Alice in wwwLand. Episode 2
By Wendy McHale
Three months later. As detailed in Episode One, it was now apparent to Alice that she had been kept in the dark the whole time about FARS's true intentions. It went as far back as the call she received from the FARS (Far Ranging Solutions) recruiter 3-months earlier. She was not informed when they approached her that there was a big chance her role at the company would change soon after she joined it. In fact, FARS had been well down the road in discussions with (People Understanding Real Evolution) p.u.r.e. long before FARS even thought about recruiting someone like Alice. The reason was that p.u.r.e. already had an established media department.
If it didn't occur to Alice when she joined, it soon became clear to her that she and her team had been brought in as a contingency plan, in case the plan to buy p.u.r.e. fell through. Alice and her team were essentially "Plan B."
Until that point Alice had never felt as exploited by anyone as she did by Sue-Mo in either her personal life or in her career. She knew that people used each other to get what they need, though Alice always assumed it would always through mutual benefit. However this was not one of those cases. Sue-Mo took it to the extreme. She would stop at nothing to get what she wanted. Of course, she was driven by fierce ambition, but there was also a timing issue. While few others saw it, there was a window of opportunity that would soon be closing; and all of Sue-Mo's hopes and dreams with it.
While on the outside, the upside potential to make $$ millions for a young digital start-up was enormous, the reality is that much of it was funny money; wealth on paper that could burn up with the tiniest spark. By the end of 1999, the momentum behind digital companies about to go public was beginning to sound like a stampede. There were lines of companies being announced on the NASDAQ every single day of the week. By the end of the year there would be 2, or 3 day, speeding so fast it felt like they were making their initial public offering every hour.
People were lining to give their money to various investment banking firms, sometimes pleading with them to take their money based on the assumption that the multiples would make them wealthy. There were lines everywhere. However no one had a longer line than the one at Starbucks on 45 Wall Street.
In retrospect Starbucks was an unindicted co-conspirator for the buildup of mania. It was a daily reminder that immense profits could be made if one had the right business model. Starbucks was one of those models. The markup for a cup of coffee that cost around a quarter to make would be sold for $4.95 was a daily reminder to those digital geniuses' that they could do it too. On an average day, the 45 Wall Street location had at least 50 people on line at any given time. At 3PM, it would ordinarily peak with sometimes 150 standing on line.
However, few felt that time was being wasted. If you weren't the recipient of VC's handing out business cards to the average line waiter, that's because you were on the other means of portable communication, cell phones, Palms and laptops. If you were having a bad day programming your new website with JAVA computer code script, all you needed to do was go down to the Starbucks and get a pick-me-up from the hot cup of java as well as the buzz and adrenaline rush in the store that told you your wealth was a sure thing.
In addition to the efficiency waiting on line to get a hot Venti-sized Mochachino, one of the ways that this loyal group of caffeine Kool-Aid coffee drinkers also saved time was in the time it took to pick out an outfit each day. Solution? Wear the same style of clothes everyday. By 1999 it had become a uniform, black everything. A black open-colored shirt, black jeans, black suit, black shoes and if you feeling kinky at night, black lipstick.
Sue-Mo did not wear lipstick. On those few occasions where she did, it was at a board room meeting and it was not lipstick. It was transparent lip gloss.
For all the mania, there were those few who kept their greed in check. They were the smarter players who knew that the endless pail of water was drying up. Those VC's who invested in a company's business model which was too often designed on a restaurant napkin table napkin would soon turn off the spigot and require that the companies they invested in would fill up the pail again based on their anticipated profits. Or at least that was the plan. Sue-Mo was one of the handful who knew that valuations went up and down. The only companies that mattered were those who could turn a quick profit.
Sue-Mo knew that making her p.u.r.e. FARS business dream come true would require that they go public before Thanksgiving.
Her dream included Sue-Mo's p.u.r.e. FARS "going out" at a higher valuation than any other IPO in her space to date. Right at time moment, Sue-Mo had more star power than any other woman in business on the planet; certainly more than Alice.
