Paris in May
D. A. Grey
Copyright © 2020 D. A. Grey
All rights reserved First Edition
Fulton Books, Inc. Meadville, PA
To my grandchildren
ISBN 978-1-64654-049-5 (paperback) ISBN 978-1-64654-050-1 (digital)
Printed in the United States of America
Published by Fulton Books 2020
Looking out of his expansive office window on a bright September afternoon Dr. Philip Hickman, who had been recently appointed and now sat in the CEO’s chair, was determined to succeed in the position. His drive was no different than it had always been. As early as junior high school, it was clear to all that he was a motivated achiever. Even then, he always tried to put himself in leadership positions. Always impeccably dressed and conscious of how he was perceived socially, Philip wanted to lead and make money. Not only did he sell candy and cigarettes out of his locker, he also held down an after-school job and participated in student government, all the while concentrating in the sciences. In high school and college, his primary focus was course work with an extracurricular involvement in choir. With that laser focus, he ultimately graduated near the top of his class. There was hardly any time to socialize with girls. One of the few exceptions was his junior and senior prom where he took very attractive dates. At his senior prom, he and his date were voted King and Queen of the affair. He was too smart to be needled or harassed by the guys because he always found a way to turn their wisecracks back on them. He knew how to play their macho games without spending too much time with them or becoming one of them. A few suspected his sexuality, but if he got wind of the talk, he would always show up with a girl on his arm to defuse the suspicions.
At five feet, nine inches tall with a muscular build, black semi- curly hair, and a face like a model, he seemed to control every aspect of his life’s trajectory into his career. Now he was in control of the Tremont Pharmaceutical Company and determined to help make it grow.
How to best approach new offshore business potential was much on his mind. South America, the Pacific Rim, and a few countries in the Middle East were all moving toward allowing the Tremont Pharmaceutical Company to sell its products in markets that had previously shut them out. However, building a viable business in every location simultaneously was not possible. A limited number of markets had to be chosen so products could be successfully matched to the demographics of each region and the countries within it. At 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, Hickman, as chairman, called the executive committee together to hear the present state of the pharmaceutical markets within a given global region. Every member was present and ready to hear what had been uncovered since the last monthly meeting. Dr. Hickman called the meeting to order at 9:30 a.m., which gave the membership a few minutes to greet each other and chat a little.
“Jeff, what do you have on the Pacific Rim?” Jeff was Jeffery Huggins, a hyperarticulate wordsmith with a seamless delivery and an aptitude for language. A natty dresser with a head full of unruly brown hair, he was a model of corporate elegance. Managing and representing competent people was his strength. Jeff and Philip Hickman were both food and wine connoisseurs who like to ply high-level government officials and leading-edge research scientists. Jeff had been with the company ten years and developed the reputation as a no-nonsense politico who, during years of government service, had learned to speak four Asian languages and cultivate lasting relationships among the powerful players, and even some shady characters in and out of public service around the world. Even though he had been asked numerous times to run for public office, he disliked being restricted by regulations and he liked the flow of money he always had access to.
“As you all are aware, China has the largest market, but that market is saturated. Spending time and money there might be a waste of time. I think we will find our greatest success in a stable, unsaturated location. Of the four next most populous countries, the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia have or might have political difficulties that could significantly change the ease of doing business. Each has potential and needs to be watched. My people will keep me informed of any and all changes. Of the four, only Vietnam is worth serious attention at the moment and for the foreseeable future. So why should Vietnam be considered the best place to do business in the region? First, it has a stable government and wants business growth. Second, it has a governmental goal for universal healthcare. Healthcare rolls will explode shortly, and so will the need for pharma. Third, forty percent of the population still has no form of public health care. So even if the goal of universal health care doesn’t happen, the market will remain large. Fourth, because the sanitation infrastructure has greatly improved in the last twenty years, there has been a significant increase in life expectancy. Fifth and last is the very low corporate tax rate of nine percent. Taken together, it’s my considered opinion that Vietnam is the place for us.”
“Thank you, Jeff. You’ve given us much to consider. We hope to receive your formal report soon. Well, Jeff has set the bar fairly high,” Philip said jokingly. “What do we have from South America?”
“Those government types always seem to talk a lot, and if you let them impress you, they will. I come from the world of science, and most often we tend to get it right. A bar should be set by the accuracy of the data and not by political intrigue,” said Wayne Moore with a smile, aiming his comment toward the chairman and his good friend and colleague, Jeffery Huggins.
