Working 12 to 18 hours a day was not uncommon for scientists at the rocket launching station, Thumba. A group of such scientists was frustrated due to the work pressure and meeting their boss’ demands; however, they were loyal to him.
One day, a scientist gathered enough courage to go up to his boss and say, “Sir, I have promised my children that I will take them to the exhibition this evening. Therefore, I have to leave the office at 5.30 pm. Can I leave early today, Sir?”
His boss replied, “Alright. You may leave early today.”
The scientist was happy for having received the permission and went on to continue his work. He stayed on to work after lunch, and, as always, got so engrossed in his work, that he peered at his watch only when he thought he was done. Unfortunately, it was past 08:15 pm.
With a jolt, he remembered his promise to his children. He looked for his boss who was not in his office. Having told him just that morning, he wrapped up work and hurried home.
As he drove home, he felt very guilty for having let his children down. When he reached, the children were not at home. His wife was busy reading. He felt that initiating any conversation with her would only add fuel to fire, so he stayed quiet.
Looking up at him, his wife asked, “Do you want something hot to drink or have dinner right away?”
The man could only ask, “Where are the children?”
His wife said, “Don’t you know? Your boss came here at 5.15 pm and took the children to the exhibition you had promised to take them to.”
He was surprised, but, it did not take him too long to guess what had happened.
The boss who granted him permission had observed him working very seriously well past 5.00 pm. He must have thought that the scientist would not leave the work half done, but if he has promised his children a visit to the exhibition, then they deserve it. So, he took the lead in taking them to the exhibition himself.
The boss does not have to do it every time. But once it is done, loyalty is established.
No wonder, all scientists at Thumba continued to work under this boss in spite of the great pressure.
This boss was none other than Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who served as the 11th President of India from 2002 to 2007.
(This post was originally published on Mar 26, 2014.)
HSK was thrilled! That morning, the HR Head had given him the letter, signed by the Managing Director himself, informing him that, in view of his excellent performance during the probation period, his appointment as Design Engineer had been confirmed!!
He was engrossed in his work when, a few minutes before noon, the MD entered the Design Department, looking very stern, and walked up to his table. “Good morning, HSK. I’m extremely upset with you,” he said. HSK was confused. The MD had signed his confirmation letter only yesterday. What had happened today? Why was the MD upset? Before he could say anything, the MD grinned and said, “This morning you received your confirmation letter signed by me, and you have not bothered to invite me for a celebration! Never mind, young man! I’ll invite you. Come on, let’s go out for lunch!”
HSK was on top of the world! He was sitting in the passenger seat of the MD’s BMW, while the MD was driving. The MD was like a king in this small city. The economy of the city revolved around his company. It was said that at least one member of almost every family in the city was employed by the company or its suppliers.
They were driving towards the exclusive multi-cuisine restaurant on the other side of the city. As they neared a junction, the traffic light changed from green to red. The MD applied brakes and brought the car to a halt.
A middle-aged traffic constable walked towards them. The MD turned down the window. “Good day, sir. Your car has overshot by about 6 inches. I’m afraid I’ll have to collect a fine,” the constable said. HSK was shocked! Was the constable insane? Didn’t he know whom he was talking to?
HSK got a bigger shock when he heard his MD reply, “That’s right, constable.” He opened his wallet, counted the money and gave it to the constable. The constable gave him the receipt.
HSK pinched himself to confirm that it wasn’t a dream!
This wasn’t a dream. It is a true incident that happened in Switzerland about 50 years back, narrated to me by HSK.
Can this ever happen in India? I believe it can. If many, many of us believe it can, and if we work hard and work persistently, we can surely make it happen! If it can happen in Switzerland, why can’t it happen in India?
(This post was originally published on Aug 20, 2013.)
