Author: Priscilla West
I’d tried my best not to wake my roommate as I collected the pile of client documents laying on the hotel room table. Riley Hewitt was a heavy sleeper, especially when she’d been out drinking the night before, her favorite vacation pastime. So I was surprised when she popped her strawberry-blonde head out from beneath the covers. Apparently, I hadn’t been quiet enough.
“Sorry I woke you. I have to meet Richard downstairs in a few minutes so I’m just packing up.” I’d been poring over the client strategy the previous night with my supervisor, Richard Hamm, in his hotel room as if we hadn’t already gone over it dozens of times this past week.
When I’d gotten back to my room, I went over the materials again, memorizing every detail, replaying in my mind the sequence of events that would lead to Richard and me landing this client for our company. This meeting was a huge deal for not only Waterbridge-Howser, but also for me. Prestigious wealth management firms weren’t in the habit of letting analysts with only three years experience fly to Cape Town, South Africa to woo billion dollar clients. It was only through a series of fortunate events—a group of senior employees leaving to start their own firm, my recent promotion, and a chance encounter with one of the directors in the cafeteria—that I was in this position. To say this was big would be an understatement.
“No worries.” She yawned and rubbed one sleepy eye while making a noise somewhere between a groan and a gurgle. “I wanted to get up anyway. Get some breakfast, catch some foreign television. It’s not every day you get to see Big Bird speaking Afrikaans. You ready for your meeting?”
God, I hope so. I’d better be after all the practice and preparation. Thankfully the butterflies fluttering in my stomach did more to energize me than a cup of coffee ever could. “I think I’m ready. Besides, Richard’s going to do most of the talking. He’s got years of experience doing this. I’m just there for backup.”
She flashed her winning smile. “And to be a pretty face. You’ll do great, Miss Harvard grad.”
I stuck out my tongue playfully. Riley was from Staten Island and went to NYU for college. Although we both ended up working in the finance world, Riley was a corporate tax accountant thanks to her parents’ guidance, and often reminded me how her job was less exciting than mine. We’d gotten to know each other over the past two years, sharing an apartment in the financial district of Manhattan to offset the exorbitant rent. Despite our personality differences—me being relatively straight-laced and Riley being the weekend warrior—we were both single professionals in their mid-twenties, so naturally we bonded.
When I’d told her I was taking a business trip to Cape Town for a week, she insisted on using her vacation time to join me. I couldn’t blame her. The prospect of tanning on beautiful beaches and scoping out an exotic locale sounded more appealing than staring at balance sheets. Plus, I knew I would have some free time and hanging out with her would be much more fun than by myself or, heaven forbid, with Richard.
I packed up the last of my files, zipped up my shoulder bag, and smoothed out my light blue blouse and black pencil skirt. The outfit had been painstakingly put together to blend professionalism and style. It was part of the strategy. “How do I look?”
“I’d trust you with my million dollars—if I had it.”
“Hopefully bad boy billionaire Vincent Sorenson thinks the same way.”
“I’ve seen you working nonstop for this meeting for a month now. You’re more than ready, girl. Either way, we’re going to have fun tonight. Don’t forget about that.”
Of course, a full afternoon and evening of adventure with Riley. I was looking forward to it. With a wave, I left the hotel room and took the elevator down to the lobby where I was supposed to meet Richard. As I stepped onto the marble tile, my heel making a clack, I checked my watch. 7:30 a.m. on the button. We’d agreed to meet an hour before the meeting, giving us plenty of time to walk the few blocks from the hotel to the client’s office building and to go over any last minute details should they arise in our sleep. God knows I’d had dreams about this moment. Well, more like nightmares. And for some funny reason, all of them ended with me in my underwear.
I spotted Richard seated on the edge of a cozy lounge chair, his eyes glued to his Blackberry. He wore a slate-gray suit with a cerulean tie, giving him the look of a diligent twenty-eight-year-old. Only the few strands of gray hair would betray he was closer to forty.
“Morning,” I greeted him.
“Have you eaten breakfast yet, Kristen?” His response didn’t include prying his eyes away from his device. It wasn’t an unusual occurrence and I didn’t take offense to it as I usually would have. If Richard could be boiled down to one word, it would be “business.” It was both his strength and flaw. In the six months I’d worked under him, the only way I was able to get his undivided attention was by saying something relevant to his career advancement. In this, he was like most of the people who worked at the firm.
“I had an orange juice and a granola bar. I could go for some coffee though.”
“Let’s get going then. We can stop for a cup.” He gathered his briefcase and I followed him as he left the hotel.
