Michael Isitt, the manager of the Bombay branch (sorry, ancient past – ‘Mumbai’ had not arrived yet), posed a problem for the customers of my bank.
“Is it I-sit or Is-it?” They would ask. Actually it was “Eye-zit.”
I was a junior officer in charge of remittances at Bombay. One morning an Australian guy, a hippy type, appeared at my desk with a draft in US dollar drawn on our Delhi branch.
I explained that I could not cash the draft since it was drawn on our Delhi branch, not the Bombay branch. But he begged and pleaded, saying that he desperately needed the rupees to survive.
I took pity on him, went on the telex to our Delhi branch, got their clearance and encashed the draft. The guy thanked me at first, and then started cribbing about the lousy exchange rate I had applied to the US dollar amount to convert it to rupees.
I reminded him that I was not required to encash the draft in the first place since it was not drawn on the Bombay branch, and that I had not charged him for the telex messages.
But he kept whining and finally said that he wanted to see the manager.
I told a messenger to take him to meet Mr Isitt, our manager and continued working. Soon I was summoned to the manager’s office.
I crept into Mr Isitt’s office, a little worried. After all, he was a gora, too.
“An Australian came to see me,” said Mr Isitt.
“I don’t know what you told him, but I told him that what you told him was correct. Now please tell me what you told him.”
I was dumb-founded, but managed to outline what had happened.
Mr Isitt nodded. “You were right, my boy. Thank you.”
The Imperious Boss
Brian Oliver Stephen Stewart, nicknamed BOSS, was indeed deserving of the title. He was our manager for India, the Big Boss.
The organisation’s structure said that he had no role in the lending decisions of the Bombay branch, except insofar as to routinely sign off on loan proposals that went to the head office. But
BOSS thought otherwise.
I was heading the credit department, reporting to Mr Isitt. One morning he called me in and showed a terse memo from BOSS to him saying, “Please take my formal approval for a Rs1 crore term loan to XYZ Co.”
Mr Isitt was mighty annoyed. Not only was BOSS flouting the established norms, he was also asking the Bombay branch to lend to XYZ Co, a business of dubious reputation whose earlier loan requests had been declined by the Bombay branch.
It appeared that he had met the owner of XYZ Co at a party the previous evening and had agreed to his request for a loan.
“We cannot allow this”, said Mr Isitt. “Please prepare a memo to the manager, India stating all the reasons why this loan should not be given.”
Over the next three days I drafted and re-drafted (with many inputs from Mr Isitt) a three page memo explaining in very categorical and cogent terms why this loan was not doable.
At last satisfied, Mr Isitt signed the memo with a flourish, sent it off to the CEO’s office, and smiled.
“Good job, my lad,” he said. “I am sure this will do the trick.”
Fifteen minutes later he summoned me. Not only had the smile disappeared, he was red-faced and fuming. Without uttering a word he handed me the memo, which had promptly returned from the CEO’s office.
On it was written one word -- “Disburse” -- signed by the BOSS.
Mr Isitt nodded at me in silence. I did the needful (as they say), the loan was disbursed, and as one would expect, it turned into a bad debt in three years’ time. But by then BOSS, Isitt and I were all holding positions elsewhere, and our successors had to handle the mess.
As my colleague succinctly put it, “The bank is very constipated. The …. that hits the fan is very old ….”
(Deserting engineering after a year in a factory, Amitabha Banerjee did an MBA in the US and returned to India. Choosing work-to-live over live-to-work, he joined banking and worked for various banks in India and the Middle East. Post retirement, he returned to his hometown Kolkata and is now spending his golden years travelling the world (until Covid, that is), playing bridge, befriending Netflix & Prime Video and writing in his wife’s travel blog.)