Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Researcher's Story (fiction)

“Failure is an orphan while success has several fathers.” anon

Antony Barriga was the brand manager who shepherded Project Aquila to a success. The project was about the launch of Glee a new brand in the highly competitive toilet soaps market. It was greeted encouragingly by the trade and the market that in no time at all it achieved a twenty five percent market share after a month and a half from introduction in a highly competitive field. Market share was still growing and the only hindrance it had was the lack of stocks to sell into the trade. The results of the electronic test market, a simulated market pre-test predicted failure. This caused the marketing team to be a bit tentative and had a soft launch. They didn’t produce large amounts of products for the sell in and the support effort in media and promotions were cautious and measured.

During the post assessment meeting which was called by no less than the chairman himself all the major participants in the project were invited to take stock and trace the work that led to the success, learn from it and to talk about initiatives which should take advantage of the initial gains and the momentum started by the new brand. Everyone in the company was excited about Project Aquila and fittingly, a record of the activities which led to the successful launch must be chronicled for posterity. Also, it would help in creating a model to serve as a pattern for future developmental work.

Naturally everyone, especially Antony Barriga, the brand manager and head of Project Aquila, who had something to do with the project were enthusiastic to attend so that they can talk about their participation and contributions to the achievement. Naturally these would include embellishments and exaggerations for this was rare opportunity given to them to shine in front of the chairman.

All but one was in high spirits. Rod Dorado, the research manager, analyzed the data gathered from the test market research had predicted failure and was very vocal about not launching the brand. He had good reason to dissuade the group from aborting the project. Earlier product tests did produce encouraging scores but when it was tested with the final product with brand name, in the package design and in the context of its advertising platform, it fell dismally short of the standard that was set for the brand to launch. The electronic test market which was designed to provide market share predictions indicated that it was to achieve a mere five percent. The Glee team was not enthusiastic about the brand after knowing the results of the electronic test market. It did seem that it was a case of back to the drawing board for the ad men, the technical development boys, the promotions people and the sales manager. At that time they were ready to retreat from the project as if in disavowal of any participation in it.

But not Antony Barriga. It would be difficult to dissuade this brand manager to abort the launch of his baby after months of nurturing, planning and development work. Antony was bull headed and he chose to set aside the findings of market research. He threw caution to the wind notwithstanding the below standard market share expectation of five percent. He declared an all systems go for the project. He argued that research is helpful at development stage, when one is developing the product but not at the point of launching. He believed that research at this stage should not lessen the resolve of the marketing men to drive and push their brand with all the wherewithal at their disposal. It is true that in some cases in past launches, it was the drive and resoluteness of the marketing man that spelled the success of a brand. Brand management depended, to a large extent, on the personality of the man running the brand’s enterprise. He argued passionately to have the launch of Glee push through and the chairman impressed at such ardor and determination, approved it.

Of course, the fact that the competition, the brand leader had problems at the time of the Glee launch was glossed over. An uncanny coincidence with the Glee launch was the extraordinary problem that competition and current brand leader, Engarde, was beset by. The stocks of Engarde had to be recalled from all trade outlets and from all the warehouses of wholesalers and distributors because they were afflicted by moulds. Greenish, cloudy encrustations soon appeared in the Engarde soap bars and the manufacturer was pressured by the dealers to recall all stocks in their warehouses. With this exceptional advantage Glee did not encounter any resistance at the wholesalers and distributors during the selling in. The vacuum in the trade spelled the success of the selling in activity. Even at consumer level the absence of Engarde in the shelves allowed the new brand to attain immediate and extensive trial by erstwhile Engarde users.

The sell in of Glee was awesome. The stocks built up for the launch were all sold within a week’s time. The production line had to double time to catch up with the demand of a hungry trade. But they could only hurry so much because newly produced products have to have proper aging before these are released for sale. The estimated extra tonnages of products that could have been sold were really substantial. This, among other opportunities was lost outright.

The chairman, Serafin Garces, was on his desk rapt in concentration at some sheaf of papers on his leather framed writing pad. The various department heads streamed in and in no time at all filled up the available chairs but for the one at the head table which was reserved for him. There were excited exchanges among the early comers but these were in murmurs as the formality of the chairman’s room dictated it. Seeing the table completely occupied he rose from his black highback leather chair and approached the group of eager and smiling faces.

“Good afternoon gentlemen, I am glad that you could all come at such a short notice.” He looked around the table doing a mental roll call. “Are we missing anyone…everyone here?

After a wave of wagging heads, much like dog figurines with bobbing heads on car dashboards, the group intoned almost in unison “yes…think so” this was followed by another wave of head wagging.

Serafin Garces settled his widely girthed rear on the head table chair, placed both hands flat on the table and said “Congratulations to the team for a successful launch, please give ourselves a hearty hand,” he led the clapping and the group seemed tp have relaxed a little with the agreeable start of the meeting, “very well, let’s get started.”

Antony was quick to seize the opportunity to lead the discussion. No one contested this as he would be most deserving of it being the brand manager who doggedly pushed for its launch.

“Sir, I will make a brief update on the inroads and gains Glee had achieved then from there Joe Creus here will talk about the sales situation, Enteng Agno will then talk about the progress of our promotional efforts” he went on to mention the ad agency, the technical development people who were all attention, eagerness and poised to report on their participation. Market research was mentioned last by Antony, “ and of course a word from market research to talk about post launch researches, perhaps a little on what went wrong with the simulated test market research.”

Joe Creus with a stentorian tone talked about the high morale of the sales staff, and how they have creamed the sales force of the competition, some anecdotal heroics in the field, the distributors clamoring for bigger allocations and how much more they would have sold were it not for the out of stock situation in the bodegas, making sarcastic remarks on the inability of the sales forecasters to do their jobs…and the market research mistake and praising Antony Barriga for his grit There was a slight allusion to a problem that competition was experiencing in the trade but this was smothered to obscurity by the animated recounting of the battles and skirmishes won in the field.

Mike Regis, the head of the forecasting team did not take kindly to the insinuation that the sales forecasters botched their job. “What do you expect us to do? Market research gave caution…” the chairman halted him with a wave of his hand saying

“I thought I made it clear that what I asked you guys to do is to give me your ideas of what to do next. What follow up activities can we do to ride on the momentum of Glee. I know of what you have done from the thousand reports I have seen on its success. You guys should refrain from wagging that accusatory finger. Blaming will be taken up in private and not at this forum. It would be unproductive to talk about it here. Now, I reiterate, for this meeting, just limit the discussion on what you intend to do this week, the next and so on.”

It was difficult to dampen the enthusiasm of the report makers who despite the admonition of the chairman to limit it to planned activities they had managed to mention their contributions to the successful project albeit much more abbreviated than what they would have wanted. The occasional sarcasm directed at Rod could not be helped.

In all the discussions, the fact of not having enough stocks to sell was the culprit that robbed the enterprise of a much bigger success. The production people mentioned that they were just following the production orders coming from marketing and the sales forecasters. The ad agency did not miss a beat and accused market research for the half hearted media support that was given the brand at its introduction. They said that a great opportunity to embed the brand image on the target market was missed when an all out media support was withheld because of the poor performance expectation of the brand. The strong trial and retrial would have cemented the desired brand image early in the audiences’ mind. They referred to it as a virgin quality, a new brand with no historical baggage gaining immediate acceptance with repeated trials paving the way to easily implanting the desired image securely in the market’s awareness.

If there was blaming to be done the most logical was to point at market research for weren’t they the ones who said that the launch should have been aborted because their test market findings pointed to a possible dismal performance.

“It will fail” Rod didn’t mince his words.

A measly five percent market share prediction would not inspire confidence to produce a surplus of sell in stocks nor would it warrant increased investments on media and promotions…and now they own a quarter of the market and could have been more. This made Antonio Barriga a bigger hero who despite all the warnings and dissuasion coming from market research persevered and prevailed upon everybody in the team to launch.

