The Umbrella Men
by Keith Carter
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
A witty and acerbic novel for our times about corporate greed, the hubris of bankers, contradictions of the clean energy economy and their unintended consequences on everyday people.
Finance, environmentalism, rare-earth mining and human frailties collide in a complex of flawed motives. We follow Peter Mount, the self-made Chief Executive of a London-based rare-earth mining company as he and his business are buffeted by crisis-torn Royal Bank of Scotland and by his own actions, real and imagined. Meanwhile in Oregon, Amy Tate and her group of local environmental activists do their contradictory part to undermine a component of the green economy, unwittingly super-charged by the Chinese state. The repercussions of events in pristine Oregon are felt in the corporate and financial corridors of New York and London with drastic consequences. This is a deeply involving novel about the current workings of capitalism, miscommunication, causes and unexpected effects, love and survival.
With a palpable impact on the already uneasy atmosphere in the room, a lean stoat of a man wearing an expensive suit made an entrance, closely followed by Bald. Must be Richard. He was carrying an A4 blackbound notepad and a Mont Blanc ball-point pen. He sat in the empty seat between Slight and Judd and with precision placed his notebook square on the table, the pen neatly parallel. Sam Slight simpered.
“This is Richard Videur, Director of the Corporate Restructuring Unit here,” he announced. Videur raised a pair of jaded, glassy blue eyes and gazed disapprovingly across the table. He had made no attempt to shake anyone’s hand. An expectant silence fell, a few seconds passed, truculently.
“So, rare-earths. Not much interest in that. I mean, I hardly read about rare-earths in the newspapers every day.” Videur looked around the table as if expecting a round of applause. His voice was nasal and his attitude was superior sneer. “Rare-earths does not seem to me to be a business for the future.” He sounded poorly educated and what he was saying was ill-informed, yet the communal body language in the room loudly declared his authority. Swallow, the sector specialist, shifted awkwardly. Videur transferred his gaze back to Peter, eyes challenging yet uninterested. He expected a response but did not care what it was.
“Well, you and I obviously read different newspapers,” said Peter, trying to correct Videur without implying that he was completely ignorant. “Arthur here can no doubt let you know about the importance of rare-earth elements to the modern green tech and communications industries.” He looked over to Swallow, who remained mute. Peter continued, “And the strategic need for non-Chinese supply.” He looked again at Swallow who was inspecting his biro.
“That’s all very nice, erm…” Videur made a show of recalling the name. “Peter. All very nice. But we have a different problem. There is a credit issue. It goes to contractual solvency.” Peter glanced at James who looked as mystified as he himself felt. Rareterre was not insolvent. At Bald’s request they had brought with them financial projections under various scenarios demonstrating that the company could and was expected to remain able to meet its obligations as they fell due. Things were tight the following September certainly, tight but doable – subject to RBS advancing the final $7 million.
James cleared his throat. “Maybe you have not had the time to look at the cashflow scenario analysis we sent over yesterday. It quite clearly does not show a position of insolvency, meaning it does show a position of solvency…” Videur was making a dismissive gesture with his right hand, as if dusting dandruff off the table. He stopped when James ceased talking, and held his hand, palm up, towards Slight.
“It goes to solvency because Rareterre has entered into negotiations to reschedule its indebtedness.” Slight was scrabbling in a pile of papers and pulled out a fat document bent back against its staple, open at a highlighted section, and proffered it to Videur. Videur ignored him, he was looking at Peter in a contemplative way, an emperor considering the worth of a blooded gladiator. “Read it out to the gents, Sam.”
Keith Iain Carter was born in Scotland in March 1959, second son of Marian van Westendorp and Ralph Carter. He attended a variety of bog standard state schools in northern England and in 1978 went up to Cambridge to read Economics, taking a First in 1981 when he was elected a Scholar – too late to enjoy the privilege of walking on the grass.
Other than corporate annual reports, he has not previously been published, unless you count a letter printed in Business Week deploring the widespread use of the word ‘wannabe’ and this quote in Investors Chronicle: “I used to be a banker, then I went straight”.
As an investment banker Keith worked for three now-disgraced institutions – he denies that any causation is associated with this correlation – Lloyds, Drexel Burnham Lambert and NatWest (RBS). A corporate financier, he ended up by specialising in pharmaceuticals and, in 1998, was part of a team acquiring a small vaccine business from GSK. As CEO he took the company public in 2004. Since 2010 Keith has worked as a business consultant to healthcare companies and as a writer, which he prefers.
Keith lives in London, Yorkshire and aboard a boat currently in Greece. He is a French-speaking Europhile who also loves America, travel, politics and economics, reading and writing, music, sailing of all kinds and food and drink.