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Reading Club Business: "The Lesser of Two Evils" by Landysh

procurement department – отдел закупок
to scrutinize – тщательно проверять
backlog of orders – невыполненные заказы
subordinates - подчиненные
inventory turnover – оборачиваемость запасов
rule of thumb – проверенное правило, практический способ
replenishment order - заказ на пополнение запасов
overheads - непроизводительные расходы
inventory shrinkage – сокращение запаса в результате потерь, порчи, хищения и т.д.
competitive parity method - метод конкурентного паритета
marketing metrics - маркетинговые показатели
untimely acquisitions – неуместные приобретения
notice of dismissal – уведомление об увольнении
The Lesser of Two Evils
Short Story
(For revision of Business vocabulary)

Listen to the audio:

camera-computer-heart-love-office-Favim.com-211856Mark was the head of the procurement department of a global corporation “Lawrence & Sons” that was a leading shoe-maker with the huge competitive advantage in the form of many patents, excellent equipment and of course exceptionally competent staff. And Mark was one of them. He was reliable and disciplined. No one could characterize him as handsome, but he could definitely outstrip all his colleagues in anything, which concerned securing deals, scrutinizing backlogs of orders, dealing with the suppliers, trying to get bargain prices from them and generally helping this company not to go bust at any moment.
“Have you heard about Barratts? They are going into administration!” he heard people saying to one another when he entered the building of the shoe manufacturer one foggy November morning. The market situation was tough because of the cut-throat competition and decrease of footfall in both highstreets and shopping centers. And collapsed Barratts was just one of many retailers whose business was on the line. So Mark knew that the coming week was going to be just one big headache for him. Although he was not one of those who faced the prospect of redundancies – he was too valuable for the company, - he would surely have a lot of work to ensure profitability of his department. That meant being chained to the desk almost 17 hours a day. Even in the hallway he could hear the shouts of his boss Mr. Stone who was unnerved by the news of insolvencies of many companies: “We have to choose the lesser of two evils! It is the only possible turnaround strategy that can be efficient in the circumstances! Otherwise we will be forced to halt production! And this is unacceptable.” Mr. Stone continued shouting at his subordinates when Mark’s best friend caught up with him in the hall. Josh was a funny young man. They used to work together in the supply chain, making sure the warehouses are running smoothly. But a year ago Mark decided to leave them for more comfortable offices of the procurement department, while Josh stayed in the warehouses where he was accountable for delivery and calculating inventory turnover. But that separation hadn’t spoilt the relationship between the two men.
“Old Mr. Stone’s speeches have never precise or concise,” noticed Josh.
“He prophecies the catastrophe like a street priest,” replied Mark.
“They are going to eliminate a huge part of personnel just to warrant their own safety. Bastards,” continued Josh.
“What’s wrong with you? You have nothing to worry about, mate,” said Mark.
“I don’t worry about myself. But they are going to fire a lot of people,” answered his friend.
“Goodness, Josh. Business is business. And redundancies are inevitable. It’s a rule of thumb in times like this, you know it. I talked to Big Old Mr. Stone yesterday and came up with the plan for future redundancies. They’re preparing the list now. A great weight will lift from our shoulders, trust me. It’s good, it’s healthy.”
Josh wanted to object and thought better of it. They approached Mark’s office and found the door unlocked. Inside they saw a girl who was sitting on the edge of the chair and looking at the window. Her back was straight like a plank of wood and she held a small leather purse on her lap. When the men opened the door she immediately moved her head towards them and stood up.
“Mister Robinson, sir,” she addressed Mark. “I…”
“Who are you? What are you doing here? How did you come in?” Mark uttered.
“My name is Sophie,” she looked bravely into his eyes and extended her hand for the handshake. “The door was unlocked. I brought reports to justify the budget for the next month and new replenishment orders. Sorry for the intrusion.”
Mark hesitated for a moment but shook her hand. The girl was undoubtedly very attractive. He was aware that now was not the time or place to forge new relationships. But she was so, so…
“Thank you,… Sophie,” the young man said hoarsely. He suddenly didn’t know what to do with his hands. He felt awkward but found it hard to take his eyes away from the beautiful woman. He hardly noticed that his friend was already gone. But the woman didn’t seem to be in a hurry to leave his office.
“Mister Robinson, sir,” she started. “I know that in these dour times we must maximize our efficiency and at least keep the current margins.”
“You’re right, Missis…”
“Miss Jones. May I propose something, Mr. Robinson, that could allow us to reduce some overheads and decrease inventory shrinkage in our supply chain?”
“I’m sorry, Miss Jones. What department do you work in?”
“Procurement but you’re close to the top management. I thought I better share my ideas with you. You’re more modern and ready to embrace changes. So if I may, I suggest we should quantify…”
The young woman was bombarding him with brilliant suggestion about the internal changes, but he couldn’t concentrate on what exactly she was saying. “In my department?” he wondered to himself. “How come I have never seen her? Was I blind” were the thoughts that ran in his head.
