BMOC, Chapters 1 and 2

As a way to celebrate the holidays and perhaps compensate for a more relaxed pace of blogging for a while, I am beginning a serialization of my new novel BMOC.  If there is interest, I will keep it going for a while.  So, lets get started.  Enjoy!  (You didn't really feel like doing any real work today, did you?).   By the way, for you prospective business school students, though it may seem un-serious, embodies my best advice for you.  Chapters 3 and 4 continue here.

chapter one

Robert
Gladstone, multi-millionaire CEO of the M Group, looked around the
room at his fellow conspirators and longed for the piranha
button. 

Of course,
reflected Gladstone, these privileged and successful men would never
call themselves something so dark as "conspirators" in public,
and most of them would refuse to use that term even in private. 

In fact,
few casual observers would first think "evil conspirators" just
from looking at these men.  When most people imagined a group of
global conspirators, they might typically conjure up the SPECTRE
conference room in a James Bond movie "“ gleaming stainless steel
and black leather, edgy and exotic looking men in sharply tailored
black outfits, all in some deep bunker accessible through a secret
door in the back of a antique book store or buried deep underground
on a deserted island.

No,
this room definitely did not fit that image.  This group, Gladstone
lamented silently to himself, entirely lacked even the smallest hint
of SPECTRE-ness.  If a secret agent were somehow to break into the
meeting, he would probably utter a quick "uh, sorry, wrong room"
and beat a hasty retreat back to headquarters, where he would
gleefully dream of ringing M's neck for sending him to such an
utterly preposterous location.  Devious international conspirators,
after all, did not look like balding middle-aged men; they did not
wear sport shirts and slacks out of the 1969 Lily Pulitzer catalog;
they did not meet in a Maui hotel room; and, as outlined in nearly
every take-over-the-world manual, they most certainly did not play
golf when they were finished meeting.  For God's
 sakes, the group had not even taken the
elementary and most basic precaution of wiring the volcano just
outside the window to blow up at the push of a big red button.

Gladstone
longed for the slick sense of style and off-center cool that came
with being a conspirator in SPECTRE.  Well, not all of it.  He never
really liked the numbers instead of names "“ you know, that classic
James-Bond-villain conversation like, "Number 3?"

"Yes
number 1?"

"Give us
our report from number 11."

Such
dialog reminded Gladstone too much of those drinking games in college
where one had to quickly recognize his number and then call the
number of someone else in the circle.  Gladstone was never very good
at those games.  Actually, truth be told, he was really, really
terrible, effectively acting as the savior of every other player at
his school, who could always, in the deepest inebriated depths of
panic, incapable of facing the possibility of yet another dose of
alcohol, call Gladstone's number and be assured that someone else
(i.e. Gladstone) was going to be imbibing.

If
Gladstone could tolerate numbers at all, he would likely have majored
in something at school that actually had some income-producing
potential.  Instead, he had done what every self-respecting
numbers-hater did:  He got a degree in English and pursued a career
in journalism (journalism just edging out, at least in salary, the
other two alternatives for English majors in the French fry
production industry and the playing guitar in subways industry).

So, calling each other by names rather than
numbers was a plus.  Also, he supposed upon further reflection, it
probably was good that his chair was not wired, at their leader's
whim, to dump him into a boiling pool of piranhas or to fry him with
20,000 volts of electricity.

Definitely
a good thing, given their leader, Francis Theodore Whitney.  Ted, as
he was known to his friends (never, ever Frank) was the product of
careful New York breeding.  Both his mother and father were old
money, with Vanderbilts and Astors sprinkled through the family tree.
Like a pure-bred collie, Ted had a fabulous pedigree, and was both
beautiful
 and
dumb as a post.  Over the years, Gladstone had tried to come up with
just the right classification for Ted.  Once, Gladstone had an
infatuation with Meyer-Briggs psychological profiling, and had all
25,000 people in his organization tested and classified.  He still
had a huge color-coded organization chart in one of the conference
rooms near his office showing everyone's classification.  Was Ted
an I-N-T-J?  Or maybe an E-N-T-P?  At the end of the day, Gladstone
eventually threw out all the fancy psychology terms and concluded,
most satisfactorily, that Ted was simply a T-W-I-T.

