Chapter 12: Board Meeting
Today, Jackson has a board meeting. For some reason, he wants me present. He gives me some line about showing off his new wife, but I’m not really sure I’m buying it. Regardless, I’m fixing up and cooperating because I told him I’d do my best as an ambassador for him and Dawes Incorporated. After all, a promise is a promise.
The meeting comes to order at 2:30 p.m. on the dot. I arrive at Dawes at two 2:25 so there’s not any time for Jackson to give me much in the way of a briefing. Jackson seats me at the large conference table, along with the other board members, all of whom are wealthy, powerful, successful business owners. I learn from the first few minutes of discussion this is a special meeting called to analyze one concern in particular. The board members are trying to decide whether to expand Dawes’ factory base overseas or here in the U.S. The decision needs to be made quickly because of a real estate opportunity that’s presented itself.
The first board member to speak, Myron Dansford, cites cheap labor as the number one benefit. Of course, lower wages are the major reason any company takes its manufacturing overseas. He also mentions incremental tax rates and nearly nonexistent environmental regulations. This last reason greatly concerns me. I sure don’t want Dawes building a factory and dumping toxins on a naïve, unprotected populace.
Several of the members deliberate off the record. I notice that no one seems to be advocating for America. Jackson sits quietly beside me listening to all that’s being said. After he’s sure everyone else has had their say Jackson calls for attention from the board members. He takes my elbow and asks me to rise, standing me beside him. I comply with his request and he formally introduces me to the board members.
“As most of you already know, this is my wife, Eliza. She’s new to the city but has passionate ideas about the company and socioeconomic strategies in general. “Ellie, why don’t you explain your position to the board?” Jackson asks as he turns toward me in deferment.
Mortification hits me like a military tank.
He’s hanging me out to dry? My own husband? Really?
I take about ten seconds to put my thoughts in order because that’s all the time I have before I start to look like an idiot.
“I completely understand your objective to maximize profits,” I begin hesitantly, but my confidence comes as my heart kicks in. “After all, Dawes is in business to make money, but I wonder if we can look at this whole situation from a slightly wider angle, so we grasp more of the big picture?”
“By all means, Mrs. Dawes, please continue,” states Dolores Erickson, president of the board. “I’m certainly interested in what you have to say.”
I take a deep breath and begin. “I’m sure I’m not saying anything you haven’t considered before, but America needs her infrastructure supported. I’m not only speaking about interstate systems and bridges, here. I’m referencing her economic infrastructure. The only way to accomplish a strong economy is through employed citizens.
“When Americans have jobs, they can feed their children. They can pay for their homes, provide for a family car and see a doctor when the need arises. If they have the right kind of jobs then, hopefully, they can send their kids to college and propitiate solid, educated citizenship into the next generation.
“I think it’s great to spread the resources of Dawes Incorporated globally, helping as many people as possible, but when you send all of Dawes’ manufacturing jobs to other countries you hurt America’s economic infrastructure.
“Without jobs here at home, people are unemployed. Unemployment benefits are at an all-time high. Even now the numbers don’t accurately represent everyone who’s unemployed because so many have aged out of the benefit program. Without employment the welfare class grows which only pulls harder on those who do have jobs. When people are out of work there are fewer people paying taxes. America can’t sustain her economic infrastructure with a working class that’s continually shrinking.
“So, my position is one of keeping jobs here at home for Americans. Let’s build America back one job at a time. Let’s get the infrastructure restored and give U.S. citizens back their morale. Give them back their country and restore their pride in their citizenship by giving them something in which to believe.”
Suddenly, one of the board members, Salvador Timione, erupts from his chair. “We have the right to make a profit, Mrs. Dawes! Who are you to come in here and criticize us like this?”
Jackson stands, prepared to defend me, but I stay him with a touch to his arm. Jackson reseats himself. “Mr. Timione, it’s not my intention to criticize you. I’m simply offering an alternate way of doing business. I understand Dawes profit margin will shrink because part of it will go to help support the jobs here at home. Salaries, health insurance and logistics all cost, of course. However, you can offset this expense considerably.”
Every eye and ear in the room is riveted on me. They genuinely seem interested in what I have to say.
So, I plow forward with a question. “Am I correct in my understanding that Dawes is big on charitable giving?”
His face is stiff with anger and it kills him, but Timione acknowledges and verifies the correctness of my understanding. The other members present nod their agreement as well.
“Okay, then,” I continue, “could Dawes possibly offset some of its domestic expenses by cutting or even eliminating charitable giving? Honestly, I’m not one who’s big on free handouts, anyway. I think people should earn a living, not be handed one.”
Timione can’t seem to help himself. He jumps up out of his chair and repeatedly points his forefinger at me as he shouts, “This rhetoric from a woman who won a lottery jackpot and then married a billionaire. HA!” Timione scoffs at me.
Again, Jackson stands, prepared to defend me. I shake my head at him. He asks me with his eyes if I’m sure about not involving him. I whisper back to him that I’m fine.