“Good thing you didn’t listen to the prophets of doom in this company” they said in reference to Ron.

These, of course, made Ron Dorado a bigger heel in the eyes of his team mates. Buffeted by all the criticisms and the snide remarks directed at him and towards market research he remained steadfast in maintaining that the numbers that came out of the research were reliable and the results had unassailable integrity. Some, kindly, suggested that perhaps the wrong methodology was used. Others, taking a modern luddite argument said that perhaps we should not rely too much on electronic housewives to give us a feel of the consumer’s attitude after all they were no more than unfeeling and unthinking electric impulses inside hi-tech casings.

There was something common about what the other team members planned to do. All of them, in fact, planned on stepping up the level of activities as a reaction to the missed opportunities. The Sales group planned on doing a saturation drive of all possible outlets as soon as product stocks have been built up, promotions presented several follow up promotions, the technical development guys talked about formulating new variants which could be launched in four month’s time and the ad agency mentioned that they have already started work on post introductory ad campaigns including a tactical testimonial campaign from entertainment celebrities and a long shot idea of using a political figure who was a talked about as a presidentiable.

When it was Rod’s turn to speak, he said that the usual market monitoring will be employed to check on the brand gains as well as to find out where improvements can be made to further pursue the initial gains. He said that he will recommend a research covering the trade to help explain the phenomenal sell in success of the brand, to find out what was done right and what more could be done.

He had to admit that Antony did the right thing by insisting on the launch despite his misgivings and vehemently expressed counter view. It was expected of him to give some explanation as to why the research prediction went so far away from the mark and all ears seemed alerted as to the first words of an explanation, apology, perhaps. He had to explain but apology was not what he had in mind. He will not apologize for the stance he took. He was playing his role as research manager and decided on the evidence of the findings before him.

“Market research does not deal in certainties, it talks about probabilities of outcomes in the normality of things, and there have been instances, such as the most recent one on Glee, that actual experience had proven it wrong. It could have been a fluke, an outlier as we say in statistics’” he needed to be careful and deliberate as to what was to follow and paused the explanation for a while.

“Antony had the courage to set aside the research findings and trusted his gut feel, his acumen and went full steam to launch. I have always told brand managers in the past not to use research as a crutch, as the only basis for decisions but to look at it as a guide, to make an educated guess, to narrow the odds. At the end of the day with the piles of research data on his desk the marketing man must make the decision by himself. Antony did just that and was rewarded for his intrepidness.”

The chairman was visibly annoyed with Rod’s words, “Are you telling us that all that money spent on that expensive simulated test market could not be relied on? And that all that hi-tech talk is just mumbo jumbo? How are we to regard you and your work from now on?”

That was an unfair statement, he thought, how could somebody like him, with all his experience make a statement that discredits a discipline like research. The boss was entitled to be highhanded sometimes. He may not have fully meant what he said about research but he was truly annoyed at the situation. It would have been easy to explain this miscue to anyone except that it was the chairman of the company that he was explaining it to and no amount of technical jargon would be deemed satisfactory. Rod knew all the aspects and instances where it could have gone wrong but the fact remains, it gave a prediction so way off which led the company to staging a half hearted launch effort for Glee. Yet, he was sure that the research was correctly done. The rigorous protocol of sampling, the stringent supervision of the fieldwork, the use of an almost templated questionnaire from successful researches of the same methodology, faultless data processing and all the necessary preparations that followed a strict procedure faithfully as in an ISO exercise. He was certain that this was impeccable research work and yet proven wrong in actuality. In his mind he could not concede a failure of research

All he can say was “I am sorry that despite our efforts to do a superb job on the research it failed to give the right prediction. There may have been variables that we did not take account of which played a strong influential role in the equation. This is an instance that I am happy to have been proving wrong. The best I can do at this point is to review the research thoroughly to ferret out the bugs.”

“Well, that’s that, I am cautioning you, Rod, to be more discerning and to be more cautious about the use of these new fangled technical innovations in research. We do not mind paying big money for such stuff but we expect that they should at least display a reasonable accuracy because decisions made on them involve money, time and resource big time.”

Rod had weathered the meeting. He had to take in all the snide remarks and the blames on the chin. Had he taken a strong defensive stance he would have been clobbered from all sides. They would all have ganged up on him like sharks in a feeding frenzy, besides, he didn’t want to be the wet blanket for the all the elation that Glee’s success had brought to the company.

It had to come. A week after the meeting the news about the mould problems that competition had became full blown. The sales team could no longer hold back the full extent of the news and it spread with the help of reports coming from other sources. In the market research department exploratory field investigations in line with the trade research about to be started got hold of the news about the mold problem. At that point it was already at an epidemic magnitude. It was quite obvious now why Glee had a successful launch. There was no competitive resistance and there was a hungry trade who had been starved of toilet soap stocks for some weeks now. This was vindication for him.

Antony Barriga called for a meeting. He asked the chairman to attend as the matter was of great importance. The department heads were also invited to the meeting.

“Sir, I guess by now you would have heard of the mould problem that our competition has been troubled with. After we met with you two weeks ago we started to revise our plans according to the positive outlook we had for Glee. We have committed orders to our suppliers for more raw materials to conform to the new forecast and sales targets have been raised in expectation of a good reception by the wholesalers and distributors. I am now advocating that we pare down our forecasts to a much more realistic level, hold back on raw materials orders and plan out a new trade strategy. We know that Engarde has the capability of bouncing back once they have sorted out the mould problems.”

“How come it took us a long time to know of this problem? Don’t we have people in the field? What about the sales people, surely they were in touch with our dealers and should have known about it sooner.” The chairman was visibly controlling his anger at the situation. “Now we are faced with the prospect of having inventories of raw material stocks at disastrous levels and have incurred costs for all sorts of development work in anticipation of Glee becoming a runaway success. My god, we are a company of the deaf and the blind. I can’t believe this.”

It was not true that the problem was not reported on early in time. There were some sketchy reports from the field agents but with the euphoria of the successful launch the reports were all but ignored. The sales manager would not allow small things such as this take away from the phenomenal success of the Glee sell in. The other department heads were equally guilty of not making anything of the competitor’s problem. They joined in on the elated atmosphere that pervaded the entire company.

The chairman was hard up in his attempt at maintaining his equanimity. His face was as blushed as if in embarrassment and his fists were white with clenching. “Well, Barriga I hope you have something sensible to say on this.”

“Yes, yes sir. As I was saying I have talked with the purchasing guys for them to review the orders we have made and to see if it was not too late to revise them with lower orders. I have suggested to the sales forecast team to lower their projections by more than half. I told Joe Creus here to take stock of what has transpired in the trade and to consolidate whatever gains we might have gotten out of this. As for the ad agency I have advised them to hold the development work for a new campaign that they started as of two weeks ago.” Antony seemed unfazed despite the sternness of the chairman’s voice.

“It seems to me that we are at panic button,” uttered Mike Regis who found opportunity to edge into the discussion, “I think it was foolhardy of Antony not to have heeded the simulated market test.”

“And, also, I discussed with Rod to hasten the research that he had planned to do among the trade. The finding of this would be useful to us when the situation at the trade level normalizes” Antony felt obliged to include Rod and market research upon hearing what Mike had just said.

“Didn’t I say that it was back to the drawing board for this project when the results of the test market came out. Antony wouldn’t listen to me. I guess it was a case of launching for launch sake.” Lito the technical development manager was quick to sidle to safety.

“Antony, I remember mentioning the mould problem to you early on. I guess I should have been more explicit for you to have acted on it.” Even Joe Creus has tried his version of hand washing.

Jim Ano, the account supervisor of the ad agency diffidently said, “We just do as we are told. I think there is still time to cancel the advance media placements that we booked. We will also review the current media schedule with a mind to lower the frequencies a bit.”