While
much of the conspiracy lacked any resemblance to movies or novels,
there was one lesson that Gladstone had carefully taken away from
 all of those stories:  Smart people do
not put themselves at the top of illegal conspiracies.  What one
needed was a figurehead, a King Louis to your Richelieu, who took the
public risks and provided a layer of protection when things went bad.
And, the chief requirement for that position, the number one
specification on the job posting, was that you needed a complete
twit.  Ted was nearly overqualified.  And while Ted might be the
perfect front-man, you certainly did not want his finger on the
piranha-dumping button. 

Right at
the moment, Ted was doing the one and only thing he did well, which
was to drone on and on and on.  Gladstone had never regretted his
decision to acquire a figurehead-twit, but there was much more to
maintaining that figurehead than the evil conspiracy manuals ever
hinted at.  For example, one of the defining characteristics of good
figureheads turns out to be that they have to constantly justify, to
themselves and the world, that what they are doing is right and
proper.

They can't
just say, as Gladstone could, "Gee, this price war is costing me a
ton of money, let's see if we can't get together and fix some
prices."  No, the Ted's of the world had to convince himself and
others that in fact we are all getting together to agree to improved
working conditions or environmental standards, and that certain price
adjustments were only necessary in this limited context, blah blah
blah.  That Ted was so consistently successful at justifying, at
least to himself, nearly any type of action, no matter how
outrageous, was what of course qualified him so completely as a twit.

The
net result was that even in these small private meetings of the core
seven conspirators, where everyone knew exactly what they were doing
and why (and which had very little to do with buck-toothed salamander
protection or carpal tunnel syndrome among Indian programmers),
 there still had to be so much of this
talk. 

Ted had
now rambled on for about 25 minutes, and Gladstone had left
impatience behind long ago.  In fact, he had passed out of
impatience, right through squirming, and into his AADD (Adult
Attention Deficit Disorder) driven need-for-action phase.  Right now,
Gladstone's favored action plan, plan A we shall call it, involved
having the piranha button for himself.  He had begun to long for the
piranha button like a smoker about 24 hours into going cold turkey.
Nothing at this moment could possibly be more satisfying than to see
Ted's chair flip backwards, dumping him into a seething, boiling
mass of ill-tempered carnivorous fish.  He pictured the shocked and
fearful expressions of the other men in the room as Ted's toupee
floated to the surface, too unnatural even for the piranhas to
consume, and looking exactly as it did now on Ted's head, that is
to say like a small drowned mammal.  When Gladstone found himself
jabbing at an imaginary spot on the arm of his faux-bamboo chair, he
reluctantly realized that he had to abandon plan A, despite all of
its attractions, for plan B.

"Look,
we have a tee time in less than an hour and we have a decision to
make," he interrupted.  In terms of grabbing the group's
attention, this interjection scored, on a scale of one to ten where
one is a polite clearing of the throat, close to an eleven.
Gladstone was not a fanatic golfer, but he understood the type, and
he knew that the missed tee time threat was the equivalent of
dropping the big one.  Another defining quality of twits is that no
matter how important the business, how critical the decision, how
long they would normally masticate the issues to reach a considered
verdict, they would rush it all up and slap a decision down if they
had a tee time waiting.

Gladstone
continued, now that he had their attention.  "As Ted pointed out,
BMOC needs to be stopped.  It is exploiting textile workers in Asia,
killing untold number of species, causing cancer, creating global
warming, and, just as an entirely incidental and tangential aside,
which I add as a bit of interesting but hardly relevant trivia, it is
threatening to totally destroy the businesses we run and the
lifestyles that those businesses support.  Ted wants to know what you
all are going to do about it."

Of course,
in actuality, Ted did not want to know any such thing.  Ted really
would have preferred to keep talking about "that other stuff," a
broad category into which just about anything vaguely resembling an
action seemed to fall.  On the other hand, Ted loved it when he
sounded tough.


chapter two

Eight
thousand miles to the east, Susan Hunter was, coincidently, also
longing for the piranha button.  Susan sat in the back of her first
year classroom at the Harvard Business School, in the exact same
chair, in the exact same room, and with the exact same eighty-eight
people as she had in every other class for the last year.  Those
eighty-eight people, who had all seemed so fresh and exciting and,
yes, a bit intimidating last September, now, in May, after over a
thousand hours cooped up in the same room listening to each other
talk, now seemed as exotically romantic as Jed Clampett's family
and only slightly less irritating than having your weird cousins from
Arkansas show up unannounced for Christmas dinner.

