Duty (Clara’s Coffee – episode 2)

Silver Service

The low slanting sunlight caught the silver tea service, sending glistening reflections dancing around the room as a smiling Kate, the maid, brought the tray into the drawing room. The view, across the rose gardens and to the moors beyond was always one that Nigel had loved. It brought back so many memories, especially of Papa and the happy times they had spent together when he was younger.

Morning coffee & afternoon tea at Havering Hall had always been a silver affair.

As he waited for his mother to appear, Nigel let his gaze move across the many paintings and portraits that adorned the walls. These dated back to great grandfather Cornelius Emanuel and his ancestors and included many fading, sepia tinged photographs of far flung coffee and tea plantations. The family wealth (as did Havering Hall) went back long before Emanuel to plantations and trading from both the Americas and East Asia. But it was Cornelius who had broken with the tradition of growing and trading and in seeing the potential for Clara’s Coffee shops back home in England. But it was time for a change.

‘Mama, you’re looking wonderful!’ burst out Nigel as he rose and kissed Cynthia.

‘Sit down, sit down, my boy and make yourself useful by pouring the coffee.’

‘How are you managing?’ Asked Nigel as he passed her cup and a jug of cream.

‘Oh, you know, managing. Well, I can’t say I didn’t have time to prepare myself but life without Simeon in this world is never going to be the same. Anyway, enough about me. I’m sorry to hear your board meeting last week was, shall we say, a trifle, controversial?’

‘Gosh you are up to date, mama. And, who’s been briefing you?

‘Well, Melissa, that delightful Fernley-Whittingham girl, has been visiting me over the last few months.’ She beamed, ‘Lovely girl and I must say that she seems to be a firm supporter of these new plans of yours. As am I. And I must say I think you’re doing the right thing my boy.’

‘Thank you, mama. I had guessed that father must have briefed you about the shares. And I know that you and uncle Charles had always been close. But, tell me, the dividend reductions I’m going to have to make – they are not going to cause you a problem are they? I’m always here to help’

‘Bless you, but no, Simeon always made sure that I would be fine whatever happened. Anyway, I hope that you’re going to look after Melissa’s career. She really is a lovely girl; don’t tell me you haven’t noticed?’

Nigel smiled and gently shook his head. Mama always had a knack of reading his mind but it was far too early to let the conversation drift any further in that direction.

‘Gosh, is it that time already,’ he went on, making a point of checking his watch. ‘Must get going, I’ve a couple of important meetings I have to prepare for.’

His route across the moors was one Nigel always enjoyed, often driving far too fast if the roads were clear. But this morning, he was actually in no hurry and motored slowly, letting the beautiful views calm him. He was actually well prepared for the most strategically important meeting scheduled for later that afternoon. The problem had to be tackled and there was no time to be lost. He had his plan and he would see it through, seeing that the right things were done.

His lunch meeting was different, however. He knew he and his guest were in agreement on the broad direction but it remained to be seen whether agreement could be reached on the strategy and some of the tactics he had in mind.

‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’, he smiled to himself as he crested the rise and started down towards the little hamlet of Kirby Welton that nestled under a fold in the hills.  He pulled up outside the Welton Arms, an old stone built pub-restaurant that sat overlooking a bend in the river. He straightened his tie, ran his fingers through his hair and marched confidently into the old oak panelled bar.

The barman smiled and informed him his guest was already waiting at the table for him. He walked into the dining room and there she was, sat at the corner table that gave onto the best view of the river, the sunlight highlighting her long blond hair and elegant figure.

‘Well, hello, Melissa! Glad you could make it.’

‘My pleasure, Mr Havering. Thank you for the invitation, it was a lovely surprise.’

‘Please, call me Nigel, no need to be formal here. Let’s get a drink and the menus and we can enjoy our chat?’ Nigel signalled for the waiter.

With a bottle of Chablis to share and their orders taken, Nigel sat back, smiled at Melissa and raised his glass.

‘Here’s to setting Clara’s Coffee on the right road for another century of success!’

