The Corporate Guru (Fiction)

It all started when Missy was in high school. Her scores on the practice entrance exam for university were just high enough to guarantee her a job by the freeway, selling fake flowers for a religious cult. Surveying her options, she realized that her only hope was to do what every other wealthy and underachieving girl would do in her shoes: Pay another girl to sit the entrance exam for her.

Her parents approved of this endeavor. Though they claimed to have earned their fortune from the sweat of their brows, everyone in her lineage was at heart a cheat. Rules are for saps, they used to say. And indeed, their own personal experience proved this to be true.

Once she got to university, Missy actually tried to study, to a certain extent. However, long nights with a head buried in a book interfered with her social life. Besides, though she could read, for the life of her, she could not really understand the words on the page. She had trouble deciphering phone books, much less grocery lists. How could a girl like her ever hope to master freshman literature? And even the pictures in her first year biology book confused her: The captions claimed that the illustrations were of cells, veins, nerves, and the various organs of the human body. However, try as she might she could not see any of these things when she looked in the mirror, even when she stripped naked. Thus, while she excelled at university life, she was mystified by her studies, and even went so far as to wonder why she had to go to class or why the university had professors to begin with, as classes and professors seemed to interfere with a university’s true purpose.

Grudgingly, she paid others to do her homework and take her tests for her. Despite this, she was asked to leave university after a year and two months, because she tried to bribe a professor to get a passing grade. The whole ordeal infuriated her. After all, in every way she found herself superior to her classmates, yet they were allowed to stay even while she was being kicked out. What of the money she paid? She sacrificed a trip to Tahiti to pay for homework and tests, all for nothing. And what of that professor? He was unmoved by offers of both money and sex. What kind of institution would hire such a sap?

Once back home, she poured out all of this grief to her mother and father. They sympathized, and then sent her to Paris for a few years of disco, telling all of their friends that she was at the Sorbonne. When she returned, they even hosted a graduation party for her.

Missy’s father always told her that she could do anything that she wanted, so she should shoot high and aim for the top. Now that she was in the job market, she did exactly that. She saw an ad for someone to open up a branch office for an international company, at $120,000 a year. She paid $5,000 to have a resume skilfully sculpted for her, highlighting her master’s degree from the Sorbonne (a degree she did not have), her skills in French (a language she could not speak), and her high-level internship at a company owned by her father’s business partner (an internship she never showed up for). Her list of references contained nearly a dozen captains of industry, all of whom owed favors to her father. Yet, Daddy-O decided to leave nothing to chance, and arranged for her to meet with the CEO of the company at their ski lodge in the mountains so they could schmooze over cocktails—the one thing she did excel at.

She was soon hired, given a car and chauffeur, a personal assistant, and a vice president with years of experience to assist her.

After taking the job, she tried to investigate what exactly the company did, but this soon grew tedious. She knew that it had something to do with finance, but that was about it. Her main responsibility was to have business lunches at expensive restaurants. This scared her at first, as she was concerned that the topics of these business lunches might somehow turn to business, a subject she absolutely knew nothing about. However, to her relief she discovered that her business contacts were just as mystified about business as she was, preferring to gossip instead. It reminded her of the very best aspects of high school and university all over again, and she was pleased.

Through her father, her vice president, and her business contacts, she soon learned the ropes. The important thing, she learned, was not what your company did or even its bottom line: The important thing is to get the most out of the deal for yourself. This discovery enthralled her. She insisted on receiving stock options for bonuses. Then, using her father’s contacts, she bribed half the people in the capital to get government contracts for her company, as this was far cheaper and easier to do than actually providing a service or product, or bothering with the tedious details of marketing and sales. Indeed, the government offices which contracted for her company’s services had no idea what her company did and why their offices needed its services. Further, they did not care. And if anyone asked what services her company provided, everyone involved would just say “Read the contract!”, as though the contract contained anything of substance within its midst of legalese.

Government contracts were cheap and easy to get—too cheap and easy, in fact, to be any fun. More difficult to obtain, but at the same time more rewarding, were service contracts with other companies. Unlike government officials, executives at other companies could not be bribed easily or cheaply. After all, it was not government work, so laws were involved and “honest” people—and by “honest” she meant saps—were prone to interfere with good business practices. Some sharp businessmen were game for her plans, however, and were even willing to spend the obligatory night with her in order to seal the deal. The amounts involved were quite steep, but this was mitigated by the fact that the graft nearly always flowed both ways. She bribed them to make the deal. They would make out the service contract on terms unfavorable to their own companies, if one assumed that her company were actually offering them a service to begin with. The copy of the contract she gave her company contained a much lower dollar amount than that held by her clients. She and her business partners would split the difference between the two amounts, and make a small bundle. No one would be hurt by their machinations, and no one would be the wiser.

Soon, her company’s revenue went through the roof, and her stock options were worth a fortune. Her parent company was justifiably pleased by her success, and gave her higher bonuses, along with a better salary and more perks. Then, with her father’s advice and help, she invested in oil companies just before they struck oil, worthless fields just before new highway off-ramps were announced, casinos just before gambling was legalized in those cities, and defense contractors just before new weapons programs were approved.

After ten years, Missy was one of the richest people in the nation, and was a much sought-after speaker. No one was really sure what exactly her company did to make money. However, everyone was convinced that she was a corporate guru, and that her advice would make them rich. Rightly, she identified her admirers as saps. Their praise and admiration meant nothing to her. However, since her goal was to make money for herself coming and going, she welcomed the chance to give a lecture at $75,000 a pop. In these lectures, she spoke truthfully of her struggles, her long, lonely nights of grief, and how anyone could get ahead as she did, through hard work and sacrifice. She also gave a lot of advice, mostly borrowed from the backs of self-help books sold at supermarket check-out counters, blurbs from women’s magazines scanned while waiting at the dentist’s, or platitudes cribbed from TV commercials for Dr Phil. She did not really understand any of the nonsense she was spouting, but it all sounded quite nice, and her audiences appeared to hang on every word she said.

She got a book deal, too, that paid an advance of several million dollars. When her editor read her manuscript—fifty, double-spaced pages full of exclamation points, capital letters, and words with single syllables, most of which were misspelled—he realized that her genius could not easily be translated into prose, so he hired a ghost writer. The ghost writer spent months doing research, interviewing everyone who knew her on tape and taking copious notes. Then, he wisely burned all of his tapes and notes, and settled down in a cabin in the mountains along with a case of gin to write 250 pages of the most gripping prose ever read. The ghost written manuscript was accepted. Indeed, her editor viewed it as a distillation of the very essence of who Missy was and why she was a genius. And not a word in it was true.

The book became a bestseller, and other business executives became so impressed with it and the insights that it contained that they began making Missy offers. Finally, she settled on a salary in the millions to become the CEO of another company.

Shortly afterwards, the company she built went bankrupt, with hundreds of millions of dollars of debt. There were whispers of fraud, mismanagement, and bribery. Some insiders even suggested that the company itself was a sham—that it had no product or service to offer, and that its whole business plan was nothing but lies and deceit.

With much fanfare, the government investigated, and even called Missy in to testify. Everyone agreed, however, that she made a sterling witness, and that any wrongdoing she might have done must have been inadvertent. After her testimony, they even decided to give her old company a government bailout.

Her new company was not so forgiving. The board launched a full investigation, determining in the end that she might have fudged a little on her resume. This was viewed as a breach of contract. She and the company mutually agreed on a parting of the ways, but not before giving her a multimillion-dollar severance package, and agreeing to hire her as a consultant.

After all, she was a corporate guru, and her advice was worth millions.

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