Brent Miller,
Research and Development manager of the CAG Corp., is quietly confident. He
makes a last minute check of the cable connections and adjusts the focus on the
projector. This is the best shot he will get at the funding for the test
installation. He spent the last three weeks getting this presentation together
and feels confident. This time he has it right. There will be no rerun of
January’s fiasco.


Last January, his
departmental report did not go well. A few people at the management meeting
could not see well enough to read his charts. Also, he was a little casual in
presenting his data. By the time he finished, everyone felt confused, including
Brent. This will not happen this time. Today’s presentation is clear, concise,
and simple enough for an idiot, he thinks, as the lights dim.


Brent’s dog-and-pony
show takes twelve minutes, leaving eight of the allotted twenty minutes for a
quick question and answer session. When the lights are back up, Brent
confidently asks if there are any questions. 
This is his big mistake.


The other managers
take the mandatory few seconds to glance around the panelled room. They are
waiting to see if Mark Ross, the Senior Vice President for Operations, goes
first. Mark watches Brent but does not say anything.


Ronda Simpson
breaks the ice. “That was good, Brent. I understand your data better than
I did in January.”


For an uneasy
moment, Brent wishes he could crawl into the woodwork and disappear. He
expected her to say something about his January report but not so quickly and
directly. Ronda is usually much more subtle with her little barbs.


Brent is quickly
past the urge to hide and ready to fight, if that is what Ronda wants. He
smiles and says, “Given your twenty years as a manager, Ronda, I will take
that as a compliment.”


Let
the games begin. The polite atmosphere when the meeting began is over.      Ronda bristles and is on the verge of
responding to Brent’s dig when Harold Stiner, Production manager, jumps in.
Somewhat more deliberately than Ronda, Harold says, “I know you have only
been with us for a year, Brent. There are a few things you seem to be still
struggling with. You want $150,000 to – what did you call it? – place two
machines. What you want to do is spend a quarter million once you add the
hundred you will need to support your test. Production keeps getting pushed to
cut costs, and your boys in R&D want a hundred here and a hundred there. I
know you want to be sure, but your price seems a little steep.”


More interrupting
than responding to Harold, Brent asks, “How much can we handle for this
test installation?”


Harold
imperceptibly tenses as he responds, “It’s Mark’s call but as far as I’m
concerned, R&D wants to push up the cost unnecessarily. We have two
machines on the floor down below, and they work just fine. We only have orders
for ten units and this would add twenty-five bills to the cost of each unit
shipped. My concern is that this will get the price up so high we’ll get stuck
with the lot of them.”


Ronda smiles at
Harold as he handles the new kid on the block and is quick to join sides
against Brent. Ronda looks at Brent and fixes him with her famous stare. She
delivers her equally famous admonition as if to one of her subordinates.
“It may be back to the drawing board, Brent.”


Ronda expects
Brent to back off, but he does not. Harold works with Brent on a couple other
projects and also expects Brent to capitulate. Usually this is exactly what
Brent’s response is. After all, he is an engineer and not a conference room
maneuverer. Not this time, though. This time no one is going to take advantage
of his normally passive nature. “I’m going to push on this one. My
recommendation is no machines get shipped until R&D is comfortable. That
will be tough until I test two in the field. This one is not my call, but there
is a real downside risk in any tendency to ignore the hard data.”


A sharp squeal no
one immediately recognizes snaps the tension in the room. It is Brent’s beeper.
There is a problem in the lab. Harold and Ronda say something to each other
that Brent cannot hear as he awkwardly excuses himself and makes his way past
Mark Ross.


Ronda is ready to
start her report but the V. P. says, “We will have to do this later,
Ronda. They have me on a tight schedule today. Why don’t you drop off a copy of
your report and my assistant can brief me on anything important?”