The Novel of Financial Deception
Enters Its Third Year Online
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Casing Wal-Mart
Miller Risk Advisors

Rigged Chapter 22



Ross M. Miller
Posted August 23, 2004

Roland drove for nearly a minute without saying a word. He turned onto a service road—the kind that leads to a cellular phone tower—and drove several hundred yards through the woods to an illuminated clearing. It had signs going from 50 yards out to 350 yards in 25-yard increments, a row of tee boxes, and some umbrella-topped tables with matching chairs. A maintenance shed and tractor were off to the side. A high fence with netting along the top separated the clearing from the surrounding trees.

“This is our senior executive driving range,” Roland said. “The media relations department didn’t think that it was a good idea for Mike to be mashing balls on the hive’s front lawn, so they had this built out in the woods for him. We had to put up the fence so the wildlife wouldn’t choke on golf balls—or something like that. It doesn’t compare with you’ve got in Alaska, but then you don’t have reporters dropping in on you all the time.”

Roland parked next to a white Cadillac convertible with its top down and said, “You go on. I’ll wait here. It shouldn’t take long.”

Each tee box had a neatly stacked pyramid of GFF balls to the right of the tee and Mike was standing alone in the middle box. Seen in this light, his resemblance to Daddy Warbucks—at least as played by Albert Finney in the movie—was uncanny even if he had a smidgen of Yul Brynner in him as well.

Mike looked awkward swinging a golf club. His backswing was abbreviated and he swatted at the ball instead of driving through it, making it all the more impressive that he could fly the ball past the 275-yard marker (though I would estimate that it was at most 250 yards away). Even going into his seventh decade, Quinn was unquestionably mighty.

I watched as he sent several balls sailing in quick succession. Each ball left his driver with a loud titanium clank. When he noticed me, he walked my way and handed me a driver that he took from a rack—all the while saying nothing. I accepted it from him and returned his silence.

I assumed the position next to Mike’s, placed a ball on the tee, and took several warm-up swings. I would have preferred spikes and a glove, but I could manage without them. I went though my pre-swing routine, addressed the ball, took the club back deliberately until its head pointed at my target, and then let my body do the rest. I could tell by the feeling at the point of impact that I had smoked it. The ball flew over the 300-yard sign and kept rolling to the fence.

“Nice swing,” Mike said. “Did Butch teach that to you?”

I didn’t think that Mike would want to hear about how theatrical training at a young age helps develop body rhythm and muscle control—essential elements of a proper swing—and so I said, “It comes naturally to me. You might find that yoga promotes flexibility.”

“I tried that and it wasn’t bad,” Mike said. “They had lessons at the crack of dawn in the hive’s fitness center, but they booted me for talking business during the pose of the child. Why don’t you hit another one?”

On my next swing, the ball ricocheted off the upper half of the 325-yard sign.

“I think you’ve made your point,” said Mike. “What’s your handicap?”

“Handicap?” I said with what I imagine was a quizzical look.

Mike laughed. “I always say that you can tell a lot about a guy by the way he plays golf,” Mike said as sat down at a table behind the tees and waved for me to join him. “I like it out here; it’s so peaceful. We’ve got state-of-the-art golf simulators back at the fitness center, but nothing compares with the thrill of seeing the ball fly through the air.”

“Yes, it is relaxing,” I said as I took the cue to sit next to him. The lights out in the middle of the woods and the giant moon were an unnatural combination. I looked over to make sure that Roland was still there. For someone with a reputation for being virtually unapproachable, Mike came across as human—almost too human. Kenneth Paine may have been charming, but Mike took charm to a new level—past charisma and into scary territory. It was no wonder that despite some dreadful things that GFF did under his command the business press worshipped him.

“So,” Mike said, after we finally shook hands, “you’re the guy that Roland’s been hiding from me all these years.”

“It would appear that way.”

“I can’t say that I blame him. Everyone hides things from me and the funny thing is that they think they’re fooling me. They must honestly believe that I can’t smell the fresh paint or the new carpeting that’s there wherever I go in the company. So tell me Doc—I hear that what everyone calls you, but I guess that it’s better than some of the things they call me—what’s really going on at The Lowell Group?”

I could see that Mike was hitting me with a probing, open-ended question. Mike does not come off as the sort of person you want to ask for clarification or give a wishy-washy answer, so I figured I’ll summarize what I already told Roland, Joe, and the others and leave it at that. “It’s a sound operation overall, there’s just a problem with how their funds trade with one another and Roland tells me that’s now under control.”

“Why didn’t my audit team catch this stuff?”

I resisted the urge to blurt out, “Because they’re idiots,” and instead said, “Because they weren’t trained to catch it. It’s not something you’ll find on any report; you really have to dig down deep.”

“Yeah,” Mike said, “they’re getting to be spoiled and complacent sons of bitches. I need to piss in their Wheaties more often. Roland thinks that you’re the one to take over his slot as chief technology officer. I’m not sure why I need a chief technology officer, but everyone has them and I had to park Roland somewhere where he couldn’t get into trouble. But you’re able to deliver goods that the audit team couldn’t and you can really clobber a golf ball. Just don’t expect to be paid anything like what Roland was getting—that’s something you’ll have to earn. And don’t go hog-wild on the perks—that’s my money you’re spending. You can take a day or two to settle in, but I’d like you around when the Session B’s start next week. Roland will introduce you to your new staff. I think you’ll really like working at the hive.”

