Boom and Bust
Joe Flood is a writer and photographer from Washington, DC. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Hill Rag, Adirondack Review, Thirty First Bird Review, Black Heart Magazine and elsewhere. He recently published his first novel, Murder in Ocean Hall.
In the face of scattered jeers and catcalls, the CEO was putting on a bravura performance. I won’t use his name or the name of the company, now owned by taxpayers.
A tsunami of cash had washed into the market and, now, was washing back out. While the investors howled for their money back, the company and the CEO were the true victims, unfairly punished by an unexpected shift in fortunes.
The stockholders, red-faced and angry, shouted up at the podium where the CEO stood. They blamed him for their losses.
“It’s your fault!” I felt like shouting at the assembled faces in the hall. If they had only kept buying McMansions and SUVs, then the economic boom would’ve continued forever.
However, a more rational, measured response was in order, and one that I had spent the last several days crafting with the CEO. Strategic messaging is the key to success in American business today.
The CEO’s initial inclination was for a mea culpa. He wanted to beg for forgiveness at the shareholders meeting. He felt bad. He wanted to sell one of his homes, the Aspen one, to give something back to the investors.
As we sat in his walk-in humidor, smoking Cohibas, I asked, “Do you want to live in an apartment again?”
“Absolutely not,” the man said, waving his Filipino houseboy forward with more cognac.
Together, we devised a communication strategy for the meeting. There was no way we could pacify investors. A more creative strategy was needed.
Who goes to shareholder meetings? Elderly cranks. Who else has the free time or inclination to travel to a distant city in the middle of the week to view dry financial numbers and listen to boring executive reports?
Knowing your audience is key when communicating. Discover their wants and desires and secret weaknesses.
The CEO and I adapted our message to our audience. And, in particular, their weaknesses. I called it Operation Bladder Buster. I would literally have the CEO talk beyond the capacity of the elderly male bladders in the room.
I sat in the front row to watch the performance. The CEO and I had not had anything to drink in several hours. Meanwhile, the investors were plied with coffee and juices for more than an hour before they were allowed into the hall. Two giant bottles of water were also placed on each chair.
There was also a certain accommodation in the podium, in case the CEO had an emergency.
What did the CEO talk about? He discussed the business in minute detail, literally reading every report which had come across his desk in the last few months. He read articles about the company and discussed his favorite newspapers. He recounted economics classes he took in college and their applicability to the current situation.
The meeting began with shouts and catcalls, marked by the occasional flurry of boos. That began to dissipate after the first half-hour. The audience grew quiet.
I had the lights in the hall turned down and the temperature turned up. At the hour mark, investors began to slip out, desperate to relieve themselves. I had security guards at the doors to prevent their return.
One suggestion I made was to talk about rain. He went on for more than fifteen minutes on the massive, daily rainstorms he had witnessed in Florida.
“Every day during the summer,” he said, speaking slowly. “4:30. Massive rain. Drenching. Coming down in buckets. Filling the gutters. Swamping the roads. Rain. Pounding against the car as the wipers go back and forth. Inches of it, millions of gallons. Millions. In just a few minutes. Pouring down.”
That cleared out a good quarter of the hall. I watched with glee as gray-haired investors scurried down the aisle, fanny bags flapping on their bloated bladders.
The CEO paused for a second and shuffled his notes. Was he availing himself of the podium convenience? It was hard to tell.
I’m sure many of the investors in the hall wished they had such an option available to themselves. I turned to look at a few of them. One of them had his legs crossed decisively. His face was red and he was starting to sweat. One poor woman looked sick but determined to stay. I watched as she gave in. “Oh, to hell with this,” she said, stomping off.
“Now, I will discuss fourth quarter balance of payments,” the CEO said, before he began reading out a list of numbers. This took nearly an hour. By the time he finished, 90% of the people were gone. Their human need to empty their throbbing bladders had trumped their own greed and disappointment.
The few remaining cranks didn’t have their heart in it. When the CEO asked for questions, they approached the microphones eager to get this out of the way. Some of them didn’t even stay for the answers.
At the end, it was just me and the CEO in the hall, two proud and victorious lions. By adapting our message to our audience, we had achieved our communication goal.
The CEO offered to pay me with a check. Or stock. I chose cash. With the money tucked into my front pocket, I fled the scene.
© Joe Flood