The Reluctant Emperor

Michael Walton Jnr
The newly appointed CEO of Walton Xi Huang, Michael Walton Jnr, in a recent photoshoot for You Want It Business

It’s a warm afternoon and I find myself sitting under the shade of a leather parasol at a members only rooftop bistro in a city which I am not allowed to name. I can tell you that the food is the most delicious I have ever sampled: steak stuffed with lightly fried squid in a Béarnaise sauce, served on a bed of shredded lobster tails with garlic butter (‘surf and turf with girth’ was the name on the menu). Every patron is exclusively drinking hot chocolate as their beverage. This eatery (which, again, I am not allowed to name) takes a special pride in its hot chocolate. Of course, only the members would be aware of that. To my taste-buds, it appears to be seventy percent melted Belgian milk chocolate, twenty five percent melted Belgian white chocolate and 5% Guernsey ‘gold top’ buttermilk. It’s like tasting a happy childhood that I’m sure no one ever actually lived. I could go on and on about this place, it’s food and furnishings, but I suspect that too would get me into trouble.

You’ve probably guessed that I am not a member of this club. Going by the lack of signs on my way here and the lack of other tables (there are three, including this one, all greatly spaced apart) I would imagine there could not be many members. Hanging from each leather parasol is a fine voile mesh so that even the members need not endure each others company (or existence for that matter). Perhaps it is just my own sense that I do not belong here, but even through all these barriers of anonymity and privacy, I still feel like I am being judged and found wanting through sneers of contempt. No, I would certainly not be welcome here under normal circumstances, but today I am an invited guest by one of this dining establishment’s most successful (or, at least, most wealthy) members: Michael Walton… Junior.

I arrived a full forty minutes before my host, though not by choice. Since this place has no name (and I’m not being flippant, there were no signs and the menu has no name listed), a car was sent for me, took me to a building I hadn’t visited before and a concierge took me through a maze of corridors and stairwells to get to this rather wonderful rooftop dining club (I suspect I’m not in the same building I entered on the ground floor). After a somewhat invasive and overly thorough search of my person (for my own safety, apparently) I was immediately served hot chocolate and given a menu. I was instructed to order food now because my host had been delayed and, as you’ve already read, that worked out delightfully for me (and did somewhat make up for the body search).

When Mr Walton did eventually arrive he could not have been more apologetic and gentlemanly. He told me that he’d had to tie up some loose ends at work. It’s the sort of excuse one would expect from a businessman in Mr Walton’s position, but in his case it seemed genuine. After calling my host ‘Mr Walton’ a few times, he pleaded with me to call him Michael or he’d feel even more uncomfortable than he already did.

For a man in line to take over one of the largest business empires the human race has ever known, Michael struck me as a very gracious and humble person. I wasn’t sure if it was just an act to gain my favour but then he must know I’m not the type to be taken in by such ploys. This was the first interview he’d granted anyone since the death of his brother, Thomas Walton, a year earlier so I asked him why he’d wanted to speak with me specifically.

“A few reasons, I suppose. I’ve read your work and think you give a balanced take on people. You know… without prejudging anything? That’s probably a stupid thing to tell someone who’s interviewing you, right?” Michael speaks slowly and with purpose. It seems unlikely to me that he didn’t know what he was saying at any point. If he hadn’t wanted to say something he thought was stupid, he wouldn’t have done so. Behind the appearance of casual honesty, I suspect deep contemplation. It never struck me that he was lying, but I think all his answers were very well considered. Perhaps this was just to make sure he wasn’t misunderstood, but maybe he was ensuring that I only heard the best version of his truth.

I told him I would do my best to give an unbiased account of our meeting, in as much as such a thing is ever possible. Michael went on to tell me more about his reasons for seeing me.

“My father thought it would be a good idea as well. Let people get to know me before I… you know… take over.”

Michael Walton senior is, of course, the current man at the top in Walton Xi Huang — perhaps the largest conglomerate in the world today. Michael Walton Jr. is now being moulded to take over that position.

