Adapted from Cameron Hawley’s novel, upon the death of its president the board of a furniture company meets to elect a new president.
Bullard sends a telegram to Erica Martin to call a board meeting before he collapses on the sidewalk. In an office George Nyle Caswell (Louis Calhern) and Julius Steigel (Edgar Stehli) discuss what will happen if Bullard were to die. They look out the window and see that he has died. Caswell calls his broker to sell his stock short. The telegram is delivered to Erica Martin (Nina Foch), and she tells Vice President Frederick Y. Alderson (Walter Pidgeon) about the executive meeting. She finds Vice President Loren Phineas Shaw (Fredric March) dictating a memo to Bullard, and he asks what the meeting is about. Erica tells secretary Eva Bardeman (Shelley Winters) to inform her boss Josiah Walter Dudley (Paul Douglas) about the meeting. Erica calls Don Walling (William Holden). Caswell tries to find out if it was Bullard who died.
In the board room Don is on the phone giving manufacturing instructions. Shaw asks Jesse Q. Grimm (Dean Jagger) about production. Fred and Dudley are also there when Erica comes in at six. Julia O. Tredway (Barbara Stanwyck) tells Fred she needs to talk with Mr. Bullard. She tells him that George is selling his stock. It is well after six, and the men in the board room leave. George sees in a newspaper that the man who died has the initials A. B. Don meets his wife Mary (June Allyson), and he drives her in their car. He is upset that the molding process test did not work. She tells him that the dream is over. Don gets out and walks. In a car Jesse tells his wife Sara that he will retire on Monday. At home Don makes up with Mary and gets a call that Bullard is dead. Julia gets a call at home alone. Shaw tells Fred and Don they should release the new earnings report with the press release. Fred argues over what Shaw is planning. Fred stalks out, and Shaw asks Don for his support. Don tries to console Erica. Fred tells Don that Bullard did not want him to be president. Fred says it won’t be Shaw.
Shaw pushes his way into Eva’s apartment to find Dudley and tells him Bullard is dead. Shaw offers to drive Dudley to the airport. Dudley tells upset Eva that he has to go. Mary gets out of bed and finds Don up working late. He says that Jesse Grimm will be elected, and she urges Don to leave Tredway. Don wants to stop Shaw, but he says Fred suggested he be president. George gets a call from Shaw and says he must see him before the meeting. Shaw tells Erica that her position is assured to help the transition. He asks her about Bullard’s relationship with Julia Tredway. Erica says they were only good friends.
In the morning at home Don gets a call from Bill Lundeen and leaves to go to the plant. Don and Bill (William Phipps) are ready to go, but Don learns that orders from the tower say no changes. An older man asks Don why they are doing inferior work lately. Don assures workers that nothing will be shut down. George asks Shaw to arrange for 4,000 shares of stock be sold to him. Shaw says he knows that George sold 3,700 shares short. George says he will be wiped out and offers Shaw his vote. Shaw says George cannot get that stock unless Shaw becomes president. Don and Mary watch their son pitch in a baseball game. Fred arrives and tells Don that Jesse will not accept the presidency. Fred says they can vote for Dudley, but Don says he is only a salesman. Don still does not want Shaw and so agrees. Don thinks about it and finds Fred at the airport. Don says he will do it, but Fred says that Jesse will not vote for Don. Don says that he can do it without Jesse if he has Julia Tredeway and if Fred will persuade Dudley. Fred tells Dudley they have to discuss the presidency, but Dudley refuses. Eva tells Dudley she is leaving because he is too afraid.
At home Don tells Mary that he needs to get Julia’s vote. She tries to talk him out of it, and he leaves. Fred calls and tells Mary to have the meeting delayed until he gets there. Mary dials but hangs up. Don finds Julia burning papers, and she says she is selling her shares and that Shaw will handle things. He says she is paying Bullard back for loving the company more than her. She yells for him to get out. He goes out, and she cries.
At six George is in the board room. Don, Erica, Shaw, and Dudley come in. Don says they have to wait for Fred and Jesse, but Shaw says there is a quorum. They decide to start, and Julia comes in. She rips up Shaw’s agenda. Dudley nominates Shaw to be president, and George seconds it. Erica has them vote, and four votes are needed. Erica says that three voted for Shaw; but one was against, and one abstained. Don apologizes to Julia. In the washroom George tells Shaw he wants the stock delivery guaranteed. Shaw shows him a paper as proof. Mary tells Don that Fred called and asked him to hold up the voting until he gets there. Don stalls briefly, and Fred comes in with Jesse. Controller Shaw says the president must emphasize the financial aspect. Fred defends production and selling. Don asks Shaw if dividends are most important. Don suggests they have to plan for the future. Don says Bullard was driven by pride. Don shows that a card table is shoddy, but Shaw says it is right for its price. Don says they should produce good products at fair prices. Don says it will take creativity. Dudley nominates Don, and Jesse seconds it. Fred moves they make it unanimous, and they all agree. Don shakes hands with Shaw. George asks Shaw about the stock, and Shaw rips up the paper and hands it to George. Julia tells Mary that men like that are not easy to understand. Don embraces Mary and tells Erica to call a meeting so that they can appoint an executive vice president.
This drama in a corporate boardroom depicts various characters engaging in the politics of big business. The drive for immediate profits is challenged by the creativity that can nurture long-term development.