As I stand here staring into Timione’s enraged countenance, it occurs to me, never having met this man and knowing nothing whatsoever about him, his ire seems incredibly disproportionate to a vote of this nature and magnitude. No one else at the table is this incensed or even mildly agitated about my contribution to their meeting. This board deals with multibillion-dollar decisions on a regular basis. Why is Timione exhibiting all this hate and vitriol over one factory?
I regroup emotionally and address my irked board member with all the decorum and respect I can muster. “Mr. Timione, I’ll have you know before I moved to Chicago, I was married to a schoolteacher for twenty-five years. His salary maxed out at sixty-four thousand dollars per year. We raised three boys and worked hard to pay for our life.
“With regards to the lottery, those millions of dollars might as well be won by someone who will put them to use helping others as opposed to partying them away. I find your summation and dismissal of me both incomplete and insulting.”
I don’t know if the surprise exhibited on Timione’s features is present because of the content of my speech, the fact that I refused Jackson’s help or that I verbally defended myself. Either way, the tension in his body still screams ‘angry’, but surprise takes hostage his ability to speak. Slowly, while the rest of us watch, Timione reseats himself.
I redirect my attention to the remainder of the members seated at the table, tug on the hemline of my jacket and continue. “If Dawes redistributes its charitable giving to help fund expansion here at home, it will not have ceased to help people. Dawes will have transitioned into helping people help themselves. More and more of America’s middle class is losing faith in their country every day. More and more of them will collect unemployment and will then be transitioned to welfare. Once they start getting paid to sit at home it will be increasingly difficult to motivate them to go back to work. Apathy and complacency feed off one another. It’s gone on too long as it is, but I believe it’s still fixable. That’s my position, my hope for my country.”
Delores Erickson chimes in, “I suppose using the charity money could work. Dawes annual giving is substantial enough that if it were redirected it could help subsidize several factories here in the states. It’s certainly an interesting perspective. It’s a new way to look at an old problem.”
Timione disagrees vehemently and says with contempt very much present in his voice, “I still do not understand why you are against us making money.”
I shake my head. In an attempt to correct Timione’s misunderstanding, I zero in on his dissension. “I’m not against Dawes making money, Mr. Timione. Jackson would be hurt by such a strategy. That’s the last thing I’d want, but if the movers and shakers of America don’t incite this kind of proactive change in the way business gets done, who will?
“It won’t be the little guys. The little guys don’t have the resources and they aren’t the ones running things. Each of us in this room is exceedingly wealthy. If our mentality is to get, get, get at all costs, thinking only of the short term, what happens when we die if there’s no America left for our children? What happens when the legacies we leave behind are absorbed by some totalitarian government, a government whose only acknowledgment of you will be to steal your fortunes for its own purposes. How well will our short sightedness have served us at that point in time? The only way to truly enjoy the wealth you’ve amassed is to keep America strong.
“If we want our country strong and self-sufficient, we have to think past ourselves and focus on the future of America’s families. We have to act in real time, not as if our futures exist in a vacuum, but as if the damage of our short sightedness is real and imminent.
“I realize that Dawes shifting its spending is just a drop in the bucket. Here’s the thing, though: If the drops keep coming, pretty soon the bucket is full. Then you find yourself with a measurable amount of water with which you can do something spectacular. In this case spectacular equals the protection of our families as they exist within an economically strong republic. So, what I am asking is this: how much money is enough?”
Again, the fiery disposition of Timione’s heritage rears it’s not so attractive head. “There is never enough!” he advocates proudly.
I see the shift take place in the board members’ minds. Everyone in the room, except for Timione, understands me. I just haven’t quite convinced them.
I’ve got to try another angle. This is my final chance to win them over. I speak to everyone as I continue. “Try and think of it this way. Every month there are more and more people who become homeless even though they’ve done nothing wrong. Maybe their company moves overseas or is downsized to the point where it operates on a skeleton staff. Many of these will become homeless and will wind up living out of their cars, if they manage to keep them for a time. Some of them wind up in shelters that were intended for short-term use. The shelters are full, though, because the need overwhelms them. Still others wind up huddled around barrel fires, trying to stay warm, yet some of those will freeze to death this winter.
I target my one hold-out. “Mr. Timione, do you have any children?”
“Yes,” he replies haughtily in his crisp Spanish accent. “I have one daughter, Angelica. She is the light of my life.”
“Let’s suppose, for just a moment that you are an individual whose company let you go because of downsizing. You were a dedicated and loyal employee who has worked there for many years, but the company decides it doesn’t need you anymore because of its cost-cutting initiatives.
“So, through no fault of your own you lose your job and your retirement benefits. All you have left is a heavily mortgaged home and a tired car. Within six months the bank has foreclosed on your home and you have to go somewhere. You need to provide for your family. You have a wife and child who are counting on you to help them make their way in this world. You sell your car, so you’ll have the few bucks it brings to pay for groceries. You try all of the shelters, but they’re full. Now, Angelica, the light of your life, has to huddle under an overpass wrapped in a filthy, ratty blanket fighting freezing temperatures because a few really rich people wanted to put another million in the bank.”