As we stepped out from beneath the overhang of the valet area, the view of the ocean in the distance and a cool breeze helped calm my nerves. It was the middle of June and the weather was amazing. We continued a leisurely stroll through the heart of downtown Cape Town. We had only flown in the previous day and had been busy with prep work so I hadn’t had time to soak in my surroundings. Tall corporate buildings piercing the sky, honking cars, an eclectic mix of people commuting to work, a McDonald’s on seemingly every corner—in a lot of ways, it reminded me of Manhattan. Still, the mix of bright colors, unfamiliar languages, and relaxed demeanors gave this place its own charm.
Along the way, we paused for a cup of coffee and Richard took the opportunity to review our strategy.
“When we get inside the building, I want you to be all smiles, Kristen. I want to see your teeth at all times. I will be doing most of the talking, but you play an important role as well. Clients may have more money than some countries, but first and foremost, they’re people. People are emotional. Men, in particular, are weak to feminine allure. You soften them up, and I mold them.”
Sounds like my role could be replaced by a cardboard cut out with boobs. Great. Richard’s back-handed compliment irritated me but I wasn’t in a position to rock the boat. Although there were plenty of women in the finance world, the upper echelons were men’s clubs with their own rules. I’d hope to see that change one day, but unfortunately office politics were never my strong suit. The hours I put into gathering research documents on Vincent Sorenson and making persuasive graphs were enough for me. I really wanted to do well at my job, so I’d have to trust in Richard’s experience.
“Right. An emotion-driven approach.” I used his own words to show I understood him.
He smiled. “I call it the Buddy System. In my experience, Vincent’s a Type B. Hobbyist, passionate for recreational activities, doesn’t really know how to run a company but got extremely lucky. A hands-off CEO who’s unburdened by details but good at delegating responsibility to his VPs. The guy loves to jerk off and surf.”
I had my doubts about his assessment, but I kept them to myself. Vincent had started off as an avid surfer and built a cheap waterproof camera that allowed him to film his accomplishments. It seemed the only thing novel about his product was the attachment that fixed the device to his surfboard. People began asking him to build them one and through word-of-mouth it took off. Seven years later, his company SandWorks had expanded into various businesses related to extreme sports—bungee jumping, skydiving, mountain climbing, you name it. But based on all the internet pictures of the guy with his shirt off and surfboard in hand, you’d think he was a full-time beach bum.
A bum with tattoos and chiseled abs.
Richard continued as we crossed the street. “These guys are fairly predictable. All the other wealth management firms vying for his money look exactly the same on paper. They’re going to talk to him about alpha ratios, dividends, hedge funds, and it’s all going to go over his head. We want our approach to stand out. Demonstrating your interest in what he’s passionate about is going to win you half the battle. Watch, I bet he’ll be in a t-shirt, shorts, and sandals when we meet him.”
My sensitivity to incorrect initial assumptions kicked in but I wasn’t going to argue with Richard. Our strategy was set. Fortunately, Richard’s confidence helped quell the gnawing feeling in my stomach that we were still unprepared. It was like the test anxiety I would get all throughout college except now failure meant losing millions of dollars instead of a few GPA points.
When we reached our destination, I faintly recognized the towering structure from our research. “Does Vincent own this building?”
“No. The company just rents out a few offices on the twenty-third floor for small operations in the area. He mainly comes here to surf.”
I made sure to plaster my smile on before we passed through the revolving door entrance. After checking in, we took the elevator up to Vincent’s floor where a receptionist ushered us to his office. “Just knock,” she said before returning to her post.
“You ready?” Richard asked as he held his knuckle to the door.
This was it. I sucked in a deep breath and looked him in the eye. “Let’s do this.”
He knocked and I heard a distinctly male voice telling us to come in. Raising the corners of my lips to give my smile that extra perk, I followed as Richard led us in. My smile faded at the sight of the man seated behind the desk.
He was calmly poised with masculine refinement more befitting a Calvin Klein model than a Fortune 500 CEO. As I gazed at those rich brown eyes, sharply etched nose, and seductively carved mouth set in a bone structure undoubtedly designed by a master artisan I briefly thought we had stepped onto the set of a photoshoot. But there was no mistaking this was Vincent Sorenson, in the flesh. The hours I’d spent analyzing his images in the name of research did not—could not—prepare me for the real thing. In the most recent photo I could find, he was up to his waist in the sea and approaching the shore beaming a heart-stopping smile like some sort of mythical sex god eager to claim his offerings. It wasn’t difficult to imagine virgins voluntarily sacrificing themselves to him.
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