After a long stint in the Middle East, the author lands in the US in 1997 and takes up an odd job before looking at other opportunities. The 31st part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business
One fine morning I had a surprise visit from Swami, our former colleague in Ajay's office, who had brought an envelope from US Embassy in Abu Dhabi. It contained brief instructions to be followed by us, as our visa for migration had been cleared! It was a pleasant welcome change, and after couple of days of deliberations, we decided to proceed further in the matter.
We had initial problems, such as the need to obtain "police certificate" from the Lebanese government, where we had initially spent our life abroad. But after knowing my EEPC background, the Embassy officials took up the issue with higher authorities and this requirement was waived. Our visas were cleared for the onward journey to the US after our medical tests conducted by their nominee clinic were accepted. We had to enter the country on or before 30th April 1997.
Many Indians who had left for the US on jobs or on migration had come back because they were disillusioned with what they had to face there. Some others who had gone and stayed in New York and other cities did not like the "fast life" they had to face there. And surprisingly, many had got used to "not paying taxes", like in the UAE, that they were hesitant in settling down!
We booked our Gulf Air flight, took the advantage of extra baggage allowance for migrants, and landed in New York, JFK, and were the last to complete the migration formalities, finger printing, etc. Instead of lugging all the bags and baggages (some 17 of them, if I may say so), to East Brunswick, where my brother-in-law stayed, we went to a hotel, recovered our jet lag, and a day later, took our flight to Blacksberg, the airport for Virginia Tech Institute. We proudly took part in the graduation ceremony, and three weeks later, returned with our son to Arlington, Virginia, as he had been offered a job by a leading company, selected in the University campus.
On arrival, after some eight hours drive, we had to stay back overnight in a motel called Travelodge, which was a walking distance from our apartment, which the Dorchester management had promised delivery only the next day! It was handed over to us the next day, on schedule. We had reached Arlington one day ahead of schedule!
The first few days were spent in settling down; it was a friendly town, where even strangers greeted each other on their morning walks. I must give credit to my wife Neela who suggested that I should go and try for a job at the Travelodge itself! There, I met Sheikh at the front desk, followed by Tariq Madani and, Mo, as Mohammed was called. Sheikh took my CV and promised to call back when the GM came to the office after 9am, which he did promptly by 10am.
The GM was a nice young man, but was unwilling to give me a job, because I was over-qualified for the position they had, and which was, front desk operations and duty as a night auditor, both of which were 'clerical' by nature. Besides, the salary offered was less than half what I earned in Dubai, and that too tax free!
To his shock, I told him "that is the management fee I am paying to learn this hotel business". I accepted the job, with two nights on what is popularly known as "grave-yard shift" (meaning 11pm to 7am) and the balance three days in the 7am to 3pm shift. I remember hundreds of girls doing the "thread cutting" job in our garment factory, standing for eight to 10 hours a day; I suppose, it was God's way of making me pay back. I had to be on my toes for almost eight hours standing at the front desk! More often than not, I had to carry and deliver the luggage in the guest rooms! And of course, prepare coffee, tea, juice and set the tables right with doughnuts, etc, and guests would start arriving at 6am for this free breakfast!
In the very first week itself, I had a bad experience. A couple had checked in, paid for the room in cash, and at about 2am, the girl came running down, demanding that I call the police immediately; she claimed that the man had assaulted her. I had dialled 911 and in less than two or three minutes later we had the police car at our front door. They took the statements made by her, and when I told him that I was just one week old in the job, they assured me that they were at my beck and call, and if and when the man turned up to get the balance of the advance he had paid, to settle the same, and not get into any discussions with him. As they had mentioned, this man turned up around 5am, collected his balance and left, without one word!
In about three months, I had met all the officials of the management who mattered, including the owners; once the audit reports were completed after about 2 or 3am I had enough time to either relax or study them. I began to make notes of the trend; customer needs, complaints, and how we could attempt to reach a "full house" or "sold out" status! After all, we had only 69 rooms to sell, and we had, invariably, seven to 10 rooms, five days a week that remained unsold. I prepared a project report and made recommendations on how I could ensure a perfect sale every day and bring in $50,000 more per year! The GM was pleased with what I had projected and wanted me to implement my sales efforts! When I asked, in the American way, "what is in it for me?" I was given a dismal 25cents an hour increase!