One morning, I was in the office of my customer, the promoter of a large manufacturing business, when our discussion was interrupted by a telephone call from his son. He explained that his son had joined an engineering college in another city a few months back. His son was staying away from his parents for the first time, but he seemed to be managing quite well. Since his college, which was in an industrial area on the outskirts of the city, did not have a hostel, he and 3 classmates were sharing a 2-bedroom apartment in the city, 2 boys to a room. They commuted to and from college by the college bus, and used public transport for other trips. They had also made their own arrangements for food, laundry, etc.. Since I enjoyed a good rapport with this customer, I jokingly asked him whether business problems had prevented him from arranging an apartment with caretaker, cook, car and driver, etc. for his son. He replied that his wife and he had decided that their son should be like any other student. Living an unsheltered life would prepare him better for the future. While he would inherit his position in their company, some experience of the lifestyle of common persons would, hopefully, ensure that he would be a humane employer. Fortunately, the son had enthusiastically agreed with the parents. I knew my customer and his wife were both very down to earth persons, but I was impressed!
That afternoon, I met the Works Manager of the same company at their factory. I happened to speak about my conversation with his Chairman. He laughed and said, “That’s nothing. Six months back, Chairman telephoned me and told me that his son had just completed his Pre-University examinations, the results of which would be announced after 9 weeks. He had expressed a desire to familiarise himself with the working of our company. Chairman had appreciated his son’s desire and suggested that he could learn about our products and our production process by working in our factory as an Apprentice for 2 months. This was subject to the condition that he would work like any other Apprentice and would be treated as an Apprentice, not as the Chairman’s son. The boy had agreed. Chairman told me that his son would meet me the next morning, and instructed me to induct him as an Apprentice for 2 months. It was my responsibility to ensure that he would be treated like any other Apprentice. He would wear the same uniform, travel from and to home by the same Company Bus and be subject to the same rules and regulations as all other Apprentices. I pleaded with him that I could not do all this with the person who would be my boss after a few years. His reply was, “Today, I’m your boss, so just follow my instructions! Don’t worry. When my son becomes your boss, I will be his boss!!” Chairman’s son worked 2 months as an Apprentice. We have all seen what a down-to-earth young man he is, and we all look forward to the day when he takes charge of our company.”
I have not been in touch with this customer for many years now, so I do not know what kind of person and what kind of employer the son has turned out to be. But, I have always hoped that, like this couple, more parents try to groom their children to be humane individuals, not just well-qualified professionals.
(This post was originally published on July 27, 2013.)
My company had just started representing a machine manufacturer based in Mumbai as their dealer in our city. While this manufacturer had supplied machines to many customers in Maharashtra, they had not supplied any equipment outside Maharashtra.
Within a few weeks, we had generated many enquiries. One customer decided to buy one machine immediately, but he wanted to see a machine in running condition before he placed the order. Since no machine was available locally, the manufacturer offered to arrange our customer’s visit to their customer’s factory in Mumbai where their machines had been working for over five years.
The customer visited the Mumbai customer’s factory along with the manufacturer. He was satisfied with the performance of the machines and with the Mumbai customer’s feedback about the manufacturer’s after-sales service. The day after his visit to Mumbai, he released his Purchase Order and advance. Two weeks later, his machine was delivered at his factory.
Two days after our customer had transferred the payment to the manufacturer, our commission was transferred to our account by the manufacturer. I realized that the manufacturer had transferred an amount exactly 1.5 times the commission due to us. I telephoned him immediately and pointed this out.
He clarified, “Your customer bought one machine. But his friend in Mumbai also bought a machine based on his recommendation. Since his friend’s enquiry was generated by your customer, we’ve paid you the sales commission (50% of the total commission) for this sale as well. We’ve retained 50% of the total commission since we will provide the Warranty service. I hope that’s OK with you.”
I pointed out to the manufacturer that, as per the terms of our agreement, he was not obliged to pay us any commission on the sale to a Mumbai customer. He replied, “If we go by the letter of the agreement, we need not pay you the sales commission. But I am going not by the letter, but by the spirit of the agreement.”
I was stunned! For the first time, I had come across an Indian businessman paying somebody not because of a legal obligation, but because he felt he was morally obliged to do so.
How many people in India, or in the whole world, would do that?
(This post was originally published on Sep 24, 2013.)