Sunday, 5 June 2011

The Journeyman - Chapter 13


Neil Hopkins closed his eyes and thought of England. Most of his staff was long gone, apart from the two financial analysts who’d be most of the night extracting the figures he wanted on Uniclor.

Gently rocking he eyed the lights still showing on the two top floors of the crescent shaped monolith that was ICP’s world head quarters. He still was at forty-nine ICP’s youngest Chief Executive. Through the late seventies and early eighties he’d been too busy sweating his plodding empire into a keener, leaner corporate machine, to bother with the individuals who’d allowed the fat to grow. Shortly he’d be able to get rid of the wasters that littered his boardroom.

These had been years of chance, change and opportunity on the corporate scene. Sympathetic government policies and weak unions allowed them to be rid of their UK chemical plants and to replace them with state of the art units in the emerging markets. That was a misnomer. None were emerging most were desperately running in order to stay in sight. Neil’s policy of not imperially sticking the ICP name on third world plants didn’t fool the analysts or the markets but it did give a home grown feel to the users. Now the products themselves were fast approaching their nemesis. Rumbles were growing on the health and ecological costs they’d accumulated. Insurers were beginning to twitch about exposure and in America the lawyers were bonding up for class actions. It was time to change the name, the product and the game.

In a world hungry for crops, most literally, the rest financially, he’d expanded ICP in both. Having expanded their North American turnover from three to eleven million a day. They’d used the increased revenue to buy a Californian based bank that had been draining the resources of Midshire; one of the UK’s big four. And, immediately after, when all Midshires weaknesses had been exposed, made a successful bid for it. The other UK clearers' had screamed their opposition to a move that would shatter the myth of their impregnability, but they hadn’t been willing to pay the price to call that tune. Once in the money shuffling game he’d the stake he wanted in the consumer market. It had also allowed him, though he’d vehemently deny it, the ability to nudge the fortunes of Midshires corporate borrowers. Most he’d been glad to see the back of when they were poached by his competitors and the same could be said for the original board. Replacing them with the best from the international scene, if they were too good to be yes men, they were certainly his men.

Two of the banks customers were already beginning to feel the demoralising effect of its concern. Both slipping in the supermarket league, they’d shortly be discussing a reluctant merger and once the rumours had created the necessary state of flux ICP would make its bid for both. This was all scheduled for the next twelve months but to do it he had to get his next move rock solid. Then he could tuck the markets under his belt and add a few more points of the UKs consumer spending into his corporate wallet. One more step towards unassailable control. Flicking a speck of dust off his trousers he rang security and told them to have his car ready.

Settling in to the black Mercedes, he instructed his driver to move round to the visitors parking keep the lights off and waited engine idling by the exit. The registrations of four expensive saloons leaving within ten minutes were noted before telling his driver to take him home.

Home was a modest Victorian house in what had been a modest area of Ealing. Bought when his Father had been forced into early retirement by the closure of the steelworks where he’d been general manager. His parents living with him allowed Neil to turn the top floor into his private flat while still enjoying the family atmosphere of a home. It was his antithesis for the emotionless actions of business. His parents knew the position he held but he doubted even his Father comprehended the power and personal wealth it had afforded him. Neither caused him any great pleasure, just as the simplicity of his private life had nothing to do with aesthetic or monastic reasons. It was enough to be comfortable. Any more was pure distraction.

Joining his Father for the late news he’d the one drink then left a note for his mother to remind her he was going to the country with Sir Reginald Huntington for the week end before going up to his flat and bed.

Friday morning he was up at five and on his way to the office by five thirty. It would give him almost two hours of privacy. George Esquiden didn’t expect Neil’s call. They’d already a meeting scheduled for three that afternoon to go through the final details of the sale to Thames of the fast food chain that had been the catalyst for ICPs’ raid into American and British banking. Esquiden was pleased with the formula he’d produced. It would show ICP making a profit on the sale while retaining all of Deltoni’s real estate. Thames would get the benefit of the streamlined administration and development that up to now had purely shown on the cost side of the balance sheets. Under the Thames banner they’d come out as improved if not spectacular returns, enough to earn Thames a success rating on their first international venture. But Neil’s call had nothing to do with that.

