The corporate boardroom’s decor speaks of wealth restrained. Those who know can appreciate the expense of the room. The $7,000 chairs around the $20,000 table. The $3M painting hiding the flat panel display. The rich wood panelling, transplanted from the now historic library of the company’s founder. And, of course, the incredible 75th-story view over New York City.
None of it was garish, none of it spoke of excess or waste. But any person who entered that room and sat in those chairs could feel the luxury and power that it represented.
That boardroom was the nexus of operations for the Prowl Corporation. The once proud manufacturer of a different name was now a multinational conglomerate that manufactured few things, but marketed everything from financial plans to candy bars and sneakers. The Prowl Corporation had a strong and established global brand. It spoke for itself and people understood it. But sales gains had stagnated and management was under heat to reinvigorate the company’s image.
With that in mind, they had sought out a celebrity sponsor.
After searches and interviews galore, they had selected Dominic Ubarte – a stylish, daring and aggressive Tennis player of Italian and Angolan descent. The man had all the qualities that reinforced the Prowl brand. He was globally recognized. And young people, the key demographic where sales growth had begun to soften, really dug him.
One by one, Ubarte passed the company’s hurdles. He was well-spoken, intelligent and just a bit brash. The TV consulting wing loved him. He had a voice for radio. And his in-person persona and charisma were legendary.
There had been only one more hurdle for him to pass.
And that hurdle is what brings us to the boardroom today. Seeking to protect their interests, the board of directors of Prowl have demanded that the company carry out a full background check and even conduct surveillance of their spokesman-elect. If there were issues, they wanted to be aware of them earlier rather than later.
Kohn Corp., the best private investigators in the world were hired. And, after an exhaustive examination, they have come to present their results.
Kohn Corp’s chief investigator, Adam Kohn, is at the head of the table. The board and officers of the corporation are all around it. It is expected to be a routine meeting, but Kohn has no such plans.
Before he even turns on the presentation screen, hiding the gorgeous $3M painting, he speaks.
“Mr. Ryans,” he says, “Can I ask you to leave the room?”
Mr. Ryans is a member of the Board. He has served for seven years and is considered a key decision-maker for the company. A hired gun asking a man like him to leave is unprecedented.
“No,” he answers, “We’ve paid for this, I believe I’m entitled to see what you’ve learned.”
“Mr. Ryans,” says Mr. Kohn, “Our knowledge of your background suggests that you will experience conflicts of interest if you see our presentation on Mr. Ubarto. They could threaten some of your other Directorships and leadership roles.”
Mr. Ryans considers for a moment. Perhaps he could leave.
“Can I have one of my fellow board members keep me informed about what’s happened?”
“I will inform them of the possible conflicts and they can make up their own minds.”
“Okay,” says Mr. Ryans, rising from his seat.
As soon as he leaves the room, Mr. Kohn powers up the screen. He watches it come on. It shows Ubarti’s face profiled by a distant camera. The man’s skin is of a rich hue, more Angolan than Italian. His straight black hair and sharp features betray his more European roots.
Kohn turns to face the remaining Directors.
“I lied to Mr. Ryans,” he announces, “This presentation will not threaten him in any way. But he is, due to some of his connections, very much a threat to Mr. Ubarti. I will ask that you refrain from sharing my information on Mr. Ubarti with him. You will understand why shortly.”
There is low murmuring as Kohn lowers the lights.
“Mr. Ubarti,” he began, “Is a fascinating individual. Of course, he is known first and foremost as a tennis player. He has a highly developed persona on-field. That is obvious to all. What is far more interesting and relevant to this group is his off-the-field exploits.”
The screen changed – a picture of Ubarti with his family.
“Dominic is a married man. He and his wife Anna have been together for 6 years. They have two children, Fredrico and Armando. In their home life,” a video of the Ubarti home with the family playing by the pool starts playing, “There is no evidence of significant tension. In report cards recovered from trash bins and interviews conducted with teachers, there has been no indication of unusually poor behavior or any sort of abuse.”
