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Olivia Grayson sat in the chairman’s seat at the board meeting, listening intently to the presentations, her intense blue eyes taking in each member of the board. Her eyes were quick and sharp. She was totally still, wearing a well-cut navy blue pantsuit, and a string of pearls around her neck. Her hair was a sleek bob, cut to the level of her jawbone just below her ears. It was the same snow-white color it had been since her early thirties. She was one of those striking women you would notice in any room. She was timeless, ageless, with high cheekbones and an angular face, and elegant hands as she held a pen poised above her notepad. She always took notes at the meetings, and had a flawless memory of what went on, in what order, and everything that was said. Her keen mind and sharp business sense had won her the reputation for being brilliant, but more than anything she was practical and had an innate, unfailing sense of what was right for her company. She had turned the profitable hardware store her mother had inherited years before into a model for international operations on a mammoth scale.
The Factory, as they had renamed it when it moved from its original storefront in a suburban locale outside Boston to an old empty factory building, was an astounding success, and Olivia Grayson along with it. She was the image of power as she presided over the board meeting. She was strong, innovative, and creative, and had started working at The Factory after school when she was twelve.
Her mother had been the daughter of a genteel family of Boston bankers who had lost everything during the Depression. Maribelle Whitman went to work as a secretary in a law firm, and married a young insurance salesman, who got drafted into the army after Pearl Harbor, and was sent to England in the summer of 1942, four weeks after their daughter, Olivia, was born. He was killed in a bombing raid when she was a year old. As a young widow, Maribelle moved to a modest suburb of Boston, and went to work for Ansel Morris at the hardware store, to support her daughter. For fourteen years, she helped him grow his business, had a discreet and loving affair with him, expected nothing from him, and brought up her daughter on the salary she made. And when she unexpectedly inherited his fortune, Maribelle wanted nothing more than to send Olivia to college, but Olivia had a thirst for business and no interest in college and academic pursuits. She had a passion and a love for commerce that drove her to take risks and make bold moves, and each decision she made catapulted the business forward to unexpected places and dizzying heights. Despite her youth, she made few mistakes, and had an instinct that proved her right every time. She had had the respect and admiration of her colleagues and competitors for years. Olivia was an icon in the business world.
And when Olivia went to work at The Factory full time, at eighteen, straight out of high school, three years after Ansel died, her visions had transformed the local hardware business into something her mother, and surely he, had never dreamed of. Her mother was running it then, Ansel was gone. And Olivia convinced her mother to add low-cost furniture with simple modern designs, not just the basic, ordinary items The Factory had sold until then. Olivia had added a fresh look and the excitement of youth. She brought a new de- sign aspect, at low prices, to their merchandise. They bought bathroom fixtures from foreign suppliers, modern kitchen cabinetry, and appliances. Within a short time they were as well known for their innovative international designs as the reliability of their products, at astoundingly reasonable rates. Olivia used volume to their advantage, and kept their prices lower than anyone else’s. Her mother had been worried about it at first, but time had proven Olivia right. Her instincts had been flawless.
Fifty-one years later, at sixty-nine, Olivia Grayson had created an empire that had reached around the world, and an industry that no one could compete with, although many tried. By the time she was twenty-five, Olivia had become a legend, and The Factory along with her, with its reputation for creative designs for anything for the home, from tools to kitchens and furniture, at rock-bottom cost. There was nothing for the home you couldn’t buy at The Factory, and she traveled constantly to find new suppliers, products, and designs. Her empire was still growing, and her reputation along with it.
Remarkably, there was nothing harsh in her face as she sat in the familiar chair at the board meeting, flanked by her sons on either side. Both had joined the business, fresh out of business school in Phillip’s case, and after getting a master of fine arts and graphic design in John’s.
Olivia’s mother had long since retired. The Factory was a product of Olivia’s genius, and the enormous fortune she had made from it was her legacy to her children. She had worked a lifetime for what she’d built. Olivia was the embodiment of the American dream.
Although she wielded enormous power and her eyes were sharp, there was something gentle about her face. She was a woman everyone took seriously, yet she was quick to laugh. A discreet woman, she knew when to speak. And she listened carefully to fresh ideas, which then spurred her on to new creations, and even now she was always seeking to stretch The Factory into additional places and to greater heights than it had ever been before. She didn’t rest on her laurels, and her passion and main interest was continuing to make her business grow. She still had the same excitement about it she’d had in her youth.
There were six members of the board, in addition to Olivia and her two sons, Phillip and John. She was the chairman and CEO, and Phillip was the CFO. He had his father’s steady head for finance and had come to the company from Harvard Business School after he earned his MBA with honors. He was a quiet person, more like his father than his mother. Each of her sons had inherited a facet of her abilities, but neither combined them as a whole. John, her third-born child, was head of creative and design. John was an artist and had studied fine arts at Yale. Painting was his first love, but devotion to his mother had driven him into the business at an early age. Olivia had always known that with his artistic sense and training in design, he had much to offer them. He was more gregarious than his older brother and resembled his mother in many ways, although the money side of the business was a mystery to him. He lived for aesthetics, and the beauty he saw in the world. And he still spent all his free time painting on weekends. He was an artist above all.
At forty-six, Phillip was as serious and solid as his father had been. Phillip’s father, Joe, had been an accountant and had helped Olivia run the business, quietly from behind the scenes. Phillip had inherited his financial accuracy and reliability, and none of his mother’s creative spirit and fire.