Sue-Mo was riding the tide of optimism that her company enjoyed. Recently in anticipation of the new company, the city of New York even got into the game. They offered p.u.r.e. FARS a $3million tax credit in return for taking a lease in one of the grand old buildings which had 100% occupancy during the ticker-tape parade era of the financial district. By 1999, most of the buildings on Broad Street were half empty due to firms wanting modern office space, which led to the migration out of the area and into the World Trade Center.
The Mayor made a personal pitch to Sue-Mo over dinner that Sue-Mo's actions would generate a return to the district and that before you knew it, firms leasing space in one of the World Trade Towers would soon be moving back based on the renaissance chic her firm had mandated. The office Building Sue-Mo had in mind was on 78 Broad Street. The gold laden art-décored lobby building was half empty in 1999, with few if any leases being renewed. As a result, Sue-Mo was able to lease the 48th, 49th and 50th floors that crowned the 75 year-old building.
She liked that the building was old. It was a classic, which is the way she viewed herself. A renaissance artist disguised as a digital marketing business woman in the 21st century. It was just another example of how brilliant she was; at least that's how it played around the office and to the people at Omnipotent Communications, the giant ad agency holding company that owned a minority portion of FARS, soon to include p.u.r.e. .
However, notwithstanding the benefits that were sewn into the deal, the real reason Sue-Mo wanted to be downtown was to enjoy a direct view of the Statue of Liberty. Having been in the tech space for well over 5 years, she had had her fill of exposed brick- loft-like offices. Been there done that. "By then, it had become a cliché for almost every web-dev firm to have an office in near or in Greenwich Village.
Sue-Mo couldn't stand the Village, which was another reason she wanted to avoid it. She was an upper East Side kind of girl. Give her 70th and Park Avenue and you had one happy female executive. However, she did not want to work in the same neighborhood as she worked. It was a southern thing, like cleaning your hands before you came to dinner. Or put in a less stylish way, she didn't want to shit where she ate.
Sue-Mo was all about keeping her personal life separate from her business life and expected everyone in the company to follow suit. Of course that was impossibility, but it was understood that if two people hooked up in the office, it was never ever discussed in the office and the couple in question ever be seen together near the office in public. Sue-Mo had a habit of walking past someone's work space and then leaning in, sometimes even over the shoulder of the person working at the desk to see what they were working on. She wanted to see how many Instant Messenger windows were open and how many of those were business versus non-business related.
If people thought this was an invasion of privacy or not, they weren't saying, at least in public. There was too much money at stake. To get on the bad side of Sue-Mo because of this little voyeuristic tendency was a colossal blunder. All you needed was to see one person make a snarky comment to her while she leaned in and before they knew it, they would read a monster.com job description that sounded exactly like the one they were filling.
Then the next day, when said person went to their office and signed on to the FARS system, their password would be rejected. Inevitably, that person would soon ask others in the space if they were having the same problem. Of course they wouldn't, which was signal to others to stay away from that person. In essence, dead man walking.
If a person played a role on a project and was too important to be replaced at the moment, she would wait until the project was done and then strike. Trying to approach her to get back on her good graces was futile.
If by chance someone approached her in a hallway Sue-Mo was turn around immediately and walk in the opposite direction. If a pushy and/or some desperado person now dripping in flop sweat caught up with her and asked for forgiveness for their faus pas, Sue-Mo would laugh out loud and then tease them that they must be paranoid.
When Sue-Mo made up her mind on somebody nothing short of having a gun to her head was going to change it. FARS was her company and she was going to run it as she saw fit. End of story. Unfortunately for Alice, Sue-Mo had made up her mind about her. Sue-Mo no longer needed her so it was just a matter of time before she would be disposed of.
By then there were enough dead bodies scattered around Silicon Alley that people inside and outside the company knew that Sue-Mo's word was first and last.
With or without a merger, FARS was growing exponentially based on the fact that every Tom, Dick and Harry CEO in America just "had" to have a website. When proposals went out to companies who wanted to consider hiring FARS, the process often felt the other way around.