My point of view finds its mark. Timione’s face goes black red as he falls backwards into his seat. He’s infuriated, but he holds his tongue.
Now that Timione is quiet I continue. “The sign out front says, Dawes Incorporated, An Industry Leader. So, rise and be the substance of your slogan. There are all kinds of ways to lead. When the ideal of leadership is preempted by self, self is inevitably undermined. You get by giving, not by taking. Dawes has a world-class marketing team. Put them to work exploring and exploiting this aspect of your business leadership. Use the idea in your advertising campaigns and inspire other corporations. Lead them to put America first and bring jobs home. Use your individual and business clout to pressure politicians to make America business friendly again.”
I divert my attention to the president of the board. “Mrs. Erickson you just said that using Dawes’ charity money could help put several factories back to work here in America, is that correct?”
Delores Erickson nods her head in agreement.
“Well, if Dawes uses its charity money for several, and Dawes inspires other corporations to do several factories each, pretty soon we’ve got America back to work and on her way to a solid economic rebound. Make it known that Dawes cares about America. Americans will respond to that. That’s all I’m asking.”
I’m finished with my impromptu speech, so I return to my seat. Jackson takes and squeezes my hand as I sit in my chair. Now, Jackson stands and asks if any of the members have any remaining remarks. The room remains silent, but it’s obvious the cogs are turning in the heads of those who are present. Jackson calls for a vote and the option of keeping the company expansion in the U.S. passes with only one naysayer. Everyone except Timione seems quite pleased with the outcome of the vote.
Next, the board progresses to the real estate question. Discussion abounds for half an hour, next, Jackson calls for a vote on the land decision. A vote is reached, and a decision is made. Jackson will see to it that the parcel of property is purchased. Soon, construction will begin and folks in a small Wyoming town will have new jobs for which to compete. Families will be funded. The tax base will increase, and Dawes will avoid the cost of shipping its products back to the states. Win. Win. Win.
Finally, Jackson concludes the meeting, dismisses everyone and escorts me out of the building. As we proceed down the front steps, toward the limo, I can’t help but express my frustration with him.
I slam my fist backwards into Jackson’s abs. “Ambush much?” I hiss at him through clenched teeth.
Jackson doesn’t miss a stride. Harcourt has the door open for us when we get to the limo. Jackson helps me into the car, follows me into the dark interior, and raises the partition.
I start in on him immediately. “What was that? Why did you put me on the spot like that?”
Jackson is grinning from ear to ear in spite of my physical and verbal assault. “Ellie, sweetheart,” he says as he covers my hand with both of his, “calm down and listen to me.”
“I don’t want to listen. I’m so angry I want to strangle you!” Jackson unfairly uses those beautiful brown eyes of his to give me his best puppy dog look, you know, the one he uses when he wants something.
I cross my arms in front of me and face forward, away from him. Jackson waits patiently while I calm myself. Several minutes pass which allows my blood pressure to drop. Oh well, I guess it won’t hurt to listen. Being hyper isn’t doing me any good.
I reseat myself so that I face Jackson across the back seat of the giant car. “Yes, Jackson?” I ask him with my best fake smile.
“I know I put you on the spot in there….”
“Yes, but I know my board, Ellie, and I know they had to see your passion. If we were going to get the vote we wanted, they had to see your heart.”
“I have passion about everything, Jackson. Would giving me a ten-minute heads up have ruined it?”
“I couldn’t take the chance, Ellie. It was too important. You were incredible in there, Ellie, absolutely incredible. You spoke from your heart and you won them over.”
“Yeah,” I agree, “Everyone, but Timione.”
“He’s one dissenter. So, he wasn’t happy. Come to think of it he’s always cranky and disagreeable,” Jackson says matter-of-factly.
I shake my head in disagreement. “He seemed downright hostile to me.”
Jackson tunes my negativity out. He won’t be dissuaded. “We won our vote, Ellie. All because of you! You were so great!”
Jackson continues to brag on me until he has me blushing and hiding my embarrassment in his shoulder. He cradles my face and kisses me deeply. He nuzzles my cheekbone with his nose, kisses me again and cups my right breast with his hand.
Goosebumps erupt all over me. A tingle starts at the juncture of my legs and runs up the length of my torso. While Jackson gazes into my eyes he unbuttons my jacket and turns the attention of his lips to my nipple.
He moans and whispers to me, “I can’t do much for you now, sweetheart. There are too many clothes in the way. Later, though, I can show you how wonderful you were. Later, I promise.”
He’s right. I was pretty great. It’s heady stuff to convince a room full of wealthy, powerful strangers to see things as I do. I’m the first to agree that Jackson didn’t do quite right by me, but I do have to admit his strategy was quite effective. Maybe I will be able to help Jackson with his Dawes’ objectives after all.
Slowly, I nod my head in agreement and fall into his arms, forgiving and forgetting his corporate ambush.