The fate of hundreds lies in Jay's hands [What A Character! entry, 8/2018].
Jay Richards stared back at the half-dozen faces lining the conference table, perspiration dampening the small of his back. He had never envisioned himself being in this situation. He had, in fact, done everything he could think of to avoid it.
His father, Malcolm, had founded Richards & Co. thirty-odd years ago and had ruled it with an iron fist. He had personally hired--and, when necessary, fired--every person who had ever been on the company's payroll. Nothing affected the factory floor, unless he personally approved it. The company's dies filled a small, but lucrative, niche in the automotive industry, and the company had prospered. Today, the livelihoods of over a hundred people were directly tied to this building.
As a boy, Jay had had no interest in learning about the company. Manufacturing didn't interest him, and he had no particular talent for personnel selection. He had enjoyed the privileges that came with his father's wealth, though. He had attended the best boarding schools. This had afforded him a good education. It could have been an excellent one, had he truly applied himself. Jay, however, was more than content to coast through school in particular, and life in general.
The best part of boarding school, was the fact that nearly all the students came from wealthy families, and most were seriously motivated. This enabled Jay to stay out of the limelight. Jay hated being singled out, and having to stand in front of a group and make a speech or presentation absolutely terrified him. Early in his schooling, he had taken various teachers' advice and prepared exhaustively for these events. Invariably, though, he would falter almost from the beginning of his presentation and mumble his way through to the end. To the extent the curriculum allowed, Jay avoided classes that included any kind of public speaking.
Attending boarding school had an additional, almost priceless, benefit: it had enabled Jay to maintain a comfortable distance between himself and a father consumed with his work. Both men still suffered from the loss of his mother on that terrible September day, to which their strained relationship bore witness. During school holidays, he had filled his days playing with kids from the local area, many of whose families were tied, directly or otherwise, to his father's factory. He had enjoyed the camaraderie, and considered the core group of playmates his closest friends. His father had disapproved of these associations, however, and this had led to arguments on several occasions. Their most heated disagreements, though, concerned his father's plans for Jay's future.
"You have a responsibility, Jay!" Malcolm had thundered on more than one occasion.
"Well, I don't want it!" Jay would fire back. "You know how little I know about this stuff, and how I am in front of groups and all! I'm totally unsuited to fit the mold you're trying to force me into!"
"The factory will close, if..."
"Never happen, father! You're barely into your 50s, you're healthy enough to play professional sports, the management team wouldn't dream of appointing someone you hadn't thoroughly vetted, and..."
And so it would go. Eventually, Malcolm would stalk off to his study, and Jay would retreat to his room. The years had rolled by and life had stayed pretty much the same...until last Friday.
The company's newest client had wanted to meet with Malcolm and the entire management team to cement the new business relationship. Unfortunately, a freak bird strike had taken down the chartered jet on its way back from the meeting. The client was now having second thoughts, and several others had expressed concerns. Notwithstanding all that, though, was the fact that the company's very existence hung in the balance.
Malcolm had been obsessed with his company's reputation, and the company by-laws regarding succession were explicit: If no heir would take charge, and the management team could not name and approve a successor, the company would be closed. Period. Now there was no management team to approve a successor, and Jay was the only heir. It was all up to him.
He had explained all his shortcomings and reasoning to the remainder of the board. They had listened patiently, even countered one or two of his arguments. In the end, though, the discussion had returned to the inescapable ultimatum.
"Mr. Richards? We need your answer, sir."
Jay thought again of the potentially jobless workers, gathered on the factory floor. He had played with some of them as a child, and had known others most of his life. He thought of their families, and the others who also benefited from the company.
Jay took a deep breath and, feeling the terrible weight of his decision settling on his shoulders, straightened in his chair.