I was on a panel to interview candidates for a senior position in a large corporate house. There were two others – Mr Prabhu from finance and Mr Suresh from administration—both directors of the company. We had just begun with the fourth candidate out of the seven candidates who had been called. Jai Revankar had come in and was seated. He had been introduced to the three panel members by the general manager-HR. At the mention of the name Revankar, I found that the expression on Mr Prabhu’s face had suddenly changed. He seemed to have got red in the face and the flow of adrenaline had increased.
For the next 10 minutes, Mr Prabhu said nothing. He allowed the conversation to move on between Mr Revankar and the two of us. As we were talking about Mr Revankar’s work and experience and the scope of his work in the earlier two jobs, Mr Prabhu suddenly interjected to ask Mr Revankar where his father had worked. It was a disjointed question and on a different track. Mr Revankar told him that his father had been the finance director of the Swift Corporation and had now retired and was living in Pune. Mr Prabhu quickly connected the threads. Mr Prabhu himself had worked for Swift for five years. Mr Revankar senior (Sr) had been his boss. He had never got on with Mr Revankar Sr Mr Prabhu had been bypassed for promotion twice in the five-year period. His appraisals by Mr Revankar Sr just about got him through for a normal increment. There was absolutely nothing wrong. It was just wrong personal chemistry. Finally, Mr Prabhu had quit in disgust, with regrets of having wasted five years of his youth, with little to show for this period.
MR Prabhu had then joined Slowflow, where he made rapid progress, and was now the finance director. Once Mr Prabhu had established that this young lad was Revankar’s son, Jai could not do anything right. Mr Prabhu just took over the interview. He grilled Jai on virtually every conceivable subject- from production to politics, and finance to HR concepts. Prabhu went out of his way to prove how little Jai knew. He made no attempt to try and find out how much Jai DID know. At the end of the interview, Jai had been shown in such poor light, that the panel could not but reject his candidature. I came to know about the Prabhu-Revankar Sr. connection many months later. At the time of the interview, I knew something was amiss but could not put my finger on it. And perhaps, Jai will never know why he did not make it at the interview at the Swift Corporation!
Sandeep was young, intelligent, had a double PhD in behavioural sciences and had been a popular lecturer at a leading college in Delhi. After six years of teaching, he decided to move into industry and joined a very large company in Mumbai as manager: training. This company was a leader in its field and one of the key stocks on the stock exchange. They were also well-known for their record in development and training of staff: hence, the training head position was an important one.
Sandeep was happy with his new assignment. After the settling-in period, he began to innovate and put his stamp on new directions in training, which would help to take the company into the 21st century. Everything seemed to be going well for Sandeep for the 18 months that he had been with the Windy Corporation.
One morning, Mr Rao, the personnel manager of Windy, rang up Sandeep and requested him to move his office for two months to the conference room, since Ms Beale, a consultant from Europe, would be coming to spend two months with Windy in India – and hence, she would need an office! And was it possible to do this by the day after tomorrow? Sandeep thought this was very strange. Surely someone coming for just two months could use the conference room rather than Sandeep who had all his stuff settled on the shelves and drawers. And to move all his material within two days? And to be asked to do this with a peremptory instruction given on the telephone?
But the worst was yet to be. The following day, Mr Rao phoned again. There seemed to be a problem with the cars. The newest car in the department was Sandeep’s. Could Sandeep release the car for Ms Beale? Mr Rao’s secretary would arrange for another car for Sandeep’s use, during Ms Beale’s visit.
Sandeep was furious. There seemed to be not even a ‘by your leave’. He was just being taken for granted and pushed around. He had obviously joined the wrong company. If this was the culture of the organisation, he certainly would not like to spend the rest of his life here. He (mentally) decided to quit!
With Sandeep’s background and experience, it was not difficult to find another job. He soon moved on to become vice president of a slightly smaller company but with slightly higher emoluments.
“Why are you leaving?” Mr Rao asked Sandeep in surprise and disbelief. “Because I got a much better assignment,” Sandeep told him. “But this is among the top ten companies in the country – and you are doing so well. There is a great future for you here. Even after just eighteen months, you were considered one of our fast-track executives with potential for the international pool.”
Sandeep just kept silent and smiled. He did not want to venture into explanations and reasons. And even now, Mr Rao and the other directors do not know why Sandeep quit. They are tempted to explain it away with - “He went for more money. But he will regret the decision later.”
Mohan and Shalini were entering the already crowded hall to attend the Diwali party being hosted by their friend Mr Shah, a prominent industrialist. As he entered, he overheard the loud comment of his friend Mr Chari, who he had known since high school. MR Chari had retired as chief accountant of a mid-sized engineering company. Mohan was now an internationally known management consultant and guru, who was being paid (in the words of another guru, Tom Peters) “obscene sums of money” as lecture fees.
Mr Chari’s loud comment could be heard right across the floor – “Here comes Mohan, who bluffs his way on the lecture circuit and still makes pots of money.”
It was certainly not in good taste. In any case, the inane comment got quickly drowned in the loud hum of conversation around. Chari had said this in good humour—at least in his own perception—and he himself quickly forgot about it.
Mohan was cold and casual with Mr Chari that evening. Mohan turned down two invitations from Mr Chari in the course of the next eight months. Chari never understood why Mohan had become so cold and distant towards him when, for three decades, they had been warm, though arms-length friends. Mr Chari will never know why!
And this is true for all of us. There are some things we will never know and some situations we will never be able to explain, because most people will be reluctant to be brutally frank or reveal the naked truth. We will, therefore, never know why!
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India- FIMC. He was a successful corporate executive for 14 years and then pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books, a business columnist and has been visiting professor in Marketing in the US, Europe, and Asia for over 40 years. His latest books are ‘Marketing in a Digital/Data World’ with Brian Almeida and ‘Customer Value Starvation Can Kill’ with Gautam Mahajan. He now spends most of his time on NGO work and is presently Chairman, Consumer Education and Research Society, India)