Smoke & Mirrors: Dubious business partners

When sales at the central Asian prosthetics partner drop off, the operations director is sent out to investigate ... with the comms chief hot on his tail.

by Guy Browning
Last Updated: 26 May 2015


The good thing about a board meeting is that it reminds you who your non-executive directors are. We have several leathery old codgers who ask not very profound questions in a deep voice and then hurry the agenda along to NED remuneration. The guy who fascinates me is Aslan Ilnyckyj. He's from a central Asian country where we do a lot of prosthetics business because it has more land mines than people.

At the meeting he speaks with an incredibly thick accent. No one knows what he's talking about until we hear the word 'agility' or 'service as a software' and then we all nod vigorously. My guess is that he's actually speaking Chechen with a few business book titles thrown in. Our gorgeous head of diversity, Celeste Nibelle, suggested we get a translator but that would imply we hadn't understood a word he's said for the past 10 years.


Peter Barnsworth, our obese/disabled finance director, always gets a bit fidgety before our board meetings because he has to give his financial report and I always sense that numbers aren't really his thing. He slunk into my office and admitted that he'd dug up something embarrassing. My mind quickly went through my last five years' expenses and I braced myself to admit that my Brazilian girlfriend Concepcion was not actually that country's trade commissioner.

Fortunately Barnsworth had a completely different problem. He'd discovered that our sales in central Asia had been steadily tailing off since Aslan joined the board. Normally Barnsworth would have taken this news straight to our bewigged CEO, Lynton Spivey, but we both know that he's incredibly proud of having recruited Aslan through 'social media networking'.


We packed off our operations director, David Eldritch, to go and check out our central Asian partner on the ground. We chose Eldritch for the job because he seemed best qualified but mostly because he wasn't at the meeting where we decided to send someone. Shortly after he arrived, we got a message we think was from him but was written in Cyrillic.

Google translated it as either he was in a teambuilding workshop or alternatively was being held hostage. This was quite confusing as many teambuilding workshops I've been in feel a lot like being held hostage. Eldritch might have been making a joke but as he has never made one before, that seemed unlikely. I flew out to look for him with my central Asian business toolkit: a vast amount of cash.


I found Eldritch in the local prison. He'd been told by Aslan that this was in fact a business hotel and Eldritch had checked in and insisted on being shown a room. I believe he even let them take an imprint of his credit card. Anyway I released him in the time-honoured fashion and reassured him that an Old Etonian friend of mine viewed prison as a poorly catered networking opportunity.

Eldritch said he'd discovered two things about our non exec. Firstly, that he runs the largest prosthetics business locally under his own name from the same desk we bought him to run a joint- venture with us. Secondly, he gets his venture capital from spamming millions of people suggesting that he is a Russian girl keen to travel to the west with very few clothes on.


Board meeting. Aslan turned up his usual hour late despite having a watch that is accurate to within one parsec per century. We told him we had uncovered his shocking fraud. I explained that the only way of avoiding jail here would be to agree to merge his business with ours.

At this point I got Linda, the lady who does the catering, to remove his cup of coffee and biscuits, which was a nice bit of symbolic drama. That seemed to have a galvanising effect on him. Turns out he speaks English quite well. We got him straightened out and then Spivey, almost in tears, asked him when his 'sister' was expected to come over. Pathetic really. The sooner Aslan takes us over the better.

Guy Browning is the author of How to be Normal: A Guide for the Perplexed, published by Atlantic at £12.99. He can be contacted at

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