The Mech Touch Chapter 1075

1073 Without Direction

A day after Ves fed Ketis with a bunch of candy, he seated himself in his penthouse office and summoned the chief operating officer of the LMC.

Jake Altern looked a little more aged than last time when he entered the office. The older man started out as a retainer of the family and ran some of the businesses owned by the Larkinson Estate. Putting him in charge of all of the actual operations of the company was a big responsibility to fulfill, but from all accounts he did a decent job in keeping the LMC's administration in order.

"Jake. Long time no see."

"You've grown, Ves." Jake nodded amiably at Ves as he crossed the distance and took a seat in front of the desk. "You have different air about you. I like it. You're just like the other Larkinsons now. Projecting strength is an essential trait in leadership."

Ves rapped his fingers against the surface of his desk. "I didn't call you here to compliment me. There's business to be done. First, what do you think of the current state of the LMC?"

"The Living Mech Corporation has become a respectable mech manufacturer." Jake said with pride. "It's my child as well as yours. I'm glad to see it rise in its current splendor and turn into a huge asset for the Larkinson Family. While we've gone through some hard times, I always believed you would return and drag us out of our slump."

"I'm glad you have so much faith in me, but please describe our strengths and weaknesses."

"Well, despite only offering two mech models in our product catalog, they are still profitable, which is quite a rare luxury these days for comparable mech companies. All the recent publicity has helped boost our sales, which in turn help us ease the pressure off our bottom line."

"What other strengths does the company have?"

"I always felt a little dubious about basing the LMC in Cloudy Curtain as it is a large hassle to ship goods and mechs back and forth, but now I see the merits in it. We've been isolated of much of the unrest that has currently gripped Bentheim. Our company has grown to dominate half of the planet. We employ so many well-paid people that our existence has begun to have a ripple effect over Freslin."

"What role does Freslin play to the LMC?"

"It's the closest major city to the Mech Nursery and is where most of our employees live and spend their time at when they are off-duty. While Orinoco still functions as a bastion for the old guard, the city of Freslin is experiencing a renaissance. Under the influence of the LMC, it has become the planet's main hub for all mech-related activities. The social responsibility initiatives that we've undertaken, such as sponsoring the local mech academy, has earned us a lot of support from the locals."

"Sponsorship?" Ves raised his eyebrow. "What is this about sponsorship?"

"Didn't Calsie already tell you? She allocated a couple of hundred million credits a year on boosting the LMC's influence in Cloudy Curtain. Back before the economy worsened, she even drafted an ambitious plan to set up a small advanced mech academy on the planet! It would have accepted every local mech pilot who graduated from the basic mech academy."

"I take it those plans didn't go through?"

"It's too expensive to start up a mech academy." Jake shook his head. "Not only do we need to invest at least a billion credits into acquiring a wide variety of training mechs, they also need a lot of servicing. The problem with starting a mech academy in Cloudy Curtain is that new institutions don't have the reputation to attract a lot of students. Cloudy Curtain itself isn't big enough to supply enough prospective mech pilots to run a profit."

The people who lived on this rural planet also weren't affluent enough to pay high tuition fees. Frankly, it made little business sense to start an advanced academy on this little planet when Bentheim was right next door. This scheme basically benefited the planet at the expense of the LMC, which only gained a bit of reputation and goodwill in return.

Ves activated his terminal and called up how much money the company spent on corporate social responsibility. He grew grim as he saw that Calsie spent at least two billion credits over the last three years on various infrastructure initiatives such as new roads and hospitals.

He thought he made it clear that the LMC shouldn't waste its money on these feel-good projects.

"Why didn't you stop Calsie 

Jake shrugged. "Although it looks bad in hindsight, it helped us out a lot in securing local support. With all the events that happened recently on Cloudy Curtain, we need to have a majority of the local population on our side. Right now, our relationship with the Pioneers have never been better. With our backing, they've taken over the Planetary Assembly from the White Doves and the Greens!"

This was a significant development. Now that Ves had come into touch with the higher annals of power, he was not as ignorant as before when it came to politics.

It became clear now that the two main farming consortiums based on this planet possessed their own backing. No matter how many setbacks they suffered recently, their enduring resilience signified that they were here to stay.

"What kind of benefits have we received with the Pioneers in charge?"

"They've made life a lot easier for the LMC. Not only did they exempt any transports and cargo ships from stopping by at Orinoco's spaceport, they also reduced many taxes and fees which helped us remain afloat."

Ves nodded in understanding. The Pioneers had a vested interest in the LMC as well.

"Okay, I can see how our earlier initiatives has improved the local conditions. However, I don't want to keep funding expensive boondoggles. Our reputation among many of the locals is already high enough that I hardly see the benefit in investing more in this aspect."

