“That went really well!”
“Thank you, Andy.” She hesitated. “Are you taking the piss?”
“No. I’m serious!”
She looked hard at him, trying to find irony in his expression, but that wasn’t normally Andy’s way. “I wasn’t sure when Peter asked me if he genuinely wanted me to lead the session, or whether he just thought I’d been too quiet in my first two Gatherings.” She’d known about the half-yearly Gatherings before joining the Group, just Peter and the twenty-seven business heads. Two had joined since her start-up, both Chinese who made a real attempt to integrate themselves and attracted a lot of attention from the established members. A lot had also spoken to her, but she would admit to using Andy and Sandy Nicholls as her chosen society and had perhaps done too little active networking herself.
“Come on! You know he thinks what you do is important to them all, he’s got you five clients already.”
“Six,” she corrected him.
“Whatever,” he said, smiling. “I know he thinks more of the guys here should be working with you.”
“And they want to. I think I’m the bottleneck. Two more of them have spoken to me in these two days and asked for some time. They’d be new clients, but it’s hard to get round them all.”
“You couldn’t send your other guys?”
“I suppose I’ll stay small time if I don’t start doing that here. I do it in Europe; I let Alan look at new business opportunities now. I don’t think you know him, he was the first guy I took on. But in the Gathering here, the guys are all Dickinson Group and I don’t think Peter would be impressed if I didn’t look at each one personally. But how are you doing? How’s Tania working out?”
“Everybody loves her, especially Eddie. Well, a couple of the VPs maybe not so much. She’s inclined to tell them directly when she thinks they’re not being supportive enough,” he said with a laugh. “She’s very refreshing. How long do you have her for?”
“Her father asked if she could do three years with me, then he’ll want her back at Giddings, but he might have a problem with that. I think she enjoys living in New York — and the businesses she works with all adore her.”
“Hey, did you know she’d studied in Japan?”
“Now you say it, I think I did. It was a year of her degree, wasn’t it? Why?”
“It came up the other day. We’re getting more problems with a Japanese competitor and we had some of their products and literature lying around. She poked her nose in, like she does.” He was smiling, he plainly approved. “She read a bit of the text. I was blown away. She gave us a little impromptu talk on Japan.”
“It’s a niggle, at least.” He mulled that over a moment. “Well, it’s more than that, if I’m honest. They got a foothold here when we weren’t doing so well. You’ll remember that those were the problems you identified.”
“Well, Eddie was on the same page already.”
“Yes, but you gave us the way of getting everyone together and focused on the right things but the Japs, well their US distributors anyway, had already spotted the weakness. Now they compete on service and on price and some of our customers are saying that the quality is as good. That’s crap, of course, but it is telling us what’s important to them.”
“What are you going to do?
“Good question. I was going to talk to you about that.”
“Me? I don’t know anything about Japan.”
“I’d guessed that. Tania’s the only person I know who does. Can I get some more of her time?”
“Andy! She’s stretched with our new business — and she was only in Japan as a student. Surely Peter has some connections.”
“I’m talking to him later. I’ll need to try a few angles, but I just want someone to talk to who I can trust, it would be a big help.”
Claudia was torn. She’d been delighted when Arthur had called her the previous year with his proposition. The programme had started really well at Giddings and Tania, with Marybeth, had been instrumental in that, but longer term he hoped that Tania would run the place, so he wanted her to see more of other businesses to broaden her outlook. He thought Brodie Associates would be ideal. Claudia agreed instantly. She rated Tania very highly and needed more people for the US, where they were picking up more business.
“I don’t like saying no — and you certainly never like hearing it — but I should do on this.” She was getting Andy’s puppy dog look. “Listen, I don’t mind if you talk to her, but let me talk to her first. I can see why she might be interested, she’s trying to get the broadest possible business education, but she gets so committed to things that she’s a danger to herself. She’s working over sixty hours every week as it is, not including a big travel load. I’m trying to look after her but if I say no, I’m probably not being fair to her or Arthur.”
“Oh, you can go fuck yourself!” They laughed loudly.
“You two having fun?” Peter was walking past. “Oh, Claudia, that was splendid earlier on, by the way, thank you very much. It was important, but I think you thought I was doing it just to give you a higher profile, didn’t you?” Andy and Claudia looked at each other, smiling. “But what’s funny?”
“Being told to go fuck myself is funny, especially when I’m a client.” They all smiled. “But now I’ve got you for a moment, I might need some help with Japan, that’s what we were talking about.”
“Is this Nakamura?” Andy nodded. “I wondered when you were going to ask.”