As the black Range Rover passes through the gate, Sharon lowers her window and smiles at the two guards. Her driver slows down to allow her to exchange pleasantries with them. She appears calm and relaxed, although today she is facing a storm.
Her two brothers have hatched a plan to kick her out of the management of her company, Lerian Group. Their rationale? It is family property, and being a married woman, she has no business being there. Besides, they say, she is just a small girl. What does she know about running companies? The most painful part for Sharon is the fact that her mother is siding with her siblings against her.
As the vehicle drives towards the entrance of the imposing Lerian Towers, Sharon closes the book she is reading and prepares to leave the vehicle. The book is Memoirs by Harry S. Truman: 1945 Year of Decisions. The choice of the book is not an accident. She feels that she can relate to Harry Truman on many levels. He was just a Vice President to an invincible President, the great Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Harry was largely ignored by the boss, and was not involved in the FDR administration for the 82 days that he deputized the man. That is, until that fateful day in April 1945 when he was yanked out of the Capitol and informed that the Great Man had lost one battle: the battle against the Grim Reaper. Harry was left to run the most powerful nation on earth, and to finish the World War he knew little about. He may have been unprepared, but he did just fine. In fact, he did better than fine. He bombed daylights out of the Japanese, ending the war, and guided the Nation and its sisters in Europe out of the post-war trauma.
“If Harry did it, so can I,” Sharon whispers to herself as she enters the imposing Lerian Towers. At least her old man did not leave her unprepared like FDR did to Harry. He trained her. In fact, she has been leading company alone since 2008, when the old man retired. Sharon is the last born child of Johnson Lerian, a shrewd businessman now deceased. The old man Lerian built Lerian Group, a conglomerate with interests in transport, real estate, insurance, banking, and agriculture.
In 1998, when he was 68 years old, Lerian decided to split his business interests and other properties among his children. Peter, the then 42-year-old first born, got the transport and real estate business. Simon, the 38-year-old second born, got the insurance and banking interests. He divided his other properties between the two sons, leaving only his residential home to himself. The old man also retained the agriculture business to himself, on the understanding that it would go to Sharon, who at the time was a 17-year-old form three student at Bishop Gatimu Ngandu Girls. She had been born in his old age, a surprise child that came when her mother had long assumed that her ovaries had withered. Peter is now 62, Simon 58, and Sharon 37.
The old man Lerian took Sharon under his wing. After she completed her Bachelor of Commerce Degree at the University of Nairobi in 2004, he took her as an intern at his office. He also transferred 49% stake in the company to her. But he made her work her way up like other employees. Sharon proved to be a smart and hardworking girl. Within three years, she was the Executive Vice President of Lerian Group, which was now only involved in agriculture. She may have been the old man’s daughter, but everyone in the company acknowledged that she deserved the position.
The old man retired a year later in 2008, leaving Sharon in charge. She was at the time a 27-year-old woman. She expanded the company beyond agriculture and got into manufacturing, transport, and Real Estate. In other words, she rebuilt Lerian Group almost to its pre-1998 self. She also built the current headquarters, the Lerian Towers. She still consulted the old man regularly, until he died in his sleep six months ago at the age of 88.
Sharon steps out of the lift and walks to her fifth-floor office. She places her handbag and the Truman book on the desk then stands facing her “Power Wall”. This is one of the walls in her office that is set aside for the portraits. The biggest portrait belongs to the old man Lerian. Of course. Next to it is the portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the left side, and Margret Thatcher on the right. Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, FDR, Lee Kuan Yew, Thomas Sankara, Nelson Mandela and Angela Merkel all have spaces on her power wall. She even has a painting of Mekatilili wa Menza.
She is going to war today, so she stares at the portraits, seeking inspiration.
“Stop thinking like a woman Sharon. Think like the boss. The boss has no gender. The boss is just the boss,” her father liked to tell her. She smiles at that memory. She needs that advice today.
Her brothers started trying to take over the company even before the old man was buried. They are claiming the 51% stake that the old man owned. The old man spent most of last year urging Sharon to have her husband Harry draft the share transfer forms for him to sign so that the company could be fully hers. He was ailing but his mind was still sharp. But Sharon kept procrastinating.
“You won’t die any time soon dad, we will do it next month,” she would tell him.
Then it was too late. Fortunately, it turned out that the old man had executed a will one month before he died, giving his stake of the company to Sharon. Sharon’s brothers have challenged the will in court, claiming that the old man was incapacitated when he executed it. The matter has been heard in court, and they are waiting for the judgment, which the judge said would be on notice.
Sharon stares at Abe’s sunken eyes. She needs the steely determination of the 16th American President to save her company. Peter has forced his way and taken their father’s place on the board of the company, taking advantage of the ambiguous Articles of Association. They arm-twisted Jediel, another of the old man’s longtime lawyers into giving up his position, paving way for Simon to take his place. Jediel was once a legal maestro but has long since lost his magical touch.
The other members of the board are Sharon’s husband Harry, Sharon herself and Livingstone, another friend of Lerian Senior. Livingstone has already made it public that he prefers having a man leading the company, not a clueless girl. He wouldn’t have said that when the old man was alive, of course.
