If you dig into the details, beware the devil you reveal


The silence on the other side of the line seemed to last minutes but in reality it was probably just a few seconds.  They all looked down at the decks they had prepared for the meeting.  Someone coughed.  Alexander held his tongue knowing it was Benjamin’s move, his place to make the next comment in response to Ed’s recalcitrance or insubordination.

“Well, then, I guess that will have to suffice for right now, won’t it?”  Ben was clearly pissed and not veiling his frustration.  Their eyes bored holes in the table or their shoes or the pen they held, anything other than look up even though the V.P. wasn’t even in the room.  Only Ed seemed unfazed, calm even.  He waited for Ben to go on and he did.

“Let’s move on to the South Central Region.  Ed and Alexander and I will dig into this with Fitzgerald face to face.  Soon.”

It was a promise the other managers knew meant Ed was probably going to get the axe.  Benjamin was angry and would, along with the old man, Fitzgerald Hunnicutt III, make an example out of this manager who wouldn’t get in line.  The meeting went on with exceptionally robust, lengthy TPS reports from the remaining managers.  Message received.  Alexander knew he was in for it.

The call came no less than five minutes after he was back in his office following the meeting.  Benjamin didn’t even say ‘hello.’

“’Sales are down!  The economy is bad!  Margin of error 15 points!!’  Alexander, what the hell is this guy’s problem?  What is his deal?”

“Benjamin, I don’t really know.  He has the information; I’ve seen it.  It’s not that he doesn’t know his region or that his reports are unhappy with him.  For some reason he just won’t play ball.”

“So what you’re telling me is that he’s insubordinate, plain and simple?”

“Yes, I guess so.  He’s recently suffered the loss of his spouse but that happened prior to my having him as a report so I can’t say for certain that event has caused this shift to brevity and nonconformity.”

“Alexander, I don’t much care about his personal life.  This is a job requirement he’s unwilling to fulfill.  I want you and Ed here in the National Sales Office on Friday to meet with Hunnicutt and myself.  This ends now!”

“Okay, I’ll advise Ed.”

“No, you leave that to me.  I need to send a clear message of what’s expected in these regional manager positions.”

“Okay, that’s fine.  I’ll clear my schedule and wait for the meeting invitation.”

Ben’s message to Ed that he included Alex in dripped with innuendo.


As a result of our impasse in today’s meeting, I will need to meet with you, Alexander and Mr. Hunnicutt this Friday in the National  Sales Office to discuss your region’s metrics, projections, reporting and your job requirements surrounding them.  Please clear any and all other appointments and meetings and be in the office at 9 a.m. for this vital meeting.

 Ed’s response made Alex suck in his breath and hold it.


Thanks for your message.  I can be there tomorrow if it works for Alex.

Ben’s response was clearly intended to impress on Ed the importance of the president’s position.


I’m afraid that would not be possible.  Mr. Hunnicutt is a very busy man and a meeting of this importance will require some preparation on your part, I’m sure.  The earliest Mr. Hunnicutt can meet is Friday.  Please come prepared.

Ed’s message was just two words, no salutation.

Will do.

Secretly, Alex thought, ‘All we’re missing now is a ‘Fine!’ and a hair flip from Ben. He had never been to a “firing” but it was almost assured this would be his first.  He’d heard the stories about Hunnicutt, a hard-nosed task master with no sense of humor or tolerance for diverse personalities.  You either stayed in lockstep or you were culled from the ranks.  This would be interesting.

Ed seemed as calm and relaxed as if they were headed out to get lunch during the 90 minute drive to the National Sales Office.  He commented on the weather, asked about Alex’s kids and wife and the Cubs (Alex’s team).  For a guy headed to his own execution he was as carefree, if not more so, than Alex had ever seen him in the office.

Headquarters was an old office building Fitgerald Hunnicutt III had secured the lease on 22 years ago when he was in Corporate Real Estate.  The story was he had secured an absurdly low annual lease, with miniscule percentage limits of increase for the next 35 years.  By the time the terms expired Fitz would be long gone.  It was one of the things that had put him on the map and launched his career culminating in his position as President of Sales for the nation.

Closing the old-fashioned accordion gate prior to the elevator doors closing, Alex wondered if their proclivity to catch and pinch fingers was anything like the meeting they were walking into.  He knew Fitz was tough and he knew Benjamin was salivating to see Ed’s head lopped off by the old man.  For his part, Ed continued to remain calm.  Alex thought he even heard him whistling under his breath as the elevator slowly ascended to the eleventh floor.

Hunnicutt’s assistant greeted them as they stepped off the elevator and ushered them to the boardroom to their right.

“Mr. Hunnicutt and Mr. Wildwood will join you shortly.”

The formality made his skin tighten.  Ed just smiled and nodded as he thanked her for her hospitality.  They didn’t have to wait long for the other two men.  The oak doors on the side wall opened and Fitzgerald and Benjamin strode into the room from Fitzgerald’s office.  Despite his 60 plus years, Fitzgerald Hunnicutt III stepped more briskly than the man at his side as he approached them with his hand outstretched.

“Alexander, Edward, much obliged for making the quick trip down here this morning.  I trust your drive was uneventful?”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Hunnicutt” Alex replied.

“Thank you, Fitzgerald, it was just fine” Ed said.

“Good” Fitzgerald replied as Benjamin and the two men shook hands.  “Please, have a seat.  How are things out your way?”

“Well, honestly, it’s been a struggle lately.  Competition is fierce and we’re dealing with a down economy which complicates matters, as you know, Mr. Hunnicutt.”

Alex thought it best to field this first question.  He was sure Ed would have many, many more directed specifically at him.

“I understand we’re here to talk about Ed’s region specifically” Fitzgerald went on.  ”How do you see things Ed?”

All eyes turned to Ed.  Alex imperceptibly held his breath.  Benjamin smiled inwardly.

“Absolutely agree with Alex, the economy is bad and we face tremendous headwinds from our competition.”

“Headwinds and competition are nothing new,” Fitzgerald stated, “How do you propose we combat them?”

“Nothing new there, Fitz.  May I call you Fitz?”

“All my friends do.”

“Thanks.  Just as we’ve always done, we’re doubling down on our efforts to expand current customers’ business and our Account Executives are working hard to approach and develop new customers.”

“But what are the metrics of that, what are the projections?” Benjamin interjected, clearly impatient.  This wasn’t going quite as he expected.

Fitzgerald turned his gaze toward the young VP leaning into their circle of conversation.  There was a hint of distaste for the intrusion in his tone.

“Yes, those are all important measurements, Benjamin, but I’d like to hear what Ed’s AE’s are doing, where they’re focusing their efforts, before we get to the numbers.”

Benjamin leaned back into his chair, aware of the unsaid message to butt out.

No, this wasn’t going at all like he thought it would.

Unless we have everything under our thumb (and who does) heading down a rabbit hole comes with uncertainty.  And yet, we seem to always think we know how things will play out in the end.

I try to embrace the twists and turns of life and shine a light on some of our foibles and folly each week.  If you would like to read more, click here to go to my blog’s home page.  I hope you like what you read here and will subscribe.  You can do that by clicking this or at the blog.  Subscribing is no big deal, it’s free and means you’ll get an email on Sundays with links to my writing for the week.  I never share your email so you don’t have to worry about getting a bunch of junk.  Who needs that kind of surprise after all, right?

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