Though in these hire and fire jobs, no notice period is required by either side, I did and told the management that I would stay long enough till they find a replacement for me, as I was handling night audit also, and it was not easy to find people to work the graveyard shift!
Three weeks later, I was free but jobless! In the meantime, I took a quick return visit to Dubai, had my permanent visa cancelled and returned back, arriving at international airport at Dulles, which was some 50 miles from our apartment.
I began my earnest job hunt which covered banks, libraries and hotels. On a single day, I had been to interviews and tests in Days Inn, Hyatt and Courtyard by Marriott, all of which were in Crystal city, not far away from our home. When I returned home, I received a call from Hyatt and from Krista Webster of Starwood Hotels, who were the owners of the Courtyard. She asked me to come and meet the GM the next day.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at [email protected].)
The telecom PSU has also approached the government for surrendering its broadband wireless access licence for which it paid Rs4,600 crore
Mumbai: State-owned Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL), which provides telecom services in Delhi and Mumbai regions, will offer voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) to about 20,000 employees, as part of its efforts to turn profitable, reports PTI.
The telecom PSU has also approached the government for surrendering its broadband wireless access (BWA) licence for which it paid Rs4,600 crore, MTNL Chairman and Managing Director AK Garg said.
"Turnaround takes slightly longer time but we have some items on our mind and working on those items. Number one is improving our revenue services ... We have already written a letter to the government asking for surrendering of BWA licence, we want that money back," Garg said here.
"For BWA licence, we have paid Rs4,600 crore. Even if we don't get interest, at least that much we can expect. We have planned VRS to about 19,000-20,000 people. The outgo should be some Rs2,000-Rs3,000 crore. There are many issues like staff pension issues. But issues are known and few," he said.
The company plans to restructure its loan book through funding which it will get through sale of assets.
"Whatever amount we get the entire amount will be utilised to repay the loan. Interest wise we will become positive. Now we pay almost Rs100 crore a month. We want to be a debt free company, like we were earlier," Mr Garg said but did not divulge the debt size in the books.
MTNL had suffered a loss of Rs929.7 crore for the quarter ended December, 2011.
On expansion plans, he said the company has floated a tender for 2G and 3G expansion in Mumbai and Delhi and it expects to open that in two months.
"We should spend close to Rs200 crore on this for improvement of wireless network. We will be using ADSL broadband for indoor network for 2G and 3G coverage also ... I expect these products to start coming from December."
He further said that some of the company's products would become obsolete by 2017. "We are also talking about reframing ... Some of the equipment will become redundant and new equipment will be required especially in 900 band," he said.
The PIL had sought filling of posts of Information Commissioners and subordinate staff, including secretarial staff, in a time-bound manner
New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Wednesday sought the Centre's stand on a plea to begin contempt proceedings against it for its failure to comply with a court order to fill all the vacant posts of information commissioners in the Central Information Commission (CIC), reports PTI.
Issuing notice to the secretary, Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) on the plea by a tranparency activist RK Jain, Justice Vipin Sanghi asked the official to file a status report by 30th July, the next date of hearing.
Mr Jain's contempt petition, filed through advocates Prashant Bhushan and Pranav Sachdeva, accused the government of not complying with the court's 15th February and 20th March orders to fill up CIC vacancies.
Mr Jain's petition said despite mounting backlog of cases and high court orders, the Centre till March was able to fill only three of the five posts, which fell vacant out of a total 10 posts of Information Commissioners (ICs) in the CIC.
The remaining two posts were to be filled immediately, as per directions of the high court so that the RTI panel's work would not suffer but nothing has been done, the petition said.
Another commissioner is due to retire in July and the number of vacant posts will become three, the petitioner said.
While hearing the PIL earlier, the Court had directed the Centre to fill all the ICs' posts after it told the court that it had filled up three out of the five vacant posts and sought more time for framing of recruitment rules for appointment of subordinate staff in the CIC.
Though the court granted it a month's extension for framing the rules, it emphasized that the remaining two posts of IC be filled up immediately.
The petition said "despite two letters written by the Central Information Commissioner (CIC) to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), the panel is not complete with total number of commissioners."
The PIL had sought filling of posts of ICs and subordinate staff, including secretarial staff, in a time-bound manner.