BOOK DETAILS

Collision

Collision

by Siegfried Finser

ISBN: 9781946735263

Publisher Book Venture Publishing LLC

Published in Mystery & Thrillers/Mystery, Literature & Fiction/Contemporary, Mystery & Thrillers, Literature & Fiction

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Book Description

$3.99

From author Siegfried Finser comes this absorbing fiction that poignantly portrays the ever endless battle between the unscrupulous intellect and the caring heart. In “Collision”, readers will find themselves in a whirlpool of drama, action, and secrets, where the collisions in this story are on several levels. This story takes readers from the boardroom, to the university campus, and on to secret hideouts. Light and dark, warm and cold intersect as the key figures collide in the struggle for power.

Sample Chapter

INNOCENT BEGINNINGS

IN New York City, on the lower west side below Central Park, at Forty-Sixth Street, a special kind of meeting was taking place. The Premium Technical Products Incorporated was about to get together for the second time with the president and an assortment of vice presidents of its newly acquired subsidiary, Croton Green Incorporated. This small profitable company had dominated the grass seed and lawn products market for more than two decades. Its reputation for high quality and excellent service extended throughout North America and Europe. It was poised to enter the Latin American countries with an equally excellent version of its original grass seed. Competition was virtually negligible.

The owner had recently died, and the heirs were delighted to sell. Premium Technical Products Incorporated was equally delighted to buy as another step in its strategy for growth.

Facing Forty-Sixth street, the warehouse-type square brownstone building looked unimpressive. The windows were small and evenly spaced across the front. It was impossible to look through them. The glass was heavily opaque with city grime. There were no elevators but multiple flights of stairs at each corner of the building. If you were employed there, you didn’t stay overweight very long. The entrance did not offer any welcome but ushered you directly into a large office that smelled of work. Stacks of papers and reports greeted the visitor.

Only one area of the entire building had been remodeled and refurbished. It was up a single flight of stairs. The entire floor was one large conference room complete with enormous wall-projection screens on three sides. Darkly stained curved tables created a large oval that encircled the entire room with just enough space outside the oval to accommodate sixty comfortable easy chairs that swiveled and tilted as desired. This room was the dream child of Armand Dillon, president and chief executive officer of the Premium Technical Products Corporation.

Twenty of the comfortable chairs around the oblong of tables were occupied. The president of Croton Green sat in the middle of the far side. On either side of his location sat the vice presidents, including Finance and Controller. Although they bent forward occasionally to exchange some words with each other, they mostly waited.

On the near side of the oval, the chairs were all empty. In the middle of the oval, a technician was fussing with the hidden projectors to make sure they worked properly for the meeting. A half hour passed uneventfully except for some mumbled annoyance, which was not tolerated by the president of Croton Green. Bending forward and with a single frown, he silenced the low murmur, and they continued to wait. The president was planning how he might register some kind of complaint at the appropriate moment. After all, he had brought his whole upper staff to this meeting at considerable cost and inconvenience. He was an old-fashioned middle-management type who liked everything to run smoothly and on time. It was now ten o’clock, an hour late for the nine o’clock meeting.

Somewhere in the atmosphere, there was a rustling of movement, hardly audible. They felt it rather than heard it. They just knew something was stirring. On the near side, doors opened into the room, and in seconds, all the seats were occupied except one, which was then promptly filled with Armand Dillon, president and CEO of the Premium Technical Products Corporation. How the newcomers all knew the meeting was about to really start was a mystery. It was like a psychic awakening felt in the entire building. Armand was medium in size, wore an ill-fitting black suit, white shirt, and dark blue tie. Although he did not wear eyeglasses, he seemed to be peering out of deeply shadowed eyes, squinting to grasp details. His face was long for his size, gray in color, and sharply contoured. Gray crinkled hair added a touch of roundness to what otherwise was a singularly angular impression. He peered at the assembled executives, apparently checking to see if all the right people were there, and then he pulled a stack of reports and loose papers toward himself and smiled grimly at the president of Croton Green.

“I think we’re ready, Russ. Go ahead. It’s your show,” he said. As he spoke, he glanced to the right and then to the left along his side of the oblong, nodding in what was supposed to be a friendly salute to his own staff. He never blinked. His eyes had a perpetual stare, carefully noting every detail around him and the slightest movement of any kind at all attracted his scrutiny. It was general knowledge that all employees of PTP were included in an underground betting pool to be won by the first person to identify the actual color of his eyes. They glinted darkly but did not reveal any particular color. It was even rumored, but unconfirmed, that they sometimes changed, like a mood stone devoid of feeling. No emotion found its way to be revealed in those dark, uncompromising pools of analytical intelligence.

