Crude Morals

CORNELIUS VOELKNER: 48 years old, oil magnate and CEO of Vorstellung Oil Corporation, passionate, family man

 

DAVID GRIFFIN: 45 years old, COO of Vorstellung Oil, CORNELIUS’ right-hand man, unscrupulous, underhanded

 

STEPHEN EISMAN: 45 years old, CFO of Vorstellung Oil

 

WARREN BUFFETT: 81 years old, extremely successful investor, influential, philanthropic

 

SAMANTHA LEE: 32 years old, anchor of CNBC’s Fast Money

 

CHARLIE VOELKNER: 43 years old, CORNELIUS’ younger brother, very close to CORNELIUS

 

LINDA VOELKNER: 68 years old, mother of CORNELIUS and CHARLIE, loving

 

LEONARD RIPPENFELD: 43 years old, senior Vorstellung engineer

 

RICHARD YATES: 35 years old, junior Vorstellung engineer

 

GARY WINKLER: 52 years old, head of regional sales at Lockheed defense company

 

SHARON SMITH: 28 years old, DAVID’S secretary

 

SETTING: On the New York City set of CNBC’s Fast Money, host SAMANTHA LEE is sitting with WARREN BUFFET.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Act 1, Scene 1

 

SAMANTHA

Welcome to CNBC’s Fast Money. We have a very special show for you today, with none other than the Omaha Oracle himself in studio for an interview. I know you don’t do interviews too often Warren, so I appreciate you being here.

 

WARREN

          (Smiling graciously)

     My pleasure, Samantha.

 

SAMANTHA

So Warren, you’re here to talk about a certain company, Vorstellung Oil. Investors throughout the world are no doubt sitting on pins and needles right now to hear what you have to say, so why don’t you tell us what you’ve found out.

 

WARREN

     (Emphatically)

That’s right. Everyone knows Vorstellung is one of the biggest oil refinery corporations in the world, but I believe the share price is far too low. I’ve been analyzing the company’s balance sheet, and its profit and loss statements have been superb, even compared to competitors like Exxon and B.P. In fact, I’m projecting their profits to increase by more than twenty percent by the end of the year.


 

SAMANTHA

Now Warren, you know better than anyone that your opinion moves markets. You must feel VERY strongly about this company in order to come on the show and praise them.

 

WARREN

I have no doubt in my mind, Samantha. I firmly believe Vorstellung is poised to become the most successful oil refinery corporation since John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, and that’s no small compliment. CEO Cornelius Voelkner has done a fantastic job, cutting costs left and right while increasing revenue. Bottom line: invest in Vorstellung.

 

 

 

SAMANTHA

Well, you heard it here first. Warren Buffett has officially recommended Vorstellung Oil Corporation as a STRONG buy. We’ll be right back here on CNBC’s Fast Money.

 

Act 1, Scene 2: CONELIUS VOELKNER is sitting at his desk in his large, traditional, and luxurious office at Vorstellung Oil Corporation headquarters. There is a knock at the door.

 

CORNELIUS

     Come in!

          (DAVID enters.)

DAVID

          (Exuberant)

Can you believe this?! We just got an endorsement from Buffett himself! Our stock’s probably gone up two percent since I left my office to walk over here.

 

CORNELIUS

     This is a great day for the company, my friend.

(CORNELIUS stands up and the two shake hands, followed by a triumphant embrace.)

 

DAVID

You’re going to get so much press. Forbes, Businessweek, mark my words—they’ll all want you on the cover.

 

CORNELIUS

          (Looking pensive)

     Yes, yes, but doesn’t this seem a bit…odd?

 

DAVID

          (Baffled)

     Odd? How so?

 

CORNELIUS

Think about it. An endorsement of this kind from Buffett will dramatically raise the public perception of Vorstellung…along with the public’s expectations of the company’s performance. The stock price will shoot up initially, but what happens if we can’t match the expectations when earning season rolls around? This hasn’t been our best quarter.

 

 

 

DAVID

     (Chuckling)

Cornelius, Cornelius. Always exercising caution. I suppose this mindset of yours has allowed you to build this company into what it is today.

 

CORNELIUS

          (Paying no attention to what DAVID is saying)

Plus we have that report from the engineers coming in about our major oil refinery in Saudi Arabia. They said the factory might have some malfunctions. It’s been bombarded by those militants in the area…

 

DAVID

I really don’t think we need to worry about that right now.

          (The phone rings.)

 

CORNELIUS

(CORNELIUS walks back behind his desk, sits down, and looks at caller ID)

     It’s my brother. I’ll talk to you later.

 

DAVID

     Will do. Send Charlie my regards.

          (DAVID exits)

 

CORNELIUS

          (Talking into speakerphone)

     Charlie!

 

CHARLIE

          (Through phone)

What’s up big shot? Saw the interview with Buffett, that’s great news. We need to go out to dinner to celebrate tonight. Just you, me, and mom.

