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Outside the Manhattan high-rise that houses Tredway Corporation, a manufacturer of fine wood furniture, company president Avery Bullard suddenly collapses and dies of a stroke. From the executive suite, George Nyle Caswell and Julius Steigel are discussing the vacant executive vice-president position when they see a body being removed by an ambulance. Caswell, who realizes it is Bullard, promptly calls his broker and, anticipating a decline in the company's stock value once word of Bullard's death gets out, puts in a short sale order for 3,700 shares. Bullard's wallet, which he dropped when he was stricken, is stolen by a man on the street, and Bullard is tagged a "John Doe" at the morgue. Meanwhile, a telegram Bullard sent moments before his death, calling for an executive committee meeting that evening, reaches his secretary, Erica Martin. All of the executives are notified of the last-minute meeting, including McDonald Walling, who oversees the company's manufacturing plant and is preparing to test a new molding process. As the day goes on, Caswell nervously scours the late editions in vain for some mention of Bullard's death. At six o'clock, Erica and the executives gather in the board room and wait for Bullard to arrive. Executive Frederick Y. Alderson is called away to speak with Julia O. Tredway, the corporation's major stockholder and Bullard's former lover. Julia says she received a call from Caswell requesting that she privately sell 3,700 shares of stock to an anonymous buyer. When Bullard fails to appear, the meeting is called off. Meanwhile, Caswell is at the Stork Club with his mistress, waiting for Julia's call, when he sees an item in the evening paper about a corpse identified only by the initials "A. B.," and immediately places a call to the police. McDonald returns to the plant and learns that the test of the new process did not go well in his absence. On the way home, he complains to his wife Mary that financial analyst Loren Phineas Shaw focuses on the bottom line at the expense of the company's creativity, and becomes angry when Mary gently reproaches him for his blind loyalty to Bullard. When the Wallings get home, they learn of Bullard's death, and McDonald returns to the office. A stunned Alderson assumes control of the company, but bristles at the easy authority Shaw displays under the circumstances. Shaw tracks down Josiah Walter Dudley, who was supposed to be on a business trip to Chicago, at the apartment of Dudley's secretary, Eva Bardeman. After breaking the news of Bullard's death, Shaw tells Dudley that a board meeting will be held the following evening to elect a new president. Late that night, the Wallings discuss the upcoming election, and McDonald predicts that the majority of the board members will favor Jesse Q. Grimm, adding that Alderson had suggested that he make a bid for the presidency. Mary encourages her husband to leave the company and set off on his own, but McDonald refuses to turn his back on the organization. The following day, Shaw questions Erica about Bullard's relationship with Julia, whose father had run the company before committing suicide. Erica discreetly acknowledges only that Bullard brought the company back from ruin and befriended Julia when she had a breakdown. Meanwhile, McDonald receives word from the plant that the new process finally works but cannot be implemented because of a directive from Shaw. At the office, Caswell calls on Shaw and asks that 4,000 shares of the company's unissued common stock be sold to him at the previous day's closing price. Shaw surprises his colleague by revealing that he knows all about his shady stock deal. Caswell confesses that he lacks sufficient liquid assets to cover the short sale, and offers Shaw his vote in exchange for the stock. Later, Alderson drops by McDonald's son's Little League game with the news that Grimm plans to retire, and McDonald reluctantly agrees to support Dudley in the election. After reconsidering the situation, however, McDonald decides that he will run for president, but Mary is not pleased with the idea. After McDonald leaves, Alderson phones and asks Mary to call the office with the message that he has been delayed while picking up Grimm and would like the vote to be postponed until they arrive. Still disturbed over her conversation with McDonald, however, Mary does not make the call. At the office, McDonald approaches Julia to seek her support, but she bitterly tells him she is empowering Shaw to liquidate her sizeable stock holdings. McDonald angrily accuses her of selling Bullard out, and the distraught Julia breaks down. Moments before the meeting is to begin, Julia tears up the proxy she had given Shaw and takes her place at the conference table. Dudley nominates Shaw for president, but the first ballot is inconclusive because one board member abstains. Mary comes to the office and apologetically delivers the message to her husband, and Alderson and Grimm soon arrive. McDonald speaks passionately about the company, condemning Shaw's short-sighted emphasis on quick profits as "a lack of faith in the future." After McDonald outlines his vision for restoring the company to its former high standards, the board unanimously elects him president. As the meeting ends, Julia encounters Mary in the waiting room and asks her to thank McDonald for saving her life.