“There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that by now we are also ready, Armand, and have been for some time!” was the Croton Green president’s opening remark. He paused meaningfully while a small snicker rippled through his staff on his side of the oval. No doubt it seemed to reinstate the respect his staff had for him and he basked in their approval.

“I hope that’s not your entire report today!” Armand raised an eyebrow and frowned, taking in the whole staff on the other side of the table with an icy stare. When he spoke, nothing in the structure of his face appeared to move. It seemed as though a mask were sounding out of a deep cavern, revealing nothing of his true feelings on the surface. “Not at all. We’ve prepared a number of items for this meeting. If you agree, Armand, we’ll start with a brief explanation of our history, our hard and soft assets, a financial report by our VP of Finance and then open it up for questions and comments. Does this seem right to you?” Armand bent forward and spoke something in a low voice to his own controller who sat just two seats further on his right. He then rifled through some papers and finally looked up to answer the question. Some thought it was a deliberate ploy to make sure everyone understood who was in charge of the meeting, totally unnecessary given the circumstances.

“You know, Russ, we’ve been through a lot of this stuff in the last months while this acquisition—excuse me—merger was taking place. None of us are hearing about Croton Green for the first time. This is your show, and we’ll listen, but bear in mind we already know each other.” Armand leaned back in his comfortable chair, his long forehead catching the glint from the embedded ceiling lights.

“I think you’ll find this interesting, what we’ve got prepared for you. Our staff has worked hard to share certain things you may not know, Armand,” Russ answered.

“All right, get on with it. I suggest you diminish some of the history and product information and linger a bit longer on the financials. We’ve also got questions of our own you might find interesting.”

“Certainly, Armand. We’ll start with a short presentation of our history and reputation only because it gives substance to our strategy for future development. I believe you know Karl, who’s been leading our development work for many years now. Take it away, Karl.”

Karl painted a rosy picture of the growth of Croton Green. He described the work ethics of the original owner and his principle that hard work never exhausted, but conflict and frustration did. His whole manner of dealing with employees and customers was clearly described as a hint to Armand, who took the message with a sour, unmoved expression. His own staff glanced frequently in his direction. They had learned to read correctly every nuance of meaning from the way he tilted his head, the hunching of his shoulders, even the slight gesturing of his hands every now and then.

When Karl was finished, he offered to answer any questions. Armand’s staff looked in his direction and scrutinized his face for an indication of what to do. Armand said nothing. His lips were pinched together meaningfully. Since Armand did not encourage it, no questions surfaced.

“What’s next?” Armand broke the silence.

“We had a great deal more prepared, but I’d like to interrupt the flow and go directly to our strategy for the future, Armand. I know that’s really what you’re interested in.” Russ made this split-second, on-his-feet decision.

“Hear, hear!” Armand drummed the table with his pencil signifying his approval. The staff all shifted in their seats, a little more at ease in the less tense atmosphere Armand had signaled. Russ smiled and gave a nod to the technician at the controls for the video display screens. The video presentation appeared on all three screens simultaneously. The technician adjusted the audio volume down slightly. It began with a picture of the late founder of Croton Green. It described his devotion to the customers, some testimonials and many examples of him in the actual practice of service. The staff of Croton Green watched with a kind of reverence that appeared genuine. The PTP staff fidgeted and occasionally checked the hard copy of the presentation, which was part of their preparatory material.

Included in the presentation was a fact-filled analysis of the South American market and how Croton Green was prepared to capture it within a period of three years. When it ended, everyone shifted in the comfortable chairs and turned to look in Armand’s direction.

“Thank you. I believe that all of this in no way contradicts or enhances what was already known from our previous meetings. Your staff should be congratulated on their consistency. Has anything changed in the financial presentation from the last time we met, here, I believe, in this room?”

“No. No material changes. We are still as profitable as before.” The controller rose from his seat ready with his presentation.

“I’m glad to hear that. It saves a great deal of time, since we are all quite familiar with them. I suspect this means we can move on to our questions?” Armand waved his left hand in the general direction of his own staff. “Cliff, do you want to hit the highlights of your analysis?”

“Sure. Armand asked me to take a look at some of your profit margins. This meant digging a little deeper since I am not an expert in your industry. Thank God your controller is… an expert that is. Most of this information came from him rather than dipping into the actual minutiae. I have no reason to doubt his accuracy, as it was volunteered so openly.”

Russ and the rest of his staff leaned forward slightly to check with the controller, who shrugged his shoulders.

“Enough with the credits. How about the facts?” Armand interrupted.

“The profit margins on the various products of Croton Green would surprise you. In a retail store where everything is purchased and then resold, the profit margins are easy to determine, and they generally run about the same from product to product due to a uniform markup approach. In this business, the profit per product is difficult to find due to a wide range of expense factors and markup applications. We had to use multiple allocations, differing for each product.”

