The Old Chair

Dear Charles,

I asked for the envelope to be handed to you, opened and read to the members at the start of your first board meeting. Explicit instructions regarding your inheritance are in my will.

I leave you the chairmanship of my company. I suppose I should say I leave you the chair, as is now the more common usage, but you also get the physical chair at the head of the board table. Forgive my meanderings. Anyway, as head of the family it’s yours and good luck.

You may not find the physical chair very comfortable yet. It belonged to my grandfather, or perhaps is even older, but in time you will find its firm support of great benefit to an ageing back. You will need rigid support.

As this is my final word please allow me to reminisce a little.

Wheeler’s Cycles started just after the war. My father had a shed full of tools and I began tinkering at an early age. I needed transport after demob and it just seemed natural to make my own bike rather than spend money I didn’t have. Factories were slow to convert back from munitions to domestic products so there were few undamaged bikes around. Many young people were looking for transport, word spread and before long I and four employees moved to a slightly bigger site. Someone who was planning a trek (this was an age of adventure) wanted something a bit special: a collapsible spare wheel that could be stowed away. I tinkered in the old shed and the ‘Six-Quadrant Spare’ was born. The rest, as they say, is history. Wheeler’s Cycles today is a household name, both for our standard products and also, especially in my view, for the bespoke cycles beloved of racers and adventurers.

You, Charles, are one of the heirs to my fortune. I have been careful to share my company, together with voting rights, among family members, all of whom I felt I could trust.

My decision to stand down was born of frustration and a sense that my time had passed, but I did so with great regret. I built the company from scratch and I relished  the challenges I faced in growing the business for standard products and also in responding to requests for ‘specials’. I loved the ‘specials’ work and I want to acknowledge the great help given by your Head of Engineering, Bill Jackson. He was my friend and trusted colleague and enjoyed the ‘specials’ work as much as I did.

I wasn’t made for retirement. Gardening is not for me and golf seems like a wasted day. What I enjoyed was what I did. That I chose to end my life rather than face a sea of emptiness and declining health will come as no surprise to those who knew me.

Now I want to address your company accountant, Graham Babbage, directly.

Graham, you may have wondered why I rambled on about my old chair. I suppose I had chairs in mind, or specifically the one you have always occupied, but I’ll come back to that a little later.

I have little time for bean-counters, it’s true, but you were very competent so I paid your salary, even though I was never quite sure that you were working for me. Bespoke cycles have never been profitable in their own right but you should ask what impact they have on the value of the brand. You led a damaging vote to wind-down the ‘specials’ business while I and the brand manager were away. Only Bill Jackson was there to represent my views but he was outvoted by family members new to the business who followed your simple logic. That was bad enough but your smug and self-satisfied manner on my return was, in my view, unforgivable.

Do you know how many beans make five Graham?

Well here’s a trickier question: do you know how many castor beans it takes to make a deadly dose of the poison ricin?

I do. That this letter is posthumous is proof of that.

But I mentioned your chair, Graham: before a board meeting you always shuffle it  for a good two minutes to make sure it’s just right. Did you catch your finger on anything sharp underneath one of the arms?

Did you suck your finger?

Well, did you Graham?

As I said Charles, you will need strong support.

Your Uncle Jack.

Author: Ian


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