I notice Sandy playing spider solitaire on her computer. I should talk to her again, maybe even write her up.
"It's good to see you Tom."
"You, too, George."
But I don't.
I watch as Mark directs our newest worker. He's patient, more patient that I ever was. That's what makes him such a great foreman.
"Have a seat."
I probably shouldn't have hired those last three employees. I'm usually pretty conservative, but business was picking up.
"How's Brenda and the kids?"
"Doing well, George. Doing well."
Janet, our HR specialist, walks up to me with an action slip. It seems that Katie has been using her cell phone again on the production line. But she has two young sons. I'd like to give her a break.
Janet says I have to treat everyone the same.
"Well, thanks for bringing in all your information. Federal One's requires quite a bit more paperwork than we did when we were just Centerburg."
"It was no problem."
Personally, I think rules are fine as guidelines, but sometimes you have to treat cases differently, depending on the circumstances. Besides, Katie's been with me over twelve years. That's got to count for something.
"Sure," says Janet, "if you don't mind getting sued."
"So, George, we were reviewing your last year's numbers. They were up a bit from 2011, right? Slightly better revenues...better margins, you were in the black for the first time in what, three years?"
"Yeah, things are starting to pick up. In another couple of years, we'll be right back where we were before the recession."
I walk outside and see Deloris and Jose unloading a truckload of redwood.
"Tom, where do you want us to put the overflow?"
George shuffles some papers and clears his throat. "I hope so."
"What is it, George?"
In retrospect, I wish I hadn't ordered so much.
"We can pull the oak out and put the redwood in underneath," Deloris says.
I trust these people.
George sits back in his chair and takes his glasses off. He takes a deep breath. "Things have gotten pretty tight since the recession."
"Yeah. I know."
Karen walks up with Janet. She's near tears.
"But my son was sick! I had to take the call."
"You should have had him call the office. You know the rules." Janet's a stickler.
"It's not just Federal One. Lending standards have gotten sky high everywhere."
"Sure, but we're in the black now. We're making money!"
"Let it go this time," I say.
"Tom, what's the point in making a rule if you're not going to stick to it?"
"I'm sorry. Sometimes...sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture."
"Tom, we can't renew your line of credit."
"You're eliminating it? You're not just reducing it? You're eliminating it altogether? After all these years?"
"Hey, Tom!" says Luke, holding a clipboard. "You need to sign this!"
"Give me a minute." Yesterday's meeting is still reverberating in my head. I take a walk out back to clear my mind.
"Hi, Mr. Tom. How are you today?"
It's Chi, a sweet, little old Vietnamese lady who's been with me for years. She's eating her lunch.
"I'm okay, Chi." I sit on the bench. "How are you?"
"Good," she says. "I'm good." She sets her plate down and smiles. "Every day is a blessing."
"I'm sorry, Tom. I did my best. But it's not just us. I called around. No one will touch a small business like yours. No one. You don't have enough equity. If things go south again, you've got no more reserves."
"Just like that? You're dropping us just like that? George, we have fifty-three employees!"
I go back inside and see Sandy at her computer, now working on credit reports. She looks up and smiles and the truth, I realize, is that I love her.
All my workers, even Sandy when she's playing solitaire. I love them all.
"You've got sixty days left on your credit line. I wish there was something else I could do for you."
I find Luke and sign the check, then go to my office to think.
"This will likely sink us, George. You know that, right?"
At two o'clock, I walk into the conference room. I look at my employees, my friends. I wonder how long I can hold this place together.
Every day's a blessing.
I take a deep breath.
"I'm sure you're wondering why I called this meeting."
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