The Cambridge Connection Chapters 3 – 4

Charles Adapts to a New Life Chapter 3

Settling into his new job in London proved to be a more difficult experience than Charles had anticipated. It had been an adjustment coming from his laid-back South Africa upbringing to Cambridge but now he had to admit that Cambridge with all its academic busyness was a far cry from the hustle and bustle of London life. Riding the transportation system with morning and evening commuters was an experience. Most were buried in newspapers and uncommunicative if they were fortunate to have a seat and the standing commuters stared into the distance seeming to be almost in another world as they automatically entered and exited. You could always guess who the tourists were as they chattered away between entry and exit stops.

His office experience was quite different to Cambridge too. There was of course thorough professionalism in necessary client contacts and the regimented smiles and courtesy in dealing with them but while the salary package and perks were impressive Charles while playing the expected role never felt comfortable in his job. He had no intention to seek other employment though as his increasing bank balance was the glue to keep him in the firm’s orbit. The mindless cocktail parties where wealthy clients were oft to be found were the preserve of the senior partners, but now and then those partners delegated him some of those social responsibilities to test his future value to the firm and while Charles hated it his professionalism convinced many to place their business with the Chartered Accountant Firm and partners were delighted with rewards following, which Charles gratefully received. But he hated those assignments preferring to be home and sharing many evenings with his new friends the Gordons at the local pub or playing board games or watching a show together.

But while that friendship grew Charles noticed that as Taniyah continued to grow with child there was a slow coldness growing between Omirio and his wife and occasionally he caught her wiping tears from her eyes when she imagined no one was looking. He always pretended not to notice as he enjoyed the company of both and wanted to stay out of their interpersonal problems.

Charles was on the phone at his office one day when his secretary entered and passed him a note which he read quickly while continuing his conversation with a client. He was wanted in the senior partner’s office. So, he quickly bought the conversation to a conclusion and headed for the senior’s office. The Senior’s secretary pointed him to the large interview room, and he entered to see a group in conversation with the Senior. They all turned as he entered, and it was indicated he should sit as a chair was vacated beside the senior for him to do so.

“This is Charles Nelson who has a lot of experience in the area we are discussing and as I’m going to have him do all the footwork on this project, he will be joining our meetings in future.”

There was an animated chatter of welcome from the group and Charles smiled in acknowledgement as he detected American accents. The firm had several North American clients.

The Senior gave a quick summary of the issues raised by this obviously new client and Charles nodded having dealt with many similar projects in the past as foreign clients sought out opportunities in the UK market. Sometimes they were predators who bought and sold companies and sometimes they were companies genuinely seeing a foothold in this country but needed local professionals to guide them through the legal, professional and tax issues setting up business. He felt confident he could handle any of those issues. Charles studied each face as the Senior Partner continued and his personal assistant made notes. He became aware of someone staring at him from the left close to him and his peripheral vision took in that person. It was a woman about his age he judged, and she seemed to have a lot to say so he turned to look at her as she spoke. Her eyes bored into him as he turned to face her, and she flashed a smile. He quickly turned and saw the men around the table trying not to laugh. Why had they done that? He suddenly felt insecure and wished the Senior had not chosen him for this job.

The Senior very quick to size up clients had caught the interaction and smiled. “Let me introduce you all to Charles.” He started from his right and gave the name and position in their company working his way around the group quickly. Then he paused as he introduced the woman to the left of Charles.

“Ms Jane Howlett is one of the Vice Presidents of the company charged with the responsibility of working as team leader as they work with us on this project. You will be working closely with her to get their project underway in the UK.” Charles watched the reaction of the men around the table and caught their smiles as he turned to welcome her formally. Something about this woman did not appeal to him at all but he was unable to put his finger on why he felt so threatened by her.

The Senior continued. “Charles you may have to reschedule some of the work with clients when you go back to your office and clear schedules to do an in-depth assessment of what will be required in time and resources when you meet with Ms Howlett tomorrow morning at 9am. When you’ve rescheduled appointments, you can then see me at 4pm and we’ll discuss what can be delegated to someone else while you work with this team for the rest of the week. After your appointment with Ms Howlett tomorrow you will see me, and I’ll decide if we are able to take them on as a client.”

There was a snort of disbelief from Ms Howlett. “In North America we hit the ground with our feet running so I’d like to have Mr Nelson to work on our project immediately. Time is money and we need to get back to New York and report to the President and other Vice Presidents and see if this proposal will be financially rewarding. Name your fee and we will pay it as you are recommended as the best and most experienced firm to deal with here. But we must start now!”

The Senior eyed Ms Howlett with good humour and smiled. “I fully understand your situation Ms Howlett, but we have equally big clients that need to be respected and serviced here and their needs have to be taken into account. If the matter is that urgent perhaps you should try another firm. I can recommend many excellent competitors to you and know they will give you excellent service.”

Charles looked around the table quickly and saw in each case a look of shock and disbelief. Whatever Ms Howlett wanted she got, and they’d never seen anyone stand up to her like this. All eyes were riveted on her, and she felt the pressure of a potential loss of face in front of her team. They had researched carefully, and this was the firm recommended to have their interests cared for successfully. She turned to the senior partner.

“Yes, I fully understand. Business is business and we need your firm’s expertise so will have to wait patiently but I wonder if it would be possible for Charles to spend the evening with me as I like to know the people I deal with intimately. He can show me a bit of London so I get a feel for this place we would like to do business in.” She turned to Charles and smiled winningly.