“All of that is no surprise! I trust your methodology. What are your findings?” Armand was tapping the table impatiently with the eraser end of his pencil. That could mean only one thing—he, Armand, had already found something he wanted to hear.

Cliff licked his lips and then wiped them with the back of his hand.

“It seems the amount of profit on each product does correlate inversely with the volume of sales in the normal way. As a rule, the higher the volume of goods sold, the lower the margin. That’s also true for these products. However, we have rarely seen such a wide range in our experience. Only in the paper industry are there such low margins, and only in the defense industry are there such high margins. Croton Green has both very low margins and very high margins.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere. Go on.” Armand sounded almost glad, but it didn’t quite show up in the expression on his face.

“We know all that. You never asked for it, nor is it all that important. The overall profit margin is reasonably good, as you know from our reports.” Russ rushed to clarify.

“Have you finished, Cliff?” Armand asked in clipped, dry tones.

“Almost. It seems the highest profit margins are in the accessories and machine products. Fertilizers are the very highest. Tools and mowers run a close second from the top. Most of the plants and pottery items have a low profit margin, and the profit margin on the corporate staple, namely grass seed, is almost nil,” Cliff finished triumphantly.

“Now wait just a minute!” Russ exploded as he half-rose in his chair. “I have not had a chance to review his findings in detail, but I can say here and now that their accuracy is questionable. We’ve always been profitable, and we’ve always produced, distributed, and sold our special quality grass seed. There’s got to be a mistake in these findings.”

“Now don’t get yourself in an uproar, gentlemen,” Armand soothed the excited group opposite him at the table. “We’ll all check and recheck our findings. Facts—true accurate facts—are the foundation of good decision-making. Most people can’t tell the difference between facts and opinions. In our business, we always, without exception, build our business on quantifiable, measureable facts. One of these days, I’m going to write a paper on this. How about it, John? Can you think of a training program to hit home on this?” Armand leaned forward to look straight at a young man sitting farther along the oval on his side, who nodded his head, but didn’t get a chance to answer.

“Think about it.” Armand’s attention was already back on grass seed. He looked across the room at Russ, who was rifling through a sheath of loose papers. He continued before Russ could answer.

“Russ, you should know, one of the chief reasons we were so interested in Croton Green was the wide diversity of products and its huge customer base. We saw you as the hub of a wide range of acquisitions and development targets. We had imagined a kind of outdoor supermarket, high quality, a sort of do-it-yourselfer nature store that included the growing numbers of people in the emerging green movement. I don’t want to be following. I want to be the leader. Just so you understand how important you all are in our plans for the future.”

The other side of the oval relaxed cautiously into their chairs. The immediate threat had been diverted, and they were all still alive.

“So how about going along with us and taking an objective view of this topic. We’re not making a decision. At this point, we’re exploring a possible issue that could help us move forward securely. All right?” Armand soothed.

“Sure, Armand. No problem!” Russ still looked wary. When he turned his eyes toward the opposite side of the oval, he saw those dark orbs of eyes focused on him. The darkly dressed figure of the PTP president still felt ominous to him. His clipped deep voice, without any real feeling or warmth, generally staccato like ice crystals, only thawing occasionally for effect, could not really be believed. Suspicion lingered around him like a cloud. Every time Russ came into contact with Armand, he automatically placed himself on guard.

“So, Cliff, tell us more.” Armand held up his hand expectantly, palm up.

“It seems that the competition, small as it is, has a lower price and a lower quality. Nevertheless, their volume of sales was growing slowly at about two percent. Croton figured the competition’s growth was primarily due to the fact they were cheaper. Did it really matter if a third of the seeds never germinated? Most of the customers are weekend gardeners. They don’t really know what they are doing, generally waste most of the seed anyway. The few that come up spread rapidly. In three months you end up with practically the same lawn as the more expensive, higher-quality Croton product.

“So it seems Croton was falling behind slightly in sales and decided, I think wisely, to lower their price to match the competition. The cost remained the same, but the margin disappeared.

“In the meantime they have been adding other products. Tools are excellent quality. The customers know this and are willing to pay more for them. They carry two lines of lawnmowers made by Deere and Farmall but sold under the Croton brand. Most of the money is made on the machines, tools, and fertilizers. The grass seed requires most of the manpower and the cost. That’s where we are today.”

“If they dropped the grass seed altogether, what would be the consequences?” Armand asked. A wave of shock passed along the opposite side of the oval. Apparently, even the idea was unthinkable.

“They’d increase their profits by six percent, mostly by reducing their head count and expenses. However, overall sales could be down a bit. This is still an unknown. The grass seed has been the lead product of the company. It is almost synonymous with their image. If it were dropped, many customers might no longer see an advantage to buying the other products in Croton stores. We just don’t know yet what the ultimate effects might be.”

