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Authors: Donna Simmons

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CHAPTER 5

 

 

“Mrs. Stafford, I’m
pleased to meet you at last.”

Robert Starr walked
across the gray carpet of the Starr Shine boardroom late  Monday afternoon
wearing a smile that stretched from ear to ear; he extended his arm for a
welcoming handshake. Sara expected a shorter man, but he easily topped six foot
five. None of the pictures she’s seen of him at social events and political
rallies did him justice. A silver haired southern gentleman exuding grace and
style, he wore a tailor made suit that probably cost more than her car.

“Thank you, sir.” She met
him halfway with a smile of her own, praying she wouldn’t screw this up. “I’m
impressed with what you’ve accomplished and I’d like an opportunity to be an
intricate part of this team. You’ve taken communications to a whole new
dimension, sir, with your satellite technology.”

“Thank you for your kind
thoughts, Mrs. Stafford. We like to think we are a power to be reckoned with.
Please sit down, make yourself comfortable. Would you like some liquid
refreshment?”

“Thank you, but no, and
please call me Sara. I like to think of my mother-in-law as Mrs. Stafford.”

He laughed as he slid
into the chairman-of-the-board seat at the end of the table. “Fair enough,
Sara. I didn’t mean to imply a matronly image with your lovely presence before
me. I’m afraid it’s a remnant of manners my mama beat into me many years ago. I
see we both enjoy a bit of repartee. As you are probably aware from your
conversation with Jonathon, our corporate comptroller position is high-powered
with major responsibilities and long hours on occasion. The position requires
timely reports from all divisions within the company and ongoing communication
and
cooperation with both Jonathon and me. This position holds the pulse beat of
the company. We demand loyalty from all members of our team and expect 110%
dedication in work effort. It’s important that we find the right person to fill
these demanding requirements for the growth of our family here at Starr Shine.
I’ve reviewed your file and I’m impressed with your extensive experience in the
field and loyalty to former employers. Do you think you have the stamina for
this job?”

“I believe I do.”

“Any questions about our
company or the position we have available at our corporate offices?”

“I have three, if I may.”
Butterflies began to take flight in her stomach.

“And, they are?”

“First, are you formally offering
me the position of corporate comptroller at Starr Shine Communications?”

“That’s the reason you’re
here, my dear,” he nodded with only a slight grin.

She could back off now,
but her gut told her not to. “Please forgive my forwardness, but what are you
offering as a salary package?” The room filled with silence and she was sure
she had just lost the job. Jonathon Pierce wasn’t the only one who could play
the silent intimidation game. This southern gentleman was well versed in the
art.

After a lengthy pause, he
finally reached into his suit jacket pocket for an index card. His next words
sounded like the grand prize in
Let’s Make a Deal
. A starting salary
fifty percent higher than she made in Boston, the stock options, and benefit
package left her wondering if she was about to sell her soul.

“At the end of the first
year, if your performance fits well with our company needs, you will see
another bump up and possible bonus. Does that adequately meet your needs, Ms.
Stafford, ah Sara?”

“It’s very generous, sir.
And my third question…” She watched his silver eyebrow lift in anticipation.
“When do I start?”  Now she was the one with a full grin on her face.

He leaned back and
laughed a pleasant sound that rimmed around the room.

“We presently have
ourselves a situation, little lady. Normally, we would start new management
staff with two to three weeks of orientation training; then another two to four
weeks learning the ropes before we throw you into the deep end of the pool.
However, we seem to find ourselves a bit short-handed at the present time and
would like to start you on Wednesday, on condition that you pass the required
physical. I understand security and background checks have been completed with
no surprises. I would now like to have Jonathon join us to explain the
accelerated orientation we have planned for you.”

Extending her hand Sara
gave what she hoped was a hardy handshake. Her arms felt like wet noodles from
her euphoria.

“You understand you’ll be
working closely with Jonathon.”

“I look forward to the
challenge.”

