The Urn

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Chapter 8

As Orville drove into RMD the next day, he had found he had nearly gotten the lingering memories from his trip out of his mind. Not that he would ever want to bury those memories…just the opposite…but after having read Ambrose’s treatise fully, and this time with the critical scientific eye of taking the professor’s theoretical ideas and considering turning them into something more, he felt his old personality taking over again. The ideas in the paper were certainly intriguing at the least, and Orville could not wait to present his report to Frederick and Janice with the hopes of being unleashed once again to put his hand to the R&D machine.

Orville got settled in his office and then double-checked his notes and took a quick look over the paper to look at his highlighted lines before heading over to Frederick’s office to meet with the two of them. Orville knocked on the ajar door and Janice told him to come in.

“Am I early?” Orville asked, as he noticed she was alone.

“Nah….Frederick just popped out for coffee and some pastries for us…come on in and have a seat.”

Orville nodded and grabbed a chair as he removed his paperwork to await Frederick’s return.

“Interesting paper, this Ambrose publication….” Orville said as he sat back.

“You familiar with it?”

“Just from when I scan the abstract collections when they come out each quarter.”

“So….is it possible or is it just Gerald’s pipedream?”

“I can go into the details of what I picked out when Frederick gets back, but yeah, in a nutshell, I think it can be done.”

“As risky and as much as a long shot as what we did before?”

“Um….well….”

“Just lay it on me, Orville…”

“I would like to do some more background reading and maybe get Dr. Ambrose in to discuss some details I am not quite such an expert on, but I would say the company should, if it decides to pursue this, be prepared for maybe a 40% chance of it working….maybe 50 if we are lucky.”

“But the payoff?”

“I am no finance guy, Jan, but….”

Orville just shrugged and grinned.

“That was my take on it too. If we can convince the board of the unlimited potential here, we may be able to get them to assume the huge risks and low percentage of success pitfalls.”

Just then, Frederick came in carrying a cardboard tray with 3 coffees and a pile of pastries. He placed it carefully on the corner of his desk and handed them each a coffee before taking his own and retreating to his seat behind the desk.

“You guys start without me?” he asked as he sipped carefully.

“No…just chatting about it big picture wise.” Janice said as she sat back and indicated for him to open up the discussion.

“And?”

“Orville?” Janice prompted.

Orville took a quick sip and set his cup aside as he handed out copies of his notes to them both. He went thru it slowly and methodically, as while both were trained engineers, Orville knew they had veered away from a lot of the real intricacies of the field these days to focus on RMD logistics and day to day operations. They both kept their eyes glued to his handouts as he proceeded through the paper, pointing out items that were key in both getting Ambrose’s proposal to work as well as what he saw as the largest hurdles to overcome. When he finished he paused and let them ask questions.

Both had more than a few deeply technical inquiries which Orville had anticipated, once he had read the paper himself. He knew more of this field than either Frederick or Janice but for sure some of it was still a bit fuzzy to him as well. He did his best and then they all sat back and just looked at one another.

“Big picture, Orville?” Frederick asked.

“Is it possible? Theoretically, yes.”

“Sounds like there is a but there…”

“Always when you are talking about untried technology, Frederick.” Orville replied.

“OK….two questions from my managerial perspective. One…is it too much to break the bank and two…what would your rough estimate be for a time frame for a prototype?”

Orville exhaled deeply.

“As to the cost, like I told Jan before you got back, finance is certainly not my strong suit. With that said, until I can talk to Gerald at length and get a couple points in his paper explained more fully, all I can say is yes, it would be costly.”

“In comparison with the bacterial response electrical detection project?”

“Hard to say with any real confidence, but ballpark? I’d say that would be seen as a drop in the bucket relative to what this might require.”

“Ouch…” Frederick replied as he bit into a Danish.

“And time frame?” Janice prodded.

“Same deal. The development following the research requirement will be significant. I’d say, barring any real major hurdles—which as we all know can sometimes not be apparent until you get in the middle of it all—I would estimate maybe a year to 18 months minimum.”

“Double ouch….” Janice shot back with concern in her voice.

“ROI, Orville?”

He shook his head and grinned.

“In my opinion as a humble engineer and scientist, knowing all the applications it could be doled out to in the end….unlimited….”

“OK…” Frederick said quietly as he sat back and tented his fingers. “Any way we can do some preliminary research up front before we commit ourselves to it fully?”

“Sure,” Orville replied. “In fact, the one advantage of this idea is that you would have a pretty good sense of success/failure early on, which was not the case with our last endeavor.”

“Hence the high anxiety we experienced with the board,” Janice added.

“We have the personnel and equipment to do that initial look see?” Frederick asked.

“We do,” Orville replied. I can get Thomas and Loraine to palm off the stuff they are on now to the junior team to finish up. I would need them to help me with the initial stab we take at this thing just from a logistical point of view. Also it will speed along the preliminary screening and trials than if I work alone.”

“How long until we might know if we have a green light to go full steam ahead?” Frederick inquired.

“Until I speak to Dr. Ambrose I cannot say with any confidence. Would we need to talk the board into approving an initial investigation?”

“You mean in terms of funding, I am assuming?” Janice asked.

Orville nodded.

“Can you work off the ancillary consortium budget we have from the profits of our last venture?”

“What is available?”

Frederick opened up his laptop and opened a spreadsheet and spun it around so Orville could see it.

“Will that get us started, you think?”

“Sure. One more question?”

They both nodded.

“Any opinions or more importantly objections to signing Gerald Ambrose on as a technical advisor? Not hands-on work….that will be strictly Alternative Product Development staff, but just to help us muddle through some of the complicated calculations and intricate theory points that he will know better than anyone. It will save us lots of time and hence investment capital.”

“Paid position?” Frederick asked.

“Think it only fair,” Orville replied. “I was thinking of maybe a one-time stipend to compensate him for his intellectual and scientific expertise.”

“You know Dr. Ambrose?” Janice asked.

Orville nodded.

“We’ve talked a few times at meetings and conferences. Kind of an eccentric bird, but we seemed to have a good rapport. I can run over to University of Memphis and talk to him face to face if he is interested.”

“Pitch it to him and see what he says,” Frederick replied. “I have no issues with this. Jan?”

“Not me…anything that could speed us along seems perfect.”

“If he is resistant to the idea of having his academic publication commercialized, Orville,” Frederick added, “can you ferret it out to get us through the discovery phase?”

“I can, but it will be way slower than with out his help. I will call him and see what he thinks.”

“Good. Call him and then let’s get this going.”

“And if all looks good from the discovery phase?” Orville asked.

“Well, then Janice and I go to the board and lay out the whole scenario. Just how pricey this could possibly be, how long it might take to get a functional prototype to the market, and just what the payback might be.”

“I am assuming you will not use my phrase. ‘unlimited potential’?” Orville asked with a sly smile.

“No…” Frederick replied as he chuckled, “you know as well as I do that they do not particularly care for our use of non-specific descriptions of profit. Once we get to that point, Janice and I will come up with a projection based on your work and where it could end up landing out there. The goal is to make them salivate…..and then open up their wallets with a crowbar and write a check!”

They all laughed together.

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