COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
Goddard was already sitting at a round table in his back office with Paul Camilletti and another guy when Flo escorted me in. The third guy was in his mid- to late fifties, bald with a gray fringe, wearing an unfashionable gray plaid suit, shirt, and tie right out of a shopping mall men's store, a big bulky class ring on his right hand. I recognized him: Jim Colvin, Trion's chief operations officer.
The room was the same size as Goddard's front office, ten by ten, and with only four guys here and the big round table it felt crowded. I wondered why we weren't meeting in some conference room, someplace a little bigger, more fitting for such high-powered executives. I said hi, smiled nervously, sat in a chair near Goddard, and put down my Bain document and the Trion mug of coffee Flo had given me. I took out a yellow pad and pen and got ready to take notes. Goddard and Camilletti were in shirtsleeves, no jackets—and no black turtlenecks. Goddard looked even older and more tired than last time I'd seen him. He had on a pair of black half-glasses on a string around his neck. Spread out on the table were several copies of the Wall Street Journal article, one of them marked up with yellow and green highlighter.
Camilletti scowled at me as I sat down. "Who's this?" he said. Not exactly "Nice to have you aboard."
"You remember Mr. Cassidy, don't you?"
"From the Maestro meeting? The military thing?"
"Your new assistant," he said without enthusiasm. "Right. Welcome to damage control central, Cassidy."
"Jim, this is Adam Cassidy," Goddard said. "Adam, Jim Colvin, our COO."
Colvin nodded. "Adam."
"We were just talking about this darned Journal piece," Goddard said, "and how to handle it."
"Well," I said sagely, "it's just one article. It'll blow over in a couple of days, no doubt."
"Bullshit," Camilletti snapped, glaring at me with an expression so scary I thought I was going to turn to stone. "It's the Journal. It's front-page. Everyone reads it. Board members, institutional investors, analysts, everyone. This is a friggin' train wreck."
"It's not good," I agreed. I told myself to keep my mouth shut from now on.
Goddard exhaled noisily.
"The worst thing to do is to over-rotate," Colvin said. "We don't want to send up panic smoke signals to the industry." I liked "over-rotate." Jim Colvin was obviously a golfer.
"I want to get Investor Relations in here now, Corporate Communications, and draft a response, a letter to the editor," Camilletti said.
"Forget the Journal," Goddard said. "I think I'd like to offer a face-to-face exclusive to the New York Times. An opportunity to address issues of broad concern to the whole industry, I'll say. They'll get it."
"Whatever," said Camilletti. "In any case, let's not protest too loudly. We don't want to force the Journal to do a follow-up, stir up the mud even more."
"Sounds to me like the Journal reporter must have talked to insiders here," I said, forgetting the part about keeping my mouth shut. "Do we have any idea who might have leaked?"
"I did get a voice mail from the reporter a couple of days ago, but I was out of the country," Goddard said. "So I'm 'unavailable for comment.' "
"The guy may have called me—I don't know, I can check my voice mail—but I surely didn't return his call," said Camilletti.
"I can't imagine anyone at Trion would knowingly have any part in this," Goddard said.
"One of our competitors," Camilletti said. "Wyatt, maybe."
No one looked at me. I wondered if the other two knew I came from Wyatt.
Camilletti went on, "There's a lot of stuff here quoting some of our resellers—British Tel, Vodafone, DoCoMo—about how the new cell phones aren't moving. The dogs aren't eating the dog food. So how does a reporter with a New York byline even know to call DoCoMo in Japan? It's got to be Motorola or Wyatt or Nokia who dropped a dime."
"Anyway," Goddard said, "it's all water under the bridge. My job isn't to manage the media, it's to manage the darned company. And this asinine piece, however skewed and unfair it might be—well, how terrible is it, really? Apart from the grim-reaper headline, what's in here that's all that new? We used to hit our numbers on the dot each quarter, never missed, maybe beat 'em by a penny or two. We were Wall Street's darling. Okay, revenue growth is flat, but good Lord, the entire industry is suffering! I can't help but detect a little schadenfreude in this piece. Mighty Homer has nodded."
"Homer?" said Colvin, confused.
"But all this tripe about how we may be facing our first quarterly loss in fifteen years," said Goddard, "that's pure invention—"
Camilletti shook his head. "No," he said quietly. "It's even worse than that."
"What are you talking about?" Goddard said. "I just came from our sales conference in Japan, where everything was hunky-dory!"