An exemplary leader!

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.)


Dignity of Labour: practising without preaching!

My company had supplied a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine to a medium-scale manufacturer of automotive parts. The machine costing around Rs. 4 million was the first CNC machine being purchased by this company. While finalizing the order, we had emphasized the importance of routine maintenance for ensuring the machine’s excellent performance and long life. We had committed that our service team would impart maintenance training to their factory personnel.

During the week after the machine was installed in the customer’s factory, our service team conducted maintenance training for the customer’s personnel as committed. Later, our Service Manager visited this customer’s factory every Saturday morning to check that all maintenance procedures were being followed correctly.

One Saturday afternoon, the MD of that company telephoned me and apologized profusely for ‘subjecting the Service Manager to humiliation’. My repeated attempts to get him to shed some more light on the matter were unsuccessful. Fortunately, the Service Manager was in the office, so I could get a firsthand clarification!

On the previous Saturday’s visit, the Service Manager had noticed that the ceiling fan above the machine was rotating very slowly, because of which air circulation around the machine was less than desired. On checking, he found that the fan was not rotating fast because a lot of dust had accumulated on the fan’s blades. He pointed this out to the Factory Manager and requested that the fan be cleaned immediately since insufficient air circulation would result in the machine getting overheated. The Factory Manager assured him that the fan would be cleaned as soon as possible.

On the next visit, he saw that the fan had not been cleaned. Upon enquiring with the Factory Manager, he was told that the responsibility for cleaning the fan had not been assigned to anybody; hence nobody had cleaned the fan. He felt that that this ‘issue’ wasn’t likely to be resolved soon. Hence, without a word to anybody, he brought a step ladder which was lying nearby, shut down the machine, switched off the fan, took some cotton waste, climbed on the step ladder and cleaned the fan. Obviously, somebody had reported this entire incident to the MD of that company.

I asked the Service Manager why he had chosen to clean the fan himself; it wasn’t his job. His answer was, “If the fan wasn’t cleaned immediately, our machine might have suffered long-term damage due to overheating. Hence, it was important to clean the fan immediately. The customer’s people did not understand this. So, I did it myself. I hope they have now understood that we were serious about the importance of keeping the fan clean, and will do it themselves in future. If not, we will clean the fan regularly as part of our maintenance routine.”

He had taught many persons, including me, ‘Dignity of Labour’ by practising without preaching!

This post was originally published on July 20, 2013 as I Saw, I Learnt

Walking the HIV+ talk

1. Will you readily accept the admission of some HIV+ children in your child’s school?
2. Will you knowingly and willingly interact with HIV+ persons?
3. Will you knowingly and willingly share a meal with HIV+ persons, using common plates and spoons?

Most of us have probably never faced these situations before. Most of us would probably have to apply a lot of thought before replying truthfully to these questions. Most of us would probably answer, “I’m not sure” to all 3 questions.

Early in July 2014, the parents of children studying in a school in Goa threatened to withdraw their children from the school if the management went ahead with the admission of 13 HIV+ children into the school. For further information, please read this Firstpost report. A few days later, another report stated that the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) of the school had also demanded the removal of 23 non-HIV students because they live in the same Church-run children’s home along with the 13 HIV+ve students, claiming their presence in school too could put the safety of their wards at risk.

On July 31, 2014, while speaking on this subject in the Goa State Assembly, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar had “said Goans needed to work overtime to eradicate the stigma surrounding AIDS. He also promised he will eat a meal with HIV+ve students to make a broader point about AIDS and the myths surrounding it.”

Firstpost reports that “while many dismissed Parrikar’s promise as mere rhetoric, the chief minister … made good his word” on August 16, 2014 by “keeping his lunch-date with the inmates of the church-run Nitya Seva Niketan orphanage, several of whom suffer from HIV/AIDS.”