“So let’s see what we have from South America?” Dr. Moore continued. Wayne Moore was unusual for a corporate executive committee. His physical carriage did not fit the corporate boardroom stereotype. Tall with unusually long arms and legs, Dr. Moore ambulated like the joints that held him together were all moving in different directions, causing onlookers to think that at any moment, he might collapse into a heap on the floor. He smiled all the time. Some suggested he even smiled in his sleep. He had a pleasant word for everyone, and staff throughout his building loved his temperament. Though he never appeared serious or intense, he had an unusually sharp mind and held PhDs in Biochemistry and Pharmacology from Princeton and Harvard. A research record that would make most scientists blush brought him profound respect and praise. There was never a question of whether or not he should hold his position on the executive committee. Wayne was first a scientist who always followed the data and second an administrator whose job it was to help make things better.
“Of the most populous South American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela, the largest economy by far is Brazil. Its population is about half that of the United States. I think it is extremely attractive for a number of reasons, the first being intellectual property rights, which happen to be very weak. Some active pharmacological compounds could be rebranded and marketed on our terms. Conceivably, we could become competitive in numerous niches without a new product. Second is the fact that Brazil is an attractive country for research and development. Quality studies can be done because of the high enrollment rates in drug trials. Labor costs are low, allowing for much larger sample sizes and less dependency on statistical manipulation, giving us a much clearer picture of what effect a product is really having, and even though participation rates in product studies are much higher, clinical trials can be carried out with fewer regulations. All of this would make the time between development, efficacy studies, and manufacture much shorter. Additionally, because labor costs and corporate taxes are much lower, manufacturing costs would be cut in half. Everything about Brazil is attractive. And that, Mr. Chairman, is all I have, but more details will be forthcoming.”
“What is the current status of the antidepressant Lopresid?” asked Philip Hickman.
“The case of Lopresid is a difficult one. It has been on the market four years, and in that short time, we have recouped our costs. All sales after February will be profit. In its remaining years as a proprietary drug, we will make significant profits. On the other hand, we continue to get credible warnings that the drug has been associated with unacceptable numbers of suicides and unexplained deaths more often than chance would predict. I predict the warnings will soon turn into bad press. That we don’t want. Some data suggest the people adversely affected were not taking the prescribed dosages of Lopresid or were taking the medication inappropriately. I think we need to get ahead of this now. We need better research from the field, including reevaluating dosages and patient protocols to understand variables that affect its efficacy. Or we can take it off the market until we get a better handle on what’s going on. My tentative recommendation would be to take it off the market temporarily and rebrand it after we get the pharmacology worked out. Either way, I could use some help with the blowback. We need communications to start work on effectively interfacing with the public and the media now.”
“I trust that we will all receive a written report soon,” said Philip Hickman.
“And now, what’s happening in the Middle East, Dr. Abadi?” Amal Abadi was the only female and the only medical doctor on the executive committee. With black hair and average height, she never covered herself as she would in Iran. Her father had cornered the bicycle market during the Shah’s regime in Iran, and she had attended elite English-speaking schools in Britain and the United States. When she spoke, elements of her various cultural experiences were clear. Growing up in a male-dominated Iran, she took on the tone of her male relatives, who told her what to do and when to do it. Consequently her speech was clipped and directive with a slight air of certainty. Additionally, the few formative years spent in English boarding schools left her with a multitude of British idioms listeners often thought cute or exotic. Her American experience pushed her in the direction of practicality, efficiency, and a barely detectable self-serving arrogance. The uninformed listener almost always intuited that she was a person of some influence or importance. When the revolution came, she was enrolled at Radcliffe and later attended Emory University for medical school before a three-year postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Health. Recruited from the NIH, Dr. Abadi had risen through the Tremont Pharmaceutical ranks and for the last two years served on its executive committee. “We all know, of course, that the watchword in the Middle East is stability, and to that extent, the most stable, most populous, and most promising country for Tremont is Saudi Arabia. It has the largest pharma market in the region and a growing population. In the last twenty years, the Saudis have experienced tremendous economic and industrial growth spurts. Simultaneous with that growth has been a dramatic increase in incidences of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and a host of ancillary medical problems. The government has made health care a high priority. I think Tremont could provide solutions for these burgeoning disorders.”
“Thank you, Dr. Amal. I’m sure the Saudis will be happy to meet with us to discuss how we might be of some help.”
