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Brent Miller, Research and Development manager of the CAG Corp., is quietly confident. He makes a last minute check of the cable connections and adjusts the focus on the projector. This is the best shot he will get at the funding for the test installation. He spent the last three weeks getting this presentation together and feels confident. This time he has it right. There will be no rerun of January’s fiasco.

Last January, his departmental report did not go well. A few people at the management meeting could not see well enough to read his charts. Also, he was a little casual in presenting his data. By the time he finished, everyone felt confused, including Brent. This will not happen this time. Today’s presentation is clear, concise, and simple enough for an idiot, he thinks, as the lights dim.

Brent’s dog-and-pony show takes twelve minutes, leaving eight of the allotted twenty minutes for a quick question and answer session. When the lights are back up, Brent confidently asks if there are any questions.  This is his big mistake.

The other managers take the mandatory few seconds to glance around the panelled room. They are waiting to see if Mark Ross, the Senior Vice President for Operations, goes first. Mark watches Brent but does not say anything.

Ronda Simpson breaks the ice. “That was good, Brent. I understand your data better than I did in January.”

For an uneasy moment, Brent wishes he could crawl into the woodwork and disappear. He expected her to say something about his January report but not so quickly and directly. Ronda is usually much more subtle with her little barbs.

Brent is quickly past the urge to hide and ready to fight, if that is what Ronda wants. He smiles and says, “Given your twenty years as a manager, Ronda, I will take that as a compliment.”

Let the games begin. The polite atmosphere when the meeting began is over.      Ronda bristles and is on the verge of responding to Brent’s dig when Harold Stiner, Production manager, jumps in. Somewhat more deliberately than Ronda, Harold says, “I know you have only been with us for a year, Brent. There are a few things you seem to be still struggling with. You want $150,000 to – what did you call it? – place two machines. What you want to do is spend a quarter million once you add the hundred you will need to support your test. Production keeps getting pushed to cut costs, and your boys in R&D want a hundred here and a hundred there. I know you want to be sure, but your price seems a little steep.”

More interrupting than responding to Harold, Brent asks, “How much can we handle for this test installation?”

Harold imperceptibly tenses as he responds, “It’s Mark’s call but as far as I’m concerned, R&D wants to push up the cost unnecessarily. We have two machines on the floor down below, and they work just fine. We only have orders for ten units and this would add twenty-five bills to the cost of each unit shipped. My concern is that this will get the price up so high we’ll get stuck with the lot of them.”

Ronda smiles at Harold as he handles the new kid on the block and is quick to join sides against Brent. Ronda looks at Brent and fixes him with her famous stare. She delivers her equally famous admonition as if to one of her subordinates. “It may be back to the drawing board, Brent.”

Ronda expects Brent to back off, but he does not. Harold works with Brent on a couple other projects and also expects Brent to capitulate. Usually this is exactly what Brent’s response is. After all, he is an engineer and not a conference room maneuverer. Not this time, though. This time no one is going to take advantage of his normally passive nature. “I’m going to push on this one. My recommendation is no machines get shipped until R&D is comfortable. That will be tough until I test two in the field. This one is not my call, but there is a real downside risk in any tendency to ignore the hard data.”

A sharp squeal no one immediately recognizes snaps the tension in the room. It is Brent’s beeper. There is a problem in the lab. Harold and Ronda say something to each other that Brent cannot hear as he awkwardly excuses himself and makes his way past Mark Ross.

Ronda is ready to start her report but the V. P. says, “We will have to do this later, Ronda. They have me on a tight schedule today. Why don’t you drop off a copy of your report and my assistant can brief me on anything important?”

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