“We incur great costs because of it, you might not realize it,” Sophie was saying. She was seating in the chair next to Mark, showing him charts and diagrams, pointing to some figures and speaking about statistics. “We must respect the budget! Right now we constantly go over it! And think of new approaches. I suggest competitive parity – we have to track competitors’ investments. And don’t forget about the proper use of marketing metrics…”
“Listen, Sophie,” Mark interrupted her. The woman lifted her eyes from piles of papers that were covering the desk. “Would you like to maybe discuss it over dinner tonight?”
The silence seemed to be intolerable. Mark wanted to shake her just to make her talk. It wouldn’t even matter, if she refused or even slapped him in the face. The woman just looked at him. But suddenly a tender smile broke her face and her eyes sparkled.
She was an angel. Stylish and funny. Intelligent and fragile. She was one of very few people who could make him laugh and her seriousness when she talked business was enough to make him forget about the world and just sit there, admiring her and smiling like an idiot. Life before the encounter with Sophie on that fateful November day seemed like an old black-and-white film where nothing was ever happening. But it had all changed. Meetings in the nearby caf? and walks in the park followed the dinner. They talked and laughed. It was like a teenage romance with courting, flowers, cinema, eating ice-cream, and long online chats before going to bed. They even worked together, stayed after work, cycle counting, checking safety stock, preparing reports on capital assets and operating expenses, trying to find new suppliers and strike new deals. With Sophie even accrual accounting seemed like the easiest and most interesting thing that had ever existed.
Josh was laughing at Mark behind his back, calling him cupid. But Mark didn’t care because he was happy. For the first time in a long time he was truly happy.
“We have reached this point,” the thunderous voice of Mr. Stone, CEO, rang across the big conference room.  “We’ve reached this point, where we have to make decision. It’s been a tough year for all of us. We made some untimely acquisitions, and currently there is a huge debt looming before us. In order to prevent the “stock-out” situations I am afraid we have to let some of our staff go. The market is at it lowest point. Shops that used to buy our shoes are filing for bankruptcy and customers are becoming more and more price sensitive. We are very sorry, but…”
“Do you know where Sophie is?” Mark asked some girl who worked in his department. She just shook her head and turned her teary eyes towards Mr. Stone. And understandably so, thought Mark, that girl was probably going to be made redundant. As were many others. Such methods had their pros and cons. But what would you do? It’s either this or shutting the whole place down. But where’s Sophie? Why can’t I see her, wondered Mark and searched for the familiar face with dark brown eyes and short black hair in the crowd. But what he saw was hundreds of angry men and women who held their fists in the air and were ready to tear the management into pieces. All of a sudden a shocking realization pierced Mark’s mind. Oh, no,…
Her desk was empty. Sophie used to work in the open office with the rest of the managers, which was now oddly deserted. A man was sitting in the corner and crying, while some still worked, talking on their phones with the suppliers or road haulage companies. Sophie was nowhere to be seen. The funny pictures, figurines of ballet dancers and her big red coffee mug – everything was gone from her table. Even the photo he took of her when they went together to a famous Irish pub in Philly a few weeks ago for St. Patrick’s day was taken away. In it she wore a hilarious green hat and had a clover painted on her cheek. She used to say that she looked alive on that photo and that’s why she decided to frame it. Now her desk seemed like an endless desert – abandoned and short of any signs of life. The trash bin was the only thing that wasn’t empty. A crumpled piece of paper lay inside. Mark took it out and saw that it was the notice of dismissal with the name “Sophie Harris” on it. His heart sank. He ran to Mr. Stone’s office. But there was nothing he could do anymore.
Josh came to work that morning expecting to see his friend already hard at work. During the last few days Mark was mostly very silent, he came earlier than usual and left very late at night. He hardly spoke to anyone but if he did it was solely about work. Two weeks past since Sophie was let go. Josh didn’t hear Mark saying anything about her after that day. He worked day and night. But that morning gone was the usual lonely sight of his friend glued to his desk. Papers were carefully stacked on the shelves. Pens, stamps and folders were hidden in the drawers and there was a single piece of paper lying on the desk with an accurate signature of Mark Robinson on it.
For years to come everything stayed the same. Day after day Josh went to work and back home as many others who worked for “Lawrence & Sons” did. You come at 9 and leave at 6. That gives some kind of system to your life. It makes you feel that your day has a clear structure and that you have some kind of discipline that helps you live the right way. Because you never know what horrible things might happen once you step away from this path of normality. One night when he came back home he checked the contents of his mail box. He took out a heap of usual papers. A card slipped out and fell on the floor. To see a postcard among the usual garbage of bills, promotional leaflets and more bills was so surprising these days that Josh couldn’t move for a few seconds. “Majorca” the postcard screamed. On the front was the photo of a heavenly beach and the view of a crystal clear sea. 
“To Josh Peck, 261 South 20th Street, Philadelphia, US from Mr. and Mrs. Robinson, 10 Carrer de Solo, Palma, Majorca, ” was written on its back. 

