A brighter Diwali!

(Earlier posted as ‘A brighter festival of lights’ on August 05, 2013 and on November 02, 2013 (Diwali). Re-posted on the request of a few friends who wanted this post to be a Diwali tradition!)

“How much will we be spending on fireworks this Diwali?” my 12 years old son asked me one evening over a decade back. “Last year, we got all that you wanted for about Rs. 1000. I suppose we’ll spend about Rs. 1,500 this year since prices would have increased, plus there will be some new fancy stuff that you guys will want. Anyway, why are you asking this now? Diwali’s over a month away,” I replied.

He explained that there had been a lot of discussion in school about the exploitation of child labour in the fireworks industry, as a result of which many students had decided to boycott fireworks as a mark of protest. He and his 9 years old brother had both decided to join the boycott. No, they did not want to buy anything for themselves instead of fireworks. They felt that would not be a genuine boycott. Instead, they wanted the ‘fireworks money’ to be donated to an orphanage near our house.

Both my spouse and I were delighted! At the same time, we wanted to be sure that our sons were not committing themselves to something that they would regret later when their high spirits had cooled down. After all, they were just 12 and 9 years old! We asked them a few questions to find out if they were fully aware of the implications of their decision.

Both brothers had discussed the matter threadbare before speaking with us. They had decided that, not only would they not buy fireworks, they would not join any Diwali celebrations involving fireworks. They planned to continue this boycott for subsequent years until they were completely convinced that exploitation of children in the fireworks industry had totally and genuinely stopped. They were not sure whether their friends were equally firm in their resolve to boycott fireworks, but for them there was no going back.

That year, we celebrated Diwali without any fireworks. We donated the ‘fireworks money’ to the orphanage. It was clear from the reduced sound levels that many other children had joined the boycott.

The next year, most children withdrew the boycott of fireworks, stating that they were buying fireworks manufactured by companies that did not use child labour. However, our sons continued their boycott because it was reported that, while some manufacturers had stopped employing children directly, their sub-contractors continued to exploit child labour. Our donation to the orphanage was suitably increased to match the expected increase in fireworks prices.

Our sons were aware that their continued boycott of fireworks invited disparaging comments from some of their peers, but they never went back on their decision. We continue to make a donation to the orphanage every Diwali, with the amount suitably increased every year.

Our sons’ compassion (towards the child labourers and the orphans) and integrity (in refusing to use the ‘fireworks money’ for themselves) enhanced the brightness of our Diwali, the ‘festival of lights’!

A Gandhian in thought and deed!

Today, like October 2 every year, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday will be celebrated in India as Gandhi Jayanti. On this day, we will all remember Mahatma Gandhi and speak and write about the values that he stood for. However, how many of us voluntarily practise these values? Not many, I’m afraid.

I had the privilege of knowing SUB, a person who never claimed to be a Gandhian, but who practised many of the values that Mahatma Gandhi practised and preached. Because he was born on October 2, was bald and bespectacled, and was an extremely principled person, SUB was fondly addressed as ‘our Gandhi’ by some of his family members and close friends!

There are numerous incidents that show one or more of SUB’s many admirable qualities, but one stands out because it sounds completely unbelievable!!

SUB had been living with his wife and 3 children in the state capital, a few hundred kilometres away from their home town. A Chartered Accountant, he worked with a nationalised bank, while his wife was a homemaker. In his late forties, SUB quit his job to become a finance and marketing consultant. He retired from all professional activities in his early sixties and devoted most of his time to social activities.

By the time he was in late sixties, SUB’s children were all well-settled in their respective professions and were living in different cities with their respective families. At this point, since most of their family members and relatives lived in their home town, SUB and his wife decided to sell their house in the city and move to their home town to spend their retired life.

Soon after announcing that his house had been put up for sale, SUB received an offer from a potential buyer. The amount offered met SUB’s expectations, but the potential buyer wanted to pay around 50 % of the payment in unaccounted cash. However, SUB wanted the complete payment to be made officially, that is by Account Payee Cheques. This was not acceptable to the potential buyer. A couple of days later, he offered to make the complete payment officially if the total amount was reduced by 35 %. This was rejected by SUB.

The news spread in the local real estate market that SUB wanted the complete payment to be made officially. As a result, very few potential buyers showed interest in buying SUB’s house. Some agreed to make the complete payment officially, but offered 30 % to 35 % lower than the market rate. Others offered 20 % lower than the market rate if 20 % of the payment could be made in unaccounted cash. SUB rejected all offers.

The house remained unsold for over 2 years. During this time, many people close to SUB advised him to be a bit flexible and accept some unaccounted cash payment, but SUB insisted that cash payment, however small, was not acceptable to him as it was against his principles. He was well aware that his unwillingness to compromise on this matter could mean further delays, but he refused to budge. His wife supported his stand even though she was concerned that the sale be completed soon since both of them were not growing any younger. SUB’s children respected their father’s stand of not accepting cash payment, but thought that he was being too rigid. They hoped he would compromise slightly on the price, but maintained a diplomatic silence, knowing fully well that their father would never compromise on his principles.

