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The Goal (Goldratt E M)

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improve performance, or the whole division goes up for sale. And I don't know if it's true, but I heard Granby specifically say that if the division goes, Peach goes with it."

"Are you sure?"

Nathan nods and adds, "Apparently it's been in the making for quite a while."

We start walking again.

My first reaction is that it's no wonder Peach has been acting like a madman lately. Everything he's worked for is in jeopardy. If some other corporation buys the division, Peach won't even have a job. The new owners will want to clean house and they're sure to start at the top.

And what about me; will I have a job? Good question, Rogo. Before hearing this, I was going on the assumption that Peach would probably offer me some kind of position if the plant is shut down. That's usually the way it goes. Of course, it may not be what I want. I know there aren't any UniWare plants out there in need of a manager. But I figured maybe Peach would give me my old staff job back-although I also know it's already been filled and I've heard that Peach is very satisfied with the guy. Come to think of it, he did kind of threaten yesterday with his opening remarks that I might not have a job.

Shit, I could be on the street in three months!

"Listen, Al, if anybody asks you, you didn't hear any of this from me," says Nat.

And he's gone. I find myself standing alone in the corridor on the fifteenth floor. I don't even remember having gotten on the elevator, but here I am. I vaguely recall Nat talking to me on the way up, saying something about everybody putting out their resumes.

I look around, feel stupid, wonder where I'm supposed to be now, and then I remember the meeting. I head down the hall where I see some others going into a conference room.

I go in and take a seat. Peach is standing at the far end of the table. A slide projector sits in front of him. He's starting to talk. A clock on the wall indicates it's exactly eight o'clock.

I look around at the others. There are about twenty of them, most of them looking at Peach. One of them, Hilton Smyth, is looking at me. He's a plant manager, too, and he's a guy I've never liked much. For one thing, I resent his style-he's always promoting some new thing he's doing, and most of the time what

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he's doing isn't any different from the things everyone else is doing. Anyway, he's looking at me as if he's checking me out. Is it because I look a little shaken? I wonder what he knows. I stare back at him until he turns toward Peach.

When I'm finally able to tune into what Peach is saying, I find he's turning the discussion over to the division controller, Ethan Frost, a thin and wrinkled old guy who, with a little makeup, could double for the Grim Reaper.

The news this morning befits the messenger. The first quar- ter has just ended, and it's been a terrible one everywhere. The division is now in real danger of a shortfall in cash. All belts must be tightened.

When Frost is done, Peach stands and proceeds to deliver some stern talk about how we're going to meet this challenge. I try to listen, but after his first couple of sentences, my mind drops out. All I hear are fragments.

"... imperative for us to minimize the downside risk..." "... acceptable to our current marketing posture..." "... without reducing strategic expense..."... required sacri- fices..." "... productivity improvements at all loca- tions..."

Graphs from the slide projector begin to flash on the screen. A relentless exchange of measurements between Peach and the others goes on and on. I make an effort, but I just can't concen- trate.

"... first quarter sales down twenty-two percent compared to a year ago..." "... total raw materials' costs in- creased..." "... direct labor ratios of hours applied to hours paid had a three-week high..." "... now if you look at num- bers of hours applied to production versus standard, we're off by over twelve percent on those efficiencies..."

I'm telling myself that I've got to get hold of myself and pay attention. I reach into my jacket to get a pen to take some notes.

"And the answer is clear," Peach is saying. "The future of our business depends upon our ability to increase productivity."

But I can't find a pen. So I reach into my other pocket. And I pull out the cigar. I stare at it. I don't smoke anymore. For a few seconds I'm wondering where the hell this cigar came from.

And then I remember.

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4

Two weeks ago, I'm wearing the same suit as now. This is back in the good days when I think that everything will work out. I'm traveling, and I'm between planes at O'Hare. I've got some- time, so I go to one of the airline lounges. Inside, the place is jammed with business types like me. I'm looking for a seat in this place, gazing over the three-piece pinstripes and the women in conservative blazers and so on, when my eye pauses on the yar- mulke worn by the man in the sweater. He's sitting next to a lamp, reading, his book in one hand and his cigar in the other. Next to him there happens to be an empty seat. I make for it. Not until I've almost sat down does it strike me I think I know this

guy. Running into someone you know in the middle of one of the busiest airports in the world carries a shock with it. At first, I'm not sure it's really him. But he looks too much like the physicist I used to know for him to be anyone but Jonah. As I start to sit down, he glances up at me from his book, and I see on his face the same unspoken question: Do I know you?

"Jonah?" I ask him.

"Yes?"

"I'm Alex Rogo. Remember me?"

His face tells me that he doesn't quite.

"I knew you some time ago," I tell him. "I was a student. I got a grant to go and study some of the mathematical models you were working on. Remember? I had a beard back then."

A small flash of recognition finally hits him. "Of course! Yes, I do remember you. 'Alex,' was it?"

"Right."

A waitress asks me if I'd like something to drink. I order a scotch and soda and ask Jonah if he'll join me. He decides he'd better not; he has to leave shortly.

"So how are you these days?" I ask.

"Busy," he says. "Very busy. And you?"

"Same here. I'm on my way to Houston right now," I say. "What about you?"

"New York," says Jonah.

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He seems a little bored with this line of chit-chat and looks as if he'd like to finish the conversation. A second of quiet falls be- tween us. But, for better or worse, I have this tendency (which I've never been able to bring under control) of filling silence in a conversation with my own voice.

"Funny, but after all those plans I had back then of going into research, I ended up in business," I say. "I'm a plant man- ager now for UniCo."

Jonah nods. He seems more interested. He takes a puff on his cigar. I keep talking. It doesn't take much to keep me going.

"In fact, that's why I'm on my way to Houston. We belong to a manufacturers' association, and the association invited UniCo to be on a panel to talk about robotics at the annual conference. I got picked by UniCo, because my plant has the most experience with robots."

"I see," says Jonah. "Is this going to be a technical discus- sion?"

"More business oriented than technical," I say. Then I re- member I have something I can show him. "Wait a second..."

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