Suki and I exchange glances and roll our eyes, but Gary starts packing his things away and we join him. We may as well be sitting in the conference room as here. I pick up my trash and gather Gary and Suki’s too and I go and put it all in the garbage can and then I come back to the table and retrieve my cell phone from the table. Suki and I follow Gary to the conference room.
I’m pleased that we are not the first to arrive, but we are far from the last and we get good seats at the table. I put my cell phone on silent in case I forget later on, and I slip it into my pants’ pocket.
The room soon starts filling up and it begins to get uncomfortably warm. I debate taking my jacket off, but I decide against it. I purposely wore a pantsuit today because somehow the jacket feels like armor and to take it off will leave me too bare, too exposed, if we are about to get bad news.
Someone opens a window, and the temperature becomes more bearable. The room is a buzz with conversation, and most of it is speculation about what is about to happen and what it will mean for us. I join in with the odd comment here and there, but I mostly stay quiet. I’ve been through a hundred scenarios in my head, and none seem to be any more or less likely to be the right one than any of the others based purely on what we know about the takeover.
The conference room door opens again and this time, a hush starts to spread out through the room until everyone is quietly watching the man who has entered the room. He stands at the head of the conference room table, a seat that has been left empty for him I now notice. There is something commanding about him, a presence which demands our attention. He is obviously one of the new owners of the firm, although I have no idea which one he is, Jack Wilkinson or Tyler Clark.
He looks younger than I expected him to. Our old partners were both in their seventies and maybe an injection of someone younger might be exactly what this company needs.
The man has dark hair with a few tiny flecks of silver gray which rather than making him look old, make him look worldly and intelligent. His piercing blue eyes scan the room and I feel as though he sees more than he lets on. He’s wearing smart black pants and a light blue shirt with a darker blue tie. No jacket.
“Good afternoon, everyone,” he says after a moment. He smiles warmly. “I’m Jack Wilkinson. Thank you all for coming. I’m sure you all have some questions, and I’m going to try and address those questions as best I can. Let me start by addressing the biggest worry you likely all have. Everyone’s job is safe.”
A collective sigh of relief goes up in the room. Jack pauses and gives us a moment to take in the good news. I must admit I am more relieved than I thought I would be, and I’m eager to hear what else he has to say.
“Obviously everyone will be expected to sign new contracts. Our administration team is currently working on that. Your new contracts will be based largely on your existing ones so your salaries and any bonuses or benefits that are in your current contract will be brought over to your new one. The only major change, which I think you will all be pleased to hear, is that we believe that happy employees are more productive than unhappy employees and after some research, we discovered that extra vacation time seemed to be the answer to making employees happy. You will all be getting ten weeks paid vacation time instead of the standard five,” Jack explains with a smile.
When he told us our jobs were safe, people held back. There were smiles, quiet sighs of relief, a few exchanged looks of relief between friends. This time, there is no such holding back. The room erupts in a cheer of approval, and I have to hand it to Jack. He knows how to get a group of people on his side. He can say pretty much anything now and people won’t care because he has just doubled their paid vacation time.
“We are, or should I say were prior to this buyout, a pretty small firm. There is myself and Tyler, my partner, and then we have a team of about twenty staff. That includes our architects, HR, administration and cleaning staff. We do have a healthy client list though that will be merging with your current client list. One of the most attractive things about this company was the fact that it was large enough to have a fair few junior architects working here,” Jack says. “Because of our big client list and small number of staff, we had hit that point where we kind of plateaued as a company – we couldn’t take on more work and grow because we didn’t have the resources to complete the work and we couldn’t take on more staff without the income from the new work – it was a major catch twenty-two and we couldn’t get out of it. Now we can, because we have all these extra bodies at our disposal. I would like some of the junior architects to work with my guys on their client lists and allow them to free up some time for acquisitions.”
He pauses again and looks around the room. He smiles.
“I’m sorry, obviously at this point I don’t know who is who, but I’m hoping that the ones smiling and nodding their agreement are the junior architects,” he said. This got a small laugh and he smiled wider. “We’ve spent a lot of time going through everyone’s portfolios and client lists and seeing what you are working on right now.”
Great, I think to myself. If anyone is getting the chop it’ll be me because I’ve just wrapped up a big project and I only have small stuff now, stuff that a junior could easily take care of. But then again, I do have the company’s biggest client on my books so that should go in my favor.
“I’ve arranged for a team of decorators to come in over the weekend and change the décor to one that suits our company, and to hang the new sign. I have also arranged for a team of IT professionals to come in and change the company logo and all of the branding and update it on all of your systems. Do I have admin staff here at this meeting?” Jack says.
He looks around expectantly and a few nervous looking hands go up.
“Good, good,” he says. “I need you guys to make sure that any previously printed paperwork which goes out to clients is shredded and ones with the new letterheads are printed off to replace them.”
The admin staff nod. That seems like something pretty standard that they were likely expecting to be asked to do.
“Tyler and I would like to get to know you all individually and consequently, we have set up meetings with you all over the next couple of weeks. You will receive an email today detailing the date and time of your meetings with us both. We will then likely have another one-on-one meeting towards the end of the year where we’ll talk about your progress with the job and you can discuss how you think the takeover is going,” Jack says. “But as I said, we are mostly going to be blending in and getting into our work loads. Nothing will change for you guys on the daily so I would ask that you all do the same until further notice. Does anyone have any questions?”
“What happens if we don’t meet your expectations at this second meeting?” someone asks.
“That will depend on how far out of the acceptable box you are and what reason you have for it. If, for example, you seem to have not done enough work, but you can show that you have a needy client who demands all of your time, then you wouldn’t be penalized for that. If it’s say, a quality issue, we might put you on report for a few months until you get your head back in the game,” Jack said. “But I’m sure it won’t come to that for any of you otherwise Charles would have gotten rid of you years ago.”
He smiles as he says it and a few of my co-workers smile nostalgic little smiles of their own at the mention of Charles, one of the partners from before the takeover.
“Anyone else?” Jack asks.
No one responds and he smiles again.
“Great,” he says. “If anything comes to you, both Tyler and I operate an open-door policy so feel free to come and ask us anything you think of. In the meantime, thank you for your cooperation. Meeting adjourned.”
Jack’s cell phone beeps and he takes it out of his pocket, glances at it, and puts it back away. The conversation had begun to flow almost immediately as he said that the meeting is adjourned and those people who were standing at the back are already leaving the room when Jack speaks up again.
“Sorry, one more thing. Do we have a Summer Malone here?” Jack says.
I tentatively raise my hand. This is it; I think to myself. I’ve been chosen as the scapegoat. I’m the one he’s going to fire just to show people that he might be a nice enough guy but he’s not a soft touch. It will keep everyone on their toes a little bit more.
“Can you hang back please Summer, there’s something I want to talk to you about,” he says.