Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking
- J.M. Keynes

Monday, 30 January 2012

EZSE – A tragedy in several acts

This is a work of real fiction. With more than six billion people alive on the planet and a similar number having lived before, any resemblance to persons living or dead is probable but unintentional and coincidental.

Background to the play
A family-run conglomerate, EZSE is in deep financial trouble. The recession has led to a decline in revenues across business lines and debt service is becoming increasingly onerous.

Cast of characters
Angela – The wealthy family matriarch with an austere demeanour. Heads the Engineering and Heavy Industry division, the most profitable in the conglomerate.
Nick – Angela’s brother-in-law and self-appointed enforcer of her authority over other family members. His once profitable nuclear power division is now a mere shadow if its former self.
Mario – University professor brought into the boardroom recently by Angela to head the third largest division of the conglomerate. Replaced his brother Silvio who was forced out due mismanagement.
Papa – A distant cousin brought into the board recently. Runs the low margin and loss making olive oil business. His division has been censured for accounting fraud.
Joy – Head of the residential construction division which has been hit hard by the recent property bust.
Pedro – Head of the textile and footwear division finding it increasingly difficult to compete with the Chinese.
Kenny – Head of a traditional offshoring specialist which recently made an ill advised foray into the construction sector leading to a near-shuttering of the unit.
Mark – Head of the transport and trade division, one of the few profitable divisions within the conglomerate.
Katy – Head of the profitable forestry division.
Werner – Close confidant of Angela. Heads the Automation and Machinery division.
David – Independent member to the board. Heads the Financial Services division. It was the most profitable division until his brother Gordon’s gamble on subprime housing went awry. Hates the board and his wife wants him to spin-off his division from the conglomerate.
Albert – Company Secretary. Has a split personality
JCJ – Company Treasurer and private banker
Siprus, Eston, Mata, Sakia, Senia – Children of the family being groomed for senior management
D Mario – Chief Trustee of the family Trust

Act n Scene 1
The management board of the family conglomerate is in an emergency board meeting. Angela, the family matriarch, is seated at the head of the table surrounded by the board.

Angela (in a severe tone): Preposterous!
Papa (pleading): Angela this is only a temporary measure. My division needs another cash infusion before it can return to profitability.
Werner: If it ever returns to profitability.

Mark and Katy smile.

Papa (turning to Werner): I do wish that you’d read the report prepared by that clever consultant Christine from the Intellectually Moribund Factory. My division is turning around. All it needs is a little more cash to tide it over the short-term.
Angela: You’ve been saying that since the last two years. It’s been a very long short-term.
Katy: I refuse to give another cent unless I get some collateral in exchange.
Werner: Same here.
Nick (trying to be conciliatory): Come on, what kind of behaviour is this? We shouldn’t grudge a few Euros between family. Remember our principle of ‘All for one and one for all’. Either we help each other or the conglomerate breaks up. And we can’t let that happen.
Angela (in an indignant tone): Don’t talk about grudging a few Euros. My division has bankrolled this conglomerate for years without complaining. But there is a limit. I went against my advisors and let you merge that olive oil business into the conglomerate. And now see what the result is.
JCJ (coming to Nick’s rescue): At that time it did seem like a good buy.
Mark (murmurs to David): Definitely a good bye now.

Both snigger.
Nick casts an irritated glance at them.

Mark: Well, those numbers did look too good to be true
Papa: Oh no, not that accounting fraud allegation again. It was perfectly within the law. A lot of firms did it, even Mario’s division…
Mario (quickly interrupting): That was probably under Silvio. My new management team, which I should point out is composed of only PhDs in business administration, would never countenance such a thing
Angela (a little too hurriedly): Mario’s division is not the problem
Nick: Yes, yes. Let’s come back to issue at hand. How will we structure the next inter-group cash loan to Papa’s division?
David: I don’t think my division can spare any money. With the recession and my brother Gordon’s financial mismanagement earlier, we very stretched ourselves.
Nick: Quelle surprise
David: There is no need to be sarcastic in French
Joy: Why don’t we use our Emergency Financing for Short-term Fund? That was its purpose wasn’t it? To provide cheap funding to our divisions in need.
Kenny, Pedro: Yes, that is a good suggestion
Katy: The only problem is that we (looks at Mark, Werner and Angela) keep putting the money in and Papa, Kenny and Pedro keep taking it out. And now Mario and Joy say that they may want to take some money from it as well if their divisions don’t see a turnaround in profitability. It’s becoming more a charity than a business.
David: I quite agree
Nick (with barely concealed rage): Listen, you only merged your financial firm with our conglomerate so that you could get captive in-house clients. You’re not part of the family. You never liked us and you’ve made it quite clear that you’re not contributing to the fund. So why don’t you shut up.

David opens his mouth to reply, thinks better of it and grumpily reclines back into his chair.

Nick (continuing to speak now to the board): I agree that we need to use our EFS Fund. We should also bring forward our Enhanced Strategy Masterplan which is supposed to prevent all such problems in future.
Mark: Angela, we’re all agreed in principle that providing such help was the purpose of the EFS Fund but Katy has a valid point about this transfer becoming permanent.
Werner: Yes, there seems to be no improvement despite all the money we’ve given.
Katy (to Papa): We give you the money and you just use it to pay debt without doing anything to restore the business to profitability.
Papa: You can’t turn around a business overnight. Look at our plans. By 2020 we’re going to be in the same great shape as we were in 2009. The Intellectually Moribund Factory has given its stamp of approval to the plans. And as you know, they are the experts on business turnarounds.
Angela: Katy is right. I have turned a blind eye to your accounting practices. But I can’t ignore the fact that you continue to have massive cost over-runs; have failed to achieve even one efficiency target that was set over the last two years; still pay outsized bonuses to your employees and are way behind in disposing off non-core assets on your balance sheet to raise money.
Papa: But we are making progress, there have been some real achievements…
Angela (cutting him off): All you’ve achieved is paying back your bank creditors with money borrowed from other family businesses. Not only that, because some people (gives a withering glance to Nick who pretends to be taking notes) persuaded the family trust to buy a lot of tracker stock in your division, the family’s fortunes are even more intertwined with your division. We can’t shutter your business or hive it off.  
Papa: Please, just this last time
Nick: Angela, I’m talking to the banks to roll-over some of the loans they have made to the olive oil business so that the entire amount doesn’t come from the family this time.
Mark: Have the banks agreed?
Nick: Not yet but they soon will. I’ve made them an offer they cannot refuse (smiles).
Angela: Ok, if that is the case then we can use the EFS Fund to contribute the remainder. We have no alternative in any case.

Papa slumps back on this seat in relief. Kenny and Pedro high-five each other. Joy and Mario look relieved.

Angela: However this is the last time. And to ensure that efficiency targets are met and costs quickly brought under control, I am going to send in one of my teams to oversee top management. Papa, you and your top management will report to them.

Jaws drop in unison across the table. Papa springs up from his chair. Nick looks aghast. David drops his head into his hands.

Act n+1 Scene 1 soon to follow.

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