At the
Harvard Business School, or "HBS", the vast majority of those
thousand hours spent in that same room with those same eighty-eight
people was spent listening to other students talk.  Because, you see,
Harvard, as the leading educational institution in the country, would
never do anything as obvious as provide knowledgeable lecturers or
even textbooks about a given subject for your $60,000 tuition.  Any
of those other schools can be so ordinary as to pay experienced
business people to actually teach what they know about business.  No,
at Harvard they have adopted the novel and now oft-copied approach
of, in exchange for the highest tuitions in the land, having you
spend most of your class time listening to other students, who likely
know absolutely nothing more about the subject at hand than you do.

Harvard
calls this the "case" method, because each class is structured
around a business case starring a hapless, real-life company facing
some "dramatic" decision.  More often than not, these cases are
written by professors who, in their after-class consulting gigs, have
run into a business situation for which they have no answer.  The
professor's job in class is to guide the discussion while looking
sage and wise (every one of these guys has a hard-on for being John
Houseman in "The Paper Chase"), in the process greedily hording
any ideas that might help them with their consulting.

Susan
would like to be able to say that the current class was about
average, but sadly this day was a special kind of hell.  Picked to
start the day's discussion was Julian Rogers, perhaps the most
stultifyingly boring person ever produced by the British Isles.  Now
normally, like many American women, Susan found British accents to be
pretty sexy.  Listening to Julian, unfortunately, was more like being
poked in the ribs repeatedly by your younger sister than being
caressed by a sexy voice.

Julian has
been "cold called", or picked at random with no advanced notice
to "open" the case, starting the class with a 10 minute (oops,
now 15 minute"¦. Aaargh going on 20 minute) recitation of the issues
in the case and his proposed solution.  In the battle for the hearts
and minds and attention of students, this bit of academic Russian
roulette "“ choosing a random student to open the case "“ was the
professor's ultimate doomsday weapon.

To
understand why this threat was necessary, one must understand that
every class at HBS required a case to be read and analyzed in
advance.  This meant that every day of every week, each student must
have read and be prepared to thoughtfully discuss three cases. And,
unfortunately, by "cases" we are not talking about the "Case of
the Purloined Letter" or anything half so interesting or one-tenth
as well written.  These cases were long, turgid, convoluted
regurgitations of business situations that were probably not
interesting to the people involved in the first place. And, most
demoralizing, they kept coming. Relentlessly.  Much like the human
wave attacks in the Korean War that Susan's dad had told her about.

Harvard
students, while nothing like their reputation, were arguably more
dedicated to academics than their peers in Austin or Tempe.  And
graduate business students, often with families and debts, could
reasonably be assumed to be more dedicated still.

However,
they were still students.  And any student, whether in Cambridge or
Columbus, when faced with this unending wave of cases, will, in the
language of microeconomics, eventually assign greater value to the
marginal case of beer over the marginal case for class, and decide to
blow off the reading.

It was for
this predictable decision that the professors had to maintain their
nuclear umbrella, the ultimate deterrent threat of a cold call,
combined with a grading system that assigned most of the student's
grade based on class participation and required that professors find
at least nine people to fail in every class. 

For most
students, at least in the first year, this very clear threat of
public humiliation and failure had approximately the same effect as
the Soviet invasion of Hungary had on the rest of Eastern Europe:
Everyone lived in fear.

When you
went to high school, there were probably two or three people out of
the hundreds in your graduating class that treated every life event
as critical to their whole future.  You know the ones "“ they
sweated every SAT, exam, tryout, election, and ballgame as a test
which, if failed, "will ruin my chances for getting into Princeton,
which will kill my chance to get into Stanford Business School, which
will end my ability to be Chairman of General Electric."

But there
were only a few of such folks, and you kind of pitied them their fear
and envied them their ambition.  Now, think of Harvard as a big
sorting machine designed to collect these people from all over the
country and put 89 of these rabid type-A neurotic worry-freaks
together in one room.  Add to the mix an academic incentive system
based on Russian Roulette, and administered by professors who take a
certain mad glee from drawing out the suspense each day and carefully
picking the day's victims, and the resulting fear and panic were
palpable.

All of
this was pretty funny now to Susan, since she had figured out how to
game the system about ten days into the first semester.  Which is
fortunate, because Susan had a dangerous secret, one that could
eventually threaten the success she has had at Harvard so far.  She
always had to be on guard around others to hide her secret, much like
an alcoholic trying to disguise the fact that he was drinking at
work.

