A cloud of nervous excitement collected above the bar like steam from a hot road after a summer storm. Business professionals in blazers and polo shirts leaned into each other shouting over the buzz with drinks in one hand and smart phones in the other. Their voices echoed off the wood paneling of the Rusty Nail Bar and Grill, drowning out the television screens in each corner and on both sides of the bar. Phillies and Mets fans chided each other after each development in the tight, silent game that played out above them.
Chess Garrison sat with his team in their booth by the back door to the kitchen. They huddled around him as if sheltering him from a cold wind. Their closeness muffled the ambient noise and provided them with their own bubble in which to share the rumors and innuendos of the day.
Chess looked at the young, energetic faces crowded into the booth and smiled to himself at their dedication to the circle, their engagement in the networking that takes place between the office hours. So many companies, these days, see their employees disperse to their homes and their families and fail to generate the camaraderie and loyalty achieved when a team goes out after work and drinks together.
With the acquisition coming up, this team unity had never served such a valuable purpose. New faces would arrive through their doors. New rivals could threaten their careers. New people would require new relationships to forge, new dynamics to manipulate and new obstacles to navigate. The topic dominated the discussion.
“I hope you’re not all worried about this stupid little acquisition?” Chess asked his team.
“It doesn’t seem so stupid or little,” replied Derek Lang, the Manager of Marketing Research.
“We don’t want them taking our work or our jobs,” added Len Bancroft, one of the Analysts on the team.
“Don’t worry,” Chess replied. “We’re acquiring them. Not the other way around. This is good for us.”
Chess ran the Marketing Department at the Fermi Healthcare Insurance Corporation for the past four years, after a long, successful career in sales. As in any merger or acquisition each team member sought the security of their Manager for the inside scoop on what would happen to each department and how the changes might affect them.
The big concern revolved around the Marketing Department at their target, the Hearthstone Health & Wellness Group, which according to rumors and reports appeared duplicative to Chess’ team.
“Their ad campaigns are slick,” said Brendan Douglas, who managed all of Fermi’s Marketing Analytics and statistical reporting. “We never produced anything like their television and print ads.”
“They’re cute and funny and kind of sweet all at the same time,” Bill Crodget, the Product Marketing Manager chimed in. “The one with the little girl who gets a lollipop every time she visits her doctor’s office ...”
“Don’t you find them simplistic to the point of insulting the intelligence of the viewer?” Chess retorted.
“The little girl is so cute though,” said Norin Kim, his Creative Specialist.
“They do some nice work,” Chess replied with a sly smile. “But seriously, advertising on network television and newspapers? Do any of you still even get a newspaper delivered?”
“We have cats, so…” Bill answered.
“If you ask me,” Chess continued. “I think they’ll love working for us.”
The group broke out in laughter and clanked glasses as if their team had just scored a run in a ball game.
Kai Macado, the Web Services Manager on the team looked at his boss and asked the question on all their minds.
“What do you think of their Marketing Director?” Kai asked.
“I won’t know until the end of the year when I give out her annual review.”
“So, you think she’ll work for you?”
“I would think so,” Chess spoke with his usual swagger. “If we decide to keep her.”
“Have you met them yet?” asked Derek.
“They flew into town last night for the All Company Meeting,” said Kai.
“I met Cora Hartley briefly at a MarComm conference five years ago,” Chess replied. “But I couldn’t pick her out of a line-up.”
Chess recalled the meeting, several years prior. They sat next to each other at a seminar about Campaign Management and Marketing Outreach. They had noticed their rival name badges and pointed at each other in a mock menacing way as if to prod each other for being the “enemy”. They shook hands and complimented each other’s work in the market.
“Short, thin, athletic, in a slight, wispy way,” Chess reported to the team. “Nice enough smile. Thick, dark curly hair hanging down, covering half her face. Talks fast and walks even faster.”
“But, you wouldn’t be able to pick her out?” Derek observed.
“Are you worried?” asked Kai. “She’s agreed to relocate to New Jersey.”
“I hope she’s renting,” Chess replied to laughs and high fives from the team.
In a dark corner, tucked around the brass adorned wood bar, Cora Hartley and Tara Richardson, her co-worker from California-based Hearthstone Health & Wellness, sat at a cramped two-person cocktail table. Clad in jeans, they soaked in the unfamiliar scene. They looked at the faces around them anticipating which of them might be future co-workers. They felt outnumbered and invisible, two small boats floating through a sea of rough waves.
All around them large groups of people congregated in clusters, one by the bar, one in the booth next to them, one in the big round seats by the window and yet another back in the booth by the kitchen. They clung to each other as allies in a foreign turf.
“I miss the Purple Star Café on Sunset,” said Tara, the Graphic Designer who produced Cora’s award-winning print ads. “It used to be so much fun hanging out with the production staff after work. I’m gonna miss those guys.”