Some highlights from the Firstpost report (all statements by local MLA Subhash Phaldessai):
“All the children there were thrilled to see the chief minister. They were jumping all over him.
All of us used common plates and spoons… We tried to make our visit appear as casual and normal as possible, lest they feel that the Chief Minister was here to meet them because of their condition.”
We did not allow photographers because we did not want the identity of the HIV+ve children be disclosed.
“The Chief Minister assured them all the help possible from the Goa government as well as personally too. He will be sending across a television set as well as some video players and entertainment (games and play-kits).”

Reading or hearing about Mr. Parrikar’s visit to Nitya Seva Niketan would definitely have made many people think deeply about their own attitude to HIV+ people. Probably, some people’s attitudes would have changed to some extent. Unfortunately, the print and electronic media has not given Mr. Parrikar’s visit the kind of coverage that was earlier given to the statements by some of his party’s ministers and MLAs about bikinis, beaches, casinos and that “all Indians in Hindustan are Hindus”.

I wonder why. Is it because negative news brings many more readers/viewers than positive news? Don’t the media have a role to play in bringing about social change?

Others should be ethical. ‘Leaders’ will be ‘practical’.

Some years back, I worked with a company that was sales and service agent of a European manufacturer of machines used to produce high-precision parts. One day, the manufacturer’s Sales Manager and I visited the factory of one of India’s most reputed manufacturers of high-precision parts to finalise an order for a machine.

The machine to be ordered would be the first machine to be purchased by this customer from this machine manufacturer. My company had introduced this manufacturer’s machines to this customer about 6 months earlier, and had provided a lot of technical and commercial information to this customer prior to this visit.

We finalised the price and terms of the order in a meeting with the customer’s GM – Manufacturing, GM – Engineering and GM – Materials that lasted about 2 hours. The GM – Materials told us that the Purchase Order would be released after obtaining the approval of the company’s Board of Directors. He then invited the manufacturer’s Sales Manager and me to meet their Chairman.

As we were seated outside the Chairman’s office, the Chairman’s secretary informed me that their Maintenance Manager wanted to meet me immediately in his office to discuss an urgent service matter pertaining to another machine supplied to them through my company earlier that year. I proceeded to the Maintenance Manager’s office, had a discussion for about 10 minutes, and returned to the Chairman’s office. By that time, the manufacturer’s Sales Manager and the customer’s GM – Materials had completed their meeting with the Chairman.

As we drove back to my office, the manufacturer’s Sales Manager informed me that the Chairman had told him that they wanted to buy the machine directly from the manufacturer without involving my company (the sales and service agent) and wanted the manufacturer to reduce the price by the commission payable to my company. The manufacturer’s Sales Manager had replied that he would discuss the matter with his management and would revert to the Chairman the next week. The Chairman told the manufacturer’s Sales Manager that this matter should not be revealed to my company. He also added that, if the machine manufacturer did not agree to supply the machine directly to the customer without involving my company (the sales and service agent), they would not buy the machine.

I was shocked! The Chairman was a highly respected businessman, an office-bearer in various national business associations, and had delivered a number of powerful speeches on the importance of product quality and business ethics!

The manufacturer’s Sales Manager told me that he did not want to lose this order. However, he assured me that, in accordance with the agency contract between our companies, his company would protect my company’s interests. 50% of the usual commission was sales commission, while 50% was service commission. Thus, if we booked an order from a company in India for a machine to be installed in another country, we would be paid sales commission, while the sales and service agent in the other country would be paid the service commission. He proposed that, on this order, and on all subsequent orders from this customer, his company would pay my company the sales commission. He would not disclose this arrangement to the customer, but would tell the customer that no commission was paid to my company. His company would proceed with this arrangement only if my company agreed to it. If we did not agree to it, he would inform the Chairman that they could not supply the machine directly to them without involving my company. He was willing to lose this customer’s order, but he was not willing to dishonour the terms of the agreement between our companies.

My company’s management agreed to the manufacturer’s Sales Manager’s proposal.