Listening to Neil, George played with the figures and the reactions they’d create and realised his day had just been hi-jacked. It took him over an hour of window gazing before he could get a grip on the scale of Neil’s proposal and the rest of the morning putting out tentative feelers into the banking world for reactions. Deliberately mirror imaging the proposition, he reversed the reactions until struggling through a working lunch he came up with a trainload of figures. It was possible but he wouldn’t want to put his career on line for it. Committing his draft to memory he fed the scraps of calculations to the shredder.

Esquiden had learnt early in his career two important skills. Leaving Harvard and finding himself junior to contemporaries with lesser qualifications who didn’t suffer the stigma of a Mexican Indian background, he’d learnt to read upside down as fast as he could from the normal viewpoint. The second was to hone his memory till it was almost photogenic. The first exposed a lot of strategies, the second allowed him to bank them until their purpose became clear. If George was a dreamer of possibles, he was a pragmatist in accepting the best plans all smelt the same if they landed in shit. One of the shitpools was the advance of Islamic fundamentalism and the effect it would have on the fundamentally fanatical financial markets.

It was during one of these crises that he’d met Neil and been persuaded to join Californian First. Expecting to stay with the bank for two-three years at the most enough time for its position to stabilise, his expectation changed before the first year was out. Hopkins asked him to fly to London for a meeting. It lasted less than two hours and an hour later George was on his way back and having to pinch himself into accepting the plane was going to land at an airport and not his bed. Told of the plan to get Midshire into the fold he was to be the ways and means arranger. His feelings now were much the same as they’d been on that first flight home. Almost, but not quite; then he’d only hoped to pull it off; now, knowing Hopkins, he expected to.

By four the Deltoni moves had been explained and approved. George got the distinct impression of Thames having little say in the matter and made a promise to himself to find out why. If Neil was pleased he didn’t show it, and by now George would have been surprised if he had.
     ‘Have you formed any opinion on this mornings proposal?’ Neil asked.
     George helped himself to a coffee before answering. ‘On paper it’s possible but the reactions and repercussions it could create is an entirely different set of problems. I need more time to build a picture on them. Your selling as near as dammit seventy percent of your chemical production; in fact all of it except for the three north American plants to a buyer who doesn’t know he’s buying yet. Christ Neil some of those plants have only just came on stream.’ He shrugged, ‘ So why am I stating the obvious? Okay, Uniclor will bite your hand off. Deerbrucker will drop his pants and spread his butt for you in front of an invited Wall Street audience and enjoy it. As for funding they should be able to raise it against the plants and markets you’re offering. Though by my reckoning you’ll have to hold twenty percent of their stock and nine’s too high. You might get that in an open market. Selling the lot to one buyer makes it his market so I think eight is more likely. As to getting it all tied up without the world and its aunt knowing, that’s yellow brick road thinking.’

Neil swung his chair round to his thinking position while his brain slipped the final digits into place. ‘All right George, eight it is. Ten percent maximum in stock and Californian First heads the funding with another ten. I’ll expect you to get the best terms on that ten as part of the price for selling cheap. Tell Deerbrucker there’s to be no ties on the shares by either side, nor do we want any board involvement. And secrecy is his problem. We’ll help anyway we can but if it gets out before we want it to, the deals dead.’

George stopped drawing circles round scribbled eights. ‘As I said it’s all possible but you know Firsts attitude to Uniclor. It hasn’t been favourable in the past and without being told why they’ll see little reason to change. And my gut tells me if they did know they’d be less inclined. Eight hundred million’s a lot to lend to your parent companies competitor.’
     ‘That’s why you get very good rates on the loan. One other point George just so your thinking’s clear. Uniclor are getting nothing, they’re buying and they have every right to buy, just as we have to sell. Lay it on the line with Deerbrucker and we’ll discuss his reactions on Monday. Oh! and George I haven’t told you the time scale yet.’

