The Magic of Christmas by Alan Houghton
The new Chief Accountant, Mr Countem beamed as his turn to speak arrived. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to present to the board, the results of the efficiency review by the world-renowned management consultants, Shorterm, Blinkered and Brevitt’. ‘Who commissioned that?’ demanded the Chairman. ‘No-one’ answered the Chief Accountant, ‘I did it on my own initiative. There is too much waste around here and I thought we needed better value for money. We have not made a profit for years.’ ‘Well, let’s hear what they have got to say’ instructed the Chairman reluctantly.
Mr Countem confidently began, ‘Their first point for consideration is the fact that there is only one Santa Claus. They feel that this is a very uncompetitive situation. Santa Claus has a monopoly and therefore, he holds a strong bargaining position when it comes to discussing his contract.’ ‘What contract?’ Santa demanded, ‘I have never had a contract in my life!’ ‘OK Santa be quiet! Your turn will come.’ the Chairman intervened, ‘Please continue.’ ‘Thank you, Mr Chairman,’ Mr Countem continued with a sly smirk at Santa. ‘The Santa Claus image is an extraordinarily strong brand, which could be franchised very profitably. The number of opportunities are immense. You could have a Santa Claus in every home.’ ‘Never!’ roared Santa Claus. ‘There is only one Santa Claus!’ agreed Sledger, the Lapland Transport Union representative, ‘my members will not work with anyone else.’ ‘What would we do with the real Santa Claus?’ inquired Miss Person, the Human Resources manageress. ‘Well’ Mr Countem answered ‘Santa Claus could take early retirement, or he could become a training consultant. There will be a big need for training.’ The meeting exploded with shouts of ‘Shame!’, ‘Heartless jackals!’ and ‘Mercenaries!’ before the Chairman shouted ‘Order!’ to restore the uneasy calm. ‘Please continue, Mr Countem’ he instructed.
Mr Countem adjusted the pince-nez spectacles on his lupine nose, savouring his moment of glory. It is about time we introduced a bit of professionalism into the operation, he thought to himself. He was fresh out of college. Five years of relentless studies meant that he was an expert. He would show them how to run things. His mind returned to the fray, ‘Next, they point out the fact that Christmas Day is always on December 25th.’ ‘Marvellous!’ laughed Santa Claus, ‘are we paying for observations like that!’ Ignoring the sniggers and ridicule around the table, Mr Countem continued, ‘this is very restrictive and leads to all kinds of bottlenecks in production and horrendous distribution problems. Every year, vast amounts of overtime have to be worked during December at exorbitant premium rates, by both the toy making and transport departments. They suggest spreading Christmas throughout the year to remedy this situation. This would have the effects of smoothing out the peaks and troughs in demand and lead to better use of plant and resources. Delivery could then be spread over 365 days. A contract for the distribution of the toys could then be put out to tender. Companies like Hermes, Amazon and DHL would be fighting for such a prestigious distribution contract, thereby securing more competitive rates. Deliveries could be made during daylight hours, thereby eliminating the need for premium rates to be paid. The toys could be delivered with other parcels, thereby generating the advantages of mass distribution.’ A self-satisfying smirk crossed his face. Revolutionary to this rabble it might be but to a well-educated man like himself, it was all good textbook stuff, he thought to himself. ‘This is madness,’ shouted Mr Sledger ‘My members will not stand for this!’
‘I was coming to your members, Mr Sledger’ gloated Mr Countem. ‘The herd of reindeers should be made redundant as it costs too much to feed them and look after them throughout the year, just for one night’s work from them. Either that or another use must be found for them that would cover their maintenance costs and generate profit. Mind you, they have limited skills and it would be difficult to retrain them and redeploy them into other areas.’ At this point, Sledger had to be restrained. He was fuming but Santa Claus held him back and whispered in his ear, ‘Keep calm, just give this idiot enough rope to hang himself!’
Mr Countem haughtily carried on, ‘Next, the variety of toys and presents is much too wide, causing difficulties in production, the supply of raw materials, multiple sizes of packaging and the training of staff. Toys have to be handmade because of their diverse nature. Huge inventories of raw materials and components have to be maintained to meet the huge variety in demand. As each toy is different, packaging is a nightmare and has to be tackled individually with every order. The skills required by the toy makers is unbelievably high and require exceedingly long apprenticeships. Production should be centred on a few core products, which can be mass produced with extremely low skill levels. We could reduce training periods considerably. Only a few basic sizes and shapes of packaging need to be stored then. Stock inventories would be reduced, thereby reducing the amount of cash tied up in stock and improving the organisation’s liquidity. We can reap the economies of scale’. Mr Drawit, the Chief Designer could restrain himself no more, ‘Standardisation! Do you think children are standardised? No two children are alike!’
‘In addition,’ Mr Countem declared the request service for presents should be discontinued as it is expensive to maintain. Dealing with mountains of mail from children, the training of garden birds to monitor children’s behaviour and report back and then the attempts to meet such a diverse demand for presents is just not cost effective. Children should get what they are given.’ The meeting declined into general disruption and the Chairman ordered a ten-minute recess.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, I do not want any more interruptions please, no matter what you think of what is being said. I’ll take all comments at the end of this meeting. We do not want to be here all night. Please resume Mr Countem, let’s get this over with’, sighed the Chairman. ‘Thank you, Mr Chairman,’ Mr Countem said pointedly, the first signs of confidence ebbing from his voice, ‘I have nearly finished now.’ He turned to the rest of the assembly and stated ‘The current location for the organisation is not suitable for a truly global operation. Lapland is too far north and its climate causes great difficulties in transportation. More central locations should be found on each continent. They should be based central to the greatest centres of population. We should have our head office in a major city, so that our postal address carries a bit of prestige.’ ‘You’ve already suggested abolishing the postal service,’ countered Santa Claus ‘so what do we need a postal address for?’ Santa Claus grinned triumphantly as uncontrollable laughter filled the room. Mr Countem cringed. He had been caught on that one. ‘Well,’ he stammered in reply ‘it will look good on our letterheads!’
‘is that the end of your report, Mr Countem?’ the Chairman asked over the bedlam of noise filling the room. ‘Yes,’ Mr Countem replied meekly, beginning to feel the depths of defeat descending upon him. ‘Order! Order’ bellowed the Chairman ‘Have we any sensible comments?’ ‘May I say a few words please, Mr Chairman?’ a little voice rose from the end of the table. ‘Certainly, Christopher, please continue. I would certainly like to hear the views of our children’s representative’ replied the Chairman.
‘All this talk of monopolies and efficiency is way above my head’ he began as the room quietened. ‘All I know is that Christmas is and always should be a special time. It is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. It is something to look forward to. My friends and I love writing lists of presents that they want to Santa Claus, knowing that if we behave, there is a chance we might get them. We love putting up the Christmas tree once a year with all the decorations. We love Santa Claus and we make sure that we leave him something to eat and drink when he delivers the presents. We love to see more reindeers not more delivery vans. It is a time of love and peace, a chance to love and be loved that otherwise people would not get. Don’t take the magic of Christmas away from us.’
‘Thank you very much, Christopher’ said the Chairman. ‘I think you spoke for all of us. Shall we take a vote on the report now? All those in favour, please say ‘Aye’.’ The silence was total. The silence was deafening. ‘The report is unanimously rejected,’ declared the Chairman, ‘we carry on as normal. Back to work everyone, there is lots to be done!’