With a click of the button, the screen changes- Ubarti in a black Ferrari.
“In his spare time, Ubarti enjoys driving one of his fleet of cars on country roads. The current favorite is a black Ferrari Spyder convertible. Despite the choice of vehicle, he is a restrained and careful driver. He does visit the track regularly to race at full-speed. Ubarti’s home and fleet of luxury cars raised some concern from an accounting standpoint. It was considered possible that he has been drawing income far beyond his current tennis winnings and sponsorships. We investigated his financial history in detail. He is actually, through intermediaries, one of the 15 largest owners of *this* company. He bought shares from November 2004 to March 2006, when the future of Prowl was very much in doubt. His holdings, 0.7% of the company, now have a market value of just over $1.3B. He is living well within his means.”
The slide changes – Ubarti parked in front of a nightclub.
“Our interest was raised once again by his behavior on Friday, March 17th. We followed him to a club. His wife and children were at home and he had decided to go ‘clubbing.’ Our lip reading analysis indicates that before leaving the family home he told his wife he wanted to go for an extended swim. We caught her reaction on camera.” As Kohn speaks, a video of her response plays. “She clearly knows he is lying, but she seems proud. This, of course, confused us.”
“When Obarti got to the club, he went straight inside. He danced for a short period and then made his way to a private booth. A woman met him there. She fit all the characteristics of a squeeze on the side – young, very attractive and dressed in particular fashion. The two of them retired to a nearby hotel. We managed to record some sounds from the room. Despite a shower being on, we heard nothing that resembled any sexual activity. Instead, there was a very earnest and dry conversation whose subject we could not clearly identify. After 25 minutes, Ubarti left the hotel. He had a briefcase with him that he hadn’t had before. He proceeded to another club, where he met another young woman. They too, retired to a hotel. Ubarti visited five hotels that night with five different women before returning home. He told his wife he had a good swim. And she smiled – joyful, but fully aware that he was lying.
“Over the course of the following days, we attempted to put together dossiers on the women. Few are high-profile in their own ways. But each woman had extremely interesting connections. The first was a 2nd-cousin of Aung San Suu Kyi – the leader of the opposition in Myanmar. The second was a niece of Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of Zimbabwe’s opposition. The third was an Iranian woman whose father is head of the Regular Army – not the Revolutionary Guard. The fourth was a Chinese dissident and the fifth was a North Korean defector who is believed to have maintained connections in the country.
“We aren’t sure of the details, but it appears that Mr. Ubarti is using a false sexual promiscuity as a cover for interfacing and supporting various international pro-democracy movements. We attempted to track his changes in belongings, but they were minimal. From the snippets of conversation we caught, he has been: distributing seditious materials within North Korea, providing loan guarantees for the purchase of weapons by Iranian opposition movements, planning a large-scale attack on Myanmar’s Junta, planning for the aftermath of Mugabe’s death and laying long-term groundwork within China. In other words, he is a very busy boy – but not in the way that people expect.”
Kohn pauses to take a drink his water.
“You tasked us with determining whether he was of sufficient character to serve as the face of Prowl. Despite the fact that most of his illicit activities are highly illegal, we believe he fits that criteria. He appears to be a man of great character and resolve. Any extra money he makes will almost certainly go to good and productive use. His wife knows what he is up to and they play word games to ensure their tracks are covered. We have cooperated in this. Mr. Ryan has extensive and illegal business dealings with the government of North Korea – and so we asked him to leave.
On the flip side, Mr. Ubarti’s appearance as a philanderer of the first degree could compromise the company. It is our belief that, if pressured on his apparently illicit relationships, he will insist they are real and he will maintain them. He will not reveal what he is actually up to, nor will any of the women involved identify themselves. In other words, he is a public relations nightmare waiting to happen.”
The presentation ends. As the painting slides back down, covering the screen, Mr. Kohn concludes.
“The choice of whether to extend a contract offer to Mr. Ubarti is, of course, up to you.”
As Mr. Kohn steps out of the room, it erupts in argument and conversation.