FARS had created a reputation that they were extremely selective with who they chose to take money from. The proposals sent to these companies were timed to expire. For example, for those companies who were spending $250,000 or less would be given a 72 hour time-period to green light the proposal or risk having the same proposal re-priced higher by as much as 20%. Projects ranging from $250,000 to $2 million, they would get a week. Projects over $ 2million required the presence of Sue-Mo herself. Once her powers of persuasion were unleashed the client was putty in her hands. Her close rate was 99.9%
These kinds of tactics were pretty standard on Wall Street. Sue-Mo liked the smell and color of money, which was another reason she was moving the company downtown. However, the driving force for moving downtown was the proximity to the statue of Liberty. When Sue-Mo would look at the Lady Liberty, she would envision herself as that person.
It was a fantasy that had come true for her and was something she was able to enjoy every day in her office. No one in the business knew this. Her secret was safe. Sue-Mo was positive that no one would remember the statue of Liberty incident which forced her to leave her home town Peachtree, LA 15 years before. Still she always wondered since her reason for leaving Peachtree was stuff made of legends. Peachtree was a little down off the Gulf Coast about 100 miles west of New Orleans, closer to the Texas border that it was to the Big Easy.
Sue-Mo's mother died giving birth to her. Her father never quite got his bearings back. He became reclusive and left the rearing of his only child to his black maid Geraldine and her husband Jeffries, a childless couple who brought her up as their own. However, Sue-Mo's guiding influence was her uncle, mother's brother, who lived in Washington DC. Even though distant geographically, he doted on her as much as anybody living just in the next town. When Sue-Mo was in 6th grade her uncle took her on a trip to NYC to see the sites, one of which was the Statue of Liberty. It was a moment that changed her life.
On the night that she returned she had a dream that her mother came to her as Lady Liberty. It was the first time she had ever dreamed of her mother. When she woke up the next day and told Geraldine about her dream. Geraldine told Sue-Mo that she should learn everything she could about Lady Liberty so she could feel like she was closer to her.
Beginning that day, Sue-Mo created her own world of fantasy imagining that the statue was the earthly presence of her mother.
That's all she could think about. She began fantasizing that she would one day be Lady Liberty and stood in front of the mirror posing as if she had a torch and scrolls.
Shortly after her trip, one day, as she was standing in front of her bedroom mirror to talking to Geraldine, she said with tears running down her face that she feared she never see the statue again. Geraldine matter of factly suggested that she would make Sue-Mo a costume of Lady Liberty herself to wear as a Halloween costume to make her feel better. The idea worked. Sue-Mo brightened up immediately. The idea generated a huge smile on he started jumping up and down with delight.
Over the next month, she was fitted everyday by Geraldine, as she stood in front of the mirror imagining herself on national television. She had it all planned out. She insisted that the costume be made to fit her holding up the torch. She said she would practice everyday to keep her hand in the air, so that she could do it all day if needed. She made Geraldine promise not to tell anyone, including Geraldine's husband, Jeffries who drove her to school every day.
Come Halloween, Alice was so excited she decided that she would tell Jeffries that she wasn't going to school that day, but to the pre-school to 5th grade school about a mile away. She told him they had requested that she visit the school that day in her costume for the little children. Jeffries was completely stunned by Alice coming out to the house in the outfit, since he was startled by the realism of her costume even though she was less than 5 feet.
Alice had one of the greatest days of her life. Picturing in her mind that she was the acting out a request she received in her dream from her mother, she startled everyone at the school with her painted her face the color green. Since all the kids were in Halloween costume, the teachers didn't recognize that Alice actually did not belong there. By the time they did it was after lunch each school administrator naturally assumed someone had invited her to visit.
Alice walked in and out of each class that day, walking around with the scrolls of wisdom in her left hand and her right arm raised holding the torch. She spent the entire day parading up and down the hallways, keeping well out of sight of her peers in school about a half a mile from hers.
All the pre-school teachers, kids and parent of kids who were there with little toddlers loved the outfit. Sue Mo enjoyed that the little ones would be blown away by an older kid like Sue-Mo who would do that. She overheard teachers and Moms talk to their students and kids about the meaning of freedom and the wonderful things about America which should make them feel proud. She was close to tears due to the dream she was living out as a 4 foot 6 inch replica of her mother. All day long she felt that she was giving each child all the joy from the mother that she never had. It made her feel complete.
