Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Things to do when you are not in Paris

"Do you think that we should tell them the truth?" whispered Marie-Louise in my ear. I looked around the room and took in a deep breath. The sharp eyes of the pensioners felt like a laser beam on my forehead.

There were about a hundred of them in the room, waiting for us to break the news. How come these old people are in such a good shape, I wondered. Until that morning, I had never set foot in a retirement home and I was still recovering from my surprise.

What I had expected to be little more than a stopover before the cemetery happened to be a place full of lively, healthy, and self-confident men and women. Many of them did not look a day older than forty-five. Now we just had to tell them that our firm had lost their life's savings in the stock market.

"These are old people and might have a heart attack," I whispered back to my colleague Marie-Louise. "We have to be diplomatic." She nodded and looked at me with her big French blue eyes. "I am going to pick up the laptop from the car," she proposed. "Just in case we need to show them our presentation."

Before I could answer, Marie-Louise had already turned around and scurried out of the room, leaving me alone to face the pensioners. The latest amongst them to arrive took a seat. A hundred chairs, a hundred men and women. People who were going to tear me apart as soon as they heard the news.

One of them coughed a little
and silence took over the room. It was the stillness of a battlefield at dawn, just before the first charges are shot. "Good morning," I said. "My name is Terence Nile. I work for Grandeur Investments." In my mind, I was damning the day that I had taken that job. Who wants to end his days stoned to death by a bunch of angry pensioners?

"Do you come from Paris?" asked a voice from the back of the room. What a silly question, I told myself. Of course I came from Paris. All French investment banks are in Paris. Marie-Louise and I had left the city at 7 a.m. that morning to drive to that retirement home in Fontainebleau. Suddenly, I had an inspiration. Maybe there was a way for me to get out of there alive.

"As you can hear by my accent, I am American," I replied, looking in the direction where the question had come from. "I am a specialist in investment turnarounds." I saw the pensioners exchange worried looks, wondering what on earth an investment turnaround specialist was. Besides, why was a French investment bank employing a foreigner?

"Your bank has sent me to tell you that the news are better than they look," I went on. As I spoke, I saw the pensioners' faces become tense and their eyes light up with anger. I quickly told them the figures and then I raised my voice. "This is why the current situation offers such extraordinary possibilities! I don't think any of us will ever experience such a great investment opportunity in our lifetime."

After I finished talking, the hundred men and women
sat motionless on their chairs and stared at me in silence for almost a minute. They are in a state of shock, I realized. Was their shock due to the depressing results of their investments or to my upbeat conclusion?

A few questions followed. In every answer, I gave them my line of reasoning. Now it was a great time to invest. Assets were dirt cheap. This is the opportunity of the century. Any money invested now had the potential to multiply in a couple of years.

Blond Marie-Louise was waiting for me in the car, nervously eyeing the front door of the retirement home. She was obviously surprised to see me walk out of the building on my own, all in one piece. I opened the car door, sat at her side, and closed the door.

"I was waiting for the laptop battery to recharge," she explained half-heartedly. I shrugged my shoulders, showing that I understood. "What happened?" she asked full of curiosity. "How did they take it?"

In life, you have to take opportunities as they come. There are things you just can't do in Paris, in the offices of an investment bank. There are things you can do only when you are away from Paris. I turned to Marie-Louise and took her hand in mine. "You are not going to believe this," I began, "but these are times of great opportunity."


[Image by Al lanni under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under]