‘I’ll certainly drink to that!’

‘Look,’ Nigel leaned forward, ’Before this place starts filling up, I have a proposition for you.’ Melissa raised an eyebrow and also moved ever so slightly forward. ‘I know that you were not attending last month’s board meeting in an official capacity. I believe that you have been carrying out some part-time work and had asked (as a family member) to attend to gain experience & to see how things work. How would you feel about joining the company full-time? I have a role I would very much like you to carry out. What do you say?’

            ‘Well, in theory, I’d be delighted but it rather depends upon the role that you have in mind.’

            ‘OK, I believe that you have a degree in Marketing and one in Business Studies and have carried out internships in a number of large companies. I’m looking for someone, I can trust, to join Clara’s Coffees in a senior role to oversee the expansion of the business. If after a trial period we believe that you are fitting in well and will be successful, we will confirm your appointment as Marketing Director. You would report directly to me. What do you say?’

            ‘Gosh, I’d be delighted!’ responded Melissa ‘but as you know the work I’ve been doing has been for Mr. Chancellor in the finance department and as you have probably heard he wasn’t exactly pleased at my speaking up at the end of the meeting. In fact, he said it had not been my place to say a word at the meeting.’

            ‘Firstly, Peter Chancellor was technically correct.’ continued Nigel with a wink,’ but, as this is a family concern, we’ll overlook your enthusiastic response to my question at the meeting. Now, you don’t have to concern yourself with his reaction, as I shall be meeting with him later and will cover the subject then. Meanwhile, I take it you’re accepting the position, so I’ll look forward to seeing you at 8.30 Monday morning to run through a few details and we’ll get this show on the road. OK?’

            ‘Yes, golly, super!’

            ‘To the success of Melissa Fernley-Whittingham in her new (and very important) role, then.’ Said Nigel raising his glass.

            The next few hours flew by and driving back to the office, Nigel smiled to himself. Mama and he had always seemed to agree on most things!

At 4:15 pm, fifteen minutes late, Peter Chancellor barged into his office without knocking, and sat without saying a word.

‘Peter, thank you for joining me this afternoon. I’d offer you some tea but I’m sure you realise time is pressing and we have some ground to cover? I know that you have been with the company as Finance Director for many years and I wish to register my thanks for all the good work you have done. I realise that as the most senior member of the board when uncle Charles died, my appointment must have been somewhat of a shock to you.’

‘Surprised?’ responded Peter, examining his finger nails, ‘you could say that. But not as surprised as the reaction of the majority of the board that someone fresh into the company, with zero experience of Clara’s coffee, could come up with such a hair-brained scheme that threatens the very survival of our company and the well-being of the family members. I’d say it was a dereliction of duty!’

Nigel leaned forward and holding Peter’s gaze whilst raising an eyebrow, spoke quietly and calmly,

            ‘I’m guilty of dereliction of duty? Really? You’re sure of that?’ He went on after a pause ‘I would have thought that as Finance Director you would be well aware that The Companies Act of 1985 is rather precise on the matter of directors’ duties. To summarise, the requirements include –

a duty to act in good faith in the best interests of the company;

a duty to exercise skill and care;

a duty to avoid conflicting interests and duties;

and a duty not to make a secret profit.

            Peter was by now a bright shade of red in the face and was raising an arm and pointing his finger at Nigel. However, Nigel promptly responded by raising his own finger and speaking in the same quiet and measured tone continued ‘As Financial Director, I would expect you to be well aware that this fine old company has been steadily moving towards a position of financial ill health as a direct result of a continuance of a dividend policy that dates back to much financially healthier times, combined with the absence of any plan to improve matters.’

            ‘I think we’ve said all we need to on the subject today but I’d just like to leave you with the thought that you might like to make sure that you’re fully conversant with all the relevant requirements of the Companies Act & your performance, before we speak again shortly.’

            ‘Oh, and before you go, Melissa will be joining us full time from Monday, to work directly with me on the implementation of the expansion plans.’

Author: Tony

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