While in corporate banking, my Boss was the assistant manager, whom I shall refer to as AM.
Initially, I was distinctly annoyed with the AM’s style of functioning. Gopal, from whom I was taking over, was clearly delighted to escape from AM’s clutches. He encouraged me to learn the job asap—get into the groove, so to speak—and I tried to do just that.
At least a couple of times a day, we would go to the AM to get his approval on something or the other. I would present the matter as cogently as I could, but AM appeared to be very suspicious of whatever I said.
He would look at me with a furrowed brow, and when I had ended my little speech, he would look at Gopal and ask “Is it OK?” Gopal would nod sagely, and then, and only then, would the Boss reluctantly take the paper and sign it.
After every such encounter with the AM, I would be frustrated and dejected. Didn’t the Boss believe anything I said? How was I to work for him after Gopal went away?
Gopal used to console me in a paternal sort of way. “Never mind, that is just his style. He used to do that to me, too. He does not understand anything about anything, and this is his way of verifying whether you are right. Once he gets to trust you, you will be just fine.”
“When your turn comes to hand over to someone else, AM will do exactly the same thing to him, too. Just wait and see,” he added.
How right was Gopal in his prediction? I later found out.
After Gopal left, the AM suddenly became very reliant on me. He would accept whatever I said, sign whatever I asked him to sign, and bestow his whole-hearted trust on me.
After a few months, I was suddenly moved out of corporate banking. My replacement was Ravin, a D/S/S type (more of this later), six years my senior and clearly offended at having to take over from someone as junior as me.
He got the same treatment from the AM as I had received when new, perhaps worse.
I had asked Ravin to prepare a simple proposal, just a mere re-arrangement of the categories of facilities within the overall credit limit of a good customer, with no increase in our total lines. This was a no-brainer, just a matter of routine.
Ravin wrote out a one-page draft proposal and sent it to the AM.
It returned, within an hour, with a single red line drawn right across the page. Clearly, the AM had not liked his proposal, but he had not said why.
Ravin was puzzled, but he gritted his teeth and, with a little help from me, re-drafted the proposal and sent it back for approval.
It came back with a line drawn through the body of the proposal, with only the opening and closing sentences intact.
Ravin fretted and fumed, but tried again. Again it came back, this time with red lines running through the main bits of his proposal. AM still would not disclose what exactly he wanted written in the proposal.
Ravin was getting more and more mad, but he tried again, and yet again. Both his further efforts returned with red lines across different bits of his composition.
Poor Ravin could take it no more. “I am damned if I am going to write this …….. proposal yet again. To hell with this a******!” he raged.
Ravin had carefully preserved all five of his draft and re-drafts. I took the very first draft, the one that had come back with a single line drawn right across it. I wrote it out, word for word, in my own handwriting and sent it to the AM.
It came back with “Approved” scribbled on it.
Ravin could not believe his eyes. “This is exactly what I had written in the first place!”
I nodded, smiled, and remembered Gopal’s prediction.
As you would have gathered, AM found it very difficult to decide anything. He felt very uncomfortable signing off on large loans. But he was not exactly a complete dodo. He understood small businesses and small loans and loved to discuss these ad nauseum – these were within his comfort zone.
One morning, I went to him to discuss two loan proposals.
The first was a request for an increase in the limits of a paint manufacturer to Rs22 crore from Rs15 crore, a huge sum in those days.
Our bank was the leader of the consortium of banks, and we had to submit a 65-page form to the credit authorisation cell (CAC) of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
The form had been prepared, after much effort, by the company’s chief financial officer (CFO) and me. I wanted the AM to go through it and discuss any changes that may be needed.
The other was a request from a small exporter, who shipped sundry goods to Yemen by 'country craft', i.e., dhows. He wanted an increase in his packing credit line to Rs10 lakh from Rs5 lakh.
I thought the packing credit proposal could be disposed of quickly before we got onto the 65-page form, which would certainly need quite a bit of time. So, I started with the country craft proposal.
To my surprise, my Boss greeted this inconsequential item like a dog would greet a nice, juicy bone.
He went through the entire file, read the customer’s request letter in detail, pointed out grammatical errors and even gave me a discourse on the correct usage of commas.
This was followed by a lecture on country craft, the nuances of insurance, customs-related issues and the intricacies of exporting to Gulf countries.
After 45 minutes, I could stand it no longer.
“Sir”, I said, “we need to decide. Shall we give him the extra Rs5 lakh or not?”
“Hmm…,” said the Boss. “I have to think about it. Leave it with me.”
Somewhat relieved, I presented the 65-page RBI-CAC form.
“What is all this?” asked the Boss.
I explained in brief what it was all about – increase in limits by Rs7 crore.
“OK, OK, where do I sign?”
The matter was over in 45 seconds.
Comfort zones do matter, especially those of the Boss.
(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.)