The Senior spoke. “Is that OK Charles?” Charles nodded, watching the group trying to control their mirth again. What was going on. There seemed to be a joke this team was aware of when this woman spoke.

Big Business Reality CheckChapter 4

During final discussions in the meeting Jane Howlett passed a note to Charles inquiring when he’d be able to meet her that evening at her hotel and she gave the hotel name where the delegation was staying and her room number and phone number. Charles wrote in response 7pm and returned his attention to the discussions in hand. He asked permission to be excused to commence rescheduling the days meetings and other meetings for the rest of the week and the senior nodded his approval. All watched him as he exited the room and fled to his office. He had a bad feeling about this new assignment. At 4pm he headed for the senior’s office to discuss clients who were too important to reschedule because of the sensitivity of negotiations in process on their behalf. The rest of the afternoon was spent assigning others to fill in while Charles was seconded to this potential new client project. At the end of that exhausting set of phone calls and orientation of the assignees Charles expressed his discomfort at working with this team from North America.

His mentor smiled. “Charles in business we can’t always choose who we do business with, but we can choose to be honest, firm and exercise business ethics. So, this will be a test for you. I think you have strong business ethics, and we must be careful about that dealing with this group. If there is any hint of disrespect for ethical business dealings or any hint of working outside of the legal system, I will refuse to take them on as clients. We don’t need their money but if they want to play within the rules, we will be very happy to take their money. If you’re going to make it to be one of our partners in future, you will have to deal with situations like this so please look on this as an opportunity to test yourself.”

Charles arrived at the hotel right on 7pm and was about to phone when he heard a voice behind him. “Good, its nice to know the person I’m going to work with values time.”

Charles spun around to see Jane Howlett heading his way and smiling. “I apologize for coming across as pushy today Charles. Hard work, long hours and jet lag don’t seem to help me but perhaps I can make it up to you this evening. The team and I will be entertaining you this evening at the restaurant. They are waiting in the private dining room and food has been ordered so relax while the team gets to know you. The meeting was quite relaxed and team members coaxed his history out of him little by little without Charles thinking anything of it. Jane Howlett listened silently storing his background to check for any details making her goals easier to achieve.

After dinner each in turn excused themselves until only Charles and Jane were left. She studied him carefully. “Perhaps it would be more comfortable in the lounge attached to my room upstairs?”

Alarm bells rang in Charles head as he needed to know more about this woman before taking up a potentially compromising position in a hotel room alone with her. He looked at his watch. “It’s late and I have to spend time at home working on some of the client business we had to reassign today so I’m going to be up all night if I don’t get home and work on it, and I need a clear head if I’m going to be useful to your team tomorrow.”

Jane Howlett nodded at the logic of it all. She had time to work on Charles at her leisure and perhaps she could try another night. She saw him to the door of the hotel as her team watched from the bar in surprise. Perhaps the mighty Ms Howlett had met her match at last. If she failed on this mission, they were interested to see how long her cosy relationship with the President would last. People used each other at that level and when one didn’t perform up to expectations they were quickly discarded.

Charles arrived at home and hearing noises from the Gordon apartment opposite decided to call in and see how things were going for them. He’d been too busy these past couple of days to visit with them by the time he got home and knowing time was advancing for Taniyah and the baby she needed her sleep, but it seems there was activity there this evening. When the door opened, he stepped back in surprise. A beautiful young woman invited him inside and Omario appeared behind her.

“Meet my sister Amoy from Jamaica!” The girl giggled and held out her hand.

“Hi, I’m Charles your neighbour.” He said shaking her hand. She continued to hold his hand rather than let go as Charles stood there in surprise. He looked at Omario helplessly and his friend roared with laughter. “I think my sister likes you, let him go Amoy.” She giggled and let go. Charles glanced at Taniyah who was looking on disapprovingly.

They sat and chatted for a while and Charles told them he had a heavy day next day so needed to get to sleep. Amoy held the door open for him and whispered as he left. “You can visit me anytime Mr Charles.” She and Omario laughed, and he pretended to slap her for her insolence. As Charles prepared for bed, he thought over the day activities and his apprehension at having to be the front man for the firm dealing with this new client. He particularly disliked the team leader Jean Howlett and was not looking forward to their visit next morning at 9am. Then there was this additional surprise as he’d visited with his immediate neighbours who he now looked on as his best friends. This sister of Omario did not present as cultured as his two friends and he wondered how a family could produce such different individuals. He’d never heard Omario or Taniyah talk about this sister. They’d poured out their growing up with siblings over time he’d know them, and he thought by this time in their conversations together this girl would have been mentioned. He hadn’t seen this girl in the picture of the family at the wedding in Cambridge so why was she not there on such an important family occasion?

He searched his cupboards and inventoried the food he’d hastily prepare for breakfast next day before leaving. Then putting out his professional clothes on a chair so he could dive into them quickly after showering next morning he decided on a shower before bed to try and erase his anxiety before attempting to sleep. Sometimes his brain would work on problems at work during the night and he’d wake up feeling unrested next day. He couldn’t afford to do that now as he’d need his wits about him tomorrow. This was the first time the senior partner had taken him into the inner sanctum as they were appraising a new potential client and he didn’t want to let this opportunity pass or disappoint his mentor. These were the routines he favoured as a bachelor and all he needed to do to ensure a good sleep was to set two alarms just to make sure he’d be up in time to catch the commuter rail to inner London.

To be continued.

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© Copyright 2021 Ian Grice, “ianscyberspace.” All rights reserved.

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