John had inherited Olivia’s innate artistic sense for design, and at forty-one, as an artist, he constantly brought new life visually into what they offered the world. He had enormous talent that he had funneled into The Factory, while dreaming of painting full time. Both men were essential to the business, but its life force was still their mother, even at sixty-nine. The Factory was still a family-held business, although they had had frequent opportunities to sell it and go public over the years. Olivia wouldn’t think of it, although Phillip had been sorely tempted by some of the offers they’d had in recent years. Olivia insisted that The Factory was theirs, with its many stores around the world, and she intended to keep it that way.
Their enterprise was booming and continuing to grow exponentially. And as long as she was alive, she intended to see to it that there were Graysons at its helm. Her two daughters had no interest in the business, but she knew that her two sons would run it one day, and she had prepared them well. Together, she felt certain, they would be able to maintain the empire she had built, and she was nowhere near ready to retire or step down. Olivia Grayson was still in full swing, running The Factory and traveling around the world, just as she had done for almost fifty-two years. She showed no sign of slowing down, her ideas were as astounding and innovative as ever, and she looked ten years younger than her age. She was a naturally beautiful woman, with a passion for life, and ten times the energy of people half her age.
With her usual quiet, orderly style, she brought the board meeting to a close shortly after noon. They had covered all the matters on their agenda, including Olivia’s concerns about some of the factories they were using in India and China. Phillip’s main concern was their bottom line, which was healthier than ever. The products they sold at incredibly low prices were making them a fortune and were being distributed by The Factory around the world.
Olivia always wanted to know that their factories’ practices were sound. And Phillip had assured them all again that morning that although they couldn’t know everything about their Asian factories, they were using a reliable industrial investigative firm, and all appeared to be in good order. And the prices they were paying were leaving them the profit margins they had benefited from for years. Theirs was a model that their competitors envied and never succeeded in matching. Olivia had a magic touch.
John had also introduced a series of new designs that morning that they all knew would be snapped up by their customers in the coming months. The Factory was ahead of every trend, with sure instincts about what would sell and what their customers wanted, even before they knew it themselves. John had an unfailing sense for shape, design, and color. The combination they offered of low prices and high design, for items their clients were begging for, was unbeatable. They created a need and then filled it. The Factory leaped ahead financially every year.
The empire Olivia had founded was rock solid. And she knew her late husband, Joe, would have been proud of her, just as he had been in his lifetime. He had been the perfect mate for her. And he hadn’t been surprised or critical when the business they grew together kept her from spending time with him or their children. They both knew it was inevitable that she’d be busy, especially when she was traveling, and even when she was at home. Joe had made up for it, with his more predictable schedule and less demanding financial duties in the firm. Trained as an accountant, he had been their chief financial officer until he died and Phillip stepped into his shoes. Olivia’s mother, Maribelle, had retired from the business to take care of Olivia’s children, shortly after Phillip was born, and that role suited her much better, and was less stressful for her. The business in Olivia and Joe’s hands had long since outgrown her by then. Olivia had been the driving force of The Factory, and shouldered the responsibility with ease, despite the time it ultimately cost her with her children. She had tried to make it up to them as she got older, particularly in the last fourteen years since her husband’s sudden death at sixty. He had died of a heart attack while she was away visiting new factories in the Philippines.
Joe’s death had been a terrible blow to Olivia and their children. Since then she had been more attentive to them, and made a point of taking her children and grandchildren on a vacation together every year. She loved them, and always had, and her husband, but she loved the business too. The Factory was her passion and her life. It was an all-consuming eternal flame that devoured her and sustained her. Joe had understood that and never minded, and her children also knew it, although some were more accepting of it than others.
Their senior house counsel, Peter Williams, had been at the board meeting that morning, to discuss some of the issues that Phillip had raised, about what the financial impact would be if they ever decided to shift from factories in Asia to different, more transparent ones in Europe. They all knew it could hit their bottom line unfavorably, and Phillip didn’t recommend it. Olivia had wanted their senior lawyer at the meeting. And Peter had voiced his usual carefully measured and wisely weighed opinions. She sought his advice on many subjects, and he always counseled her sagely. He was conservative by nature, but always practical in his suggestions, and he was creative in helping them find solutions to sometimes dicey legal issues. And inevitably there were some, in an enterprise as vast as theirs. He had enormous respect for Olivia, and had devoted the lion’s share of his time to The Factory for nearly twenty years. He never objected to the long hours he had to spend on it, the sacrifices he had to make, or its impact on his personal life. He had always been fascinated by the business, and the woman who ran it, and deeply impressed by her.
“What did you think of the meeting?” Olivia asked him as they waited at the elevator together. Phillip and John were still in the boardroom, and she had to get back to her office. Peter was heading back to his, a dozen blocks away. But as The Factory was his biggest client, he was at its main offices frequently. Olivia had moved the headquarters to New York from the outskirts of Boston forty years before. Her children had grown up in New York. Once they had opened branches in New Jersey, Chicago, and Connecticut, and on Long Island, New York was a more reasonable location for them than a sleepy suburb outside Boston. When they added the South, the Midwest, and the West Coast, and eventually expanded their international operation, being based in New York made even more sense. Their offices filled an entire building on Park Avenue, and they had warehouses all across the country, and in Asia, South America, and Europe. Their stores had been international for thirty years. Olivia had been faithful to their old locations and maintained them but had added countless new ones. Worldwide, they now had close to a hundred stores, and every one of them was profitable and booming. Olivia had made few mistakes over the years, and corrected them rapidly when she did.