My success at Challenger Bikes did not go unnoticed. Even Mr McTone seemed to smile, though it was probably a trick of the light. Certainly, he was generous with my new assignment: one of Slaughter McTone Regis's oldest clients Binary Computers. It wasn't this that made the task a peach, though. It was a hatchet job.
Binary Computers was one of the great names of the Seventies and Eighties.
It took business computing from punched cards to VDUs. It was the industry's "nice guy" but times move on and its mid-range boxes seemed about as attractive as flares and kipper ties, with no chance of a Seventies retro-boom bringing them back. It tried PCs but got nowhere. It tried robots and it failed.
Now, it had been bought by PC manufacturer Microtop. The press releases called it a boon for both companies but really it was a strip mining operation.
I started the assignment with a visit to the Binary UK boardroom. All the trimmings of past glories were there: the vast mahogany table, the second-rate Impressionist paintings, the deep pile carpet, the gold-plated taps in the washroom. But the writing was on the wall - and the Binary people knew it.
I listened with interest as the board members awaited the arrival of Binary's executive vice president Virgil Vaughan (VV to his friends).
Was their talk of the exciting possibilities of working with Microtop; did they ponder new products; or plan new ventures? Not exactly, it was more a case of comparing executive outplacement firms and notching up headhunter approaches. They didn't "get where they are today" by ignoring the writing on the wall.
VV strode into the room, his trademark cowboy boots looking out of place on the shag pile. "Hi, guys," he said breezily, taking up position at the head of the table. "Here's the position. For another year, Binary in the US will continue the same as always to give our executives enough time to offload their stock options. Then, we'll carve it up and sell the carcass for scrap. Most of our foreign subsidiaries will get the immediate chop - but we've always had a special relationship with you guys in the UK ..."
Smiles broke out around the table and at least one board member tried to phone his stockbroker. "... so we're giving you a whole two months to run down." At this point, mild pandemonium broke out - they had expected a year.
VV raised his hand for silence. "The roadmap has some clear milestones.
We want you all out of this building in two weeks. At the end of a month, you need to have reduced the workforce to 10% of the current headcount.
At the end of the second month, you should have no more than 20 people left - they can be absorbed within Microtop. There's also a place for one new member on the UK board of Microtop - I'll leave you to fight that one out." His grin was positively unpleasant. "Okay, who is going to outline a plan for achieving this?"
As a man, the board pointed at me.
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