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Chapter 1



Headquarters, New Jersey

“Social responsibility, that is our creed, our calling, our path to success. We must anticipate our customers’ needs even before they know they need them. We can’t just meet those needs we need to exceed them and do it better than anyone else. If we are to survive into the next century, we must reinvent ourselves every single day. We cannot be content with just being a pharmaceutical company; we must strive to be the best pharmaceutical company in the world. I challenge every one of you here today to become entrepreneurs’ not just employees. You must think, ‘what do people need’? You must devise a solution that fulfills that need—every one of you—every single day.”

    R. Curtis Larsen, the new Chief Executive Officer, was addressing the top four hundred senior executives at the firm. It was part pep talk, part challenge, part strategic vision. He demanded accountability from each executive, each employee. He was driven to be the best in the world at what he did and expected those around him to be likewise driven.

    “When asked about what made him so good, the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, would respond, ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been’ that is what I want you to do. Don’t chase after yesterday’s products; develop an innate sense as to the next great product. We are not market followers but market leaders. Business is a predatory sport and all of you better understand exactly what that means.”

    The company had stagnated in recent years Larson was brought in to infuse life into the management team. Those who responded would stay, the others, well better they work for someone else.

    Each member of the senior executive corps would undergo an extensive, personal evaluation. If they were to be trusted allies in the relentless pursuit of profit, each one would have to pass his rigid criteria. He had a detailed mental image of the perfect executive and they had better measure up. There was a need for others to round out the demographics but this was not his priority, just something to placate shareholders and keep the press off his back. Oh, some would have their uses; regardless all had to perform and they all had to be team players.

    As he walked off the stage he was already on the phone. “Just get it done,” he barked jamming his thumb on the END key. “What’s next on the schedule?” he said to his Administrative Assistant.

    Ms. Prentice was almost running, trying to keep pace with his long strides. “You are scheduled to meet with Phythian from Manufacturing, Johnson from Security then Shackson from Research. And McMichael from our Washington office wants a few minutes.”

    “McMichael, I don’t remember reviewing her dossier yet. Tell McMichael no one gets time today that is not on the schedule. I have a specific order I want to review Operations and I intend to stick with it. Except for that attractive blonde who was sitting in the third row, stage left. Who is she?”

    “Sir, that is Ms. McMichael.”

    “Okay then, she gets five minutes. Slot her in before Shackson. I could use a pick me up about then.”

    “Very good, sir.” Prentice stopped to make a note in her agenda, then she pulled out her phone to call McMichael to confirm the appointment.

    While Larsen met one-on-one with senior staff, the other executives met in breakout sessions to work through process problems, streamline communications and brainstorm new products. Everyone knew their survival—both as a corporation and personally—depended on a steady stream of new products.

    “Sir, Ms. McMichael is here.” Prentice said over the phone.

    “Good. Show her in and tell Shackson I’ll need five minutes.”

    Larsen’s office wasn’t exactly Spartan. Leather furniture and glass shelving showcased mementos from past jobs and sports memorabilia he had collected over his career. There were no photos of his wife or family, nothing that personal belonged in his office.  

    “Mr. Larsen, I am Diane McMichael your Vice President of Washington Affairs, at least until you decide to replace me.” Diane said with a wink and a disarming smile. This was not the first new boss she had ever had nor would it be her last. “Welcome to the company and let me be among those offering my congratulations on your appointment. I’m looking forward to working with you.”

    “And I am looking forward to working closely with you. Our review is not yet scheduled but what can I do for you?”

    “Well sir. I know your forte is research and production and that is appropriate. Nevertheless, Washington Affairs is strategically essential to a successful business plan. Bureaucrats can make or break any business.”

    “Yes, yes, I know that. That is why I have you—to  manage that part of the business, keep us out of trouble and promote our agenda on the Hill. I’m not a diplomat and have little patience for that delicate dance. I’m more the straight forward type. I say what I think. Speaking of which, you’re an attractive woman. I can help your career if you are interested.”

    “Sir, I am a dedicated company girl who is happily married and deeply in love with her husband.”

    “Too bad.”

    “Sir, with the change in Administration in Washington, it is essential that you put in an appearance. The sooner the better. I have a table at a banquet next month. It will be dull but the word on the street is that the President and First Lady will be in attendance. I can introduce you to some of the key players.”

    “And what about the President? Can you guarantee I get to meet him?”

    “No sir. My sources are reliable but last minute changes are to be expected at these sorts of things. Given the event is just after the inauguration, security will be tight if he does show up. The word is that he is congenial but tends to favor the big donors; his ‘friends’ as they are already being called. They will get first crack at him and they will all be there.”

    “Just see to it I meet him. Now you will have to excuse me I’m already behind schedule.” She’ll come around, he thought as he watched McMichael walk out of his office her skirt swaying gently with each step. The physics of that particular movement always fascinated him.

    And that was how it went in the office. The rules of the game had suddenly changed and executives all had to reeducate themselves. To be sure some of the old ties that bound the company together and greased the wheels of communication remained but more often than not executives postured for position in the new hierarchy often to the disbenefit of progress. Secrecy began to rule the ranks. Knowledge was power and the powerful wanted that power for themselves.

    Those first few months were a challenge. Everyone on edge; the insecure constantly looking over their shoulder; waiting for the next shoe to fall—the next head to roll.

    The ones lucky enough to be located outside headquarters had an easier time. True they were not able to be seen as often—fewer opportunities to convince management of their essentiality. The advantage for those secure enough in their self worth—their self-actualization as Maslow would call it—was that they could do their job without interference and they could shelter their staff from the cutthroat culture that had taken over.

    This was where the Washington Affairs operation fit in. An essential cog in the corporate machinery. One with a congenial almost collegial atmosphere instilled by their Vice President. The people there loved their job and they loved their boss. To be sure DC could be ruthless but inside the office walls there was security, cooperation and support. Protection from the outside world.

    Election years always brought upheaval in DC. The old guard was moved aside both figuratively and literally; a new hierarchy was taking shape. Some of the less political bureaucrats remained but those too closely aligned with the old Administration were shuffled aside. Those with marketable skills returned from whence they came or moved on to other opportunities. The business of politics continued to get done. It was up to the lobbyists to navigate the halls of power and read the signposts that were being erected.