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– Chapter One
Introducing Santa

– Chapter Two
"Take Me Through the Numbers"

– Chapter Three
The Scheming Begins

– Chapter Four
Santa and His Shrink

– Chapter Five
The Doll Factory






New Orleans






- The Divine Right    of Capital

- Pigs at the   Trough


- What It Is

- Why a Santa    Novel?

- Who Benefits

- Secrecy in Santa

Author Bio






Special Challenges

The Secrecy Mandate

Any firm operating in a competitive marketplace maintains a certain amount of secrecy.  Here are some typical areas where secrecy is advantageous:

  • Product design details
  • Production cycle plans
  • Internal cash flow projections
  • Marketing strategies
  • Pending mergers and acquisitions (M&A's)
  • Other forms of intellectual property

NPI has some additional challenges, however, involving the key, intimate relationship between Santa and the very young, in which Santa himself and Santa's reindeer team personally deliver gifts to the youngster.  

NPI management, including its CEO, feels strongly that this special relationship must be preserved--that if young children were to discover that "Santa and his reindeer" were really "santa subs and some other reindeer," this would damage credibility and, ultimately, depress sales--with unknown effect on long-term market share.  


What Would Happen If...

Santa decided secrecy was no longer necessary for the Christmas operations? How would children react? How would parents? Competitors?  The media?

The "media circus" likely to follow the disclosure might create a loss of focus just when an "eyes on the prize" perspective is most needed

Given the secrecy mandate, there are several areas where this becomes a significant challenge:

    1. Local governments.  The book opens with Santa complaining about the Argentine government's reaction to reindeer dung on their ranches.  This is just one example of a government protesting over something NPI has or hasn't done.  However, the secrecy mandate creates a risk that a displeased government might "blow NPI's cover" if its demands weren't met.  This need for secrecy, and its price tag, is one of the first things revealed about Santa's character:
      1. He studied glass cabinets that housed Hummels, Waterford, rare crystals from Africa, a carved jade elephant from India--all presented by emissaries sworn to secrecy, governments asking favors.  

      Though the book never states whether Santa grants these favors, the fact that they are requested at all brings the question of CEO integrity into sharp relief. How much is secrecy really worth?  Where do you draw the line on paying the price to preserve it, especially in parts of the world where "greasing the palm" carries less of a stigma?

    2. Security and National Defense.  Imagine if no agreements were in place, and as military air traffic controller you encounter unusual blips on your radar screen that turn out to be something not in any training manual.  How would you react?  Who in their right mind would scramble jets against reindeer?  But mistakes on both sides happen:
      1. "Back when we started splitting up the santas, we had all kinds of problems, crash landings, UFO reports, duck hunters, American navy planes.  One of them even hit a weather balloon.  Talk about being off course."  

      Mistakes like these can be disastrous when they're coupled with high-tech toys. So the military needs to know.  Fortunately, you can rely on the military's discipline around secrecy to work in your favor…or can you?  What about nations undergoing regime change?  Or nations that might see Santa as a western imperialist symbol?

    3. Suppliers and Distributors.  Non-Disclosure Agreements are the vehicle of choice for keeping your suppliers and distributors in line.  But to be effective, a business must continually review its policies and its approach to its supply base.  

      Supplier quality is usually not as visible in the general marketplace as is end-stage integrator quality. But if, as a purchasing manager, you decide that a certain supplier's relationship to NPI should be terminated, how do you ensure that secrecy is maintained-- particularly if the termination is an ugly one?


Points to Ponder

What are the nondisclosure challenges associated with worldwide reindeer ranching?  What are the nondisclosure challenges associated with toy company partnerships?

    1. Department Stores.  How would you set things up so that the temporary workforce didn't blab once their stint was over?  After all, Santa himself concedes these may not be the most reliable employees:
      1.     “…I know they’re mostly good people, but when you hire--how many of ‘em we got, Oiler?”

              “One point two million.”

             “--one point two million, for three weeks, you get some bad apples.”

      It's safe to say these folks have very little loyalty to the firm.  How do you manage their departure so as to protect your secrecy?

    2. The Media.  No business can function properly in a media vacuum.  For NPI, the media pose a special challenge:  How do you strike the proper balance between the need to maintain secrecy and the need to report critical events as a publicly-traded corporation?  If you refer to the novel in your class assignment, how do you think Gardner and Mats had to shape their news conference toward the end of the story? In today's scoop-driven world, can you ever disclose to a reporter what you disclose to a trusted supplier?  How do you handle leaks? Again, for those who have read the book, how would you handle a "North Pole Newsday?"  Here are Gardner and Router discussing the challenge:
      1.      Her eyes widened.  “Not another North Pole Newsday.”

             He shrugged.  “It’s possible.”

