It is hard explaining what I do to others. They want details I’m not only unable to give, but also forbidden to. Confidentiality clauses. But even if I could tell everything, it would most likely raise more questions than before. Simply put, I save companies. I intervene when things are going downhill for a while, I put things in order and give a way for the company to stay afloat for a while. But I’m not just a consultant, not anymore. I won’t enter someplace to have a look at their numbers and give one week of empty pieces of advice before handing my bill. I act in a much deeper way, promoting real changing from the inside out. It is a task that takes time, six months minimum, often times more than a year, during which I become almost a regular employee, even if an employee with more decision power than the sitting CEO. It is so specific, most of my work is done in companies owned by other bigger companies, big enough to handle my honoraries and my exigences for being displaced one or two times a year. After so much time doing it, and getting results, I’m at a point where the people calling for my services know I’m worth all the trouble.
You see, I’m picky when it comes to my living arrangements. I will not he able to build a proper home before retiring, and this if I really stick to doing nothing with my days, which right now seems unlikely. I don’t have that many demands, but the ones I have can be a little hard to get. I will only live in apartments buildings, above the seventh floor, and it has to be one of, if not the, latest buildings in the city. I like a view, an undisturbed view. I like being able to look out my balcony and see the horizon. But it is more than a simple whim. Over time, I discovered that there are many benefits of staying in the city, even if the life quality would be way better in the suburbs. Every place is different, but by asking for such a specific characteristics I’m able to balance a perfect living space with all the perks of being close to work. I don’t even ask for a proper office, I don’t mind a cubicle, but I want to sleep above the seventh floor of a building with no other buildings after it. This usually leads to luxurious places. If I’m not being in one place long enough to create some roots, I might as well profit the best I can from it.
The first days are always the same. Most people in the office have no clue what is happening, who is that new guy and what he’s doing. The board is not happy to see me because it means they weren’t able to do their job properly. The financial people start getting suspicious the moment the orders come for them to let me see everything, no restrictions. In many senses, I’m the last person anyone would like to see in their workplace. I’m a symbol of failure. I’m a deus ex machina sent by the greater powers to put things back in place when no one there could. You can imagine how this makes it hard to get new friends. And the first day is filled with fake smiles and testing the waters, the VPs experimenting on how they will talk to me, how much power they will keep. The first day is always the most tiresome.
I went back to my apartment with my suitcase filled with the situation overview. Every great number and event on the company since the lines started going down without ever going back up. It was a nice apartment. Spacious, a duplex with one of those two-stories living room, a small office downstairs, a big bedroom on the second floor, fully furnished to look like the photos we see in magazines, stylish with a touch of modern, just the way I like it. The balcony has a glass railing and enough space to fit a table. It was where I worked that first evening. They got everything I asked for, the best they could. It was not the absolute last building, but the other one was just a slim straw several blocks ahead, on the left, hardly interfering with the view of the city canal.
It is incredible how I can still be amazed by the shortsightedness involved in letting a company get to the point of having to call for someone like me. As I passed through my notes again the next morning, rehearsing mentally what I would say to the board, I thought about what approach I would use. There are a million ways to say “you should have seen it”, but first I needed to decide if the board would remain there to take the information in. Usually, the companies who hire me are not interested in correcting the people. If I say it all could have been avoided just by paying attention to the signs – and it is usually the case – they will all be gone. But I’m not just a merciless finger pointer. Sometimes I see good people in the right places, having to juggle orders from some central office so disconnected with the business it can hardly be considered their fault when everything goes south.
I took my breakfast quickly, standing up in the kitchen. My mind wandered easily elsewhere, to the view from the balcony. It might be the light or some missing visual reference, but that morning it seemed that the lone building in my view was a little more to the center. Or I might just be already way more tired than I believe. I meant to read the big numbers again on the way to the office, but I got there in almost half the time of the day before. Probably the taxi driver trying to rip me off. And yet, I didn’t arrived before the members of the board as I wanted to. They were all there waiting for me in the lobby. After two hours exhausting hours telling them what they already knew, the CEO accompanied me to my cubicle. At first I thought he had changed his mind when he turned to the other side in the middle of the office labyrinth, but my things weren’t in the same space as before. I followed him to the new square and joked about they not having to please me by moving my workspace closer to the window. “What do you mean?”, he said, his expression as confused as the others who heard what I said. I could never grasp the ideal timing to crack a joke.