Sharon could have easily reconstituted the Board when the old man was alive, but who could have foreseen this? The only change she made was to add Harry, mainly because Jediel was losing his legal acumen. But she did not want to hurt Jediel’s ego, so she did not remove him from the Board. Under the old man Lerian’s reign, the Board existed only on paper. He ran the company alone, and they rubberstamped his decisions. The trend continued when Sharon took over. That is, until the old man died.
Sharon knows that today’s Board meeting will be stormy. They want to oust her from the company. She is assured of her husband’s loyalty. Harry seems content with running his law firm and supporting her from outside. But they are outnumbered 3:2. Unless they can come up with a plan quickly enough, she will be forced to leave the leadership of her beloved company.
When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. Isn’t that what Lincoln had said? She will hang on. She will somehow save the company today. After all, as Winston Churchill said a century later, if you are going through hell, keep going.
She strides into the meeting room 10 minutes early and sits at the head of the conference table, on the elevated chair reserved for the Chair of the Board. The rest have not arrived. She opens her laptop and starts working. Her husband steps in five minutes to time, followed by Simon and Livingstone. Peter is the last one to enter, fifteen minutes late.
Sharon is impressed. At least he learned something from the old man’s power play rulebook.
Keep them waiting. That way they will know who is the boss.
But she is prepared for him. Before he reaches his seat, she looks up.
“You are late Peter. Sit down so that we can begin. Gentlemen, now that we are all here, I believe we can begin.”
Peter hesitates, then sits. In one swift move, she has shifted the balance of power. She is now in control. The old man would have been impressed. But she still has no idea how to fight off the looming onslaught.
“I think you should apologize to Peter, Sharon. That is no way to talk to your senior. You women are so disrespectful these days. No wonder Mother is so ashamed of you,” Simon says.
Sharon feels like launching a verbal tirade, but she remembers her father’s words.
Barking dogs don’t bite Sharon. Every warrior knows that. But everyone fears and respects the calm general.
She ignores her brother Simon and turns to Livingstone.
“You invoked the company’s articles of association and requested this meeting Livingstone. What urgent matter do you want to discuss?”
“I think this company is being improperly led. The Articles empower the Board to temporarily replace the Managing Director of the company with another member of the Board if the Board is of the opinion that the sitting Managing Director is incapable of leading the company. I propose a vote to temporarily replace the current Managing Director, and I also propose Peter as the Acting Managing Director pending confirmation by the shareholders in the Annual General Meeting,”
Sharon’s heart misses a beat.
“I second,” Simon says. Peter is smiling smugly.
“I agree. Let us vote. But I have a point to raise before we vote,” Harry says.
Sharon looks at her husband, confused. Harry? Betraying her?
“Before we vote, I think there is a stranger in this Board. The articles stipulate that Board Members who are not shareholders and who are over 65 years old automatically lose their seats unless the majority shareholders expressly renew their mandate. Livingstone turned 66 yesterday, and can no longer serve on this board.”
“As the majority shareholders, we expressly renew his mandate,” Peter and Simon chorus, clearly surprised.
“You cannot do that,”
“And why not? We represent the old man’s estate. And the estate holds 51% share,”
“The court this morning gave its judgment on this company. The will has been upheld. The company belongs solely to Sharon,”
“But that is irregular. How could the court rule without informing us? Anyway, we disagree with the High Court. We will appeal,”
“Your lawyer was aware. He was in court this morning. You haven’t appealed the decision yet, so as it stands, Sharon is the sole shareholder of the company. Livingstone will not vote today. Can we proceed with the vote now?”
Sharon smiles. A tie will retain the status quo. Peter and Simon’s eyes are blazing, but it is obvious they no longer want the vote. Losing here means they cannot attempt a coup again until six months lapse.
“It seems like we are done here. Please excuse me, gentlemen, I have a company to run,” she says, stepping out of the conference room.
“Harry what did you do?” Sharon asks her husband. They are now in her office.
“Nothing,” he replies, smiling sheepishly.
“I am sure you had something to do with Simon and Peter not being in court today,”
“I may have mentioned in passing to their lawyer Tom that they hardly read their e-mails,”
“Is that even ethical? Isn’t he supposed to be on their side?”
“That’s Tom’s problem, not mine. I didn’t tell Tom to do anything. I just mentioned that they don’t read their mail. If he decided to email them instead of calling them that was his decision. But even he knows that you built this company and that the old man wanted you to have the whole of it. Come on sweetheart, don’t tell me you didn’t enjoy seeing the shock on their faces,”
“And why didn’t you as my lawyer and husband inform me?”
“Can’t a man pleasantly surprise his wife anymore?” he asks, feigning hurt.
“Get out of my office,” Sharon says, smiling.
“As you wish, Madam General. You can now steer the ship peacefully. It is all yours. But as your lawyer and husband, I am advising you to reconstitute the board today. The Articles give you that power as the sole surviving shareholder. Do it before those clowns rush to court to get orders stopping you from doing it. I have drafted the necessary documents. Just sign them and I will do the rest,”
Sharon smiles. Marrying Harry was a brilliant decision on her part, she concludes for the trillionth time. She opens the envelope, signs the documents and hands them to Harry.
“See you at the Intercontinental tonight Madam General. I am buying you dinner to celebrate your victory today,” Harry says as he steps out of his wife’s office.
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/geneephillips/15764443850