Finally, about 3 years after first announcing that his house had been put up for sale, SUB received an offer that was about 15 % below his expected price, but with 100 % payment by Account Payee Cheques. He finalised the deal, much to everybody’s relief.

If he had compromised on his principles and accepted 50% of the payment in unaccounted cash, SUB would have got his expected price 3 years earlier, and he would have had to pay Capital Gains Tax on only 50% of the payment. For sticking to his principles, he got a lower price, he paid more Capital Gains Tax and he lost 3 years’ interest on the amount. In all, SUB lost about 40 % because of his honesty!

Whatever amount SUB lost, he lost it knowingly and with a smile on his face! Just like Mahatma Gandhi, SUB cared much more for his principles than for anything else!

It is equally important to note that SUB’s wife and children have never expressed any regret about this ‘loss’, but have always been proud that SUB stuck to his principles!

SUB was truly a Gandhian in thought and deed!

I’d like to ask you something I’ve asked myself several times:
What would you have done if you had been in SUB’s position? Would you have willingly incurred a 40 % loss for the sake of your principles? Or would you have compromised on your principles and justified it by saying, “Everybody does it”?

Does Quality Compliance mean Quality-Consciousness?

As I walked into the lobby of our apartment complex, the elevator came down to the ground floor. A gentleman, who appeared to be in his early thirties, came out of the elevator, angrily pushed the inner sliding door shut, closed the outer door with a very loud bang and walked away. As I was about to protest, the elevator alarm started buzzing, indicating that one or both doors had not shut properly. Hearing the alarm, the gentleman walked back, opened the outer door, shut the inner door and the outer door firmly, but without any display of rage this time, and walked away.

I was a bit disturbed by this incident because, from the uniform worn by the gentleman, I realized he is a middle management executive in a renowned manufacturing company in our city. This company is considered one of the leaders in the quality movement in India. Needless to say, it has obtained every conceivable quality certification and has received various local, national and international awards for Quality Excellence. I thought the gentleman’s behaviour was certainly not expected from an employee of this company, especially one in the management cadre.

I remembered that, during his presentation at a seminar on Quality a few years ago, the President of this company had declared that every employee in his company had become 100 % quality-conscious. As a member of the audience, I had questioned the validity of this claim, contending that his company’s employees had achieved Quality Excellence because they used the appropriate manufacturing and inspection equipment, they had been properly trained to use this equipment, and the company had put in place various systems to ensure that quality was achieved at every stage in the manufacturing process. That did not mean that the employees had all become 100 % quality-conscious. They could be called 100 % quality-conscious only if their total commitment to quality could be seen in every action at the workplace as well as in their personal lives outside his company’s premises. He had insisted that a company could achieve quality excellence only if all, or almost all, employees were 100 % quality-consciousness, and that he was sure that almost every employee in his company had become 100 % quality-conscious at the work-place. He conceded that they might not be 100% quality-conscious in their personal lives, but expressed confidence that their quality-consciousness would have increased sharply in their personal lives as well. I was not convinced by his reply, but I realized there was no point in discussing the matter further.

I would love to send the company’s President a video recording of the elevator door banging incident, and ask him for his comments on his employee’s quality-consciousness!

As I had stated in my post Is fear the key?, very few of us are voluntarily law-abiding persons. Most of us refrain from committing crimes only due to the fear of punitive action. If we think we can get away without being penalised for it, we would gladly break the law. In the same way, the fact that a person complies with quality standards at the workplace does not necessarily mean that person is quality-conscious.

What do you think?

A twist in the tale!

My Sales Manager and I were in a meeting with a potential customer in his factory, trying to clinch his order for two VMCs (Vertical Machining Centers), each costing about Rs. 2.5 million.

With a very thoughtful look, the potential customer said, “Sir, out of the 6 offers that I received, I’ve shortlisted 2: yours and NMT’s. According to me, your machine is better, but only marginally. However, NMT’s final offer is about 6 % lower than your latest offer. With that price advantage, I’m inclined to order their machines. I could change my mind if you match their price or if you can give me hard information about your machines or about your after-sales service, or any information about NMT’s machines or about their after-sales service, that convinces me that it would be good business sense for me to pay a higher price for your machines.”

I replied, “Mr. Ashok, we have already offered you our rockbottom price. Any further reduction is not possible. We’ve also given you all information that would convince you about the superior features of our machines and the excellence of our after-sales service. Of course, I’ll be pleased to reply to any questions that you may ask.”

“I have no questions about your machines or about your after-sales service. But, your sales personnel have not pointed out any disadvantages of NMT’s machines nor have they given me any negative information about NMT’s after-sales service. If I get such information from you, I may be convinced to change my mind in your favour.” Having said this, Mr. Ashok leaned back in his chair and gave me a searching look.