Not all of the perks from the initial days pays off the same. I have cab money provided by the parent company for as long as I need. Usually, I buy a car by the end of the first week, but until then I also forget to buy food to prepare my own dinner at home. I was in the mood for some pasta, and I remembered a nice-looking Italian restaurant on my way back. I instructed the driver to use the same route, going slow so I could find the place again. But the intersection where we were supposed to turn came much sooner than the day before. I asked him about the restaurant, describing in details the best I could. “I lived here all my life, sir, and don’t remember nothing like you are saying.” Well, delivery it is. I pick any random Italian on the phone book with a delivery service and wait in the balcony. The other building was back to the left. Or rather “moved” even farther to the side, almost on the edge of my view.
The next day started with a private meeting with the current CEO, in my office with a large window overseeing the city canal I could also see from my balcony. Asking him about the office didn’t get me the answer I expected. “You don’t like this one? We can arrange another office. Maybe the one on the corner?” When I said I was perfectly satisfied with the cubicle in the middle, he laughed as if it was an absurd statement. That’s when I understood that, for him, I have never been in a cubicle in the middle. I have never been anywhere else than in the office with the large window. I try asking other people with the same results. I even experiment by going to the cubicle I occupied in the first day and inquiring the woman there how long she has worked in that specific spot. The last two years. She has been in the company for the last five, starting in distribution on the second floor, then moving to billing one floor up, then there. I spent most of that day looking out my new window.
On the way back, the Italian restaurant was there again. The cab driver told me it was one of the oldest and best in the city, that his father took his mother there to ask her to marry him. The delicious pasta lived up to the place’s fame. And they delivered, too. I took a few flyers just in case. I went back home to my beautiful, completely undisturbed view.
I didn’t ask for a big office, but I sure got used to it quite fast. I was halfway through my morning of number crunching and report reading, starting the design of the solution to the company, crossing names on the board list and so on, when I noticed the woman in the cubicle just in front of my office couldn’t take her eyes off me. I was expecting the usual animosity, or at least that she went back to work as soon as I looked at her, but no. She kept on, our eyes locked, she smiled. It had been some time since last someone showed me a sign of anything other than contempt. I smiled back and slowly returned my head to the computer screen. I couldn’t quite go back to work, though; I could feel her eyes on me, almost as if she was expecting me to look at her again.
It was almost like working under pressure. Even if the woman couldn’t possibly have any professional effect on me, the feeling of her judging my every decision was overwhelming. I grew to enjoy the steadiness and the efficiency that my line of work allows. Having no attachments with neither the company nor the people grants me the power to look everything from a distance and make unbiased choices. It is never personal, even if the people directly affected by my actions will never think so. That day, I don’t know if it was because of the woman of all the other strange things happening, I was nervous, uncertain like some rookie afraid of its own power. I had to get up and walk a little, clear my head. The office hallways lead me naturally to the water cooler, where my arrival caused the small swarm there to dissipate. I wasn’t after a cool glass of water, but I had it anyway. The plastic cup was empty on my hand when the voice came from behind:
“Do you like it?”
She was wearing a black plaid tight skirt down to under her knees and a bright yellow blouse with short sleeves and big buttons, like some neo-vintage working style. Her face had a perfectly rehearsed casual expression as she reached for the water. She filled the cup and looked up at me smiling, requesting an answer. Someone watching the scene would believe we were old friends and she was asking me if I liked her new haircut or something like that. I don’t know how long we stared at each other, but I know that any other person would have broken eye contact way earlier from pure discomfort. “Do you?”, she asked again after a swig.
“Sorry, I don’t know what you mean.”
“Well, I was trying to make things easier on you, make little changes to get you more satisfied?”
“Yes. I got you the unobstructed view the way you like it, I brought back the Italian restaurant and even made it better, I got you the new office with a large window so you can look outside from time to time. And I got you closer. Everyone wants to be able to get to and from work faster, isn’t it?”
“I guess. But what do you mean ‘you were trying’?”
“I’ve been watching you, Richard. You work hard and never stops. What is the longest you have been in one place in the last decade? 18 months, two years? I thought you could use a break.”
Richard. It had been some time since anyone referred to me by my first name. Reacting to “Mr. Emmons” instead had become second nature to me. But it didn’t help me understand. Made things worse, if anything.
“I still don’t-“
“Stop trying to figure it out. Just answer the question. Do you like it?”
“Well, yes, of course.”
“Good. That’s what I wanted for now.” She walked back, leaving me to my swirling mind trying to wrap around this whole conversation. I couldn’t resist, and followed her to her cubicle.
“You said that was what you wanted for now. So there will be more?”
“There are still a lot of work here for you to do, Richard. The way this company got messed up will take you what, ten months, a year to get things in order?”
“That’s about right.” It was exactly what I was foreseeing.
“So, plenty of time for me to discover other things you like, make some other changes, build up on this intervention so maybe, this time…”
“This time what?”
“Maybe this time you’ll stay.”