For you
see, since her parents' deaths, Susan had not been particularly
driven.  She was no longer very career-oriented.  She, unlike most of
her peers, had never been type A.  And, she had become unbelievably
lazy.  Susan's life goals were a little hazy, but they generally
included a vision of retiring early and living off her investments.
Right now, though, she didn't have any investments.  And, because
she couldn't sing, couldn't act, and couldn't hit a baseball, a
life of idle leisure seemed to depend on having some type of
successful business career first.

What Susan
did have going for her was that she was incredibly bright, was able
to fake ambition and motivation for the benefit of those around her,
and, most importantly, she was able to quickly assess whatever system
she was in and figure out how to excel in that system with the
absolute minimum of work.

In her
first two weeks at HBS, she had discovered the two rules for success
that had so far catapulted her to the top of her class with a
gratifyingly small amount of effort.  To herself, she called these
rules the "squeaky wheel" rule and the "Jerry Springer" rule.

The
squeaky wheel rule actually meant the opposite:  Unlike the squeaky
wheel in the old saying, at HBS the silent wheel got the attention.
More specifically, you were much more likely to get cold called (i.e.
get the loaded chamber in the Russian roulette game) if you had not
contributed much in class.  So, in the first two weeks of every
course, Susan raised her hand constantly and talked as much as
possible.  She got the reputation with each professor early-on for
being aggressive and prepared.  Once this reputation was established,
she could safely blow off any number of cases with little fear of
getting cold-called unprepared.

Whereas
the squeaky wheel rule helped her reduce her work load and stress,
the Jerry Springer rule ensured her success.  While the professors
may have thought of themselves as John Houseman presiding over law
student discussions in a stately manner, she saw the class
differently.  To her, the professors and what they did looked more
like Oprah or Sally Jesse Raphael, succeeding or failing at their
jobs based on how lively a discussion they could evoke.  And, as
Jerry Springer has proven, the one who can be the most controversial
gets the best ratings.

As a
result, Susan watched the discussion each day from her elevated perch
in the back row, swooping into the discussion on the side opposite to
where the majority opinion was going.  She strove to be as
controversial and inflammatory as possible:  She heatedly defended
outsourcing to India when bashing this practice appeared hip;  she
advocated mass layoffs when worker team building was in vogue;  she
defended executive pay and stock options when it was clear that big
CEO compensation packages were not politically correct.  Sometimes
she believed what she was saying, sometimes she did not, and often
she couldn't care less, but the professors always ate it up.  She
made them and their classes look better, edgier, more interesting.
And they rewarded her for it with top grades in every course so far.

Today,
however, was a bit of an exception to the squeaky wheel rule.  Poor,
boring, earnest Julian was always prepared, because he was always
terrified, scared to death that one night slacking off might somehow
destroy his future Career (always with a capital-C), and therefore
future Life, much like the fear of catching AIDS from a one night
stand.  Julian participated (unfortunately) all too much in class,
droning on in that irritating voice of his, advocating positions as
spectacularly expected as Susan's were non-conformist.

Julian,
therefore, was not really a candidate to get cold-called to open the
class discussion, particularly this late in the year.  However, it
was clear to everyone in the room, particularly the professor, that
Julian longed to open a case.  Every day Julian would look at
the professor with this hopelessly wistful expression, only to be
followed by a look of desolation when someone else was chosen.

So
today, letting Julian open was in the same spirit as the homecoming
queen giving a pity-fuck on the last day of high school to the geek
who has been mooning and sighing over her for four years.  And right
at
 this
moment, Julian had the same surprised and ecstatic look on his face
that the geek would have.

But it was
not just the sight of Julian creaming all over himself at his chance
to open that had Susan longing for the piranha button.  Some satanic
twist of fate had Julian Rogers earnestly and painstakingly laying
out a strategy and plan for the new product roll out of ... contact
lenses for chickens.  Contact fucking lenses for Christ-sake
chickens.  Right this very second he was outlining his sales pitch to
chicken farmers, explaining how putting contacts in chicken's eyes
will somehow reduce the number of chickens that have to have their
beak cut off.  Did she hear that right?  This had to be a joke "“
but no, everyone seemed to be taking it seriously, and certainly
Julian was taking it deadly seriously.

God, if
only someone with some wit had opened, it might have been a pretty
funny day.  But no, Julian had set the grimly professional tone, and
while she might have been able to redirect the class, she just did
not have the energy today.  Instead she fabricated an interested and
attentive look on her face and turned her thoughts to her interviews
later that week.

To be continued...

Don't want to wait?  You can buy BMOC at Amazon

BMOC by Warren Meyer