Antony looked at the faces around the table. Only a few weeks ago these were the same guys who would have carried him on a sedan chair proclaiming his bravery and courage to launch Glee successfully despite opposition. They were no longer dog heads bobbing in unison but each one of them fixedly looking at him in dismay. “Hey guys, we are all in this together aren’t we?”

Only Rod broke the moment of silence, a silence signaling the passing of the short lived alliance that Antony had with the others.
“I don’t think the situation is all that bad,” Rod opined, “Let’s look at the positive side, We have easily gained extensive trials for Glee and that is one advantage we can build on. The early product performance testing we did have shown that it is an acceptable product. It was only in the test market where it failed. Perhaps we need to review the brand positioning and the communication strategy. Engarde was a very strong brand and it would take a stronger alternative proposition for its users to switch over to Glee. I think the mould problem gave us that opportunity.”

The chairman nodded in assent to what he was hearing, “Rod has a very good point there. We should really think of this not as a debacle but an opportunity to establish Glee in the market and hopefully dislodge Engarde from its leadership position. Antony’s foolhardiness has caused harm but by some uncanny stroke of fate became opportune.”

He seemed pleased as he was given a chance to practice a chairman’s prerogative to sermonize and to give good judgment on vital corporate issues. His role, enhanced more than ever, as a sagacious and astute leader of the group.

“Of course there has been some damage done. All we can do now is minimize them and for the costs already incurred there is nothing much you can do but log it as an item in wastage allowance and as a costly experience. The brand is off to a great start; let’s see if we can build from there.”

As they were about to leave the room the chairman told Rod and Antony to stay, he stood up and went over to shake the hands of the two. “Good work Rod” and turning to Antony he said “You’re a lucky son of a gun, you know that. Now work closely with Rod and make Glee the success it is destined to be.”

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Cascade of Haikus

What a lovely place
And yet so cold and forlorn
Warmth and light soon come

Bathe in morning dew
Freshness filled the morning air
Withered before noon

With Godspeed I go
To conquests, fame and fortune
Don’t burst my balloon

Such innocent eyes
Aglare from fiery red heads
Harsh beaks gnash fiercely

I will get through this
Stark and sombre prison bars
Sunlight's dimmed by white

Ah, the palms beckon
Leave the dreary icy cold
Balmy breeze awaits

Rest your tired wings
On a velvet purple bed
A long flight ahead

Nature's ire unleashed
Bullying all in its path
Crashing waters roar

The roar and fury
Of crashing, rumbling waters
Silenced by a sob

Never thought our love
Would create ugly ducklings
Push them off the falls

The silver lining
In our lives are all but gone
The sun let us down

Oh elegant grace
Still the waters of the lake
Majesty passes

Blossoms overhead
Stand guard on regal swans
Not a ripple make

Ill wind blowing wild
Smashing and slashing at will
Crack! a tree trunk breaks

Dream of Boracay
Palms swayed by the balmy breeze
Waves lap at white shores

Fish head soup is nice
But dolphins are quite scarce
Please set this one free

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Lousy Love Story (fiction)

Donnie was quite content with the clerical post that he had in the company. He was an assistant to the budget supervisor of the Promotions department of a manufacturing and marketing concern. Unmarried at the age of thirty five he was the favorite of the office girls who felt that he was a harmless fellow who could take their naughty taunts and flirtations without fear of being maliciously responded to. He definitely was not gay. He was attracted to the opposite sex but was slow to act on it. Donnie was a meek and tractable fellow. He was one whom you could say has the “soul of an accountant”.

He had taken fancy to one of the secretaries in the secretarial pool. She was typical of girls who took secretarial courses which took about two years to complete. These girls would come from poor families who couldn’t afford to send their children to pursue the usual four year programs leading to baccalaureate degrees. She possessed a certain type of beauty which showed good facial features, pretty, but with a hint of hardness. Her complexion was on the dusky side and not so smooth with traces of blemish which could have been caused by early age malnutrition.

It took sometime before Donnie could muster enough courage to declare his intentions to Alivia. In the usual style of unsure and meek swains, Donnie would do small favors; bring an extra sandwich, some chocolate bars.At first Alivia was not conscious of the attention being showered on her by Donnie. She thought that he was that way with everyone, a meek person who got through the day doing little sacrifices, small favors just to get on with guys in the office.It took Donnie much preparation and self psyching to declare his love. If it were not for this singular courageous act, Alivia would never have known his intentions.

“Donnie…what are you saying? You don’t know what you are talking about,” Alivia mumbled and looked around to see if there were people within hearing distance.

“You know I like you a lot, but not this way. Wow! What’s come to you?” Her head oscillated one more time like a mechanical toy robot scanning the surroundings.

“Well, I can’t help it. I’ve always felt this way towards you, but you know…but, it’s okay if you say no. I’ll leave you alone if that’s what you want.”

As it was his wont Donnie Ponteverde backed out from an awkward situation and felt relieved that he got away from this one without further embarrassment.Alivia was not so sure whether she should put an end to this with absolute finality. Donnie was such a dear fellow and have been a close friend for some years now, besides didn’t she, at one time, had thought about Donnie but quickly dismissed it as nonsense. He was just a sweet person whom everybody liked.

“Wait, don’t leave. I have not said anything yet, have I?”

“Got to go, Mr. Ruiz is waiting for these papers and oh, this is for you.” Donnie straightened up at the approach of Mr. Ramos, Alivia’s boss who grunted as he neared.

Donnie left a small brown paper bag on her desktop, the usual thing he does once or twice a week.Mr. Ramos looked annoyed at the intrusion on one of his employees during a work hour. A rude grumble from him sent Donnie on his way. His gaze followed Donnie for a few steps and turned to Alivia.

“Send this right away to Mr. de Blume in the Singapore office. I need a reply from him on this immediately. Tell the operator to alert me as soon as a reply comes in.” He was gruff not so much from the agitation caused by the urgency of the task at hand but from Donnie’s hanging out in Alivia’s work station.

“I see him here more often than before. What business does he have to loll around here?”

“Nothing, he’s just that way…to almost everyone in fact. You know him. He’s just a harmless nice guy,” she said more in defense of herself than Donnie’s.

On the way to the teletype office, Alivia stopped by Cora Dolor’s desk. Cora was one of those girls in the office whom she confided with.“I have got something to tell you but not now, I have to rush this thing that Ramos asked me to do…later at the canteen.” She was excited to share what has just transpired…it was more than just a bit of juicy gossip that had to be passed on quickly.

After delivering the sheaf of papers to Mr. Ruiz, Donnie went back to his desk. His was a neatly arranged desk with the trays in their proper places. The plastic organizer box had neatly stacked note pads, paper clips all facing one direction, the stapler and the stamp pad were perfectly aligned as if measured from the edge of the desk. His small corner was neat and innocuous looking, much like him. When he was not in his desk you would think that he was absent that day. There was no clutter, no disarrayed papers being worked on. The papers that he worked on were always returned to the side shelves of his computer table. His work space looked like a precursor of a paperless office.

It would be lunch time in fifteen minutes and he thought that it would useless to start up his Apple computer now only to turn it off for lunch. He spent the few minutes of space to think about the incident at Alivia’s office. He felt sorry that he opened up his feelings to her. A person who loathed disorder in any form he was afraid that this would shake the otherwise well arranged and cosseted world that he lived in. From now on Alivia would be wary of him and that he would lose the friendship and closeness that he enjoyed before this bold and brazen act…and what would the rest of the office think. He waited for the lunch bell to sound. The moment it rang he automatically fished out from his canvas bag two sandwiches wrapped in white plastic. His hand dug in again and came up with an instant soup in a polystyrene cup. He stood up and went towards the hot and cold water fountain.

At the canteen Alivia and Cora chose a corner table and did not join the other officemates as they normally would. As they went past the cashier’s counter Cora signaled to them trying to say that they were on a private thing to which the girls nodded in acknowledgment.

As if by intuition Cora sensed that Alivia was not going to talk about some silly girlie thing, such as crushes, or being asked out by some of the young guys in the office. The serious mien and the nervousness that Alivia exhibited prepared her to expect something not whisical and fanciful. It has got to be a critical disclosure or something of great import.