 

CORNELIUS

Thanks Charlie. I would like nothing more. Did mom see the interview? I’d be surprised if she understood half the stuff Buffett said; she’s not exactly well versed in financial parlance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHARLIE

          (Chuckling)

That’s for sure. She understands what a big deal it is for your company though. An endorsement from Warren Buffett himself! THE Omaha Oracle! That man moves markets; Vorstellung is going to overtake Exxon and BP and become the number one oil refiner.

 

CORNELIUS

I appreciate it; I really do. Don’t get too carried away though; we have a lot of work to do. Just as easily as Buffett’s endorsement has encouraged investors, poor performance by the company will discourage investors.

     (Pause)

And, well, to be frank, I fear that the political instability in the Middle East may interfere with business. I need to hear from our engineers, but…actually, never mind. You don’t need to worry about that.

 

CHARLIE

Ah, Cornelius. So careful. That’s probably why you’re the successful CEO. Speaking of, I’ll stop taking up your time. I’m sure you have numerous calls to make and investors to speak to. I’ll see you tonight. By the way, you’re paying.

 

CORNELIUS

          (Laughing)

Sounds good. Love you man.

          (CORNELIUS hangs up.)

 

Act 1, Scene 3: That evening, CHARLIE and LINDA are sitting at a table in an upscale Italian restaurant. CORNELIUS enters.

 

LINDA

(Stands up and rushes over to CORNELIUS, embracing him)

Your brother and I are so proud of you. My son is the most successful CEO in the world!

 

CORNELIUS

     Nice to see you, mom.

          (They sit down at the table.)

 

 

CHARLIE

          (To waiter)

     A bottle of cabernet sauvignon, please.

 

CORNELIUS

Mom, how have you been? I’m sorry I’ve been a little busy lately; my schedule’s been really hectic. Do you need any money? I want to buy you something nice.

 

LINDA

Oh, Cornelius. I have more than enough; you’ve taken excellent care of me. I never had any doubt you’d be here for me.

          (Pause)

You know, ever since your father died when you were seven and I was working multiple jobs to get your brother and you through school, you always used to tell me, “Mommy, some day I’m gonna get really rich and you won’t have to work anymore.”

     (Eyes starting to water)

You’d say it in that adorable little kid voice of yours. And you know what? For some reason, I never had any doubt.

          (Places hand on CORNELIUS’ arm)

     I could not be more proud of you.

 

CORNELIUS

          (With intense conviction)

I meant every word, mom. I’m going to become so successful that you can have anything in the world that you want. I promise.

 

LINDA

          (Chuckling)

Sweetie, don’t worry. I am as happy as I can be right now. No matter how successful you are, I’ll always think of you as that sweet little seven-year-old who comforted me after your father’s death. I wouldn’t have gotten through it without you and your brother, and that is what’s important. Please remember that.

 

CORNELIUS

You don’t need to worry about that, mom. I’m on the verge of building Vorstellung into one of the most successful corporations in the world.

 

 

 

CHARLIE

          (Pats CORNELIUS on the back)

You always were the gifted one. Now, am I the only one who’s starving? Let’s order some food!

 

Act 1, Scene 4: The next morning, CORNELIUS and DAVID are sitting in a conference room.

 

CORNELIUS

Are the engineers ready to give the report?

 

DAVID

     Yes. I’ll get them on the phone now.

          (DAVID dials number on the phone.)

 

LEONARD

          (Through phone)

     Rippenfeld speaking.

 

CORNELIUS

Leonard, it’s Cornelius. I’m here with David. Please give us some good news.

     (Crosses his fingers)

 

LEONARD

     I’m here with junior engineer Richard Yates.

          (Pause)

Unfortunately, the situation is not good.

 

RICHARD

          (Chiming in)

As I’m sure you guys have seen on the news, the political uprisings have only intensified. These rebels are vehemently anti-American, and view Vorstellung’s oil refining factory as a symbol of American infringement on the natural resources of the Middle East. The increased security was helpful, but they’re relentless.

 

CORNELIUS

          (Places head in his hands)

This is just as I feared. How bad is it?

 

RICHARD

The biggest problem is that they’ve severely damaged pipelines leading out of the factory, which will severely hinder our ability to export the oil.

 

LEONARD

Until these guys stop, we can’t realistically project any income from this refinery. Every time we fix something, they cause more damage; the pipelines are simply too exposed.

 

DAVID

Leonard, what’s your estimation of how long until we can get business running normally again?

 

LEONARD

It’s not promising. The U.S. government hates to get involved in political insurrection like this. We’ll just have to hope it subsides sooner rather than later.

 

CORNELIUS

     All right, thank you Leonard. We’ll be in touch soon.

