Racking is a method in wine production of moving wine from one barrel to another using gravity rather than a pump, which can be disruptive to a wine. … Wines with certain flavors may receive a heavy centrifuging, which will strip them of all character, but salvage an otherwise unusable wine.

The next morning, I found Don in the barn monitoring the centrifuge. I saw the wine racks we looked at two days ago were empty. He acknowledged my approach with a half nod.

“So they go from the racks to the centrifuge?” I implored.

“Only if necessary,” Don said, not looking up from his iPad. “Racking rids the wine of natural by products, helps the suspended solids to settle. This wine developed an unpleasant sulphuric taste. The centrifuge pretty much strips it of all character but allows us to finish it as a jug wine.”

“I didn’t realize you market a jug wine,” I was puzzled.

“You’re absolutely right. We sell the jug wines to a bottler in the Central Valley.” Don was not happy about losing this batch. I was grateful for the brand clarity.

Watching the centrifuge entranced me. After the past few days, I felt like my life was going through a centrifuge. I dreaded the thought of returning to San Francisco, facing Ridley, and seeing Bryson again. At the same time, staying here was a luxury I couldn’t afford. If I didn’t salvage this situation, I’d be the one shipped off.

Jack walked in and unceremoniously told Don that he’d notified the Central Valley. That’s when I took my cue.

“I have some clarification of my own back at the office. I need to head back to San Francisco.” Don looked surprised. Jack was nonplussed.

“We understand,” Jack stated in a matter of fact manner. “We can continue the lesson another time. Are you leaving this morning?”

“As soon as I can gather my things.”

___

On the drive back, the knot in my chest tightened as if controlled by the accelerator on the car. It was mid-morning, so the drive in was uneventful. My parking spot still had my name on it. Good sign, I thought.

The vibe in the office was palpably tense when I walked in. People were walking briskly, very task-focused, heads down, not unlike any busy workday, but there was something odd. Nobody was laughing. Nobody was shooting foam darts across the aisles in the cubicle area. That’s when I noticed one gal I don’t know very well on the healthcare team quietly sobbing while she packed a box at her desk. I was still watching this in shocked disbelief when Brenda appeared from behind.

“You told me you’d call first. I wanted to prepare you,” Brenda signed apologetically.

“Prepare me? Brenda, how long has this been going on? Why would you even hesitate to call me? If they’ve messed with my team, I’ll…” Brenda cut me off with a hand on my arm. She cast a sideways glance before she spoke.

“Your team is still here, but your desk has been relocated.” The eye contact told me everything I never wanted to know. I turned and marched to the corner overlooking the Bay where I had been commanding the PR universe for the past 12 years and found a red ponytail bobbing over the back of my chair. My ego was straining against the temptation to let her know who’s boss, but I restrained myself.

This is the centrifuge. If I fail to navigate this clarification process with finesse, it could triple the time it takes for me to win back what I’ve lost. It didn’t take long for the Universe to give me the opportunity. The voice behind me sent shivers up my spine.

“Hello, Nora.” It was Bryson. The steel edges of his voice sliced through the tension with a Jack Nicholson-like quality. My mind flashed back to the day when I was visiting The Stanley Hotel with my family. We went on a tour revisiting the scariest scenes from The Shining – a movie from the 80s where Jack Nicholson roamed the halls with a knife and a wicked grin. That’s exactly what my mind was expecting to see when I slowly turned around and greeted him.

“Bryson, I don’t like what you’ve done with the place.” My tone was measured, succinct and righteously pissed off.

“We didn’t expect you back until Friday,” he volleyed.

“It looks as if you weren’t expecting me back at all,” I replied, gesturing toward my desk.

“You abdicated your role in making staff decisions when you opted to stay in Napa during our reorganization,” his voice lowered in a condescending tone that made me want to deck him, but instead I changed course.

“This,” and I gestured around the office, “is not a reorganization. This is a hostile takeover and you are out of your lane as CEO.” By this time a small crowd was gathering.

“There are no lanes for the CEO,” Bryson shot back through a tight mouth, his eyes forming small slits as if he’s about to strike with his lasers. Clearly, I watch too many movies.

“A noble leader would abdicate to his staff, especially when he’s making decisions that will impact the growth and retention of the largest office in North America.” Bryson bristled. “A noble leader would let his managing director spearhead any staff changes, a managing director who has grown this office from the very first account over the past 20 years.” I was just gaining steam.

“A managing director who hired every person in this office. A managing director who managed to retain staff even during a downturn because the people in this office are responsible for 56% of our firm’s overall revenue.” I stood a little taller. “A managing director who invested in talent and patiently grew this office by growing the people to think like a leader, to respect one another, to own our responsibilities with integrity.” I started walked toward Bryson with this newfound courage, knowing I was about to be fired.

“Matthew grew this office to an extraordinary level of productivity because it’s a safe place where we take failure head on as a challenge, where we lead from our strengths.”

I took a step closer and leveled my gaze with Bryon’s. “It’s a place where people who abuse their power don’t last very long. It’s place where we feel safe to speak our mind and certainly feel safe telling a colleague to back off when we are being sexually violated.”

Bryson steamed. His face went from normal to white to the color of a Napa sunset. Then he smiled that Cheshire cat smile and dripped, “It’s understandable you’re scared for your job. You’ve lost the promotion that Mathew was trying to illegally arrange. Now you’ve been replaced with someone who knows your industry better and you’re afraid, so you’re making up lies hoping to save your skin, but it’s too late.”

People were starting to form a circle around us. I was hoping he’d break down and say something that would admit his guilt in front of the staff. At this point the truth has no bearing without evidence and any defense I create will only make me look desperate. I opened my mouth to speak, but before I could utter a word that icy voice cut me off.

“You are welcome to go,” Bryson seethed. “Your services are no longer required here.”

I wanted so badly to hit him, but if I did, I would be charged with assault. So, I did something he didn’t expect. I smiled, I turned to Brenda and said, “Have my things delivered to my flat.” Then I walked to the stairwell and left….by the stairs because I didn’t want to wait for the elevator. And because the moment the door closed, I collapsed.

 

DISCUSS

Have you ever experienced a centrifuging that felt like it stripped you of all character? Felt like you’ve been shipped off to be marketed like a jug wine?

Or were you able, like Nora, to stop the process and gain control?

How did your finesse change the course?