The European machine manufacturer finalised the order with this customer a week later.

The customer’s GM – Materials informed us that their Board of Directors had not approved the purchase of the machine.

The machine was supplied to the customer two months later. After they received the full payment from the customer, the manufacturer paid the sales commission to my company. The machine was installed and maintained by the customer’s Maintenance Department.

Over the next 3 years, this customer bought 4 more machines from this machine manufacturer. My company was paid the sales commission on all these 4 machines.

The customer’s Chairman continues to occupy important positions in various national business associations, and continues to deliver powerful speeches on the importance of product quality and business ethics!

Obviously, he believes in preaching business ethics, but not in practising! I wonder whether his commitment to product quality is as hollow as his commitment to business ethics!!

This is common among many ‘leaders’ in India. They pontificate about ethics, but they believe that it is not necessary for them to walk their own talk!!

First Anniversary Post: How to be a citizen-activist

The first post on Proactive Indian was published on June 15, 2013. Thus, Proactive Indian completes 1 year today. Coincidentally, today’s post is the 200th post.

I decided to make this, the First Anniversary post and the 200th post, special by making it a Guest Post by Nagesh Kini, a truly proactive Indian in thought, word and deed!

Regular readers of Proactive Indian would have read Nagesh’s comments on almost all my blog posts. His comments are often hard-hitting, but as Nagesh himself says, his bark is not half as bad as his bite!

Nagesh Kini is proof that the saying, “Empty vessels make the most noise” is not always correct! Nagesh makes an immense amount of noise, but he is no ‘empty vessel’! He is a Chartered Accountant who took to part-time activism in his early 40’s, and became a full-time activist after retirement.

Activism is not a pastime for Nagesh, it is a mission! He is extremely passionate about his activism, and his passion is infectious! He is a great source of inspiration to me even though we have never met or even spoken over phone despite having each other’s phone numbers! Of course, we correspond regularly by email.

In today’s Guest Post, Nagesh shares with us his journey as a citizen-activist, and explains how every citizen can easily be a citizen-activist.

From accountant/auditor to citizen-activist
by Nagesh Kini

My relatives and friends know me as a concerned citizen-activist who always works for the betterment of society and speaks out in support of any good cause and against wrongdoing of any sort. They also know that I can never be a silent onlooker, and that I strongly believe in the Hindi adage, “Laathon ke bhooth baathon sey nahi maanthey,” meaning you can’t simply afford to be polite at all times, sometimes you have to give a kick (figuratively, not literally!!) to ensure that the message is effectively conveyed. That’s exactly what I sometimes do to achieve results, though it means treading on some toes. For example, when citizens’ meetings did not commence in time because the chairperson or a civic official was late, I would take the chair and start the meeting. Now, they start in time, particularly if it’s known that I’m attending!

Believe it or not, till I was 40, I was not like this. My life revolved around my profession as a Chartered Accountant, my family and my social life. It is just by coincidence that I turned into a concerned citizen-activist.

My first foray into cause-related public life began in 1991 when the Trustees of GSB Scholarship League, Mumbai (a charitable public trust founded in 1912 by the GSB community (to which I belong) with the object of providing scholarships and rendering other suitable help to poor and deserving students) invited me to join their Managing Committee. I accepted the invitation and became a Managing Committee member, later elevated to Trustee. The GSB SL provides scholarships to over 3,500 students every year. The total amount disbursed in 2012-13 was Rs. 50 lakhs, while the corpus was Rs. 5.50 crores on March 31, 2013. All Trustees and MC members contribute actively in terms of administration, development and fund raising. The attendance at the monthly meeting is almost always 100%.

My first year as a GSBSL MC member opened my eyes to the fact that I could make a significant contribution to social causes by spending a small part of my personal time and without compromising my family and professional commitments.