             “Oh, Lord, those things are disasters every time.  Remember three years ago, when they tried it?  Extra booze for the reporters, disclaimers, production reports, view the herds.  What an effort.  And then in the middle of it, the Australian reporter slaps a reindeer’s butt.  What a mess, blood everywhere.”

             “Well, the deer told him what’s what,” Router said.

    3. The Internet.  When "Santa" was first drafted, the Web was the sleeping e-commerce giant just being teased to wakefulness at the insistence of early-adopter businesses.  These days, how you manage your web presence--and with it, internet and computer security--have risen to occupy ongoing positions on corporate governance agendas.  In any business, your most significant challenges here include:
      1. How do you want to present your brand(s)?
      2. To what extent will you shape your business strategy around e-business?
      3. What are your competitors up to?
      4. How do you want to leverage the latest technology?  Or should you?
      5. With whom do you link, and why?

      There are many more challenges, and even enumerating them here would extend the scope of this companion volume.  For NPI, each decision is also bounded by security considerations.  What might some of these be?

      Protection from intrusion and identity theft are two of the hottest security topics which, while perhaps not new, have recently landed in the laps of everyone from the worker bee to the CEO.  


What Would Happen If...

Santa was the victim of identity theft?

      Hacker attacks, web site defacements, stealing confidential information, viruses and worms comprise the daily grist of the business technology pages.  For any business, this is a significant issue.  For NPI, with its security mandate, the issues become even more crucial.  How do you think these should be addressed?

    1. Your Own Workforce.  Businesses spend a tremendous amount of time, human and physical capital protecting their perimeters from intrusions--yet it is a well-known fact that the majority of security breaches, whether via the inter-/intranet or via "briefcase theft" originate from within.  
    2. NPI's workforce is in flux.  Workers who previously felt they had lifetime employment are being faced with programs such as TOW (Transition to Outside Work).  In the novel, Santa argues with the Board over the TOW Program:

             "Let me remind you you what the elves think about TOW.”  He glared at them all.  “Seven hundred TOW-ROPE cartoons.  Remember?  With nooses?"

      Disgruntled employees are present within any workforce.  Ignore them, and you risk discontent spreading like a cancer.  Placate them with false promises, and you risk cynicism and disaffection at best.  If, on top of this, you layer a program that shakes the foundations of the unspoken, unwritten (and thus all the more powerful) contract between the employees and the organization, you have the solid beginnings of a recipe for disaster.  

      In these situations, the temptation to go to the outside and "tell it like it really is" can be a way of lashing back against what are perceived to be programs enacted by indifferent management, or a way of preserving one's own self-interest. 


What Would Happen If...

Someone high up spilled all the beans about NPI?

      Has NPI truly thought through the implications of elves transitioning to work on the outside?

    These are just a few of the areas affected by the secrecy mandate.  Viewed from the outside, preserving secrecy might seem like it's not worth all the time and energy.  The firm has already gone public.  Why not complete what's been started by opening up its inner operations as well?

    Unfortunately, it's not that simple.  What's defined as proprietary, confidential and secret in one organization might be defined differently in another.  The information--data, documents, illustrations--placed in each bucket will also vary from organization to organization, based on complex factors such as the competitive map, the firm's appetite for risk, security policy, and so forth.  What gets protected, and by whom, and to what extent, are therefore very much bound up within the corporate culture of the enterprise.  As we know, corporate culture is a lot like the atmosphere:

    • You can't see it
    • It's damnably hard to change the composition
    • Too much change, and you might not survive

    Secrecy and Santa's NPI operations have grown over the centuries and are bound up with each other.  When Santa's admin, Roxy, contemplates the changes over time to NPI's distribution methods, secrecy overarches the decisions:

           “You won’t find Christmas on any map,” her mother had told her when she was a kid, before NPI had either name or shareholder base.  “We’re a one-way mirror,” her mother said, describing special southbound tunnels.  “We present a shadow face to the world.  We have touchpoints where our wagons deliver the toys.  But they see only a few of us.  They don’t know the real story.”  

           How things had changed.  Wagons replaced by trains.  Trains complemented first by propeller and then by jet planes.  And now, herds everywhere, a new elf outreach program, landholdings, countless human santas, layer upon layer of operations.  

           She studied his face, features once so disposed to laughter but now frowning, speed-reading something either disturbing or simply too detailed, given the stacks of information requiring instant absorption--and action:  how he had had to grow into a job both massive and delicate, obvious while intricate and hidden.  How had he contained all of this, convincing children and hoodwinking adults, all the while hiding these wide-ranging operations?

    Not only is secrecy bound up with the firm, it's bound up with the CEO.  And if the CEO is tightly bound to the firm, the challenge now becomes how to slice this Gordian knot without delivering a fatal slash to the organization.


What Do You Think?

If you were running NPI, would you conclude that secrecy concerning Christmas delivery must be maintained?  Why or why not?

© 2004 David Soubly


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