When things at Devon go awry, the Chairman of the Board of Governors has to make an unscheduled visit. Good thing he's got his new toy...
Stillman Weathers poked at his tuna tartare and looked out the cabin window. With a cruising altitude of 42,000 feet, his company’s brand new Gulfstream G650 didn't offer much to see. Even the clouds looked far below.
Stillman rubbed the soft Spanish leather on his armrest. He loved his new toy, which seated eight, had a crew of four, and a top speed just shy of Mach 1.
He liked saying that. Mach 1. The speed of sound. The G650 waiting list was long but Stillman’s company had always been a good Gulfstream customer, so they got the fourth one off the line. He noticed it was the only one parked at Davos last month.
With its final configuration, the tab to his company came to $72 million. This had given Stillman some pause, but he worked hard, and it wouldn’t do to waste half his days in commercial airports, not with what his time was worth. And besides, his company, Loritel Industries, made $3.2 billion last quarter. The shareholders wouldn’t squawk, that’s for sure. Not with numbers like those.
“Will that be all, Mr. Weathers?” asked Jenny, the plane’s stewardess.
“Yes, thank you, Jenny. You can knock off for a bit.”
Today, Stillman was the only passenger. As the Chairman of Devon’s Board of Governors, he was heading to Havenport for an emergency meeting of the Steering Committee, which was basically the small subset of the board that actually got things done. The board itself had forty-five members, a size that maximized financial gifts but rendering productive meetings impossible. When you got right down to it, the broader board didn’t do much, not that anyone on the outside had to know.
The unscheduled trip was an inconvenience, but Stillman was silently pleased to think he was riding to the rescue. Being Chair of Devon’s board pleased Stillman almost as much as being CEO of Loritel…no, it pleased him more. For better or worse, the corporate world was tainted. They were moneymen, strivers, never completely respected in the corridors of media and political power. He’d given over $100 million of his shareholders’ money away last year to various charities to wash himself of the stain, and naturally he signaled his disdain for the current administration in Washington at every opportunity, but still…the stain remained. He felt it.
Academia, on the other hand, was still the province of an intellectual nobility, where inhabitants toiled in the pursuit of pure truth, not mammon. While Stillman projected an image of serene authority, he was secretly as thrilled as a little boy about his ascendancy to the Devon Chair. It conferred, in the circles he cared about, a legitimacy that couldn’t be bought. And heck, he still loved the place, having spent his undergraduate years as a history major and heavyweight rower. In many ways, those were the best four years of his life.
The situation with the black students would have to be handled with tact. When he was a student, back in the early seventies, there were minority students on campus, but nothing like today, what with outreach being such a priority. At his last reunion, a classmate of his - whose son had recently been rejected - quipped that back in their day, if you saw a black student you might whisper they were likely a football or basketball player. Now, the joke went, if you saw a preppie white kid you might mutter, “probably a lacrosse player.” Like most successful jokes, it had the air of truth. Times had changed, and it was part of Stillman’s job to help the school navigate that change. He couldn’t allow anything to undermine Devon’s reputation and, not unimportantly, his own. In Stillman’s world, a well-maintained order was the most virtuous state of affairs.
But he wondered about Milton. What kind of show was he running? Events were spinning beyond his control. Stillman would bottom line this thing and put it in the rear view mirror. That’s what he did. If some knuckles had to be rapped, so be it.
Since this was his first trip to Devon in his new iron, his people had to call to make sure Havenport Airport’s lone runway had the necessary length. It could, if just barely. Iron. It’s what CEOs called their planes when they were in each other’s company. He loved that word.
He felt the G650 start its long descent. Maybe he’d tell the pilot to come in low over the campus on approach so he could see how the two new houses were coming.