In 1992, I joined 4 other residents of Mahim-Shivaji Park area of Mumbai to form an NGO called Kridangan Sangopan Samiti, KRISS for short, to preserve, protect and maintain public open spaces. KRISS is best known for managing, developing and constantly upgrading, in the truest spirit of Public-Private partnership, a public recreation ground/park called Dhote Udyan (earlier known as Scottish Park) situated opposite Bombay Scottish School and the Hinduja Hospital on Savarkar Marg/Cadell Road on the Dadar-Shivaji Park sea front.

KRISS enhanced the facilities at Dhote Udyan to include a ramped entrance for wheel chairs and prams, unidirectional soft surface walking-cum-jogging track, separate children’s corner with play equipment and sand pit and exercising bars, a central Mexican grass lawn for barefoot therapeutic walking and Mumbai’s only open-to-sky Olympic-sized skating rink. Strict discipline is enforced: walking only in the anti-clockwise direction, no eating, drinking or littering. The entire park is now illuminated by a synchronized combination of sunlight, solar-powered lighting and LED lights. Two ring wells and rain water harvesting, along with drip irrigation ensure round the clock water supply without using even a drop of potable water supplied by the Corporation. In-house composting of garden waste ensures year-round supply of compost. All this has been done by KRISS with active participation and support of neighbourhood citizens and sponsorship support from various corporates.

In 1998, KRISS was awarded the prestigious Citizens’ Award by the Mumbai Chapter of the Indian Heritage Society ‘For the initiative and action taken to create a much needed green open urban space for the benefit of the public in the face of high odds and challenges.’

KRISS’ Trust Deed stipulates that trustees must compulsorily retire after 2 terms of 3 years each, a rule meticulously followed to this day. Accordingly, I retired as a trustee in 1998, but continue to be an active member. I attend all the meetings and participate enthusiastically. If I see anything while walking in the park, be it a tetrapack pouch or even a slip of paper, I pick it up and throw it in the dustbin. If I miss my walk any day, I get enquiries from the daily walkers the next day: “It appears you were absent yesterday, I saw a lot of uncleared/unpicked up litter!”

Apart from my involvement with GSB SL and KRISS, I associate with causes that are after my heart and conducted by persons with impeccable track record. Since 2010, I have been associated with Moneylife Foundation, an NGO that is dedicated to the cause of spreading financial literacy and rendering assistance in matters of banking, insurance, consumer and environment protection, RTI and Right to Services. I have been writing articles regularly for publication in their weekly newsletter.

Needless to say, I always keep speaking up in support of any good cause and against any wrongdoing of any sort.

Whatever I do is no big deal. Anybody can do it. But, I’m sorry to see that most of my fellow citizens always wait for an opportunity to shoot from others’ shoulders even for their own problems. I keep telling them that they have to work to address their own concerns; of course, activists and NGOs will render all assistance and support to ensure that justice is done. Somehow, they don’t understand this.

Another concern is the apparent apathy of youngsters. For example, in both GSBSL and KRISS, the average age of the Trustees/Office bearers has been 60+. Getting younger people to come aboard on the Trust/Managing Committee is almost impossible. In fact, they don’t even seem to find the time to even attend monthly meetings, even though these are held on Sundays. Just making donations simply doesn’t work. NGOs need donations, but they also need intellectual inputs as well as participation. Is it so difficult for any person to spare 2-3 hours once a month to attend a meeting?

Most frustrating is the fact that most problems are caused by citizens, single-handedly or with the active cooperation of politicians and officials. For example,
Citizens spit on staircases and walls.
Citizens urinate in public places.
Citizens pay bribes to politicians and officials.
“Citizens” includes the so-called civilized educated citizenry!

After over 20 years of activism, it is my considered opinion that every citizen can be a citizen-activist by spending a small part of his/her personal time and without compromising her/his professional commitments. All (s)he has to do is:
1. Be a law-abiding citizen.
2. Speak up in support of any good cause and against wrongdoing of any sort.
3. Devote some time and effort to follow up the matter till the desired result is achieved.