“Are you sure you’re okay with this move?” Cora asked. “It’s no big deal for me. I grew up here. Emma’s going to school out here. I never loved living in LA anyway. But it’s a big change for you.”
“We’ve been together for ten years,” answered Tara. “I wouldn’t go quitting on you now. After my divorce, I was stagnating there. I could use a change of scenery.”
“Me too,” said Cora, noticing the tall trim man in the far corner with his grey summer suit, light peach colored dress shirt and sharp peach and purple tie. “Oh my God, there he is.”
“That’s – what’s his name?”
“What’s his name?”
“Funny name,” Cora stared ahead in thought. “Chet … Chaz … Chip, something short and pretentious like that. He manages Marketing and Sales Support for Fermi. We’ll be co-workers.”
Tara and Cora observed at the collegial group on the other side of the bar, crowded around several pitchers, lost in their animated gestures and loud laughter. They both darted their eyes away as Chess appeared to glance in their direction.
“Is he gonna be our new boss?” Tara asked.
“Of course not,” Cora replied with a hint of annoyance. “Why would he be? Have you seen their ads, their multi-media site sellers? Their product brochures? Their web presence?”
“Uh not really …”
“Because they’re all crap.” Cora replied. “They barely have a presence on the web. They don’t do banner ads. They don’t even advertise. Even their colors suck. We’re gonna blow them away with the quality of our work. Why do you think they agreed to the merger with us? If anything, they should all work under us – if they even decide to keep all those guys.”
“You’re still confident that you’ll stay my boss. If you aren’t my boss, I’ll go back to California.”
“I know,” Cora smiled assuredly. “I wouldn’t worry about Chase over there. I’m sure we’ll be peers at least and we’ll keep our own separate teams.”
“All guys,” Tara observed. “Are you sure we won’t be redundant?”
“They don’t do what we do and nobody in the industry has as strong as team as ours.” Cora replied. “We’ll be fine. We’ll all look out for each other and help each other through the transition.”
“Who’s gonna be your boss?” Tara asked. “Barbara Ferrante or whoever their CMO is?”
“I don’t know and Barbara either doesn’t know or hasn’t told me. If Barbara gets CMO, then we’re golden. If not, we’ll just have to show their CMO our work and our vision. They need us more than we need them. That’s why they merged with us.”
Chess stretched his legs beneath the table and draped his arm around the back of the booth. Sitting with his team at the bar always made him happy. It shut down the excruciating pace of the work day and closed out the tension of his home life between his wayward teenaged son and his aging father. Part of him wished he could stay right there, at the bar, in the thick of the excitement, with his closest friends harping on his every word, laughing, teasing and connecting.
“We’re going to kick these guys’ asses,” he said to the team. “We know the company and our three-year plan. We have the connections and the home field advantage. Don’t give that up.”
“I just don’t want them coming in and changing around who does what,” Norin continued.
“We should look out for each other,” Chess addressed the whole team. “When it comes to our work, let them know we already have a well-vetted plan and strategy. You all have objectives that I’ve communicated to Coldwell and Wellington. We’re locked in.
“Based on their placements and the work I’ve seen, I think they can help us with tactical execution. If they mess with our Market plan and strategy, we can put them in their place – gently and politely, of course. But don’t be afraid to be direct.
“You don’t have to go out of your way to help them. Let them flounder a bit. Be professional. Just don’t make it that easy for them to come in and change our plans. If they pull any crap, Coldwell will be all over them. We’ve got his trust. He’ll look out for us. He understands what we’re doing.”
“How will this change the Fermi brand?” asked Derek.
“We’re going to have to bring in your buddy’s consulting firm to rebrand again,” Brendan added. “We’ll have to go through a whole new naming exercise.”
“Remember, we acquired them,” Chess exaggerated the word ’acquired’. “That means we own them. The executive team’s talking about fusing the two businesses to form a new unified brand. But we’re going to run point on that. Mark my words; we are not co-branding. We’ll be eradicating all references to the words ‘Hearth’ and ‘Stone’.”
Cora took one last glance at her future co-workers and looked away for good.
“We should get to know them and build relationships with them. Win their trust. Show them how we can help them. They should be excited to have our capabilities,” she told Tara. “If we have a problem, we can escalate to Barbara or whoever makes CMO and just let them know where the problem is.”
“Whatever we do, we don’t escalate to Coldwell,” Chess continued. “And definitely not to their CMO if for some reason Coldwell isn’t picked. We handle our issues as a team. Come to me and I’ll take care of the problem no matter what it is.”
Cora sighed, giving away some of her trepidation.
“We’ll find out tomorrow,” she said. “I just hope Barbara gets it.”
“Tomorrow’s the big day,” said Chess as he caught a familiar looking smile across the room and glanced to confirm Cora’s presence. “But it better be Coldwell that wins the job.”