In order to live up to my promise of reporting Michael accurately, I told him just to tell me everything he wanted to and I would write it down with only minimal commentary. I began by simply asking Michael what he wants the world to know.

“I’m not really sure if I’m cut out for all this, but you have to do what the world requires of you, don’t you? I mean, you can’t always just do the things you want to do. Sometimes you need to do the things that are best for everyone at large. Not that I’m unhappy with my life. I guess I just never thought of myself being defined by my job before.”

I asked Michael what his current job title was at Walton Xi Huang.

“I’ve worked for Walton Xi-Huang ever since I left University, but mostly in relatively unimportant roles. My job title has improved since Tommy’s car crash which gives me even more misgivings about it. I’ve always preferred to think of myself in terms of the things I do outside of work. I guess I don’t do anything particularly impressive there either, but at least I feel responsible for that. I guess I feel responsible for the things I do at work, but none of it seems all that important really. My brother was always the responsible one, doing well at school and things. And he had a great way about him. People really just loved him whenever they met him, you know? Not that things always stayed that way, but if he wanted you to like him, you were pretty powerless not to.”

Michael seems to find it difficult not to talk about his brother when discussing his work, though his father is rarely mentioned. I asked him if he misses his brother.

“Yeah, I miss him a lot. We had our differences. What brothers don’t? But, you know, when the chips were down he always went to bat for me. Sorry, I feel like I’m just talking in platitudes. I have actually thought a lot about my relationship with my brother, especially since his death. I guess I’m just not expressing it that well. Or maybe the platitudes are there for a reason. I still don’t really have a handle on it. Damn, there I go again. Sorry, I’m just uncomfortable talking about myself like this.”

Based on his demeanour, I’d be surprised if Michael ever felt truly comfortable talking about anything, especially since he appears to choose his words carefully to make them sound casual. I asked him if he agreed.

“I never felt comfortable with people. It’s not that I don’t like them, I just don’t understand people most of the time. They never say what they mean. I don’t know how other people get around that. It was especially hard to deal with in my family growing up because you were never totally alone. There were always dinners and shows and plays and things to go to. And you had to be quiet and well behaved and not really interact except when an adult addressed you directly. Even when I was home, there were cleaners and workmen and gardeners. You never really felt alone. You never knew what anyone was thinking. People will only say what they think other people will let them say, you know? As if they are afraid no one will listen to them anymore if no one agrees with what they’re really thinking. And sometimes, people must think that their thoughts are wrong anyways, because there are so many other people who seem to be saying the opposite is the right way to think. It’s hard to control what you think. You need to have honest discussions with people and not feel judged for how you feel or think, because until you can have that honest, non-judgemental discussion, it can be exceptionally hard to change how you think. You can try and have the discussion with yourself, but that’s so circular and insular. You’re much less likely to change the way you think that way because you’re using your own thought process as the tool. You know what I mean?”

I tried to confess to Michael that I did not, but he was already moving on.