Russ and the staff were nodding their heads in agreement and wanting to speak to the issue.

“Hold it!” Armand insisted. “We’re still delving for facts. In other words, you’re saying that the grass seed is such an integral part of the image, to drop it may affect total sales of the entire product line negatively?”

“Yes, it may. As I say we’re not yet sure of the actual consequences, but it seems possible.”

Russ jumped into the discussion to explain. “I can assure you from experience that most of the people get interested in the other products in the stores, but what brings them into the store is grass seed.” The others nodded vehemently.

“Let me ask you this,” Armand began, using an approach familiar to all his staff. “Maybe we can’t drop the product without risking the loss of customers for the other products. That much I can gather from what you all are saying. So we need the product. But… do we need to produce it?”

“I don’t get you! Are you saying we carry the product but let some other outfit produce it for us?” Russ asked.

Armand leaned forward to answer him. “Yes. It can’t be rocket science to grow grass seed. We contract a couple smaller outfits with specs of our process, buy the seed we need, mark it up, and sell it under our label. Let someone else carry the labor and expense burden.”

“That won’t do any good. They would still have to charge us. It would certainly raise the price, and we’d have the same problem.” Russ looked around for confirmation.

“You think so?”

“Of course! These smaller outfits might have less overhead, but they would still need to have a profit.”

“What if we used our own subsidiary?” Armand wondered. “We could jockey the costs around to offset where we’re experiencing high profits to reduce the tax bite. That would reduce your standard overhead and allow your people to work on expanding the more profitable lines.”

“What about quality control? If we lose our image through faulty product, our other sales would also suffer. By doing it ourselves, we have maximum control.” Russ felt himself fighting for control of the stream of thoughts.

Armand remained calm and cool as he answered. “Look, we’re just blue-skying right now, but I feel we are facing a challenge. With so many bright minds in this room, I’m positive we can do better.” Armand paused, tapping gently on the table with his forefinger, lips pressed together in a thin line.

Finally, he decided. “I will ask a couple of my staff to work on this with you. I know you’ll cooperate since you and we are bound to benefit. See if we can come up with an approach that gives us a better total return. Cliff, do you think you can put together a small staff team to work with the Croton Green staff? I’d like some results before our next meeting here. That’s in three months, I recall.”

Russ and his staff looked dejected. They knew what had been decided. A team of PTP staff would descend on them. They would ask questions, demand reports, use everyone’s time, and in the end, would demand the credit for whatever was decided. They would be forced to supply all the information, do all the work, and probably lose control of the company. PTP staff already had a reputation. Armand’s immense power had been delegated to them.

Without understanding it fully, the staff of Croton Green felt the change in their authority and independence. All at once, something had been eroded precipitously that had been built up over years. A company culture had darkened, lost its light and vigor. Their reason for existing had been taken away and supplanted by an authority lacking in values, diminished in vision. Something crass and shadowy hovered over them as they contemplated the future.

Armand slowly looked around the room. Across from him, he felt the moods of disappointment, sorrow, and a coldness toward him. He didn’t mind that. He never expected nor did he ever receive warmth. He searched for and found submissiveness, an occasional flare of animosity, some tinges of ambition, but overall, a sense of willingness to do whatever was necessary to keep whatever jobs they currently held. They would all fall into place—he felt certain of that.

Except when his eyes landed on Russ. Now there was something else. He didn’t like what he sensed coming from him. He was playacting. He would try to fool Armand into thinking he was loyal, when in fact he was probably already planning how to mount resistance against him. He knew this would not work out. Russ had to be moved out one way or another. He could never trust him, no matter what he said or pretended. The coldness in Armand’s eyes seemed to reach across the intervening space, matching and overcoming the coldness in the eyes of Russ.

Armand then slid his eyes along his side of the table, stopping for barely a second at each of his staff, sizing them up, feeling the effects of their character and relation to himself. In each he found what he was looking for: a submissiveness to his will covering a deeper layer of fear. He had them, every one of them. They were caught in his control. They knew it, he knew it, and they knew that he knew it. These were what he needed to achieve his aims in life: absolute obedience and loyalty.

Continues...

Excerpted from "Collision" by Siegfried Finser. Copyright © 2017 by Siegfried Finser. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

Siegfried Finser

Siegfried Finser

SIEGFRIED FINSER is co-founder of RSF Social Finance, serves on the Board of Trustees and does Advisory Service work with RSF and other clients. He attended Waldorf schools and studied at the Goetheanum in Switzerland. Siegfried has a BA from Rutgers University and an MA in Educational Psychology from New York University. After serving as a Line Manager for a division of Xerox Corp. he became Director of Human Resource Development at ITT World Headquarters. Since then he has been an independent consultant for major corporations.

View full Profile of Siegfried Finser

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