“Well, what’s the big news, Alivia?” Sounding cursory so as not to show a suffused concern.

“This guy Donnie…”

“What about him?”“This morning he went up to me to say he loves me and just like that proposed marriage.”

“Really…what a jerk…right there in the office?...didn’t even wait for a more appropriate time and place?”

“Yeah just like that. You know how he is. He is no smoothie and would be so inept at such things."

“Oh boy! Wait till the others hear about this. They will be talking about this for weeks.”

“Cora, please, I don’t want you to tell them. Let’s just keep it here between the two of us.”

Cora knew she was right in thinking that this was no ordinary chitchat item. And also she speculated too that this was no laughing matter for Alivia.

“Are you taking him seriously?”

“I don’t know…maybe. It’s all so sudden…didn’t have time to think.”

“It’s not such a bad thing then,” she said. “Alivia, you’re no spring chicken and it’s about time you consider proposals like that, any proposal in fact.”

“Oh Cora, if only you knew. It’s not that simple,” heaving a sigh of helplessness as she said this.

”I think I know what your apprehension is. Donnie is no prize catch. He seems so laid back and with low or no aspirations at all…but who knows, with you and later with children…he may just be a late bloomer. Besides, I heard that his family in Bacolod are pretty well off. Most of all he is a nice guy. It could work out you know.”

“That’s not quite what I meant but I know…I know what you are saying. I just hope that he didn’t get so spooked about this morning. Ramos was a bit abrupt on him and you know how easily he gets discouraged.”

“As soon as you get back to your desk give him a call, not to accept yet, but to keep the prospect alive while you sort out whatever it is that’s bothering you in your silly head.”

“Thanks Cora, I knew I could count on you on these things. Not a word to the others, ha.”

It was still ten minutes to one but Alivia bade good bye as she hurriedly stepped out of the canteen thinking that she might do just what Cora suggested right away

.Cora joined the other girls in their table. “So what was that all about?” they asked.

“Oh nothing, just a little problem with her mom in the province.” She said it so nonchalantly that not one of the eager ears pursued the matter further.

When she reached the office her boss, Mr. Ramos was there. He had a teletype paper in his hand and was rapt in reading it.“Mr. de Blume just disapproved my proposal for the building of an annex structure. I’ve worked on this for months and now all this have been for naught.”

He slammed the paper on Alivia’s desk and hurt his fist. Alivia was a bit startled but she is used to seeing him go on minor outbursts like this but never going beyond an immoderate display of temper. It was just a man thing…to be somewhat brusque, to be not at all squishy.

“Ali, schedule meetings with the suppliers that I have talked to last week…all of them. Line them up tomorrow…one after another. Tell Mr. Pugante and Mr. Zico to come to my office in thirty minutes. Tell them it’s urgent.”

The remarkable thing about Bart Ramos is his hold on his authority, wielding it as if it was his birthright. He was in full control and would be quick to act and unerringly too. This was what Alivia admired in him. Strong, resolute…manly, a man who would not brook arguments contrary to his.

He called her Ali whenever no one is around. A small and guarded touch of affection that he subtly did within the privacy of his office.

“And Ali, I would like very much for us to have dinner tonight. It’s been a tough day, too much aggravation…my nerves are frayed and needing some tenderness” saying this in a hushed almost inaudible way. Dining out always meant ending up in some swanky motel. He didn’t wait for an answer. It was always assumed that she would say yes. So when she didn’t say a word he didn’t suspect that it bothered her.

Bart Ramos has been Alivia’s lover ever since she got into the company.For Alivia there was no love involved in the relationship. She was grateful to Bart for having taken her out of the impoverished state she was in and the financial help he extended when her mother needed surgery for an abused lung. Alivia was also thankful for the job that she enjoys now. Bart was more than generous with gifts as well as extending financial help when needed.

It’s seldom that secretaries coming from a vocational secretarial course end up as executive secretaries. Invariably, those jobs have been reserved to the less talented colegialas who get into the corporate scene.

Bart Ramos is married and has three teenage children who were good looking, cared for and chauffeured to expensive private schools everyday. The wife is a dignified looking middle aged matron, well bred and socially graceful. Behind the emerging slight wrinkles and shallow crows’ feet was an attractive woman who was adored by Bart Ramos. His was a happy family life and he made sure that this blissful state of affairs is safeguarded from any extraneous threat. He was discreet and circumspect with his affairs outside the conjugal bed.He did not have any qualms of conscience about his faithlessness. Like Alivia, there was no love involved in this wanton affair. It was a victor's spoil that he arrogated upon himself as a matter of right. These are part of the trappings of power, a male conquest, a right that the powerful of any society may bestow upon himself like the lords of feudal societies and the potentates with their harems. It was only in practice of power and the satisfaction of primal lust.

Alivia knew that she had little time left. She was not able to talk to Donnie because she got taken up with the numerous things that Bart had ordered her to do that afternoon. Quitting time was at five thirty and the dinner tryst always meant meeting Bart sevenish at the mall which was about forty minutes away by taxi during rush hour. She knew that Bart would start for home early every time they have these dinner dates. It may be a part of his security protocol.

As soon as Bart stepped out of the office he called Donnie and arranged to meet with him in the small Chinese restaurant right across the office.

From the office window Alivia could see Donnie crossing towards the Chinese restaurant. He was dodging cars and trucks that were slowly moving at bumper to bumper spacing at this hour. She hated the thought of having to do that herself but some momentous decisions were to be made over there, across the street.

“Hi Donnie, I hope that I haven’t kept you waiting long” as she spied him from the entrance of the restaurant.

“Oh hi Alivia, no I’ve been here less than five minutes.

”She knew that was a lie as she saw him cross the street at exactly five thirty. She had to tidy up her desk of documents, bits of paper, all sorts of sample materials from the rush of activities that afternoon. It took more than twenty minutes before she could lock up her desk to meet her appointment with fate across the street. Also she noticed that his mami bowl was already more than half consumed.

“Can I get you something?”, he asked.

“Just a cup of coffee, please,” then proceeded to say “I was thinking about what you said this morning” she saw Donnie stiffened at the mention of it.

He raised his right hand to stop her from saying anything more.“No, no I am sorry about that. I didn’t mean to be so forward. You, of all people, no, I wouldn’t even dream about it. I was not myself this morning. I hope you’ll forgive me for being so presumptuous, so stupid…” Donnie was babbling audibly… enough to be heard by the other customers in the small eating place.

“Hush, Donnie get a hold of yourself.” Alivia looked around and saw some quick glances towards their table from some of the customers.

Now less loud, but still gibberishly he mumbled “No really, that was bad of me. I think even Mr. Ramos was angry at me also at you. Sorry, it will never happen again…I swear…really cross my heart, I will never forgive myself if you get into trouble with your boss because of what I did” Now he was whimpering like a puppy dog with his tail between his legs.

Alivia felt disgust welling up her chest. She couldn’t believe anybody could be reduced to such a pitiful state for what, for something as trivial and as corny as what happened that morning? She was looking at him in the eye and was searching for any sign, any hope, any stirring of manhood, of maturity, of any dignity or of adult pride. What she saw were twin orbs quivering in senseless fear. What is this? She thought. Would I be able to countenance such a behavior in a man?

“Listen Donnie, It’s alright, I am not angry at you. I will still be your friend even if you did a foolish thing today.” She said to appease him.

“And you know what? the roast beef sandwich you gave me this morning was really fabulous. I loved every bit of it.” She was humoring him as she kept her eye contact steadily to stare him down and for her to control his hysterics…for him to settle himself.

“What happened this morning was really nothing to worry about. You meant well and I understand.

“Really, am I forgiven?” was his limp rejoinder.

“Yes Donnie you are forgiven.”She looked at her watch and rose quickly.

