I have narrated many stories about the bosses I encountered during my banking days. Let me tell you my last story, about the beginning of it all.
After returning to India with an MBA (Masters in business administration) from the US, I applied to many companies for a job, went for lots of interviews, and got several job offers. I had almost made up my mind to accept one of them, when I was called for an interview by a British bank.
I had never nurtured any ambition of becoming a banker. From my early days, I had decided to be an automobile engineer and an engineering degree was my goal.
Every year, my school used to hold an aptitude test for students in class 8 to help their parents decide whether their son should opt for science, arts or commerce in class 9. I was going to be an engineer and, hence, science was the obvious choice for me. So, an aptitude test was a complete waste of time.
Besides, it was a three-day test conducted by a career counselling company and, by skipping it, I was likely to get three days off from school since most of my classmates would be going for the test and classes would not be held.
Unfortunately, my father put in my name for the test without telling me. When I protested, he just smiled and said, “Just go for it, who knows what they will find?”
To my great surprise, I was told that I was most suited for banking. I scoffed at the absurdity of this conclusion, but my father just smiled.
Many years later, when I was called for an interview with a bank for the position of management trainee, I was tempted by two things: a free trip to Bombay, where I could catch up with my friends, and a salary of Rs2,400, a full 50% more than the next best job I had been offered. So, I decided to go for the interview.
I landed up at the imposing head office of the bank – Italian marble, livered doormen, suits everywhere – and felt somewhat daunted. This feeling was intensified when I chatted with the other candidates waiting to be interviewed. They were, with a few exceptions, chartered accountants (CAs) with experience in banking.
I realised I had no chance of getting the job.
I decided to be absolutely ‘bindaas’ at the interview (Bombay slang I had picked up – meaning fearless or carefree).
At last, I was called for my interview.
I walked into an enormous room with a large table, at which were seated six elderly gentlemen in black suits, of which one was a gora (presumably the big boss). After a few preliminary questions, I was asked, “Why do you want to join our bank?”
“For the money,” I replied.
There was a minute of silence while the interviewers looked at each other.
I had nothing to lose – I had a job anyway.
So, I cheekily asked, “Was that a good answer or a bad answer?”
The reply was: “It was a good answer.”
An explanation followed… “When we had asked ourselves why a young man like you would want to work for us, we put money as the most important reason. But everyone else has been saying ‘international finance’ and things like that. You are the only one who has said: money.”
The nest question was “What do you know about banking?”
“Nothing,” I replied.
There were nods all around – obviously a good answer, too.
The explanation was, “We don’t want our management trainees to come with any pre-conceived notions about banking. We will teach them banking our own way.”
The next question was, “What are your interests?”
“Cars, girls, books and music, not necessarily in that order.”
“Please explain,” I was told.
“It depends on the quality,” I replied. “A Porsche would beat anything else, but a very beautiful girl would beat any other car.”
There was laughter all around. Evidently, yet another good answer!
After the interviews ended, six of the 12 candidates, including me, were told to report at the Lancers Bar at Sheraton Hotel at 6pm sharp. The others were handed cheques for their travel costs and told to leave.
When I entered the Lancers Bar, I was ushered to a large circular table with 12 chairs. The six gentlemen from the morning were seated at alternate chairs, and the six candidates had to sit in between them.
At 6pm sharp, a waiter placed a glass tumbler containing a double Scotch and lots of ice, no soda or water, in front of each candidate. The person on the right of each of us spoke to the candidate on his left for 30 minutes. At 6.30, a replacement tumbler arrived, identical to the first, and each interviewer got up and moved one place, a bit like musical chairs, so that he could talk to the next candidate. This was repeated every 30 minutes, on the clock, until every interviewer had spent exactly half an hour talking to each candidate.
Three hours passed. After six double scotches on the rocks, my head was swimming but I managed to hold myself upright and coherent. At 9pm sharp, the interviewers got up and left.
A sidekick, who had been sitting unobtrusively on a chair in the corner, told us to report to the bank at 8am the next morning, at which time we would be told whether or not we had been selected.
Three hours of yakking, loads of booze and no dinner! Probably, no job either. I was quite disgusted.
Nevertheless, I turned up at the bank at 8am. To my great surprise, I was given an appointment letter.
(Much later, I was told that one of the candidates had been rejected because he had held his cigarette the wrong way. By then, of course, I had begun to understand how the bank worked, and agreed that it was a very valid reason for rejection.)
Thus, began my (un)celebrated banking career!
P.S.: On the day I joined, I got a fuller explanation about why my answers at the interview had been good.
The personnel manager took the three of us, two MBAs and one CA, under his wing and talked to us non-stop for one whole week, from morning till evening, teaching us about banking in general and the bank in particular.
His opening remarks went thus:
“You chaps need to understand two things:
- You are just high-school pass, like an ordinary clerk. Forget about your MBA, CA, or any other degree that you might have. You will start right at the bottom.
- Don’t even dream of doing international finance or any fancy nonsense like that. You will just be doing bread and butter banking.”
After we had digested this, he asked, “Do you know why you are being paid so much?”
We were delighted to be paid well over the market but didn’t know why.
The personnel manager explained, “So that you don’t get tempted to do a fraud for less than Rs10 lakh– it just won’t be worth it. And we will make damn sure you cannot do a bigger fraud on your own.”
Finally, he asked, “Do you know what is the occupational hazard of bankers?”
No guess from us, of course.
“Piles,” he said, “It comes from sitting on your butt the whole day. If you get it, you will have to sit on a scooter tire – you will see people doing just that.”
“You will need to have outside interests.”
“If you can’t think of anything else, jump into a swimming pool.”
After these wise words, our training started.
(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.