Having spent the past five years hiring and firing people, I know how difficult it is trying to get to the bottom of things when there’s a stuff-up. Especially when it’s a monumental one.
“Come in, Julia. Do sit down. Now tell me. What happened exactly?”
Invariably, Julia will start blubbing and I’ll have to wait several moments while she dries her eyes with a tissue. To cover the awkward embarrassed silence, I buzz my secretary and ask her to bring in a pot of tea for us both.
“I don’t know where to begin,” Julia finally says between sniffles. “I thought I had it all under control. But… I don’t know… it was a disaster right from the start!”
That’s when she’ll look up at me with imploring eyes. “It was Kevin who started it all you know!” she’ll finally blurt out. “It’s all his fault.”
“Of course it was,” I nod, leaning back in my swivel chair. Already I can tell it’s going to be a long drawn out meeting. I buzz my secretary again. “Better cancel lunch at Tetsuya’s” I say.
Bit by bit the facts dribble out. Julia shakes her head in irritation. “I always said it was a stupid idea. But Kevin insisted. He had this massive hang up about asylum seekers, right from the word go, so first thing he does is he goes and cancels the Nauru contract. Just like that!”
I nod sympathetically. “Not, in hindsight, such I wise decision,” I say, trying not to sound too judgmental.
She bristles. “But of course I told him at the time ‘what on earth are we going to put in its place?’ and he goes ‘don’t worry we’ll sort it out later’.”
I smile, and pour the tea. Julia shrugs wearily. “For about a year or so, it was all hunky dory. Nothing much changed. Everyone agreed that Kevin had done the right thing.”
“Sugar?” I say.
She ignores me, and carries on. “And of course, all that other stupid climate change stuff was going on and mining taxes and wotnot and next thing you know Kevin’s gone and those faceless men from Sussex street insist on giving me his job! Me?!? The next day all of his job sheets get dumped in my lap!”
“About the, er, stuff up?” I say, trying subtly to nudge her back on the track. She glares at me, and defiantly shakes her red bob.
“What was I to do? Suddenly there’s boats arriving left, right and centre! I tried East Timor, but they didn’t even bother returning my calls. Then I tried Manis, but no luck there either. So I got Chris to give the Malaysians a call and – hoorah!! - they were all up for it! So long as we did a bit of quid pro quo. You know, did a bit of ‘contra’.” She touches her (rather elongated) nose and gives me a wink.
“Chris?” I ask, puzzled.
She stares at me defiantly. “The podgy, nerdy little guy from Accounts. He’s my assistant now.”
I try not to show any emotion. “Really?”
There’s a long, awkward silence. “And, er, did you, and er, this Chris cover all the bases?” I ask as nonchalantly as possible
Again, the steely glare.
“Did you check it all out with the legal department?” I demand.
There’s a stifling silence.
I sigh wearily, and pick up my mug of tea. This is always the hard part. It’s not easy telling someone you had high hopes for that they have completely, utterly, irredeemably and – worse still - unnecessarily failed in their task.
“This is, um, kind of a monumental stuff up,” I say, preparing her for the worst. “You do realize that it’s now open season for people smugglers, don’t you? We’re going to be swamped. Inundated. From a business point of view, it’s not a good look. We are a laughing stock.” There. I’ve said it.
Julia starts to blub. I hate it when they blub.
“It’s all Tony’s fault,” she says, wiping her eyes with her sleeve.
I frown. “Tony? I thought you said it was Kevin’s fault?”
“Kevin’s! And Tony’s! And Chris’s!” she sobs, shaking her head in dismay.
I rub my forehead, then discreetly buzz my secretary. “Have you got the number for those faceless men in Sussex street?” I whisper as quietly as I can.