“O, Donnie I have to rush for a dinner appointment, Can’t even wait for the coffee. Will you take care of the bill? Sure ha.”

She got out from the steamy and friendly warmth of the Chinese restaurant into the kaleidoscope of flashing headlights that illuminated the dark and cold street. It has always been dark there at that hour. There were no street lights, only headlights from passing cars. It was okay tonight. The slow moving traffic provided steady light but it will soon be dark again when all the cars have brought home their fares to their connubial domiciles.

It was a difficult time to hail a cab but she didn’t care if she was late for dinner.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Last Coffee Boy (fiction)

I worked with a British company during the mid 60s. It was a rather large multinational whose businesses spanned more than half the world. What was said of the British Union Jack at the height of British imperialism that the sun never sets on it may also be said of the company emblem. It is a venerable and respected institution whose base of business were essential fast moving consumer goods, although its businesses at the time of my employ had extended itself to services and industrial products as a result of business integration. But even at that time the company was beginning to divest itself of non-core business as monopoly was becoming a bad word and a high awareness of anti-trust was rife. In the early days it was rumored that they were also in the slave trade as a corollary and a necessary adjunct to the vast plantations they owned not only in the colonies but even in the Old World. It was just a rumor and not a validated fact.

What could have been a carryover of the British colonial practice was the presence of a coffee boy in the office. This peculiarity may not be ascribed solely to the British but to the other European imperialists such as the Dutch, the Spaniards and perhaps other nationalities who at one time had a colony in the East. One could chance upon old daguerreotypes, wood block prints and sepia photographs of boys in servitude to their colonial masters. There would be a young Malay with a salver of tea, fanning their masters with an “anahaw”, helping remove the boots of a bemoustached gentleman who affected a genteel pose of patting his boy on the head as one would a puppy. Other depictions would be of young Chinese boys complete with topknots in similar servile postures serving tea and crumpets to foggy old gentlemen of the colonial dispensation.

Mang Diego was one such coffee boy who served coffee to the managers and the directors in the Marketing Department. After the second world war and much more so in the sixties he would be considered an anachronism. A throwback from the glory days of the colonials. I wouldn’t really describe him as a boy since at the time that I got into the company he was already an old man with a slight limp and was just a few years towards retirement. His uniform was white pants and a white starched short sleeved shirt which may have been a permapress as it seemed to maintain the same efficient neatness from morning til going away time.

He had a quiet dignity about him as he wended his way starting at the far end of the corridor where the directors were and with unhurried gait negotiated the long corridor going towards the cubicles of the managers. He had this well oiled trolley laden with coffee cups and saucers at the top part, On the shelves of the trolley were the cookie jars, two of them in fact, one containing lemon cookies and the other chocolate ones. Beside the jars was a large thermos bottle and two small bottles one with sugar and the other the creamer. These were the tools of his trade which he plied for more than a decade in the corridors of the art deco office building. Coffee was served once in the morning and again by early afternoon.

There is nothing to like about Mang Diego. He gave no special favors to anyone neither did he ask one for himself. Everyday he pushes his trolley down the corridor stopping at rooms and bringing in steaming hot coffee in cups and always with a cookie. The kind of cookie he served was unchanging. If you started with chocolate cookies then you will get a chocolate cookie every day of your stay in the company. This seemed like a nonnegotiable aspect of the coffee service. He was unerring in his coffee mixtures to the individual preferences of those he served. I have never heard of any body complaining about his service. Coffee is coffee and it would not be a big deal if one day he put in one sugar cube less. So there he was, a constant fixture in the office doing his rounds like clockwork

Mang Diego could have been a supervisor in the warehouse were it not for the accident that he had. Heavy wooden palettes fell on him when a forklift accidentally knocked down a tall stack of palettes while swinging a load of detergent cases near the loading bay. He sustained several contusions and fractures and was hospitalized for a month. On his discharge from the hospital he was advised by the personnel manager that he may not be able to function in his former role. He had a concussion as well as a mangled leg that gave him a permanent disability. The postion of coffee boy was offered and he accepted it. He didn’t feel grateful nor beholden to the company for having kept him despite his condition. It was his conviction that the company owed him rather than the other way around. He was serving the company when the accident happened. The wooden palettes that fell on him were company property and the forklift operator was an employee of the company. They are their extensions and it was only right for them to redress the harm done to him.

It worried him that he would be retiring in a few months having reached the mandatory retirement age of sixty five. All the years that he had worked he had never imagined a situation where he was not with the company. He was a widower at age fifty six and his two children, both boys are now married and living separate from him. Valuing his independence he refused his youngest son’s offer for him to stay with him when his wife died. That was nearly ten years ago and he survived his aloneness through all these years.

Money was the least of his concern since he would expect a big windfall upon his retirement. He had put in more than forty years of service. The company’s retirement benefit provides one and a half months salary times the number of years served. Thus he would have a multipier of sixty on his last monthly salary of his employment. This was the main sum but the accumulated sick leaves and the unavailed vacation leaves conversion to cash would add a few more to his final take. His monthly salary as coffee boy was not much because his job class is the lowest in the company. He had worked it out. With a borrowed calculator and with the help of the secretary in the Personnel Department he added up all that he would receive and this caused him a happy smile. Never in his life had he held such an amount and in a few months the money will be deposited in his payroll account.

Used to spending all that he earned he has never planned out anything in his life. By the end of each fifteen day interval the salary he received was almost always spent. He was regular in sending money to his children to help out in his grandchildren’s school expenses but as of last year his sons told him to stop sending because they have moved up in their respective careers .

Not being the neighborly type he was not able to establish a group of friends in the small eskinita that he lived for more than thirty years. Social interaction was confined to officemates and even this was limited since most of the office personnel were young marketing men. He associated with the the third party office maintenance crew and some of the secretaries but they where acquaintances, familiar people but not friends.

The problem of what to do in retirement was the source of his anxiety. One night he sat up in his small dining table and with paper and ballpen started to generate a list of the things that he can do once retired.

He wrote number one. Stayed a while at it, scratched his head with the ballpen and looked around as if in search of inspiration. He scribbled “buy a car” but quickly scratched it out realizing that he didn’t drive.
A trip to Antique to visit relatives…but he can’t recall any relative’s name who might still be alive. He didn’t scratch it out and let it stay and proceeded to writing number two.
Give a party to his associates in the office, his children’s family and other relatives in the city. That was okay but that would only be for a day. He let number two stay.
Number three…buy a small lot in Laguna and build a small house where he can raise chikens, pigs and grow a vegetable patch.. That is a great idea. He thought of uprooting himself from the small living space he had in the eskinita in Sampaloc, sell the rights for the place and add the proceeds to his stash.
Number four was getting a bit fancier, a trip to HongKong would be nice… he has often heard the young men in the office talk of the wonders of travel and he thought that maybe just once before he is unshackled from his mortal coils experience exotic delights.

The night wore on and he was still at it. He had listed all sorts of things that he may want to buy or do, a new watch, fighting cocks in Laguna, bicycles for his grandsons, dolls and doll houses for the granddaughters, a colored television, a betamax and many more. Midway into the night he listed number forty six, investing in a sari-sari store…that was good thinking…he would probably get preferential rates from the company. Another item added as number seventy four was bankrolling a business that was proposed by his son about two years ago which had to do with recycling used tires. He also put on note, number seventy seven to provide for the schooling of his grandchildren. The list was going beyond eighty. He marveled at the number of things that he imagined he could do. His mind was as lively as that of a new graduate faced with mind boggling possibilities for the future.

He was surprised at his stamina. Not even for a moment did he feel tired or sleepy. His adrenalin was pumping. At the entry of a new item in the wish list his heart would throb in excitement. The remarkable thing about it was he seemed to have lived each wish as they were written down. At daybreak he had filled in three pages of ruled yellow pad. By then exhaustion crept up on him. All the excitement and the agitation was too much for the frail body of a sixty five year old. Living and experiencing a lifetime of one’s dreams and wishes in just a night was delightful but taxing. He had a smile of satisfaction on his face when he stood up from his chair and hobbled towards his bed to rest his tired body.