"Understood. I will develop a plan to slowly draw down our expenditures on this front." Jake said.

While Ves basically wanted to end the practice entirely, he decided to be more tactful instead. By issuing an order for a gradual pushback, he wouldn't be signalling to the locals that he was leaving them to dry. He also wanted to avoid openly contradicting Calsie's decisions.

They moved on to the real reason why Ves called the COO to his office.

"The LMC is due for a shakeup."

"That's a big word, Ves. Changing the company extensively is a difficult endeavor and can backfire on us if we handle it badly." Jake said gravely.

"Do you believe the LMC is fine as it is? That it doesn't need any changes?"

The COO furrowed his brows. "Now that you mention it, lately I've felt as if the company was too used to running on autopilot. Our workforce has grown a little stagnant and they're used to doing the same work over and over again. That's fine for the moment, but I'm afraid the LMC isn't flexible enough to adjust to changing circumstances in the mech industry and mech market."

In other words, the company had become too complacent. The current status quo would not last forever. At the very least, the upcoming arrival of the new mech generation would shake up the entire mech industry in its entirety!

The last thing Ves wanted to see was the LMC failing to keep up with the rapid changes!

"Alright, what do you think we need to change?" Ves asked. "You know our company the best. What is the most pressing issue we need to address?"

"While there are various issues that I can think of that we need to change, there is one overarching aspect about the company that definitely needs to be reformed. Our company culture lacked too much direction during your absence. Our employees don't possess a strong kinship with each other and we don't even know what the company supposedly values."

That was squarely on Ves. As Jake described his concerns about the corporate culture, he painted a picture of employees clocking in day by day without even caring too much about their impact on other people's lives.

"Since you're so aware of the problem, why didn't you address it sooner?"

"I can't." Jake shrugged. "I'm not a charismatic leader and none of our top management has managed to change the overall direction of the company. It takes a true visionary in order to shape the LMC's internal culture. We've all been waiting for you to return in order to set a strong example."

Ves understood his point. Good leaders were hard to come by, and the LMC did not have the leverage to hire the best of the best. Most of the top management consisted of Larkinson retainers or former free agents who previously held positions in other mech companies.

Fortunately, Ves believed he could fulfill the gap in their capabilities with regards to fostering a shared set of values among his workforce. He already witnessed good and bad examples from the various mech regiments and outfits he witnessed first-hand.

The Flagrant Vandals, Walter's Whalers and Lydia's Swordmaidens each exhibited a strong sense of camaraderie and loyalty. They were proud to be a part of their forces.

The distinct leadership style of Major Verle made a very strong impression on Ves. The mech major shouldered a huge responsibility in carrying the Flagrant Vandals through an arduous mission, but most of the Vandals never gave up even when they were pushed to the brink.

While it was true that the crew of the Finmoth Regal mutinied, that did not detract from Major Verle's overall success in shepherding his forces in and out of the deep frontier.

Ves always admired the esprit de corps exhibited by the Vandals and the aforementioned outfits. While they all exhibited various flaws, the members of those forces did not let that hold them back.

If Ves wanted to foster the same kind of spirit among his subordinates, then he needed to take the lead in setting forth a strong set of principles.

"It's best to begin with a simple motto. We can use that to serve as the heart of our core principles." Jake advised. "Something that's too long and contains too many concepts or buzzwords will lack meaning to most of our workforce because it comes across as muddled."

"Haven't I already set the company's mission statement?" Ves recalled. "I thought I set forth an aspiration that the LMC should endeavor to meet the needs of customers who are looking for a mech that feels alive to them. Our mechs aren't commodities. They are valuable partners who can complement their mech pilots better than any other mech. That is what we are working to achieve!"

Jake sighed. "That sounds good and all, but it's a very vague mission statement, you know. None of us can really figure out what the name of our company actually stands for. While all of us feel that our mechs are a little different than the other mechs on the market, it's difficult to communicate that to our customers, let alone our own workforce."

"In short, most people don't have a clue what the LMC really stands for, is that right?"

"Not everyone is as smart as you, Ves. You're a unique mech designer, but some of the ideas you spout are rather eccentric. In fact, some of us think it's better if we change the name of our company to introduce more clarity to our corporate identity. We can't just keep operating on the belief that we are just a generic mech company led by mech designer with some very weird ideas."

All of these faults made it clear that Ves failed to propagate his beliefs to the rest of the company. It wasn't that obvious at first since he provided a strong direction when he was present, but his absence increasingly made this deficiency more apparent.

"Alright. Let's discuss on how we can reform our principles." He said with a renewed sense of purpose. "I want the Living Mech Corporation to be more than just a vehicle to make money. Our company stands for something greater than that, and it's time that our subordinates and our customers learn our ethos."