All the adoration during the day made Sue-Mo even more excited for her 6th grade Halloween dance later that night. She envisioned that it would have the same effect on her peers at the dance. Timing her entrance to be fashionably late, she walked in with all the kids dancing and talking. Upon glancing at her, the chatter stopped immediately, They were stunned and did not recognize her initially.
Finally, after 30 seconds, Sue-Mo shouted out, "It's me, Sue-Mo." It took a couple of seconds for it to sink in. Then the 6th graders starting laughing and clapping once the realized it was her. She did not hear the clapping. Beginning to perspire, with her makeup beginning to burn her eyes, all she could see where her fellow classmates, both boys and girls pointing their fingers at her with hands covering their mouths and hysterically laughing. Sue-Mo suddenly got nervous and mis-judged the reaction of the crowd. She assumed everyone would recognize her immediately and rush to her with accolades of compliments.
She did not take into account that her costume was so well produced that seeing the statue a 4 foot 6in sized statue of liberty into marching into the school gymnasium would shock the hell out of everybody. She had been planning the costume for months and had gotten used to seeing herself dressed up in costume so she did not make the connection that others would be seeing it for the first time. She chose not to tell anyone while it was being made for fear of killing the element of surprise, so the anticipation she built up in her mind was not the reaction she was receiving.
Tired from the day-long procession at the public school, she did not realize that it had taken more out of her than she anticipated. Plus staying in costume after school and through dinner, she barely picked her food to make sure she didn't spill anything on her outfit.
Suddenly feeling the fatigue of the day, she thought the crowd was mocking her. Sue-Mo felt dizzy. She felt hurt, like someone was making fun of her mother. Losing her bearings, her fierce temper was out and beyond her control as she got madder and madder.
When a friend, Timmy Smith came walking to her, marching as if he had a torch, Sue-Mo's reaction was swift and sure. She took her right hand-torch bearing arm and copper-made torch and swung it at his cheek, which threw him back 6th feet. The blood spilled out of his cheek like a fountain spraying kids standing nearby and the gymnasium floor.
Suddenly the scene turned into bedlam. Kids started pushing people away and in so doing pushed other kids towards Sue-Mo who began using her torch and wooden scrolls like a hockey game goalie. It took the teachers almost a minute to register what was happening to the kids in what they anticipated would be a fun night for everyone.
They rushed toward Sue-Mo and finally wrestled her down to the floor, as young kids and attending parents were crying, streaming, bleeding and pushing each other to get away from her and out in the Gym.
The Principal called Sue-Mo's father ASAP though nobody answered. The next call he made was to the local police station which has just been called by one of the other teachers. All in all there were 5 kids and one teacher who were cut.
Suffering concussions on his head, and having to have his jaw wired, Timmy was rushed to the hospital. The police photographer arrived with the detectives, but was told to not take pictures of the scene of the crime. Within 20 minutes plain clothes Federal Marshalls were on the scene, cordoning off everything. Within another hour there was no trace whatsoever that anything happened at all.
The reason of course was that strings had been pulled. Sue-Mo's uncle was Senator Hubert Montgomery. The town of Peachtree owed its economic stability to the Senator. Besides doting on his niece he also steered many government contracts to her little town out in the middle of nowhere. Peachtree was essentially a government company town.
With the nearest city being Montgomery Alabama, the town was essentially off the radar screen of any snoopy reporters from the local paper, let alone TV cameras. Within another hour, phone calls had been made to all the parents of the 120 or so kids in 6th grade. They were asked to all attend a meeting that night at the school auditorium. Gathered up, the mayor instructed them that no one was allowed to mention the incident. It was to be confined completely in Peachtree.
If the news got out of the incident, it would capture the attention of the national media, which would put the Senator in danger of being associated with a niece who was dangerous to other 6th graders, which could jeopardize his senate seat. This would no doubt hurt the town greatly. They would lose in two ways. With their patron gone, projects would stop. Plus, negative attention would hurt the town's image and all who lived there.
Much to everyone's surprise, out walked the Lieutenant Governor on to the stage and fed this information in empathetically and logically, though it was not lost on the parents that it was also a subtle threat if they didn't do as they were told. The Lieutenant Governor rationalized the need for complete silence based on the fact that if the media caught wind of the problem it would jeopardize national security, based on the different national projects the town was working on. He also informed them that each child was being properly looked after and that the only person requiring an operation was Timmy Smith. His jaw was broken and had to have stitches on his cheek bone, but that the family was well taken care of.
His handlers circulated the news that the other 4 kids families would be taken care of and that Sue-Mo was being taken to a hospital out of state where she could receive the attention she needed.
That evening, her Dad accompanied her to the federal facility in Oklahoma where their identities were unknown to everyone except the head hospital administrators. Their facility was established due to the Senator's influence so they were prepared to take care of Sue-Mo with as much medical and psychological care as she needed. Neither Sue-Mo nor her father ever returned to Peachtree. Within 6 weeks their house was torn down to make way for a new federal facility created to study global climate change. There was no trace of Sue-Mo ever being there.
Since there was never a police report or claim made to the insurance company, everyone in town knew that the families of the kids had a newfound affluence was due to a payment given by the Montgomery-Wrestler family in return for not pressing charges and agreeing to keep the entire incident confidential. He seemed to bounce back to normal. Over time Sue-Mo and her uncle assumed that everyone forgot about it.
On the day of the p.u.r.e. FARS IPO, Sue-Mo did inevitably receive national attention though the only way it reached Peachtree was though CNN Business Update which practically no one watched. Sue-Mo threw a party for the media after the market had closed on the rooftop of 78 Broad Street. She instructed her corporate communications director to pepper the news reporters, photographers and camera people with the idea that they should urge Sue-Mo to hold her champagne glass up in the air as the torch and her laptop as the scrolls with Lady Liberty silently standing in the background, so that it did not look like it was her idea.
It was an amazing shot.
Smiling to herself Sue-Mo had finally made it to the national stage in her Lady Liberty pose which she practiced well over 15 years before. No one would ever know that her first attempt at fame posing like the statue ended in violence years before.
That was the beginning of her national celebrity. Within days, People Magazine did a story on her, though copies of the issue were never delivered to Peachtree.
Since the incident had occurred well over 15 years before, it did not occur to her in late 1999 that the bloody statue incident would ever raise its ugly head. First of all, there was no evidence, no smoking gun, no photos which snoopy reporters could get hold of. Inevitably, a few national reporters did trace her life back to her home town but visited it based on the premise that they would illuminate her as a role model and an example of the power of the Internet on societal change. That night, Sue-Mo had a dream about the crime scene and woke up in a sweat. She called her uncle early the next morning who couldn't attend the party due to some last bit of legislation he was steering through his committee before he retired in 2000. When she told him her dream, he just laughed and told her she was worrying over nothing. He reassured her that there was no one who would ever remember the event. And even if they did, what did it matter now?
Just as she was unaware of how Sue-Mo had played her like a yo-yo by incentivizing her to join the company; and then later on drop any interest in working with her, there was also no way that Alice could ever know how Sue-Mo's capability for manipulation was learned with great success at an extremely early age.
Had Alice had known this beforehand, she would have thought twice about taking the "Chief Mentality Officer" position. However, on a more immediate basis, Alice had already been feeling the ice cold stare from Sue-Mo every time their eyes met. Alice had served Sue-Mo's purposes. Since Sue-Mo did not see any additional role for her, so she shut Alice out of her mind and as many meetings as she could if they did not have anything to do with integrating the two companies.
No longer needing to grow the department organically, Alice became further and further away from the media planning consulting job she was most experienced at. Given the task of trying to help integrate both companies together, Alice was now spending almost all of her time working with Byron Oates and Shelly Lipton, the CFOs at each company, who were planning for the economies of scale that would improve the merged company's spreadsheet by eliminating any jobs which were made redundant.
While everyone was focusing on growth, Alice had to spend all her time finding ways as to how to shrink the companies. As Director of Organizational Alignment (DOA) her new job was to interview people in every department whose job might be eliminated once the companies merged. Her initial charge was to focus on helping integrate the media department. However, both CFO's thought that she did such a good job that they charged her with the task of doing the same headcount audit for all company divisions, which included project management, programming, creative, technology and business development, among other things. Alice's task in essence was to manage the selection of those people who would be kept on versus those who would be let go.
One of the reasons they gave her this new responsibility was due to the fact that their skills set was primarily finance. The other reason was that they did not want to do it themselves. Plus they had their hands full working with FARS's largest shareholder and bankroller, Omnipotent Communications (Omnipotentcomm.com).
Omnipotent was all that Sue-Mo cared about, the giant corporation Sue-Mo like to brag about, as a "minority investor" in the company. She assumed the CFO's were managing that process. In general, it was an odd for Sue-Mo to have to rely on Omnipotent to help her company6 grow since it was a media company. Earlier in her career Sue-Mo worked at a media company and had an incredibly bad experience. As a result, she twitched whenever she even thought about working with one. Sue-Mo was fired from "Big Apple Magazine" 5 years before. The reason for her termination was due to politics. She was incredibly condescending to everyone, even to her boss, who was also from Louisiana. However, Sue-Mo continuously made mention of her blue blood family background such that her boss listed that the reason for her termination was due to the fact that she stole a stapler. That pretty much ended her media career since Sue-Mo could not list her experience at the magazine on her resume or for a reference.
Fortunately, Sue-Mo quickly moved on and re-established herself in NY within the field of technology. Had it been up to Sue-Mo, Alice would never have been brought into the company. It was only at Omnipotent's insistence. Sue-Mo felt the same way about p.u.r.e. as she did about Alice. She disliked p.u.r.e. immensely, though Omnipotent had insisted that FARS have a media component, in order to give the appearance that the company was a full-service digital marketing company.
With the addition of p.u.r.e., the total value of the new p.u.r.e. FARS entity would increase substantially. As the companies drew closer to the IPO date, Sue-Mo instructed the entire company in an email that the company was going through the standard "quiet period." The SEC requires each pre-IPO company to take a low stance before the IPO. That means no PR releases, no quotes in articles, nothing that will bring attention to it based on the idea that taking a low stance is going to make people forget the company until the IPO is announced. It's based on a fairness doctrine which assumes that if no one knows about when a company does their IPO, investors will all invest on a level playing field. A well-intentioned rule which was designed to reduce the advantage insiders had as compared to the average investor.
However, it had just the opposite effect. Once the company went dark, as measured by the calls into FARS's Corporate Communications department that now went unreturned, major media companies such as the Wall Street Journey and the New York Chimes, and everyone else on Wall Street knew their initial public offering would occur within 6 weeks. As a result, brokerage houses would inform their investors to authorize them to buy within the first hour of the announcement and then sell it at a handsome profit later on in the day.
Needless to say, the buzz was about to break the sound barrier. Everyone was waiting anxiously. Everyone but Alice.
Sue-Mo had mixed feelings about taking direction from Omnipotent as it represented everything Sue-Mo hated about her past. After all, it was also a media company. Sue-Mo and Omnipotent had joined forces as a marriage of convenience. The attraction between the two was simple. Each needed what the other had. Omnipotent needed technology while Sue-Mo needed cash. Sue-Mo liked to throw around that Omnipotent was only a "minority investor". Omnipotent owned "only 49%" of FARS, so that this claim was technically true.
This was convenient for all parties, since the goal was to offer FARS's technology services beyond Omnipotent heritage clients such as "Buddy-Wiser"* (www.buddy-wiser.com) and "MickeyMcBurger"** (www.mickeymcburger.com). It also served the purpose of being seen as an attractive, hot, new media company not affiliated or owned by Omnipotent that major marketers might consider selecting to help them figure out this new thing called the Internet.
In particular, Omnipotent's plan was always to be perceived as a minority investor. FARS's "independence" were an attractive lure to large corporate marketers not affiliated with Omnipotent that were dying for an online services company such as Sue-Mo's and her white-hot shop. It would help Omnipotent get a foothold into companies currently being services by other large holding companies. Companies like PM, a company Omnipotent lusted to infiltrate.
Corporate politics on MadAve being what they are, large marketers like PM (Potent Motors: www.potentmotors.com) based in Detroit, were loyal to their legacy-based agency partners. Having parked its account at its current list of agency partners over 80 years before, PM was less than excited about working with a new media firm that was majority-owned by a competing agency conglomerate such as Omnipotent. It might upset the legacy agency's feathers.
Sue-Mo was in a great position to woo PM, because she could state truthfully that Omnipotent's equity position was just as a minority shareholder. This made everyone feel much more comfortable at PM that FARS was not a Trojan horse. PM would never have allowed FARS in for even a preliminary discussion if it saw a potential conflict down the road.
Being an automotive company, the excitement with "bending tin" (insider jargon for making cars) - and then selling tin with high profit margins - was due to the sizzle MadAve brought to the process. Upscale, educated and affluent people with the ability to spend lots more money on expensive cars than the average car-buyer, was largely due to the image-makers magic.
Therefore, few PM executives would have ever green-lighted entering into serious negotiations with FARS if it was perceived as a threat to its current agency roster. Why rock the boat if it would challenge the harmony between PM and its non-Omnipotent.com agency partners.
None of this mattered to Alice. By then she hated going to work every day since she would be meeting with those employees who knew their job was at risk. This being her first experience in a soon to be public company was a huge departure of the company family-esque experience Alice had in her career. Until she joined FARS she had always worked for privately held companies. She was new to the world of corporate "roll ups" which she thought was a vague term. As she began to understand the game, over time she came to the conclusion it was a polite term which in reality smashed together two or more companies, disregarding the differences in culture, energy or the glue that held each of them together. All of this done for the sole purpose of creating a larger company to appeal to Wall Street vultures and the opportunity to make a killing on the IPO.
Now that option 1 had been accomplished, Alice's worst fears had been realized. Sue-Mo avoided her at all costs. Alice did not enjoy playing "Career God" as she was now being called. Others called her the Grim Reaper. Needless to say it was not much fun, particularly due to the fact that in the process of evaluating if someone should stay or go, she would get to know them on a personal level.
Once buoyant and energetic, she was now seen dragging herself through the day. No one wanted her job. Who would want to interview dozens of people on the list of being kept on losing their job? Even the division heads knew that their own livelihood was on the table, so every manager displayed outward empathy to Alice and though un-asked by her, promised to let Sue-Mo know what a great job she was doing handling a very difficult take that no one was volunteering for.
Few people ever went straight to Sue-Mo with this information. Rather they tried to work it into wherever they could in Sue-Mo's weekly status meetings. Alice had scheduled a week vacation to Bermuda during the 1st of October. The only people she informed were the Personnel Director and the two CFO's, who did not bother to share this information with anyone. They were operating in complete secrecy so did not see the need to let anyone know that Alice was going on holiday.
With no one knowing where she was or able to reach her by phone, or computer, several division heads politely asked Sue-Mo during their weekly staff meetings if Alice had left the company. By then, most of the people who were counting their chickens before they hatched were more grounded now as the pain of merging two companies (and regional offices) was a total drag. They had to balance this with their day job as well, keeping clients happy who were paying the bills.
It did not seem a stretch to assume that Alice had left the company since it had already become a fantasy for many of them to get the hell out of pureFARS after the IPO as well.
Coming as a complete surprise, Sue-Mo found out where Alice had disappeared to and quickly began to see that she was in a pivotal position to insure integration worked well. By then Sue-Mo had frozen Alice out for almost 6 weeks. She realized that she had to go against every grain in her being and pull back from her operating style of freezing someone out of her purview entirely. However, she really didn't have a choice. When Alice returned on Monday back to work Sue-Mo was waiting in her office. Needless to say, Alice was bowled off her feet. She immediately went into apologetic mode since she assumed she would be dressed down by Sue-Mo for taking a vacation. After taking a week off, the last thing she needed was seeing Sue-Mo wait for her in her office. The adrenaline hit her like a sledgehammer.
Sue-Mo saw this and for a moment felt a tiny spec of empathy for her. Even though Sue-Mo didn't really care, she did have to acknowledge that the deal Alice had been dealt at FARS was a losing hand. Given that, feedback from both companies was that she was doing a terrific job that no one else wanted.
Sue-Mo invited Alice to go out for coffee and turned on her incredible selling skills; the same ones she used to get Alice to join FARS. Given that her adrenaline skyrocketed her nerves, the last thing Alice needed at that moment was caffeine. Nevertheless she was drawn into Sue-Mo's power to entrance people and reacted exactly how Sue-Mo wanted her, which is why she planted herself in Alice's office as an element of surprise.
