn’t get through the day without my breakfast. After all, my father, he lived to ninety. He had breakfasts like mine. All his life too.

Then, the daily round of meetings. A director, perhaps one or two of his staff, they come in with a proposal or a review. They put up their Powerpoint slides. Don’t know why they call it that. Not much power, precious little point to most of their stuff. I miss the days of careful reports. Of course, they have to send me all the stuff in advance, and they’re not allowed more than 15 minutes. We chat about it, argue a bit, then usually agree. They go out smiling or frowning. Depends on what we agreed! Then it’s on to the next.

Now board meetings, that’s another matter. I used to enjoy them. Sir Sidney, our last chairman, he was an old school chum. We built the business together – thirty years, you know. We’d meet the week before. Decide how we wanted to play the meeting. In the week before, we’d call anyone in we needed to, get them on side. Since Sir Sidney retired – I should say, was forced to…. Those smart young City folk said that we were the biggest in our field, so we needed what they called “proper governance” I’d built the company! Did they think I’d screw it up?

But that lot were scared. Scared by Enron, Worldcom, Parmelat. One of the big life insurance companies had a lot of our shares. They insisted. Fat lot of good it did them! Their customers haven’t had a bonus this year, and just look at our profits! Anyway, this insurance fellow, Robin Jones his name was, they’d used their muscle to vote him on as a non-exec. He cornered me after a board meeting. Said it was time to “tighten up” on governance. So I had to take Sidney aside. I don’t cry easily – the last time was when my wife died. But I had tears in my eyes that day. Thirty years!

And now! Now we’ve got this banker, Peters, as chair. Knows nothing about the business, customers. Just money. He gives me a rough ride every board meeting. When board day comes round, every month, I dread it. I have to read all the board papers three times. Peters keeps on asking me tough questions. I think Jones sets them up. I used to think that politicians were a load of shysters, no practical experience. When I listen to them on “Today in Parliament”, as I’m trying to sleep, I’ve started to admire them. They seem to have all the answers. I know how much time they must have spent reading their briefs. Unless they make up all the answers, of course! Mind you, I still don’t believe a word they say.

Do you want to know what really worries me? It’s that somewhere, deep in my company, there’s a problem. Buried. Growing like a cancer. Only a few know about it. They’re covering up. Or they don’t understand its importance. A bit like those shuttle disasters. Or worse, one of my directors knows about it. He’s responsible for it. He’s covering his tracks. We had one like that a few years back. What was his name? Oh yes, Johnson. He’d made a really duff decision about our products. It was clear the stuff wasn’t going to sell. But instead of giving incentives early, he let the stocks build up. We had to nearly give the stuff away in the end. It cost us tens of millions.

But that’s nothing compared to what could happen. A deliberate attempt to take tens or even hundreds of millions out, like with Enron and the others. I count myself honest. Well, I do bend the rules a bit here and there. I’ve got a clever accountant who deals with my personal tax. Don’t we all? But some of our new directors, the ones our new chairman has pushed me to appoint, I don’t trust them an inch.

So, you see, that’s why I keep in touch with all those folk who are our company’s bedrock. The chauffeurs, post boys, doormen, post room supervisor, my secretaries, security supervisor, the phones manager, even the webmaster. Only they know what’s going on. Only they know about the extra envelope they get from me every month. It’s two hundred pounds, out of my own money. They’re sworn to secrecy, of course. They’ve as much to lose as I have. Every Monday, at lunch, while my secretaries are “changing guard”, we have a half-hour catch up. I ask my usual questions. “Anyone looking smug? Worried? Any long lunches with new people? Any odd visitors?” And so on. If we see some odd signs, we put them “on watch”, we call it. I tell, you, it’s better than any computer system or spy camera – though of course the security supervisor uses his cameras to keep tabs on everyone. When you’re on watch, your post is looked at, your calls are logged and listened to, your e-mails read, the security cameras follow you.

That’s how we caught Wilkinson. He was our smart new marketing director. We found he was having an affair with the new marketing director at Truman’s. That’s our biggest competitor. In fact, their affair started before she got her job. Truman’s were anticipating all our moves. Anyway, our webmaster knew theirs. They’d met through an industry association. Ours had done theirs a big favour a bit before – something to do with helping a kid through a druggy patch. Amazing what e-mails show.

I just hope nobody’s watching me that closely. You see, I know I’m on the way out here. Peters has already hinted at early retirement, even though I’m four years short of sixty. I’ve got to make sure there’s a takeover bid for us just before I retire, so my shares and options are worth as much as possible. That’ll put me one up on those City boys. They want to get rid of me as cheaply as possible. That’s why I do what I do with the staff. Even if they do come across signs of who I’m talking to, they won’t give me away. I’ve looked after them, and they’ll look after me, I know. And if it works, they’ll get their biggest bonus ever!

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