Clearly the days of trusting the manager are long gone; today the kid is likely to turn to his peer at the next desk more than his manager. This is unfortunate, but true. I was particularly lucky to work with bosses who on occasions exhibited some extraordinary responses no doubt reflecting their innate disposition. They may not have been exactly all-rounded and all-time angels or supermen, well, so what? This post and more to follow are in reminiscence of those memorable occasions.
This young engineer was a specialist supporting HP’s Board Test systems, GP-IB based instrumentation systems, etc. A man of few words, he was a serious hard-working engineer who knew his ‘onions’, liked and respected by all. One fine day, he dropped the ‘bomb’ – he submitted his resignation. There were no portents to alert us to what he was planning. He wanted to leave us and start on his own. It was widely believed rightly or wrongly – including me – that he was most ill-suited for venturing on his own. The broad concern was for him and his prospects rather than on the difficult task of finding a replacement for him. His boss tried to dissuade him to no avail, so did many other seniors in the organization. It fell on me too to make an attempt as, owing to recent restructuring, I was responsible for his activities through his boss. So I did.
I flew to Bangalore for the sole purpose and I expressed a wish to meet up with him and his wife together.
I knew many a time it is the wife who needs to be talked to. He graciously invited me home. Over dinner I quickly realized the decision to quit was his and the poor girl had simply given in. I made an honest effort to point out the upside of staying back and the downside of leaving. At the end, he promised he would think about it and escorted me all the way out to find a cab back to the hotel. I returned to Mumbai not sure of the outcome.
As feared by all, he did not go back on his decision. The separation was now a certainty, not widely known in the organization.
There was a month of notice for preparing a replacement and handing over the unfinished business. The mutually negotiated bye-date passed. On the day plus one, tragedy struck. Uncertainties of life. The young entrepreneur-to-be was on a trip to Tiruppathi for an auspicious beginning of his venture when his car met with an accident on the way, hitting a culvert. The husband and wife were seriously injured. Admitted to the hospital, they never recovered – within a couple of days they succumbed to the injuries in quick succession. The baby survived miraculously – the mother unable to extricate herself from the wreckage had thrown him from her lap out of harm’s way.
Back in Mumbai we were all shocked at the turn of events. The grand-parents arrived from Orissa to take charge. From the organization and personally we did all that was possible – at least that’s what we thought then – to be of help to them to complete the formalities and the sad rituals that followed.
This man – the protagonist of this post, the big honcho of the entire operations, did something more than ‘possible’. He disclosed the diseased engineer had personally contacted him subsequently and withdrawn his resignation!! And it was official.
Presto! The baby was now entitled to all the organizational benefits accruing to the dependent of an employee on rolls upon his death.
While the details were never known precisely – and I’m sure more people were as much a part of this decision, the rank and file chose to hold this view fast – so was born another legend around this man, Shashi Ullal. Even if this wasn’t the exact truth, it can’t be far behind. After all such is the stuff legends are made of.
It’s little wonder Shashi was and continues to be held in high esteem and a source of inspiration to all whose lives he touched. Do they make bosses like him anymore?
My years with Shashi were not many. I’m sure he has a huge fan club out there boasting longer association and they would bring to light more exemplary episodes on him.
While on Shashi, let’s not forget the unsung hero in this episode – it was the organization that routinely fostered these values, beginning from the top.
PS: Nudging eighty’s, Shashi is still professionally active, growing younger by the years! He can be found in LinkedIn.