Mang Diego did not report for work that day. Normally he would call in sick to inform personnel of his indisposition but no such call was made. When he did not report for work on the second day, again without informing personnel, the department supervisor decided to call his son whose number was listed in their records as the one to call in cases of emergency.

Towards the afternoon the son called to inform the office that Mang
Diego was found dead in his bed. According to the coroner the time of death was placed as mid morning the day before.

His sons saw the yellow ruled pad papers on the dining table containing the list of all that he wished to buy and do once he gets his money. It was a rather long list. It must have been an overwhelming experience to write down all that one desired and all that one wished knowing that all these are now within the realm of possibility and may soon be realized.

Both sons took turns reading the list. They couldn’t help but suffuse a tear as they read the items in the list of what their father wanted to do for them. The list was a testament of love which was not openly expressed during his lifetime. The list included fantasy-like wishes together with the mndane ones. What caught their attention was what looked like the last entry which was written in strong block letters with exclamation points. It was as if, at last, he found what he really wanted to do.

It read “Kapihan Ni Mang Diego!!!” This was framed to represent a signage and beside it some rough sketches of people drinking coffee on tables. A trolley was added beside the tables.

He was truly the quintissential Coffee Boy prefering to serve coffee to the last drop

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Man Who Hated Tide Advertising (fiction)

Ben Rodas was the typical ad man of the early seventies. He was brash, self confident to a fault, glib and was socially adept. He was an account executive of a large American advertising agency which was the second biggest in the local scene but occupies about the seventh position on a worldwide scale. He was quite new in the game, only a year out of a Jesuit college with a degree of Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Science. He was not really an outstanding student and barely passed from year to year. His saving grace was his glibness and a wide generalist knowledge of the arts, politics and business and an engaging sometimes contentious personality which leaves you either hating him or impressed at the extent of his grasp of subject matters but only on their breadth and not in depth. When he speaks he oozed with confidence and authority almost sounding dogmatic.

Still at the point of learning the trade he had modest ambitions and didn’t mind being assigned to small developmental accounts. These are accounts that are of smaller budgets and of products whose markets are still in its infancy. He found challenge in creating communications strategies for products and services which have niche audiences. He was not concerned about getting a move on in the organization as yet. It was if there was this conscious effort towards gathering as much experience as he can at the same time enjoying and relishing each one of them. Even if he did enjoy having an eclectic set of clients which ranged from banking to mass consumer products he preferred the new industries such as communications, real estate development, consumer banking and computer technology which at that time were comer industries.
Perhaps it was the desire for uniqueness and a knack for being at the forefront of new developments that had left him unnoticed by the agency bosses because what was high profile was the area of fast moving consumer goods where the agency derives most of its income and the high frequency campaigns of the products that make those involved in the production of their commercials, from account servicing, creative work and even media work gain a high level of stature not only in the agency but in the community of advertising practitioners, marketing clients and the media.

How he hated the ungrammatical, the prosaic copy and the vulgarity of grass roots lingo used in detergents advertising. He couldn’t stand the repetitiveness of the message delivery, the countless mention of the brand name, the commonness of the situations depicted and the bland expressions of ordinary talents. Creative work was reduced into a formula and this resulted into artless advertising. The occasional humor used in detergents advertising was of the slapstick variety and elicited a painful groan from him each time he sees them on television.
His talent and knack for presentation were not overlooked by his bosses. Year after year he was passed up for promotions because of his stubborn insistence in staying in his comfort area of creating advertising campaigns for the upper end and specialized audiences in the new industries and rejecting assignments in the lucrative area of mass consumer products. He was getting to be well known to be an advertising expert on the new industries but could not be monetarily rewarded because these assignments did not carry much financial impact to the company and are looked at as incremental revenue sources only.
After seeing his juniors succeed in the organization ladder while he remained where he was, for now, a good five years, discontent slowly crept up and he became bitter from the felt injustice. It was not the first time that his supervisor has told him in a career review why they could not move him up despite the good work he has done in his present account assignments. At each review he would say that he finds fast moving consumer goods (fmcg) advertising as a lowly activity and thinks that it was below his dignity to work on ad appeals to the washerwomen, hysterical moms, insecure adolescents and other plebeian assortments.
The seeming lack of appreciation of his talents by his peers and also the meager income that he derived from his work had affected his whole being. Gone were the exuberance, the energy and the youthful enthusiasm that he used to put behind his work. Still the arrogance remained. He could not put himself to doing advertising for the masses.

It was a day in early April that he was summoned by Lex Dipas, the president of the agency, to his office. Lex Dipas called him from the intercom while he was discussing with the media buyers the media strategy for one of his clients.

“Now! Ben, I need to talk to you now” Lex sounded a bit peeved for his not wanting to come immediately.“I’ll be there in two shakes” was his docile reply.

“Good morning, Lex “ he greeted as he cautiously pushed the door half peering through the slightly opened door.

“Come in Ben. Please close the door behind you and sit here beside me.” Ben didn’t know what to make of the scene before him. Something big must be up. All the company biggies were at the conference table. Mel Lumis, the account supervisor of Liberty Brothers, their premier account, was seated together with John Aguirre, Chief creative director and Tom Acero, the director for business development. Except for the empty chair on his right Lex was flanked by his senior executives in the richly textured molave conference table. Fom the head table Lex beckoned him to sit on the empty chair beside him.

“Ben, you know that we have recognized your mettle early in your employment but you seem to have fallen in love with your accounts and have thwarted every suggestion we had for you to move over to more lucrative accounts.”

“But sir, you know that…” Ben was quick to interject but Lex was quick to stop him from saying anything more.

“Just you keep still, listen and don’t interrupt me until I am finished with what I have to say.” Ben was used to the curt and overbearing style of Lex from previous encounters mostly on his being a recalcitrant naysayer to their entreaties to accept reassignments.

“We have this new account prospect, Protech Products, a new comer in the local detergents market, a small player now but soon to be a major one with a capital infusion from the head office in the offing. They have promised to give us a crack at their account and have asked for a credentials presentation as well as early stage campaign proposals, you know, on unpolished breakthrough ideas and some rough strategies on media as well as an account planning rationale. Not only I, think that you are the man who will bring in this account. Our senior colleagues all agree that your creativity, your flair for presentations and your adding a scientific approach to advertising will more than wow them over. You are our man, Ben.”

“Are you finished, sir?” was his almost rude getting in.
“No, not quite, but go ahead, say what you think of what I have just said and then I will continue with the rest of what I have to say.”

“What will Liberty Brothers say? Are we losing that account and lining up Protech Products as a possible replacement?" He was almost in disbelief in what his boss just said. “Besides, my aversion towards the kind of advertising these companies make is no secret to everyone in this room. So, why me?”

“My god Ben, you do ask the most obvious of questions. I wouldn’t have asked you to come if I believed that what I propose are impossible scenarios. But, anyway those are really the questions that really come to mind and your colleagues here would be more than willing to explain.”

“I will explain why it would be possible to have two major competing accounts under our wing” Tom Acero, the business development manager started to talk as if on cue.

“We are going to create a special group whose operations will be totally independent from our main organization. With the exception of administration, finance and other sundry services that are unrelated to the business of creating and disseminating advertising will be commonly shared. It is virtually creating another agency. It’s not a new concept at all. Sprint units as separate business unit of agencies have been practiced in the States since a few years ago. Besides, Lex had broached the idea to LibertyBrothers and they didn’t seem to have any serious objections to it. They have been very happy with our service for more than a decade now and are deserving of their trust. They know that if ever we get a competitive account it will always play second fiddle to them. On the other hand Protech Products have heard of our prowess in fast consumer goods advertising and the situation will not be unacceptable to them. The prospect of having these two major accounts under one agency would be a first locally. We will be the talk of the industry.”

“As for your unwillingness to do fast consumer goods advertising the kind of work that you will perform here will be far removed from what you hated most.” Mel Lumis jumped in as Tom, in his excitement, run out of breath and needed a moment’s pause.

“Now what do we expect from you in this project? We want you to present as if it was the only presentation you will make in your lifetime and we know that if you put your heart to it, it’s gonna be awesome. We expect you to write the most well-thought-out and most business like proposal. I’ve read some of the proposals you have done in the past and I’ve always said that it was a shame that such gems were prepared for such low yielding accounts.”

It was the Creative Director’s turn. John Aguirre was not your idea of a big time executive. Like most creative directors he sported a beard, wore loose t-shirts and sandals to office complete with an irascible temperament.

“Man, I will be your laborer, field vassal, grave digger and doer of the despicable things you hate most in our trade. You will not do a single line of copy, not a flicker of visuals nor any frigging thing that has got to do with the creation of commercials. I will not allow you to, even if you wanted. Your lily white hands will be spared from the grime expunged by the copious suds of detergent bars. All you do is give us general directions. I have some marketing savvy and I will know how to convert this blasé fodder into jewels of advertising thought.”

“Okay guys, let’s not overdo it. I think he is convinced already. So Ben what do you think? Lex looked at him and he gave the impression that there is no answer to this question but, Yes! “And Ben I must warn you. You are not leaving this room without deciding. We don’t have time.”
Ben gave the impression that he needed more time to think about what has been proposed and explained by the group before him. Sensing this Lex pressed the intercom button and told his secretary to bring in lunch now.

“You could think about it over lunch. I have arranged for this to be a lunch meeting and meanwhile please feel free to ask questions so that we can clarify things that don’t seem apparent enough.”
Lunch boxes were brought in by Lex’s secretary. He was a bit disappointed that lunch would be served in so pedestrian a manner. He has heard of sumptuous repasts served at business lunches in Lex’s office complete with wine, fabulous desserts and had thought that this was one of those.

“What happens if we don’t get the account?” expecting a lengthy answer Ben took a big bite of the roast beef and chewed it leisurely.
Rather cockily Lex replied “We never plan on failure, Even as now preparations are already afoot for the acquisition of Protech Products.”
With his mouth still with a chockfull of roast beef Ben had difficulty in marshalling an immediate reply. “Wwhat if I refused to go along?”
“Then I will think that you are a bigger fool than what I had thought…and fools do not have a place in my organization” said Lex with some finality.

“I think that it will be a shame if you turn down this proposition. An utter waste of talent…all these god given talents unused because of an ill-imagined elitist notion of superiority and a deprecating attitude towards the common tao,” uttered Mel with an unintended burp.

“Yeah, man. Don’t be so goddamn uppity. In our work we look for the shortest way to communicate and to convince people and we use the language they speak, the symbols that have meaning to them and cater to their aspirations lowly as they maybe. Don’t be such a pedantic ass and impose on people your literature, your music, your lifestyle, your culinary preference, your sophistication…your whatever” John was now at the toothpick stage of the lunch and was beginning to show impatience on Ben’s indecision.

He sort of resented the preaching tone of Mel who seemed so insincere with the words he used knowing that he was no more populist than the tsar of Russia was. And John, who does he think he is. Wasn’t he once the celebrated poet of the modernist clique in the state university who would not even offer to explain a line nor a punctuation mark in any of his poems. He now advocates vulgar street language, a language so prosaic and needing repetition to be memorable. What a mercenary! he thought.

But what about him, what of Ben Rodas…he was attacking Mel’s and John’s characters but not refuting any of their accusations. There was truth in what they are saying of him and he knew it full well. So what if he was all that they say. A man has a right to be whatever he wants to be for as long as it is anchored on a reasoned principle otherwise it would be plain stubbornness and pride. But why had he hanged tough on his view of advertising? He had reasoned that advertising must help in uplifting and ameliorating the lives of its audience, not entrenching them deeper in their commonness and ignorance. Advertising must waken aspirations, the desire for a better life, the enjoyment of things beautiful such as classical music, delightful images and fine language. He deplored the fact that selling soap had more precedence than all these.
“Guys don’t misunderstand me, I appreciate your having called me to this meeting, but it’s a pity that a powerful tool such as advertising, a tool that can be used to change positively the lives of our people and mend our fractured culture be used for something as utilitarian as selling soap. If only there would be a way that advertising could satisfy both,” it was a valiant effort to hold his ground. He knew that it was fool hardy to argue on the basis of ideals and motherhoods to these hardnosed business minded men.

“Oh, come on Ben, come down from your high horse. Our job is to sell our clients’ products and not to organize crusades against the world’s injustice or to teach the masses to read Shakespeare and listen to Bach and Mozart music,” Lex threw up his arms in the air and whirled his high back chair opposite all of them to express his exasperation and disbelief on what Ben just said.

Mel stood up and brusquely snatched the papers in front of him, “ Sorry Lex, I am not wasting my time here, I think that an advertising man with a messianic complex would be of any good use to this agency,” he walked towards the door hurriedly. This might have been the cue that Tom and John had been waiting for.

Even before the door closed Tom said, “Mel is right, he may be a talented son of a…but he will botch the job for the lack of conviction. Oh Lex, do you want me to call his guy I was talking about the other day, heard a lot of good things about him in the marketing circles. May be a bit expensive but, with these kind of stakes I am willing to gamble” and the door opened once more to let him out.

John Aguirre didn’t say a word. He stood up and raised both hands like a high priest as if imploring the heavens to hurl fire and brimstone on this nonbeliever. Ben noticed that his raised hands ended in two dirty finger signs pointed downwards at him.

The molave conference table loomed vast and threatening as it was emptied of three other occupants.

Ben muttered a limp “I am sorry Lex but I…”

“You should be,” he was not allowed to finish what he was going to say. “Go back to your pathetic little cell and reflect on your fate in this agency.”

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Respect (fiction)

“Ma, teacher told me that you should come to school with me tomorrow.” Ross, her eight year old boy looked up from his computer and shouted into the next room through a door that was slightly ajar.

“What, again? Didn’t I talk to her three weeks ago? Who is it that you punched this time?” she shouted back sounding exasperated but not so much because of what Ross said but of the difficulty she was having getting out of the tight shift dress that she bought in Hongkong last week. She tugged mercilessly at the obstinate dress. “Fuck!” she thought “I should learn to stay away from the dessert tray during business lunches.”

She has been having a series of meetings with the regional bosses on HR issues. The regional HRD head was fired last month and the responsibility of looking after the personnel issues of the region had fallen on her lap temporarily.

“I didn’t punch any body. She just wants to see you about something.” Ross seemed resentful of the accusation that he had bullied a classmate again. This was the third time this semester that Marisse had been called to the school for that reason.

“So, what is it this time?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Really, Ma I don’t know.”

This was one time she wished that Gabby was around. Gabby was the responsible one who took the school summons seriously. They have been on separation for more than a half a year now. He accused her of being an absentee mate, too busy to act the wife and mother to the family. Gabby was not around. Funny he accused her of her scarcity but he, himself, was never around in the last year before their separation. Coming home from a business trip she was locked out by Gabby from the house. They had a shouting match with her bursting her lungs out from the front door and him from the second floor window. It was loud, vicious and so public. Neighboring windows slammed shut one after another. Calling from a hotel room he told Gabby to pack his bags and get out of the house. She told him that if there was anyone who had to leave the house it has to be him, after all she was paying for it. Taking Ross to the house of Marisse’ mother was the last paternal act he did. From what she heard he went home to his parents in Iloilo and was never heard from since then.

“I can’t see her until probably next week. You know that I will be in Hongkong until Friday for some business discussions with my bosses.”

She was half expecting that her eight year old boy could understand the importance of meeting with bosses was.
Throwing up her arms in frustration she cried,

“Why can’t you behave like other kids. God almighty! Fine time for this to happen. You know that I am flying tonight.”

“It’s not my fault that my teacher is sore. You seldom come when they call.”

Seeing that Ross was on the verge of tears she hugged him to her bosom. “It’s okay baby, I’ll go to your school as soon as I come back. Tell your teacher, ha! Oh, by the way, I will try getting the play station that you wanted last Christmas. I saw one in Hongkong last week but didn’t have the time to buy it. It’s supposed to be the latest and has got all the cool features.”

“Really Ma? Wow! Ross was wide eyed with excitement at the prospect of getting the new toy. “Ma, get some game disks to go with it” he added.

“I told yaya to bring you to Lola’s house this afternoon. You be good now and don’t give your Lola any headache.

It works all the time. It was so easy to placate Ross. All’s well with the world again. It only takes a promise to a little boy. How she wished that life’s problems would always have simple solutions like that.

She had to pass by the office en route to the airport. There were important papers that she had to bring with her. The personnel files of the directors were needed for the discussion on possible reassignments and the proposal which she worked on for three days and two nights. This was a proposal on the restructuring of the organizational hierarchies and their functional interactions. She would be proposing a matrix organization wherein the practice of multi tasking even at the level of directors would be possible. It would be a paradigm shift in management thinking. Although this has been bruited about in theoretical papers by management pundits all over the world never has there been a model that flew. What was key to her proposed organizational set up was an attitude change. There has to be a buy-in on this concept by the directors would be necessary to make it work, then, followed by a subsequent step down inculcation of the new thinking to the lower echelons. She had already planned out a series of seminars cum team building exercises that would ensure full understanding and owning of the concept by the directors. A breaking down of divisional walls and the doing away with parochial objectives…think total corporate was the buzz word of the proposed new order.

She has had some encouragement from the Director of Client Services. She used him as a sounding board for her ideas. They have often discussed this during off hours or at any that opportunity they could. It was something that did not escape the eyes and ears of the other directors and senior managers. Some of them were quick to ascribe other meanings to these perhaps out of professional jealousy or outright nastiness. Anything to bring down a hard trying co-equal in the organization.

At first the animosity was outwardly displayed but as she made progress in her work and was now being looked at as a possible heir to the headship of the Philippine unit which would be vacated by the retiring incumbent by year end, the open hostility had began to hide in whispers, impersonal opinions, constructive criticisms and anonymous quotes.

A month ago her asking for the personnel files of the senior officers of the company for her to take to a meeting with the region’s head was ostensibly made known. On her instruction, Marla, her secretary, dropped the information on a few known office tattlers and the grapevine shook to its roots. She wanted to impress on them that much of their future may now lie in her hands. It may not have won her love but it did buy her their silence. In a few days after planting the rumor, a few have shown early signs of fawning, toadying and brown nosing.

“Please be a sweetheart and call me a cab. I’ll just go to the toilet and will be on my way.” She was quite nice to her secretary who hastily phoned up the security guard at reception to hail a cab.

Seated at the bowl she noticed some hardly legible scribbling on the panel. Graffiti on toilet cubicles are hard to ignore since one is a virtual captive audience unless you had with you some reading material or a crossword puzzle. She looked closely and the sharp angular block letters became recognizable.

It read “M R corporate whore”
Then another “Marisse, Board Room bitch”
Immediately below it “Sucking dicks pays!”

The messages seemed newly etched. This was the first time that she has seen them, in fact this was the first time that she had encountered graffiti in ladies’ toilets.

She wanted to be hysterical but she took control of her rage and her poise prevailed. This was so unfair to her but only she, alone, knew that this were all false accusations. Never in her life had she used sexual favors for gain.

“So this is the level it has gone to. Fuck you all. I don’t give a shit about what you think” She muttered to herself.

Hurriedly zipping up her skirt and not caring whether it was skewed or not she went out of the cubicle and gave the door a hefty slam. The girls in the toilet who were primping themselves in front of the mirror turned their heads at the crashing sound and seeing it was her lowered their gaze making furtive glances at the mirror as the reflected blur whirred out of sight.

At the airport she breezed through the ticket counter. Thanks to her frequent traveler status she now had a platinum card, the extended and preferential services of which are most appreciated by the harried traveler.

Used to seeing plush airports in other Asian cities she has never gotten used to the embarrassing mess that our international airport is. To save her the agony of waiting in uncomfortable and ill maintained lounge seats along the duty free shops she went directly to the pre-departure area and being one of the earliest there deposited herself in what she felt was a choice place, a place near the counter prior to the entrance fingers.

From her big traveling bag she fished out a paperback. She’s had the book for two weeks now and couldn’t seem to finish reading it because of the hectic weeks previous. The book was on cross-cultural management. She was still agitated by the incident in the office toilet and could not crowd out the hateful thoughts that were evoked by it. The book was placed back into the bag as she fidgeted and played with departure card. The ground stewardess seemed aware of her impatience and signaled her to approach the counter for her to get through ahead of the others.

Easing her body into the comfort of the business class seat she acceded to the offer of an over solicitous flight stewardess to bring a cold glass of fresh orange juice. It was not a full flight and she had the luxury of not having anyone seated beside her. The adrenalin burst that agitated her from the time she left the office had decelerated and she was feeling much more composed now.

Her mind was racing now. The past week’s events were flashing through her mind like a slide show. She would freeze and review events then back track to another much like a state of the art laptop that allowed visuals and thoughts to be compared pair wise, in threes, in simultaneous equations at mind boggling permutations allowing her to rationalize and conclude only on givens. Emotionless, shameless and uncaring like an infernal machine.

Whether the people who wrote the offensive graffiti really believed that she whored her way in to board room or not didn’t matter now. She knew that all these will stop once she gets enshrined into the Managing Director’s post. They won’t be saying it to her face but for most of them she would always be the corporate whore and there is no way she could argue it for it will never be mentioned to her face. From then on all the faces that will greet here would have the same hypocritical tinge, as phony as a Cheshire cat’s or that of Mona Lisa’s. The poor wretched devils will probably never move on from where they are now because of their pettiness and the way they negatively react to other peoples’ accomplishments and advancements. Let them stew in their potful of bile. She felt that she should be gentle with those who will be useful to her when the time comes. As for the rest, they will be getting their just deserts.

She slept throughout the entire trip. A gentle pat on her shoulders from the stewardess woke her up when the plane landed at the Chep Lok airport.

The morning’s meeting took place in one of the smaller function rooms. Just a little less than a dozen people were attending since the audience was made up of the regional directors and one director representing the central office. The first item that was tabled for the morning was the presentation of her proposal on organizational structures.

One by one the directors streamed into the meeting room. Most of them would have a cup of coffee taken from the buffet breakfast table just outside the meeting room. Having a cup of coffee on the way to a meeting was considered good form as it signals the person’s desire to get things going as soon as possible. A sense of urgency and an impatience for slowness, every good executive must have that trait.

The regional head stood at the podium and welcomed everyone to the meeting. He briefly went through the order of activities for the day.

“Okay guys we don’t have all day. But before we start with the first presentation of the day let me just make an important announcement. I have the pleasure of announcing the promotion of Marisse to Managing Director of the Philippine company to replace Mr. Rohner who would retire and wouldbe leaving us by year end I am enjoining everyone to welcome her into our group despite the fact that she is a just a girl. We do expect that she would become a man as we progress. A big round of applause please.”

As the clapping subsided he raised both hands seemingly pleased with his clever introduction and as if to say enough of that.

“Now that we have done that let’s proceed without much delay. So sweetie the audience is now yours”

Visibly stung by the chauvinist introduction and the reference to her as some floozy, her head turned in a haughty way as she normally would when piqued.

“Thank you very much for the promotion and the accolade, but I think the old boy’s club must get used to having a woman among boys, and sir, I would thank you more if you introduced me as Marisse or as Mrs. Ramos and not as sweetie.”

She didn’t win any brownie points for starters but the feeling was glorious and magnificent.