“It got too much for me once when I was a kid. I was 15 I think and we were on holiday at this fancy place in India. Everywhere we stayed was always fancy. And the fancier it was, the less I got to be by myself. Anyway, I couldn’t take it any more and I left the resort without telling anyone. Not an easy thing to do when everyone working there knows your name, but I got out. I didn’t know where I was going or what to do, but I just couldn’t be there any more. The resort wasn’t in a city or anything. It was in the middle of nowhere. Somewhere with great views and no one living there to spoil the canvas. It was beautiful though and I got lost in all that beauty. It’s the same reason I like to come here. No one bothers me and I get to see the beauty in the world. Anyway, I’m rambling. Eventually I wasn’t doing so good in India in the middle of nowhere. I mean, I’d only been gone a few hours, but I was so totally unprepared. I was wearing a woollen suit for God’s sake. The air conditioning in the resort had been too cold for me. Now I was out in the elements and I was melting. I’ve never been so thirsty in my life. It’s amazing how quickly it came upon me. Within half an hour I’d gone from feeling slight discomfort to thinking I might die in a few more minutes. I lost consciousness eventually and woke up in a small tent with these concerned people all around me. No one I knew though. Just friendly Indian faces staring down at me. They’d been trying to get me to take water while I was out — just wetting my lips and letting a drop or two pass between them every few seconds. I’m fairly certain I would have died had they not found me. It didn’t take long for me to feel better. Some water and the coolness inside the tent went a long way. I guess I couldn’t have been out all that long. Anyway, they offered me food and made me comfortable. They all spoke a little English, but not much. Two of them were brothers and had worked in the resort with their wives. They’d all been on the cleaning staff but they’d been fired for some reason. I never really understood what had happened — their English didn’t make sense to me when they tried to describe it. So anyway, here I was, worth who knows how much money, lost in the desert and these people with nothing were offering me food and shelter and, I guess, love. It was a humbling experience. I remember still feeling uncomfortable around them, but not in the same way as with everyone else. I was uncomfortable because I was embarrassed that I had so much and they had so little. That they were trying to get into my world and I was trying to run away from it.”

Michael had appeared so open with me that I thought it might be rude to push him even deeper. But something told me that Michael wanted to say more (whether for calculated reasons or simply to unburden himself, I don’t know). I asked him if he still felt like running away or if the experience in India had given him a new appreciation for his style of life.

“It made me think about my life a lot. I guess I never really stopped after that. I know a lot of the time we need to do things for the greater good. A lot of people don’t get that. Life can’t always be just about making yourself happy. If you do things for the greater good, eventually that good will be directed at you, right? Even if it’s not obvious or in your face. But you still need to find time to do something that makes you feel fulfilled. That can be the problem with the greater good. The results aren’t always obvious, so it can make it hard to be satisfied. Where’s the resultant greater good that came directly from my actions, you know? So, sometimes, you still need to do something that gives you that immediate feeling of worth and happiness. I think it still comes down to working at something though. If you can’t be proud of what you do with your time, how can you be happy? I’m sorry, I rambled on there, but I think that’s really everything I wanted to say.”

Michael didn’t stay too long after that. We passed some trivial comments about the beauty of the vista in front of us and sat silently for a while looking at it. But, when the silence became too long (or perhaps just too uncomfortable) Michael got up, thanked me for taking the time to meet with him, made sure everything was organised for me to get home safely, then bowed and left.

My meeting with Michael Walton Jr. left me uncertain of his motivations for seeing me. On the surface, he struck me as the sort of man who never wanted power, but had it thrust upon him anyway. He’s certainly intelligent and, if his surface values are true, he’s the sort of person an organisation like Walton Xi-Huang wouldn’t want to be in charge (even though most people outside the company would think it was a great idea). And that’s what makes me confused: If he really is the man he appears to be, why would Walton Xi-Huang be grooming him to take over? I suppose they may not have a choice in the end. Between inheriting his brother’s shares and (presumably) his father’s in the future, it would be hard to wrestle control from him if he didn’t want to give it up. Maybe he does want the power after all. And yet, he talks so faithfully about having to do things for the greater good in spite of what we want.

As the only journalist who has been granted an interview, I feel compelled to give my opinion on whether or not I believe Michael Walton Jr. is what he appears to be, but I find that I don’t have strong enough evidence to take a position. Is he the humble champion that could make the world a better place, or is he a deeply calculating thinker that is playing us all for fools behind a smoke screen of caring? All I can say is this: I want to believe in heroes.