As he left Neil’s office all thought of a weeks break in his favourite Norway flew out of the window as, he suspected, had Neil’s common sense. Secrecy was hard enough to control when you had time on your side, squeeze the time and you can create a frenzy that haemorrhages theories. Expecting the deal to be done and dusted by Christmas was cool, if you believed in Santa. Asking, ‘How are you going to get this by the Board?’
Neil shrugged, ‘Politics. Enough to keep the spineless majority wavering. I expect I’ll have three months of the long knives, then I’ll be lauded by the same time servers.’ George decided to get on with it before he was led too far into the maze.

George had only cleared the foyer when Neil was listening attentively to his two financial analysts explaining their analysis for the take-over of Uniclor. The valuations and forecasts were accurate enough on today’s figures but in a short time and for a shorter time, they would be regarded as ludicrously low. He’d wait for the final stage when they’d be ludicrously high. In the meantime the exercise would feed the rumour mills and keep the board off his back.

Driving himself down to Bramshott in the evening, it wasn’t the Uniclor deal occupying his thoughts but the report he had from Spienz the head of his research unit. Subject to the completion of the Runcorn plant on time they could start dismantling the pilot plant in Mannheim. All he needed was the next few months to go as planned and a hectic New Year survived before a lot of people realised they were in a no win situation. Turning into Huntingtons drive he felt no compassion for the people it would affect. Just as if it didn’t work out they’d have none for him. These were the risks you took when developments forced the existing methods into the archives of history. To keep on modernising was only playing with fashion. New concepts required absolute commitment and the prize was too big to be bothered about protecting butts if things went wrong.

George Esquiden flew out of Heathrow at eight fifteen that evening. It had taken him twenty minutes on the phone to persuade Deerbrucker to rearrange his plans for Saturday and meet him for lunch. For Uniclor not to be interested was unbelievable. For them the offer was on a par with raising Lazarus.

For over a decade Uniclor had suffered from a series of disastrous accidents caused by badly maintained outmoded plants. Concentrating on a corporate survival program had let their research take a back seat in the allocation of funds. That and the bad P.R exacerbated by their insurers playing the legal game on the victims had induced most of their scientists to look for greener pastures. One of these pastures in the American club was ICP.

As his plane banked on its approach to Kennedy he gave instructions for it to be ready for a Saturday evening flight back. Better than staying and getting dragged into the dealing.

Lunch in the near deserted Portland club went much as expected. Deerbrucker as a man had presence, but as the CEO of Uniclor, hadn’t had the success to match it. Initially sceptical and suspicious he’d slowly allowed himself the luxury of warming to the possibilities, then to regard as impossible the time scale. Testing George he’d asked. ‘Why the hell can’t we announce it? It would make raising the funds a helluva lot easier. We’d have the market coming to us. Without that I just can’t see it happening.’
George had the better hand and they both knew it. ‘That’s as may be Dwight, but secrecy is an absolute stipulation so raiding the market’s right out. Think about it, secrecy’s no bad thing for you. If you don’t manage to raise the funds or you want to change your mind; you have until December to quietly withdraw and nobody but your backers are any the wiser. Go to the markets and if you were forced to call it off, or Hopkins calls it off you’ll have all sorts of wild speculations to handle. Especially if Hopkins lets out just how good a deal it was.’
     ‘Do him more harm than us.’
     ‘Bullshit Dwight. Every broker would think one of two things. Either you have a revolutionary new product about to be launched so the deals not needed and we know you haven’t. So it must be you don’t have the standing to buy top quality goods at bargain basement prices. That should have a dramatic effect on the value of Uniclor and you can’t afford to be hit again. Dwight this offer is more than a lifeline it’s the whole US cavalry coming to your rescue.’

Deerbrucker hadn’t agreed with George’s analysis, he’d have been surprised if he had. Outlining Uniclors alternatives, or rather the lack of them had struck the chord George had been searching for. Neil was a devious son of a bitch. While he had Uniclor chasing about desperate to raise the cash they’d be blind to anything else happening. At any time, but especially if they failed, ICP would be in the best position to sweep up the pieces. He left Deerbrucker with his final instructions. By Friday next the contract of intent would have to be signed for the purchase of twenty-six ICP plants for the sum of eight, thousand million sterling. Eight billion. He was amazed how easily the figure tripped off his tongue and he needed to get a new calculator that could handle the zeros.


Links to all other chapters can be found here.


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