(CORNELIUS hangs up the phone. He breathes a deep sigh, and stands up and starts pacing around the room. Finally, he sits down.)

     This is the last thing we need.

 

DAVID

I hate to say it, but you were right. This will destroy investor confidence. Anything we gained from the Buffett interview will be negated. If anything, things will be worse.

 

CORNELIUS

     Get STEPHEN on the phone.

 

DAVID

     Right.

          (DAVID dials extension on phone.)

 

STEPHEN

          (Through phone)

     Eisman.

 

CORNELIUS

Stephen, it’s Cornelius and David. We need a quick number-crunch.

 

STEPHEN

     Sure. Let me open up the spreadsheets.

 

 

CORNELIUS

What does our balance sheet look like if we lose production from our factory in Saudi Arabia?

 

STEPHEN

Well, let’s see…we had a net profit last quarter of 18.5 billion…38% of that profit came from the Saudi Arabian factory…we’d lose almost $11 billion dollars.

 

CORNELIUS

We can’t afford to take on those losses, Stephen. The losses will be amplified by investor panic; the public will perceive Vorstellung as too volatile.

 

STEPHEN

That’s just one quarter. If the political situation continues, which is a distinct possibility, we could lose much, much more. The current Middle Eastern leadership in place favors the U.S. oil industry. If a new government is established that isn’t so friendly, we’re looking at permanent losses.

 

CORNELIUS

Yes, you’re right. And the factory in Saudi Arabia is the first domino. Once that falls, what happens to our other refineries? Investors will pull out money, we’ll be short on capital, and we’ll struggle to stay solvent.

 

STEPHEN

Let me try some financial maneuvering. I may be able to move some assets around to offset the losses. I’ll call you back in a bit.

 

CORNELIUS

     Ok.

          (CORNELIUS hangs up phone, looking pensive.)

You know, the first thing they teach you in business school is, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” That’s exactly what we’ve done.

 

DAVID

I agree. If we report those losses next quarter, Vorstellung’s reputation will be irreparable.

 

CORNELIUS

There’s not much we can do other than hope the uprisings are suppressed somehow…we’re helpless.

DAVID

Helpless?! This will be the end of Vorstellung as we know it! I won’t be satisfied until we reach the very top of the industry, and I know you feel the same way.

 

CORNELIUS

     So what do you suggest?

 

DAVID

     Well…

          (Hesitates)

     One thing comes to mind…

 

CORNELIUS

     Speak up already. What is it?

 

DAVID

Look Cornelius, you’ve known me a long time. You and I helped to build this company from scratch; I care about this more than anything.

 

CORNELIUS

          (Losing his patience)

Dammit David! Vorstellung’s fate hangs in the balance. Now tell me what you’re thinking.

 

DAVID

We’d have to find a way to…put down the political disturbances.

 

CORNELIUS

          (Eyebrows raised)

     Go on.

 

DAVID

The Saudi government can’t stop these radicals all by themselves. They need help. They’re not going to get it from the U.S.

     (DAVID shifts uncomfortably in his seat.)

We have influence in the area. With your approval of course, I could…assist the local regime.

 

CORNELIUS

          (Taken aback)

     What exactly are you suggesting?

 

 

 

DAVID

Look, all the government needs is money and weapons. We can help provide that. All discreetly, of course. The transfers would be done through offshore accounts.

 

CORNELIUS

And get thrown in jail while we’re at it? Pull yourself together, David. Could that be any more illegal? Not to mention impractical…

 

DAVID

          (Sharply)

No Cornelius. Just listen to me. This company has been built up over the course of more than twenty years, and you and I were in at the ground floor.

     (Voice rising)

We can’t just let these goddamn political radicals destroy everything we’ve worked for. You heard Stephen on the phone just now. We can’t afford to take on these losses.

 

CORNELIUS

How could I look my family in the eye after knowingly assisting a totalitarian regime in oppressing opposition? I thought you were better than that.

 

DAVID

I don’t like it any more than you do. One of us had to suggest it. If we don’t step in, the company will die. And it’ll be your legacy that gets hurt. Not mine. Cornelius you need to seriously consider this.

 

CORNELIUS

I cannot compromise my morals so severely, even for Vorstellung. This discussion is over.

(CORNELIUS exits. DAVID remains sitting, brow furrowed.)

 

Act 1, Scene 5: Later that day, DAVID is sitting in his office. His secretary SHARON is standing in the room.

 

DAVID

Sharon, get Gary Winkler over at Lockheed Defense on the phone. He’s an old friend from business school…

 

 

 

 

SHARON

     One minute.

(She exits. About a minute later, the phone rings.)

 

DAVID

          (Into phone)

     Gary!

 

GARY

     Hey! How have you been? How’s business?

 

DAVID

Unfortunately, this isn’t a social call, Gary. We need to talk business.

 

GARY

     Hm. Ok, what’s up?