The door behind her
opened and Jonathon Pierce walked in wearing charcoal gray and a maroon silk
tie. Quite a difference from the brown double stitched suit and bolo tie he
wore at the Macaroni Grill. He could be a model for GQ this afternoon. At the
restaurant, he could have been the poster for the Texas Cattleman’s Association
Man of the Year.

“Jonathon, Ms. Stafford
has accepted our offer of employment. I’ll leave you two to hammer out the
final details.” He rose from his chair and bowed into a final courtly
handshake. “Sara, welcome aboard.”

“Thank you, sir,” she
said as Mr. Starr walked out the door.

“I suppose I’ll have to
explain our plan to get you working full steam in less time than it takes a
thirsty cow to drink the trough dry,” the Texan began. “You’re aware that Ross
Gordon has relocated to the San Francisco office?” She nodded.

He walked to the white
ceramic carafe on the sideboard to pour a glass of ice water. “Would you like
some?” He held up a glass.

“All right, thank you.” 
She watched as he poured a second glass and returned to the conference table to
sit in the recently vacated seat.

“I wasn’t sure if he was
still with the company.” She sat back down, crossed her legs, and smoothed out
her skirt. “But either way, you have an important seat to fill, and no time to
train a replacement. What do you have in mind?”

“Normally, I would start
all three of you next Monday for three weeks of orientation, and then job
shadowing for another two to four. The other two who made the grade in the
interview process will be doing just that. They’ll begin on Monday, spend three
weeks in orientation here at corporate headquarters and then job shadow in Chicago. Jack Randall will be training for an assistant comptroller position in the Midwest and waiting in the wings if, or when, Ross leaves the company. Ms. Kelly will be in
training for the staff accountant position in Chicago. You, of course, will
spend some time with both of them in the next couple weeks. You’re not to
confide anything of your arrangement with either of them. Just be aware what
position they will eventually be holding. Understood?”

“Yes, of course. What’s
your plan for me?” Feeling more relaxed she took a sip of the cool water and
leaned back in her chair.

“I want to start you the
day after tomorrow: half a day in orientation, half-day and part of the evening
getting comfortable with your new office. I want you to read and familiarize
yourself with everything in the credenza and in the computer in your office.
Anything you don’t see and want access to, ask me. If I’m not available, ask
Louise. If she has access, she’ll get it for you. I’ll try to make myself
available to you at the end of each day when the rest of the office is quiet.
We’re going to dump a lot of information onto you in a very short period of
time. Think you can handle it?”

“I can handle it. How
long am I in orientation?”

“You’ll have a week and a
half of mornings in the training center. I’m compressing your total orientation
from seven weeks to three.”

“I’m lucky I don’t have a
social life,” she said. “I want to bring some reading material home. I’d also
like to start with that tomorrow if it’s okay with you.”

He nodded agreement. “We
have arranged for you to meet with a local physician at eight tomorrow
morning.” He reached into his suit jacket and pulled out the card of a doctor
in the South Portland area.

“You were sure I would
accept?”

His answer was another
smile.

“I don’t anticipate any
problems tomorrow morning. All right if I stop by for any material you have on
company policies, organization charts, history, the last three years annual
reports, things like that?”

He nodded and asked,
“What is it you don’t like about the salary and benefit package?”

“As I will be working
into the wee hours from the get go and cramming seven weeks into three, I want
to drop any waiting period on the benefit package and expect it to be fully
paid by the company.
And
, my hire date is tomorrow, not Wednesday.”

“Come to dinner with me
tonight, and I’ll begin filling you in on the personalities of those you’ll be
working with and the routines of the position. I want to mentor you for the first
year so you’re an extension of my right arm. I’ll set today as your hire date.
Benefits for upper management are always completely paid by the company
effective with the hire date. Will you accept that?” He leaned back in his
chair with his right index finger over his mustache again.

“Yes, on one condition.”

“Another one?” He tilted
his head to the right lifting his left eyebrow in challenge.