Sue-Mo reassured her that her job was safe and that she wanted to apologize to Alice for accidentally letting her fall off her view. Alice followed Sue-Mo to the elevator and was still buzzing when they left the building for the 45 Wall Street Starbucks.
Sue-Mo promised her that once Alice's head count audit was complete, she would be put back on the front lines of client service, which is where Alice wanted to be all long. Sue-Mo was speaking to her sincerely. This time it was real. Real or not, after this one warm and fuzzy chat over coffee Sue-Mo went back to her distant self, only she refrained from giving Alice the ice Queen look that had served her so well.
Most of the other people's backgrounds at both companies were based in technology. While the IT guys at potential companies respected the soon to be formally merged pure-FARS tech-talent, Brand Managers on the marketing side didn't. With 11 years on the traditional side of media, Alice knew the corporate speak that Brand Managers spoke on a daily basis.
Sue-Mo saw this. She began taking her to various meetings as if she was doing Alice a favor. However, in meetings where FARS's clients would compliment Alice's work Sue-Mo would take it as compliment herself and would use Alice as an example of how well the merger was going.
Since Alice was now as much a part of pure as anyone, Sue-Mo would infer that there were lines of people behind Alice at pure who had the same background, thereby hinting that the long term plan was to place someone on the client's business that would do an equally or better job. Alice knew exactly what Sue-Mo was doing, but felt she couldn't do much about it.
What Sue-Mo didn't realize that clients at companies they were courting also picked up these types of hints and were drawn to Alice. They concluded that Sue-Mo was jealous of Alice due to her good looks, for one thing. They speculated that Alice would be one of the ones who survived and Sue-Mo would leave after the IPO.
After meetings were over, Sue-Mo would become distant once again and would scoot Alice back to work at pure. She feared that if Alice knew how important her role was to keep clients until the IPO, Sue-Mo would lose any leverage she had with her and by doing so, lose the sense of control she felt she needed to lead.
Sue-Mo was distant with most people by nature. Understanding that about herself years before, she had learned that art of using a carrot and a stick. Often it would take 6 months or more to figure out that Sue-Mo was the Cheshire Cat that would play with her food before she ate it.
Knowing she needed Sue-Mo as well, Alice decided to ignore the Sue-Mo's tactics and play Sue-Mo back as a dancing bear to Sue-Mo's little head games. With Sue-Mo no longer giving Alice the evil eye, people who were staying away from Alice were warmer to her, based on their estimate that Alice was no longer on Sue-Mo's sh-t list. Alice felt that the longer she could maintain access to clients and potential clients; she would leverage that so that she would find herself on safe ground after the IPO.
Besides, the stakes were high. FARS had gotten their foot in the door with two major pieces of business that were very important to Omnipotent. They were Buddy-Wiser and Mickey McBurger.
*Buddy-Wiser (www.buddy-wiser.com)- The Dallas-based vitamin and health-drink company who rose to the top of the new-age dietary beverage category due to Omnipotent's award winning creative work. A family owned company; they experienced astronomical growth in the late '90's due to the agency's imagery that strongly implied heavy-usage would increase one's IQ. This was largely attributed to the brand tagline, "Get Higher Intelligence". "BW" was an account FARS thirsted for.
**MickeyMcBurger (www.mickeymcburger.com)- The Portland-based salty snacks company who invented and perfected hamburger-flavored potato chips. Now leading the category - due to Omnipotent's brilliant "Meat-IN--Potatoes" (www.meat-IN-potatoes.com) positioning - it represented another account FARS was hungry to work on.
Having successfully juggled her way through dealing with her job being eliminated, then dealing with two company structures, interviewing dozens of people to determine what their future at the company would be and then to somehow deflect Sue-Mo's death grip, after 3 months Alice also learned there were positive things about being the Director of Organizational Alignment (DOA). It wasn't all bad. By reporting to the CFO at each company, she basically reported to no one. She was her own boss. People on both sides liked her. FARS felt they were represented well over at pure and pure felt they could stomach Alice because she was an individual.
Plus, as compared to Sue-Mo p.u.r.e.'s CEO had become a very big fan. A very big fan, indeed.
To be continued...