 

DAVID

The rebels in the Middle East are damaging our factory. They need to be stopped.

 

GARY

     I’m listening…

 

DAVID

On behalf of Vorstellung, I’d like to purchase one million dollars worth of weapons.

 

GARY

          (Confused)

     Cornelius authorized this?

 

DAVID

Cornelius is a sanctimonious fool. He’s willing to sit back and watch this company die. The transaction can’t be reported on either of our companies’ records. That’s why I’m calling you. I need this favor.

     (Pause)

You owe me…I helped you land your job.

 

GARY

Then how will the million dollars you’re paying be accounted for? Magic?

 

 

 

DAVID

That money would be transferred into one of your personal accounts. Offshore, preferably.

          (Chuckles darkly)

 

GARY

I see. How are you going to get the weapons delivered to the Saudis under Cornelius’ nose?

 

DAVID

Don’t worry about that. It’s taken care of. Just have the shipment flown in to our factory in Riyadh. There’s a landing strip three kilometers north of the factory. Your men shouldn’t have trouble.

 

GARY

     Very well.

          (Sardonically)

First B.P., then this. I guess the oil industry really is corrupt.

 

DAVID

          (Chuckles darkly)

I’ll be in touch.

 

Act 1, Scene 6: CORNELIUS is pacing around his office, unable to sit still. There is a knock at the door.

 

CORNELIUS

     Come in. Come in.

          (STEPHEN enters.)

Stephen, sit down. Have you tinkered with the balance sheet?

 

STEPHEN

I’ve tried everything. Until we can export from Riyadh, we’re looking at substantial losses. I’m sorry.

 

CORNELIUS

Ok. I’ve decided I’m going to release a public statement to the press. We want to get out ahead of the bad news. If investors hear it from us first, maybe the fallout won’t be as bad.

 

STEPHEN

     Seems reasonable. What does David think?

 

CORNELIUS

I haven’t told him yet. He hasn’t been answering his emails. Have you been in touch with him?

 

STEPHEN

     No. Not since we met earlier.

 

CORNELIUS

     Hm. That’s not like him.

 

STEPHEN

     I’ll try his cell.

          (Dials number.)

Hello? David? Yeah, where have you been? Get the hell over here. We’re in Cornelius’ office.

     (Hangs up)

He’ll be here soon.

(After a few minutes, DAVID enters, looking flustered.)

 

CORNELIUS

Where have you been for the past hour? I couldn’t get in touch with you—I’ve decided to release a statement to the press. If we get out in front of the bad news, maybe it’ll help mitigate our losses.

 

DAVID

     (Alarmed)

Cornelius, no. I think that’s a mistake. Let’s wait and see what happens. You never know. Telling the press about this is the same thing as waving the white flag…investors will panic either way.

 

CORNELIUS

          (Firmly)    

My decision is final, David.

 

DAVID

          (Looks conflicted)

     Cornelius, the problem is taken care of.

 

CORNELIUS

          (Darkly)

     What?

 

DAVID

For the past hour, I’ve been making arrangements. We don’t have to come out with that statement.

 

CORNELIUS

          (Visibly angry)

     What exactly are these arrangements?

 

DAVID

It doesn’t matter. Please, Cornelius. Think about it. All our problems are taken care of. As far as we’re concerned, this conversation never happened.

 

CORNELIUS

          (Enraged)

This is a personal betrayal of me and the company. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life in prison?

 

DAVID

          (Shaking his head, smirking)

You fool. You can turn me in, but do you think you’ll get out of this unscathed? You intend on convincing the SEC that you weren’t in on it too? No chance! You’d better get on board, Cornelius, because if I go down, you’re going down with me.

 

CORNELIUS

          (Lunges forward and grabs DAVID by the collar)

     You think you can THREATEN me?

 

STEPHEN

     Cornelius, no!

          (Grabs CORNELIUS and pulls him away from DAVID)

As much as I dislike it, you have to consider what he’s saying. If one of us is implicated in illegal activity, we’ll all be liable. Unfortunately, that’s how society views senior executives. We won’t be given any sympathy. You don’t have any other choice.

 

CORNELIUS

          (To DAVID, ignoring STEPHEN, shouting)

     GET OUT OF MY OFFICE!

 

DAVID

          (Chuckles)

You don’t want to go to jail any more than I do. Don’t worry. When you calm down, I’m confident you’ll see the sense of this plan.

     (DAVID exits.)

 

Playwright’s Note: This is the first act of a multiple act play. Cornelius decides he will be implicated along with David, and reluctantly goes along with David’s plan. They engage in an elaborate cover-up scheme that is eventually detected by the SEC. This play serves as a social commentary on the greed and corruption in big business and the importance of oil in the U.S. and Middle East.

Jason Radin
Age 17, Grade 12
Columbia Grammar-Prep School
Gold Key

Leave a Reply