(Originally published in You Want It Business on 17th August 1171, rescinded at the behest of Michael Walton Snr with all remaining copies pulped on the 18th August 1171 and republished with the following article)

 

The New Emperor

by Mhari Sharp

It’s a warm afternoon and I find myself sitting under the shade of a leather parasol at a members only rooftop bistro in a city which I am not allowed to name. I can tell you that the food is the most delicious I have ever sampled: steak stuffed with lightly fried squid in a Béarnaise sauce, served on a bed of shredded lobster tails with garlic butter (‘surf and turf with girth’ was the name on the menu). Every patron is exclusively drinking hot chocolate as their beverage. This eatery (which, again, I am not allowed to name) takes a special pride in its hot chocolate. Of course, only the members would be aware of that. To my taste-buds, it appears to be seventy percent melted Belgian milk chocolate, twenty five percent melted Belgian white chocolate and 5% Guernsey ‘gold top’ buttermilk. It’s like tasting a happy childhood that I’m sure no one ever actually lived. I could go on and on about this place, it’s food and furnishings, but I suspect that too would get me into trouble.

You’ve probably guessed that I am not a member of this club. Going by the lack of signs on my way here and the lack of other tables (there are three, including this one, all greatly spaced apart) I would imagine there could not be many members. Hanging from each leather parasol is a fine voile mesh so that even the members need not endure each others company (or existence for that matter). Perhaps it is just my own sense that I do not belong here, but even through all these barriers of anonymity and privacy, I still feel like I am being judged and found wanting through sneers of contempt. No, I would certainly not be welcome here under normal circumstances, but today I am an invited guest by one of this dining establishment’s most successful (or, at least, most wealthy) members: Michael Walton… Junior.

I arrived a full forty minutes before my host, though not by choice. Since this place has no name (and I’m not being flippant, there were no signs and the menu has no name listed), a car was sent for me, took me to a building I hadn’t visited before and a concierge took me through a maze of corridors and stairwells to get to this rather wonderful rooftop dining club (I suspect I’m not in the same building I entered on the ground floor). After a somewhat invasive and overly thorough search of my person (for my own safety, apparently) I was immediately served hot chocolate and given a menu. I was instructed to order food now because my host had been delayed and, as you’ve already read, that worked out delightfully for me (and did somewhat make up for the body search).

When Mr Walton did eventually arrive he was apologetic, but to the point. He told me that in his line of business it takes time to make money and he had a lot of money to make. It’s the sort of reason one would expect for a high-powered businessman like Mr Walton to keep a lowly journalist like me waiting.

For a man in line to take over one of the largest business empires the human race has ever known, Mr Walton struck me as a dynamic and forward person. This was the first interview he’d granted anyone since the death of his brother, Thomas Walton, a year earlier so I asked him if he had a message for the people.

“My father thought it would be a good idea for the people to get to know me. A way for our loyal customer base and the investors to see that Walton Xi Huang is in safe hands.”

Michael Walton senior is, of course, the current man at the top in Walton Xi Huang — perhaps the largest conglomerate in the world today. Michael Walton Jr. is now being moulded to take over that position and he is definitely a chip off the old block. A block made of pure gold and hard work.

In order to live up to my promise of reporting Michael accurately, I told him just to tell me everything he wanted to and I would write it down with only minimal commentary. I began by simply asking Michael what he wants the world to know.

“It’s a simple message and to the point. I’m the best man for this job now. What happened to Thomas was unfortunate, but it shouldn’t stop this company from flourishing. I’m a man whose actions speak louder than words and, as I said earlier, you need to make time to make money and I’m not going to have much time for interviews like this which is why this will be my first and last for the foreseeable future. ”

I asked Michael what his current job title was at Walton Xi Huang to which he simply replied, ‘badass!’

Michael didn’t stay too long after that. I mentioned the beauty of the vista in front of us, but Mr Walton just laughed, telling me that he really didn’t have time for such trivialities. He got up, shook me firmly by the hand and left with the same air of dynamism and determination that his father always had.

My meeting with Michael Walton Jr. left me energised and feeling positive about the future of Walton Xi Huang. I could see that this was a new era for a company that just keeps going from strength to strength. As the only journalist who has been granted an interview, I feel compelled to give my opinion on whether or not I believe Michael Walton Jr. is what he appears to be, the tough, no nonsense CEO that Walton Xi Huang really needs, a breath of fresh air, the golden boy.

All I can say is this: I believe in heroes.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *