Life at Up Up and Away Investment Management International: (A serialized novel by Robert K. Stephen)

Chapter 3

Back from vacation under the control of Felicity Poker

It was a beautiful July day in Toronto and I could see the harbour below with the sun shimmering off the placid waters of Lake Ontario. Beautiful puff clouds switched the sun off and on like some psychedelic light show. Terribly refreshed I felt or so I thought I was for the first couple of hours after returning to work from a two-week Euro vacation.

One of the advantages of working in a high rise in Toronto is that if you were proximate enough to Lake Ontario and with the necessary altitude you benefitted from a spectacular view. And if you were high up in the CRAP hierarchy like the Senior Management Team (SMT) in the executive suites you also benefitted from a spectacular if not a highly obscene salary. How does it feel when these lucky SMT members earn more in a year than I would make in my entire career? Jealous you might say? Rational and insightful?

Although I was high enough to enjoy a wonderful view I was not high enough to be greedily gobbling at the shareholder’s through of course that being thoroughly justified by an” objective” team of external employee benefit consultants retained by CRAP (and countless other largecorps) legitimizing enormous compensation packages for the SMT that were “what was required to recruit and retain top talent” and “in accordance with industry standards”. Having an employee benefits firm review and “justify” executive compensation was like having a fox in the chicken coop!

I remembered reading a New York Times article many years ago explaining the enormous differentials of salary for the ordinary office worker to that of a CEO. At one point a CEO in the United States in the 1950’s was making ten times what the average office worker was making. Now it was hundreds of times greater salary. Each year the spread between the “ordinary worker” and SMT was widening. There was no Robin Hood in sight but there were plenty of Sherriff’s of Nottingham supporting King John!

In Canada for 2016 a study which was released in 2018 by The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives the differential between the highest paid CEO’s at 100 Toronto Stock Exchange listed companies in 2016 was more than 209 times that of the average worker.  The average compensation for those CEO’s in 2016 rose 8% as opposed to 0.5% for the average worker.

I am not a bitter person but the facts of my working existence were beginning to annoy me. Here I was as a lawyer for CRAP for the past nine years yet unionized workers for General Motors in Oshawa or for Chrysler in Windsor were making the same as me with a bit of overtime tacked on plus an indexed defined benefit pension plan. Unlike the SMT in the executive suites I had no parking spot. No health club. No access to “executive medical care”. No free home computer and a stock purchase plan that had decreased to extinction exponentially to the dramatic rise in share option plans for the SMT. Furthermore, SMT members had a top up pension arrangement. The SMT up in the executive suite were making out like bandits. I was really beginning to feel like one of those poor Mexican villagers in a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western.

I was finally realizing that despite the exhortations of CRAP’s Human Resources Department about how well I was taken care of the SMT was not being taken care of by anyone. They were taking care of themselves in a grand fashion. It was saddening to see CRAP’s SMT loot the corporate coffers. Of course, the self justification, as mentioned above, was that it was what was needed to attract and retain “top talent”. This was all somewhat like the Newark Riot looters comparing themselves to the Detroit Riot looters.

Those not fortunate enough to be in the anointed SMT crowd will most likely be the readers of this book. For what will follow will grill the hypocrisy and greed of the SMT that may reign over you in your largecorp. You may have been suffering in silence or quietly gossiping in trusted groups about how much you are getting exploited. However, you are smart enough to realize criticism of largecorp governance and greed of its SMT will get you terminated because you are “not a team player”. It is akin to criticizing dictatorial leadership where instead of execution you will be terminated from your position. Like me for so many years I suppose get the shit piled up all over you, smile and take that paycheque because you must survive.

Today those on the SMT in the executive suites are the 1% and you and I are often part of the marginalized 99% working in well lit and poorly ventilated conditions. We office workers are the coal mining children of “The Affluent Society” a term coined by Canadian economist John Kenneth Galbraith in the 1960’s.

As you can see I am attempting to be a clever writer trying to garner your sympathy, so you’ll continue to turn the pages. By now I hope you are saying this guy is making sense. I understand what he is saying.

Nothing like a good vacation and a tremendous view to lull you away from the daily grind of making a living. I quickly realized this daydreaming was not a particularly good strategy with a rumoured takeover of CRAP’s institutional insurance business.

It was all rushing back to me. Being honest with myself that the vacation had been great but I was still bone-tired? Of course, I could play the game for awhile, but mental and physical fatigue was gripping me. I had been putting long hours in, was cranky and snappy at home, becoming increasingly stressed and was becoming so extremely sick and tired of listening to the doublespeak and reengineering jargon that said all hail to the joys of market strength and repositioning to become more competitive.

Quite frankly in addition to feeling like a poor Mexican villager I was feeling like some member of the “Outer Party” in George Orwell’s novel “1984” compelled to listen to endless propaganda and doublespeak announcements spewing from the telescreen without any benefit of “Victory Gin”. Are you sensing a rapidly deteriorating mood? Good for you. You are right.

I have told you that I had been transferred into the Legal Department under a reporting relationship to Felicity Poker the new General Counsel of CRAP. A good looking corporate commercial lawyer recently brought into CRAP by the SMT as she had been, within the confines of a top Calgary law firm, Ooze & Ooze, doing work for Bleedco which was the holding company owning CRAP.

From the little I had seen of Poker she knew how to play the game well in her big Ooze & Ooze law firm. She racked up huge hours billing Bleedco and that really was the core of her life. Billable hours and money. No man would dare approach her as she had no time for them. Even her beloved dog Tennyson was in boarding most of the time due to the late-night deals she was pulling down for Bleedco.

She was a two-faced double dealer like most of her SMT masters at CRAP.I rather think the CRAP SMT was frightened of her thinking she might be a spy for Bleedco. She had fantastic interpersonal skills with those at the top but total indifference if not haughty superiority to the minions that eventually fell under her control in CRAP’s Legal Department.

I remember attending a cocktail party hosted by Ooze & Ooze for Poker when she had been appointed as General Counsel for CRAP. Her law firm colleagues gushed that she was “the heart and soul” of their corporate commercial department. If this were true such a nasty, two-faced SMT lackey lacking a heart being the heart and soul of Ooze & Ooze’s corporate commercial department made we terrified of what a monstrous soul sucking and dangerous organization a law firm could become! My God this “heart and soul” compliment was like Charles Manson complimenting Ted Bundy! And here I was under the control of Felicity Poker.

I had noticed prior to my vacation Felicity Poker had been ignoring me more than what was reflected in her usual distaste of “inferiors”. Where her superiors were concerned, it was all charm if not flirtatiousness. As far as she was concerned everyone in her department were all lowlifes and failures as they were in-house counsel as opposed to lawyers in the big law firm like she used to be in. Her door was closed, her mind was closed and there was not an inkling of heart and soul except for the SMT in the executive suites. She started hiring a few more lawyers from guess where…Ooze & Ooze!

I was not particularly in the mood of meeting with her every Wednesday to discuss what I was working on. Instead of constructive and helpful dialogue it felt like I was always on the defensive. This was the era where large corporations were raiding their pension plans to scoop up “pension fund surplus” and trying to recoup expense monies they had paid to the recordkeepers of their pension funds, like CRAP. These large corporations were the bread and butter of Felicity Poker and to say no to them was equivalent to slapping the faces of her old masters.

I will not bore you with the legal technicalities of a pension plan sponsor scooping up pension fund expenses. I will tell you this was at the time a particularly complicated area of the law and fraught with legal and reputational risk. It was a minefield for CRAP to repay any expenses to a sponsor of a pension fund. I was the legal gatekeeper to ensure those poor working stiffs in the pension plan were protected in accordance with the law and court rulings and to prevent CRAP from being hauled into court for improperly repaying to the employer sponsoring the pension plan pension fund expenses the employer had paid into the pension fund. Poker was becoming increasingly frustrated with my negative responses to senior executives of some of her ex-clients and their lawyers who demanded repayment of their pension fund expenses. Wow talk about a rampant conflict of interest on the part of Felicity Poker! The lawyers I dealt with on this topic were aggressive and belligerent feigning ignorance of the evolving law in this area. Usually I get along with my legal brethren but with these refund of pension expenses I saw the nasty side of the big firm lawyers. Quite frankly willful blindness to the law trying to bluff me out of millions.

I had told you in the previous chapter about my meeting with Brian Cochon, Poker’s former partner at Ooze & Ooze in Calgary. You may recall that Cochon was representing a huge oil producer corporation wanting its pension fund expenses repaid to it by CRAP from the pension fund. When I said I had problems with handing over the pension fund expenses due to the current state of the law he replied, “If you don’t pay out that expense I’ll have you terminated.” Now presuming good faith on the part of Cochon I thought he meant CRAP would be terminated as pension fund recordkeeper if it failed to pay the expenses to his client. It took only a few weeks to realize that “you” meant Tony Hornet and not CRAP!

I should add that I was a new addition to Poker’s legal department. I had been a lawyer for some 10 years with CRAP but acting within a business unit which had a dim view of the Legal Department as always putting roadblocks up to it. It was perceived by the business unit that the Legal Department was far removed from the actual client front lines while when I was within the business unit I was right up there with the business unit trying to devise win-win situations.

Felicity Poker was but a product of her time moulded by the big law firm mentality where customer service often focused on restraining the arrogance and pomposity of their high paid lawyers who were retained for their technical excellence and even more important their billing abilities and not for their inter-personal skills and true value-added services. Their lawyers were also coal mining children except they were very highly paid and they were mining billable hours and not coal.

I thought if I gave her some Italian coffee I purchased on my vacation she might at least say thank you. Why at Christmas time Felicity Poker had opened her steel vaulted heart and given all her minions a Tim Horton’s coffee coaster! Perhaps my nice little package of coffee might soften her heart? She had even installed a coffee machine in our cafeteria which was rather an old law firm trick of providing all manner of refreshment and even meals to keep staff at their desk instead of wasting precious time by grabbing a coffee downstairs at the many coffee shops in their office towers.

My demise was shortly at hand. The Blessed Event was at hand!

Published by Robert K Sephen (CSW)

Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden and the University of Toronto. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he has established this publication. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."

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