Cause and Effect

Zero Hour" - Thursday, August 17 - 1:30 p.m.

Jackson Finley III strode through Detroit's Metropolitan Airport at a quick pace that belied his 67 years. The four-and-one-half hour flight from San Francisco had left him ill-tempered. He wished he had booked a first-class seat, but in a moment of fiscal responsibility, he'd chosen coach.
As CEO of Byler Filter Products in Grand Oaks, Michigan, Jackson had never really enjoyed the business trips his position required, but rather saw them as a necessary component of doing good business.
And good business it was. With 650 employees working three shifts around the clock, five days a week, at the state-of-the-art production plant, Byler was the automotive industry's leading supplier of air filters.
Under Jackson's 18 years of leadership, the company had nearly doubled its business and added 30 percent to its number of employees, statistics in which he took great personal pride.
Eight months into the current fiscal year, however, profits were not measuring up to the previous banner year.
Jackson maneuvered his 2006 black sapphire BMW through Detroit's twisting freeway system and out of the city.
Was the dip in profits a reflection on Robert Patterson, the Chief Financial Officer the Board of Directors had hired three years earlier?
Robert was not Jackson's first choice for the job. The conservative CEO had lobbied for another candidate, a lifelong Michigander with deep roots in the automotive industry, but the Board preferred Robert's star-studded resume. His movie-star handsome looks and the fact that he was married to the Chairman of the Board's daughter hadn't hurt either.
Robert - with his affluent Boston upbringing and Stanford MBA - was an outsider.
The trim, silver-haired man took his foot off the accelerator for a second and flexed his still-aching legs.
Jackson looked forward to completing the 30-mile route to Grand Oaks. His shoulders relaxed and his tanned forehead smoothed as the city's tall buildings shifted back into his rearview mirror and affluent suburbia dotted the landscape ahead.
His thoughts turned to retirement, long an abstract concept in his mind, now beckoning him with increasing seductiveness. It was time to wind down and make plans for vacations and grandchildren outings with Marjorie, his wife of 44 years.
Jackson glanced down at the glowing face of his oyster-colored Rolex. 2:00. Too early to call it a day.
The CEO was tired and wanted to go home; instead, he turned right at the next intersection and headed down the five-mile stretch of sparsely populated highway toward the Byler complex.
As Jackson pulled into the expansive parking area, he noted with satisfaction that his space, closest to the front glass doors and marked with a sign that read "Reserved for CEO", was empty. He always wondered if anyone else sneaked a park in his spot while he was away.
"Hello, Gloria," he greeted the pretty young blonde woman seated at the polished mahogany desk in the reception area.
"Hello, sir. It's good to have you back."
Gloria was fond of Jackson. He reminded her of everyone's favorite grandfather.
Jackson walked past his assistant's unoccupied desk and into his office, closed the door behind him, and sank into his dark brown leather chair. He connected his laptop to the network to check his messages. A gleaming PC sat on the corner of his desk, but he ignored it. He preferred his laptop.
The computer responded swiftly and displayed 23 bolded messages - all new since he'd checked his mail eight hours earlier in his hotel room. His eyes scanned the diverse group of senders. One name leapt out at him.
"I love you 2," the subject line proclaimed. It was from Marjorie.
As he clicked on the message, he felt a rush of pride for his wife. Marjorie had learned only last year to use their home computer to send and receive e-mail, and only after repeated urgings of their already computer-savvy young grandchildren.
Jackson frowned. The message screen was blank. He clicked on the paper clip attached to the message, but there was only a short line of gibberish that meant nothing to him and disappeared off the screen within seconds.
Marjorie needs a few more e-mail lessons from the grandkids, he grinned. He glanced at his watch again and reached for the phone to check in with his CFO.

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