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The Best Laid Plans...

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Dear Monte:

So there you are, at AmSmelt plant 56, in Corpus Christi, Texas. The sun is shining, the buffet tables have been ravished, the press tent is filled with happy (and well-fed) journalists. The cameras are ready to roll.

But just as you take to the podium, about to bestow the Chairman’s Award for the SafeSmelting 2K initiative, celebrating 2,000 days without an industrial accident, a small explosion rocks the air, sending one Dwayne Dupree — an AmSmelt engineer — crashing into the tent, landing somewhere between the coleslaw and the press handouts.

Fortunately, Dupree suffers only a broken arm. But the whole thing is caught on video. And quicker than anyone can say “If you missed our live newscast, you can always download the clip on YouTube,” your role in the press junket changes from party host to party piñata.

Within minutes, Geraldo, Greta Van Susteren, and Anderson Cooper are all fighting to see who can go “undercover” first. OSHA, the EPA, and the unions pick up the baton, threatening to shut down the plant. The New York Times dispatches a coven of journalists to investigate the “seamy side” of the smelting industry.

And just to make matters worse — if that’s possible — the founder’s twin sons, AmSmelt directors Otto and Carl, appear on MarketWatch, blaming the accident on your “relentless cost cutting” (which, of course, does not include the private jet that carried them to Corpus Christi).

Monte, Monte, I sympathize. As soon as we heard the news, my crisis team was on the case, working up the mea culpa press release, preparing the obligatory ad for the Journal and the Times (“Our Ongoing Commitment to Safety”), and arranging for your press conference with Dwayne’s family at the hospital.

But it was there, in snooping around on Dwayne’s MySpace page, that my IT guy discovered the truth: It wasn’t an industrial accident at all. Rather, a case of sabotage gone wrong. Dwayne’s wife was having an affair with his boss, Milo Walsh, the head of health and safety at plant 56. And Dwayne’s plan had been to extract some revenge, and embarrass him.

So here’s where we stand tonight: Milo has accepted early retirement. Dwayne’s gone too, and quietly. Instead of pressing charges against him, AmSmelt will pay for his counseling. The news media and the feds have also moved on, save for the bookers from Oprah, and Dr. Phil.

Finally, as per my suggestion (concerning your own revenge), Otto and Carl have agreed to head up a blue-ribbon panel investigating safety issues at the plant in Corpus Christi. They won’t be able to do much good — or harm. But it’ll serve them right, sitting in the sweltering heat and humidity without access to a private plane for the next six months.

I’ll be in touch —

The Biffster.

PS: Just before I hit “send,” I received a phone call from the producer of Law and Order about using this story as the basis for an upcoming episode. Naturally, I tried to steer him away from AmSmelt. So here’s the good news, and the bad: He agreed that smelting was neither sexy, glamorous, nor particularly interesting. The story will be set in Alaska, and the villain will work for Big Oil. Yr thoughts, pls.

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