To Beat the Devil

As he was walking up to the stage, I remember thinking how attractive this young man was. He was the very definition of tall, dark and handsome. I also noticed he wasn’t wearing a suit. His jacket may have been brushed suede. He was wearing dark pants, slacks, jeans? I couldn’t tell; I was too far back to discern any greater detail. Nice leather shoes. I remember deciding that I would listen to what he had to say because he looked friendly and “real.” I was almost certain he would be clever and quaint, even before he opened his mouth.

And then when he spoke, his voice was the perfect timbre! It was so warm and resonant! His was the quintessential bedtime story voice. I felt like he could sell me anything. Hearing him speak just made me smile.

“Good afternoon,” he said, “and thank you. I have prepared a statement.” At this point, he pulled a piece of paper out of his coat pocket and started to read. We were hanging on every word.

“While I understand the right to address this body is included in the company’s shareholder guidelines,” he said, “I have to preface my comments with an expression of gratitude for this profound opportunity. As an owner of just one share, I hardly feel worthy to clear the dishes from the tables at this extraordinary banquet, much less dine in your company, sit among you as an equal and take even a moment of your valuable time to have my opinions entered into the official record as our corporate policies are fixed for the coming months.”

Oh, yes, he had us eating out of his hands at this point. Humility is always very endearing.

“As a minority shareholder, I know that my views carry no real weight, but with due respect to the clout of the majority interests here assembled, I feel I must draw attention to what I believe are errors in our collective approach to the management of our business affairs. While our company has been profitable, historically, we have seen our profit margin diminish significantly over recent years, and, in my humble opinion, the adjustments that we have chosen to implement at this date are unlikely to change that trend.”

He hadn’t lost us completely, at this point, but we had already voted on the agenda, so he was kind of wasting his breath, but his voice was still very, um, what’s the word? Sonorous. Yes. Very pleasant.

“First of all, as a business, we are utterly dependent on returning customers. As a new employee at one of my first jobs, I was told that if every person in the city patronized our enterprise just once, we would be out of business in two years. Our longevity is proof of the viability of our model, but that doesn’t mean we can take our customers for granted.

“So, I think it is a mistake to cut our customer service training program as we have voted to do. Customer service is the bottom line in retaining repeat business. If we fail to train our employees to treat our customers with respect, it is unlikely that they will do so, and having received shoddy service, our customers are likely to flee.”

These claims were troubling, and I could sense the attitude of my fellow shareholders was shifting. Why would customers choose to shop elsewhere? Our company is the best, that other guy said so! Our dividends have increased regularly, even when our sales aren’t as good as expected. This upstart seemed to be trying to rattle our confidence.

He went on to say something about how we should be increasing our workers’ wages and that we shouldn’t be so focused on our dividend payments because we’re bleeding the lifeblood or something like that. Honestly, by the time he started in on the business of “sharing the burden” and foregoing our bonuses for the benefit of the viability of the whole or whatever commie bullshit he was spewing, I had already messaged my driver to come pick me up out front of the convention center; I didn’t want to see what was going to happen next.

Sure enough, I heard later that the poor sap was kicked to a bloody pulp on his way out to the bike rack. Last I heard he was in the ICU with life-threatening injuries. It’s a shame, really. He was a really attractive young man, just didn’t know his place.