“Is there new business that needs to be discussed at this meeting?” Philip paused and looked around the table. “If not, those of you who have updates on existing markets and need to meet with me should schedule meetings with my secretary, Rosemary. Those with emerging market concerns should ready reports for the entire executive committee as soon as possible. Thank you for your time. I know you’re all terribly busy.” And with that, the meeting was concluded. Philip Hickman went back to his office and filled the rest of the morning making calls to various strategic decision makers. The negotiations for potential partnerships were soon to begin. Three countries would be approached to see how the relationships could be mutually beneficial to the company and to the people of the host countries. He was about to embark on the most intense and demanding expansion effort of his already successful career in business. It would also cause hardship for his wife and children, as he would need to travel the world regularly. Nonetheless, the lure of establishing himself as a world-class business magnate was irresistible. His family would have to sacrifice in the short term for long-term security and comfort.
“Pardon me, boss,” said his secretary as she opened his office door. “Your two o’clock has arrived.”
Philip straightened his tie, put on his “captain of industry” face, and invited representatives from the National Security Apparatus into his office.
“This is Special Agent McKay, and I am Special Agent Sanchez.” The agents each shook Philip’s hand.
Philip immediately noticed little things about the two men that sent his mind racing. There was no time to dwell on the differences, but his eyes landed on the surface attributes like the surface tension of water causes a drop to rest on an absorbent material before it is drawn in. Sanchez had thick black stylishly cut hair on a frame of maybe five feet and ten inches. An average build with a dark suit tailored large enough to conceal a pistol made him look like a white-collar professional. When he spoke, he sounded as if he had spent time at boarding school and with deliberate, controlled decision makers. He was clearly not a field operative.
McKay struck a different impression. A ruddy Irish redhead with an athletic build and a suit that looked slightly rumpled, like he had worn it several times since the last cleaning, McKay had hands like a blue-collar hard hat. He clearly had not spent much time honing a polished look and was quite comfortable being who he was—a tough guy who was no stranger to using intimidation.
Phillip thought, The two were there to send a signal. Good cop-bad cop. ‘We can do it easy or we can do it the hard way’ was the message.
“Thank you for meeting with us,” said Sanchez. There was a short-lived attempt at small talk to establish camaraderie, but they soon got down to the purpose of their visit.
“It’s no secret to us that you are planning to extend your business into other parts of the world,” said Sanchez.
“We think we can help in ways that you might appreciate,” continued Sanchez. “We have assets in places that could help business negotiations move more smoothly than they otherwise might. I’m sure we could help you save considerable time and money.”
McKay leaned almost imperceptibly toward Phillip and said in a slightly hushed but assuring tone, as if he wanted to say something that he wanted to keep secret. “We know people in a number of countries who can ease the cost and difficulty of doing business.” He then gave Phillip a knowing wink and smile.
Sanchez picked up the thread. “You will be going places and talking to people that we might not have access to. Some are actors who want to talk to us but can’t for fear of reprisal. Others are people willing to work for our security efforts but who need a communications conduit.”
“This would be a quid pro quo, Mr. Hickman. And it would be more than beneficial for you, with very little effort required on your part. It would also give you the opportunity to talk to important business operatives working on the world stage whose interests are similar to ours,” said McKay.
Agent McKay then made a quick search of his pockets, eventually reaching into his sagging jacket pocket, and retrieved a plain white business card with only a phone number. “If you are interested in talking further, call this number and someone will be in touch with you. Interested or not, this meeting did not happen, and no part of what has been said should be shared with a single person. The NSA will completely disavow ever talking to you. Do you understand, Mr. Hickman?”
Although Philip Hickman had never been approached by the Feds in the past, he knew intuitively that what was being offered was a chance at success that might allow him to avoid the time-consuming drudgery of normal business negotiations. All he had to do was carry information back to his government from areas of the world where he was doing business. It seemed to him to be quite patriotic, and it also played into the fantasy that most men have: that of being a spy. How could he refuse the offer? It could possibly put him and the company on the front page of Business Week.
“I have one question,” said Philip, “Would my family ever need to be protected?”
Sanchez looked at him as if surprised and said, “Yes, but I can’t imagine the need would ever arise. What we are asking you is not a page torn from a John Le Carré novel. This is not the movies, Mr. Hickman. It’s more like sharing gossip before the newspapers get it. Some of that gossip could bolster the strength and stability of our government. However, if there is even the smallest possibility of a threat to you or your family during or after an association with us, your family will be protected at all costs. The NSA always stands ready to protect real patriots.”
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Hickman,” McKay said. Good luck with your company.
“I hope we will be hearing from you,” Sanchez said.
As the men left, Philip leaned back in his chair in disbelief and contemplated the number on the white card. Having the government function as a shadow partner during negotiations with the target markets would be a great asset. It might even open interesting cultural doors that would allow him to play in the same places as international political and financial elites.