Vocabulary Exercises:

ex. 1 Match the words with their definitions
  • variance
  • bottom line
  • margin
  • sales pitch
  • demand
  • supply
  • sales per square foot
  • prize draw
  • cut-price
  • accrual accounting

  1. a lottery, a competition
  2. the act of providing or something that is provided
  3. available at prices or rates below the standard price or rate
  4. techniques, arguments or other persuasion used in selling
  5. a method that measures the performance and position of a company by recognizing economic events regardless of when cash transactions occur.
  6. The difference between the cost and the selling price of securities or commodities.
  7. the amount of a commodity that consumers are willing and able to purchase at a specified price
  8. the last line of a financial statement that shows the net profit or loss of a company or organization
  9. the average revenue a retail business creates for every square foot of sales space
  10. the difference between actual and planned budgeting figures

ex. 2 Explain the meaning of the following words and expressions

  • capital assets
  • operating expenses
  • cash budget
  • bargain price
  • intermediary
  • seasonal promotions
  • overheads
  • acquisition
  • price sensitivity
  • profitability

ex. 3 Complete the sentences

  • to attract investment
  • to go into administration
  • to go bust
  • to outstrip
  • redundancies
  • to rule out
  • turnaround strategy
  • to secure a licensing deal
  • to file for bankruptcy
  • to scrutinize

  1. The massive job cuts lead to the fact that the Union decided to ________ Flybe in order to prevent further redundancies.
  2. After a year of struggle the airline ________.
  3. Unable to ________ to pay its debts, the company filed for bankruptcy.
  4. Due to the fast changing habits of customers and trends at the market many retailers ________.
  5. Out liabilities far ________ our assets, I think, the time has come for some action.
  6. Their collapse will trigger store closures and ________ all over the country.
  7. Gordon Brother came up with the ________ but it proved to be failure.
  8. One of the ways to deal with the  company that went bankrupt is for it to ________.
  9. This retailer wanted to ________ with the Japanese  company, so that the latter could use its logo on the clothes and accessories it produces.
  10. Due to the ongoing troubles our company is facing, I reckon that we cannot ________ the possibility of going into administration if this trend persists.