“When we are having
dinner together, or any meal for that matter, there will be no more flirting
over a handshake. I’m accepting this position as a business arrangement only. I
look forward to the mentoring as I don’t like making mistakes and believe the
mentoring will help us smooth out communication and expectation glitches. The
salary arrangements are acceptable.  And, I’m hungry. Where are we going to
eat?”

“I said it before and
I’ll say it again. You are a pistol, Sara Stafford. Your employment with us is
going to be one grand adventure. Let’s go find a couple steaks.”

She stood up smoothing
her skirt and noticed Jonathon’s right index finger pushing a lit button on the
phone console. “Listening post?” She questioned.

“Don’t miss much do you.”

“Let me guess. You and
Robert Starr were playing tag team with me. First you listen in on his meeting
with me, then, he’s listening in on your meeting with me. Wouldn’t it be better
to just have a meeting with the three of us?”

“We have our reasons
especially with important positions in upper management. Often candidates will
tell one of us, what they won’t tell another. For instance you didn’t accept
Robert’s offer of refreshment, but you accepted mine. Were you too nervous with
Robert to swallow a glass of water?”

 “I was afraid I’d spill
it all over my suit.”

He laughed as he led her
out to the elevators. “Have you tried The Brewery over by the mall, Sara?”

“Do they serve more than
beer?”

“They serve a decent
steak and they have quiet corner tables where we can talk.”

 

***

 

They were relaxing after
the main course; his summary of the politics and games played by the management
team with whom she’d be expected to communicate had come to a stop. Jonathon
fondled his dessert fork as he leaned forward preliminary to his next topic of
discussion. “What do you do for fun, Sara?”

“I’m an avid reader; I
can fade into myself at classical concerts; and I enjoy touring art museums
wherever I go. How about you? What do you do for fun?”

“That sounds like a well
rehearsed sound bite. Fair enough.

“I collect western art; I
like mysteries; and generally get through most of the bestseller list. I prefer
football to baseball, and rodeo to theater, and cannot tolerate ballet or
opera. I do have a passion for Copeland and try to attend whenever the Portland
Symphony includes his music in their performances. Your turn.”

“I swim to relieve tension
and burn off decadent desserts. I occasionally manage a game of tennis or a
round of golf. But, for the most part I enjoy solitude and order.”

“I belong to a local
club. If you’re interested, I can offer you for membership. Make sure you find
time to add our fitness club into your schedule each week. We have adequate
facilities, including a decent pool.”

“Louise gave me a tour. I
plan to use the facilities whenever time permits.  On another topic, how did
two southern gentlemen ended up running a fast paced high tech corporation up
here in northern New England?”

“I’m not sure you haven’t
insulted my southern honor?”

“No insult intended. I’m
just trying to understand the logistics. For a good fourth of the year we have
frigid temperatures up here with the obvious ice and snow that comes with it. 
NASA and the cape are both in a more amenable weather climate. Why Portland, Maine?”

 “Robert negotiated a
deal. Portland was looking for new businesses and made an offer he couldn’t
turn down. I’m not at liberty to give you the details, but when you get the
whole picture of divisional locations, actual and planned, you’ll see a pattern
that makes a whole lot of sense.

“Sara, we’ve talked
around every topic but one. What about family ties?”

“I’m separated and
starting over. My husband and I own Stafford Sound Systems in New Hampshire.
The company provides upscale technology for those who can afford it, like the
people who own the summer cottages along the coastline of North Hampton. I’ve
encouraged him to rewrite the partnership and buy me out. There isn’t much
family left for either of us. His parents retired from farming and moved to Ft. Myers several years ago. My family has all passed away. What about your family ties?”

“I’m a widower. My
daughter, Sheila, married an Aussie and moved to Adelaide where they have a
successful vineyard. She begs me annually to retire and move down under. She’s
given me four grandchildren, although I don’t get to see them as often as I
like. I’m the second son of Rod and Amelia Pierce and grew up on a large cattle
ranch outside of Abilene, Texas. They passed on a few years ago leaving the
ranch to my brother, Roddy, and their art collection to me.”

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