I replied, “Mr. Ashok, it is our policy not to make any negative remarks against any of our competitors. If we lose business because of this policy, so be it.”

“OK, sir. NMT are meeting me later today. I’ll convey my final decision to you tomorrow morning,” Mr. Ashok said.

At 9.30 am the next day, Mr. Ashok telephoned me and asked if I could meet him at 12.30 pm. I agreed.

As soon as my Sales Manager and I were seated in his office, Mr. Ashok said, “Sir, neither you nor your sales personnel gave me any negative information about NMT. On the other hand, NMT made many negative remarks against your machines and your after-sales service. Hence, I’ve decided to buy your machines. I am convinced that your positive approach to business is much more valuable than the higher price that I’ll be paying! Here’s my Purchase Order. Now, please join me for lunch to celebrate our new business relationship!”

This post, a true incident, is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.

Relationships: a truly heart-warming incident

I am re-posting, with a few changes, The cup of coffee, which was originally posted on July 30, 2013.

“He’s a Maharashtrian,” said the Maharashtrian.

“No, he’s Saraswat,” said the Saraswat.

“Boss, forget all that! He’s a Mumbaikar,” said the Tamil-speaking Mumbaikar.

“Don’t forget his wife is Gujju,” said the Gujarati.

To add fuel to the fire, I added, “What about the fact that his mother-in-law is British?”

A few of us were discussing Sachin Tendulkar’s 100th International Hundred. All were in ‘Apnaa aadmi’ mode, each person trying to claim Sachin as his own man! All in good humour, of course.

This set me thinking. How many people would have claimed, in good humour or otherwise, the same Sachin Tendulkar as their own man when he was just another cricket-playing youngster? Everybody loves to be associated with rich, successful, well-connected persons, but how many people reach out to a struggler or a nobody?

I remember my own experience when I moved alone to a new city on a transfer over 25 years back. I had never visited that city earlier. I did not have any relatives or friends there. Since I worked in a capital equipment sales and service company, I met a large number of people in the course of my work, developed good personal rapport with many of them, but unwritten company policy was professional relationships remained professional unless there was a prior personal connection. I did meet a few persons with whom there was some earlier connection (same community, same ‘home city’, friend’s friend, etc.), but nobody seemed enthusiastic about reaching out to a 20-something newcomer to their city, and I didn’t want to impose. My neighbours were helpful, but not exactly friendly.

One day, a few months after I had shifted to this city, I met my customer, the General Manager – Projects of a leading automotive ancillary at the airport. I was on my way to Mumbai, while he was flying to Delhi. There was another gentleman with him, whom he introduced as his Executive Director. When I handed my Business Card to the ED (let’s call him Mr. K), he immediately broke into a huge smile and said, “Hey, your family name is the same as mine!” He asked about my family tree and looked disappointed when he realised that we were not related. By then, their flight was ready for boarding. He gave me his Business Card and told me to drop in at his residence whenever convenient. He also told me to meet him whenever I visited their Company so that we could “chat over a cup of coffee”.

I had to meet the GM-P the next week. After completing our discussion, I went to Mr. K’s office, handed my Business Card to Mr. K’s secretary and asked to meet Mr. K. The secretary asked if I had an appointment. When I replied in the negative, he asked me what I wanted to discuss with Mr. K. I replied, “I just want to say Hello to him. It’s just a courtesy call.” Now, Mr. K was the Big Boss in that Company. Can you imagine anybody walking into the Prime Minister’s office and asking to meet Narendra Modi “just to say Hello”? The secretary was perplexed! I could almost hear him thinking, “Is this guy mad?” But, he had seen my family name was the same as Mr. K’s. He picked up the intercom, dialled a number, and spoke, “Sir, one Mr. K from XYZ Ltd. wants to meet you. He said it’s a courtesy call.” Within a few seconds, Mr. K walked out from his room, shook my hand, and said, “I’m sorry I’m in a meeting. Is this only a courtesy call, or is there anything specific you had to discuss?” When I said it was only a courtesy call, he replied, “My meeting will go on for some time. So there’s no point in your waiting. I’m sorry I can’t spend time with you now. But please do meet me the next time you come here.”

Two weeks later, I visited that Company again to meet the GM-P. Again, after completing our discussion, I went to Mr. K’s office and asked Mr. K’s secretary if I could meet Mr. K, just a courtesy call. The secretary spoke to Mr. K on the intercom, then asked me to enter Mr. K’s room. Mr. K was in a meeting with 3 other persons. He requested them to wait outside for a few minutes and chatted with me for about 10 minutes over a cup of coffee.

I was touched by Mr. K’s gesture! I was a young person in the early stages of my career, while he was a very highly-placed person who had absolutely nothing to gain by being nice to me.

That cup of coffee was the beginning of a long friendship between Mr. K’s family and mine.

Today is Mr. K’s 81st birthday.

Happy Birthday, Mr. K! May you have many more!!
Thank you for that cup of coffee.
It really meant a lot to me.