There's nothing quite like the thrill one gets from a successful corporate takeover. It took decades of capital accumulation and countless backroom deals to unite an agribusiness conglomerate, a chemical company, and now a telecommunications firm into the largest corporate umbrella in history. And thus having ensured that the name of Fessenden will be uttered in the halls of Harvard Business School well into the next century, it is now time for me to corner the friendship market. Charles A.P. Fessenden, Captain of Industry, Titan of Friendship. It has a nice ring, does it not?
And I've hit the ground running. I've already called together my board to assess any promising friendship candidates. Once the prospects have been scrupulously vetted, my agents will be dispatched to such elite locations as Bar Harbor, ME, Palm Beach, FL, and Greenwich, CT to quietly offer my terms. While I would not necessarily characterize those terms as especially generous—I have to make this worth my while, after all—they will certainly be adequate, and probably far superior to any other offers. Of course, they have the right to refuse, but in spurning a friend, they will have gained a powerful enemy.
While careful analysis and number-crunching are a vital part of this venture, sometimes you just have to go with your gut. I've kept a close eye on the society pages, searching for any signs of an undervalued personality that I could acquire with minimal effort. The world is full of them, though it really takes a discriminating eye to spot one. There's Alexander Halbert III, the scion of a Main Line family whose shipping fortune once rivaled the Vanderbilts. Some might dismiss the Halberts as stock that has outlived its worth, but I think there's still a great deal of name-value to exploit, and Alex's drinking problem could prove a definite advantage. And consider Porfirio Paloma, serial husband to lonely heiresses—a reprobate, a spendthrift, and achingly vulnerable to a life-takeover. I already have a 31 percent stake in him due to his brief relationship with my sister in the 1980s.
Naturally, after word gets out that I'm in the friendship business, the bids will pour in. Thousands will want the protection that only a Fessenden friendship can supply.
Those who despise me and condemn my business ethics will no doubt have a laugh at my expense. "Have you heard?" they will surely be saying. "Fessenden is trying to make friends with people!" Good. This is precisely the attitude that will help me in the long run. Thinking I've gone soft, they'll inevitably let down their guard. And when I invite them for a round of golf on my breathtaking Jamaican estate, their curiosity about this "once-ruthless man" will get the best of them. About the 12th hole, when they are inebriated with birdies and bourbon, I'll double-cross them with the pronouncement that not only are they now my friends, their own friends are mine too, and, worst of all, they like me more. I know it's cold and cruel, but friendship often is.
Once I have strengthened my position of geniality, I will turn to some of my former business competitors for friendship possibilities. Surely, with their finances in ruins and their lives shattered, they will appreciate my magnanimous gesture of friendship. I would expect no profit from this enterprise, save for a great way to advance a charitable image. I'll come out smelling like roses, and it won't cost me a penny.
Of course, diversification is the real key to success. I won't limit my holdings to friendships—I intend to branch out into acquaintanceships, cordialities, even advocacies. Perhaps I might test the uncharted waters of comradeships, which would certainly raise a few eyebrows on Wall Street.
After an aggressive period of acquisition, I will lay low and bide my time in order to lull my competition into a sense of complacency. By competition, I mean the blue-chip stock—those with a consistent history of popularity and friendship that pays high dividends. Then I will make a bid—leverage all if need be—for these rival friendship titans. A wholesale buyout of their affections? Why not? If you don't dream big, you don't do big.
By 2012, I shall monopolize American friendship. I fully intend to be counted among the top five friend-havers in the world. Chances are you yourself will be a Fessenden friend, and by golly, you'll like it. You'll have no choice.
Still, one truth remains painfully clear, whether it's business or friendship: It's lonely at the top.