“I’m sure I will.”

“I know that I do. Not to brag, but I think that I’m the luckiest guy in the world and have the greatest job. GFF is into everything in virtually every country. One day it’s mutual funds, the next day it’s natural-gas pipelines. Never a dull moment. But don’t let me bore you. Is there anything else that I should know?”

There was, but I was not going to be the one to tell it to him. I knew better. All I said was, “No, this should do it.”

Mike didn’t press the issue. He politely said, “Thanks again, Doc, it was good finally getting to meet you,” and handed me his business card. “If you need anything over the weekend, don’t hesitate to call. I look forward to working with you.”

I walked over to Roland’s car and slid back into the passenger’s seat. “How’d it go?” Roland asked me immediately.

“Alright. He seemed pleasant enough.”

“He’s always that way whenever he first meets someone—he wants everyone to like him. And he’s better in one-on-one situations than he is in groups, which seem to bring out the worst in him. Just don’t get him angry.”

“I can imagine.”

“I don’t think you can.”

Maybe there was more to Roland’s departure for Boston than Caroline’s allure.

As we talked, Roland drove back to the main road and over to the hive’s main gate. Roland zoomed through it, stopped in front of the entrance to the guest house, and shut down the Shelby’s engine.

“Roland,” I said, “aren’t you going to ask me about how things went with Muir Konin today?”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “There’s so much going on right now, that I forgot all about that. Learn anything interesting?”

“You could say that. I think I know what’s really going on with Ken’s fund.”

That got Roland’s attention. “It’s not a legal problem, is it?”

“No,” I said. “If it were anything like that I would have told you the moment I stepped into the car. Legally, you’re in the clear.”

“Thank God. Then, what is it?”

“I don’t quite know how to say this, but Ken’s problem is that he concentrates his investments in companies that use the Alpha-Omega process.”

“You don’t say,” Roland said. “I’ll get the word to Ken. I’m not surprised.”

“You’re not surprised?”

“No, I’m not. Impose a bureaucracy that sucks the creativity out of people on any company and what do you expect will happen?”

“What about GFF?” I asked. “Why hasn’t it suffered?

“Oh, but it has. It just hasn’t hit the bottom line yet. You saw the old lab. With the pipeline of new products drying up, how long do you think that our double-digit earnings growth can continue? We can only make so many deals. You haven’t told Mike any of this, have you?”

“I don’t think I’d be sitting here next to you if I had. I know better than to tell anyone that his pet project kills companies. Especially a guy who uses a golf club like a hockey stick.”

Roland grinned. “You can see what I’ve been up against. I always thought it was strange that Samsara Tool & Die could do so poorly—their stock is down more than ninety percent from its peak—and none of the articles about the company’s problems ever saw fit to mention that the Alpha-Omega process was behind it all. By the way, did Ken ever own any of their stock?”

“No, I guess that Samsara wasn’t aggressive enough for him. If he had, he might have psyched things out on his own long ago. The fascinating thing to me is that not just Samsara Tool & Die has had problems; the stock of every company that’s used the process—with the notable exception of GFF—has fallen on bad times. Consolidated Information Systems, the company blamed for the stock market’s problems two days ago, also used it.”

“You don’t said.”

“Why did Mike buy into the Alpha-Omega process?” I asked. “I thought that he was on a personal crusade against bureaucracy.”

“Even with Alpha-Omega’s rigid hierarchy and its micromanagement of product development, Mike doesn’t see it for what it is. Perhaps it’s all the publicity or his new wife, but he’s closed himself off from the rest of the world. He used to be very open-minded; he thinks he still is. For all Mike’s rants against bureaucracy in the company, let’s face it, you can’t run a company the size of GFF without some bureaucracy. You just don’t want one that almost completely stifles innovation.”

“It’s good that Alaska’s about as far from a bureaucracy as one can get,” I said.

“You have Mike to thank for that,” Roland said. “When I came to the old lab there were something like seven layers of management there. Many guys had two people reporting to them and a few had just one. Mike pushed my predecessor to strip down to four layers and I took it down to three. With Alaska, we got down to one, if you’re willing to consider the tribes a layer.”

“So, what awaits me at the hive?” I asked.

“Plenty,” Roland said, “but I don’t have the time to spell it all out for you. Getting Mike to see the true nature of Alpha-Omega is but one of several challenges that you’ll be facing. I had to leave the hive because I was becoming impotent in my job—Mike stopped listening to me years ago. I could never put you in line to take over for me unless something spectacular happened—and now it has.”

“Is there anything else should I know?”

“You’ll find out soon enough. Let’s just say that unless something drastic is done, it wouldn’t surprise me if the company implodes the day after Mike retires. That’s the real threat that Alaska faces going forward and you’ll be in a position to do something about it. Or at least try to do something. And—I hope that you take this the right way—you’ve been away in Alaska long enough. It’s time for you to return to reality. Or what passes for it.”

Roland had given me a lot to digest and I could tell that he had said all that he was going to say for now. I opened my door and asked, “What about the big meeting at ten?”

“You’ve had your big meeting for the evening. We’re just going over the numbers one last time with Mike before he signs off on them. Your future has enough meetings in it as is.”

Copyright 2004 by Ross M. Miller. Permission granted to forward by electronic means and to excerpt or broadcast 250 words or less provided a citation is made to