Decked in our kickoff week swag – fleeces and dry-fit running shirts with the company logo – we marched into John’s office with an ultimatum. Seeing us, he broke into a broad grin and we remembered his childish sense of wonder and possibility, the thing that had once attracted us to come work for Viva Technologies.
“You MUST take a vacation,” we said to our CEO, holding aloft plane tickets and reservations for an extreme sports spa in the desert. He opened his mouth to protest but we held up our hands to silence him. We pointed to the list of Viva’s core values stenciled on his wall: Think huge. Do what it takes. Save lives.
“We’ve thought huge. Every Viva employee chipped in. As a way to say thanks,” we said. “Complete disconnect from work for seven whole days. It’s all arranged with your wife and the board.”
“You guys,” he said. It wasn’t like John to get choked up, but we knew he’d been through a grueling few weeks trying to get the acquisition through, perhaps the worst since founding the company. All-night due diligence sessions with Finance. Stormy board meetings. Numerous walkouts from both sides. Legal kept us abreast of the negotiations: All that remained between us and fattened bank accounts was one last sticking point.
We were careful to keep the nervous grins off our faces. We credited John with having the vision and drive that inspired our little startup to grow from four founding members into a sizable 300-person operation in eight years, our software used by health care professionals and first responders around the world, our algorithms the envy of our larger, more established competitors.
But we also credited John with 67 divorces, 736 missed soccer, football, basketball and baseball games or track meets, and 58 missed weddings and funerals. Three account execs’ personal credit ratings decimated after John promised customers certain features were coming much sooner than they were. The QA team leader’s baby born in the conference room because she couldn’t leave during the final hours of an R&D sprint.
We blamed John for botching the two previous attempts to sell the company. We doubted we could survive another one of his months-long failed acquisition funks. Cancelled foosball tournaments. Temper tantrums on social media. The “Do What it Takes” task force overflowed with volunteers; we had to limit it to one rep per department.
Whenever John spoke, the air in the room filled up like a balloon, as if there was no oxygen for anyone else. He was the type of CEO who pounded his fists on the table and spewed expletives when things didn’t go his way. Eventually he’d calm down, transform back from his ogre-self into his prince-self and make each one of us feel special. Our partners couldn’t understand, but they’d never heard his inspirational talks, telling us to feel proud of the lifesaving work we were accomplishing. Teaching us that if we saved one life it was as if we’d saved an entire world.
Though all 312 of us would have liked to travel to the desert, Finance allocated budget only for key personnel. We flew in disguise on 11 different flights the day after John left. IT set up a live stream for everyone back at the office. Security was tasked with cleanup.
We approached our action items with laser-like focus. Despite the heat, we kept bickering to a minimum. We were used to spending our days in slick high tech offices, with beanbags and Nespresso machines and round-the-clock fresh fruit, not staked out on a mountain wilderness trail.
Ops set up surveillance and sensors at strategic places around the spa and along the trails. We’d given John one of those selfie sticks for his GoPro and rigged it with special satellite connectivity. Procurement had sourced the requisite substances from somewhere on the dark internet. Legal waited in the boardroom of our soon-to-be new owners’ offices. Marketing stood ready with a press release once signatures were affixed.
From our locations, we watched John eat a quick breakfast of bananas, yogurt and granola. He accepted complimentary “water” bottles and gourmet “date” bars from the spa’s concierge, giving no sign of recognizing that the “concierge” was, in fact from Sales Development, aka John’s frequent punching bag.
It would take a few hours for John’s immune system to weaken but we had our laptops and phones to get work done. At an hour and 23 minutes, John clutched his stomach in pain. He took a few small steps and sat down on a ledge. Via the high-definition camera, we could see the pores on his forehead open up to release beads of sweat. He took several large gulps from his water bottle, wiped his brow and tried continuing down the path.
“Have to give him credit,” someone wrote in the group chat.
By the two-hour mark, John was vomiting. At 2:17 he seemed too disoriented to continue. He laid down in the middle of the trail, dust streaking his clothes and hair. Over the chat, we debated whether to release the Gila monster, waiting about 100 feet away.
Medical, monitoring John’s vitals through a complex series of sensors, gave the word at 2:57. Through the GoPro we played the video filmed in stealth the week before. All 312 employees, standing on the roof of our building, purple and white t-shirts forming the Viva logo. Transition to individuals flashing personal messages: “no one is coming” and “goodbye John,” back to one giant display: “Do what it takes. We’re saving ourselves.”
John’s eyes grew wide with terror and he tried to sit up, but his muscles had atrophied. This was the moment we thought we’d relish: seeing John comprehend the depths of our betrayal. Instead, we felt nauseous.
After another minute, Medical posted a message on the chat: “It’s over. Expunge the files and have them sign the damn papers. Viva la Viva.”
Julie Zuckerman hails from Connecticut but moved to Israel 22 years ago, where she works in high tech marketing and lives with her husband and four children. Her stories have appeared in Sixfold, Salt Hill, descant, 34thParallel, The MacGuffin, Red Wheelbarrow, The Dalhousie Review, and American Athenaeum, among others. She is seeking a home for her collection of linked fiction, and currently working on a novel. When she’s not writing, she can be found running, biking, or baking. She wishes to assert, though it should be obvious, that her story is a work of fiction, and that she wishes no harm to any of her bosses, past or present. Twitter: @jbzuckerman