The company was supplying to Indian banks in large numbers automatic ledger posting machines. These were the baby-steps banks took to automate their operations. These machines were imported from GDR under rupee trade, their unique feature: the ability to print on extra-wide ledger forms.
As it happens, the CP/M based machines with 8-inch floppy and software appeared on the scene offering lot more features and flexibility. In a short time, the mechanical machines were swept away from the scene delayed only by the resistance of the employees to the introduction of computer systems. A classic case of how the juggernaut of technology and innovation rolls on crushing what comes in the way of larger benefit of the society – a drama played again and again so frequently in recent times.
The unfortunate downside was the fleet of technicians charged with maintaining the vast installed base of these machines in the field was rendered redundant over the period of phasing out.
Things came to a head where the problem of what to do with these technicians could no longer be ignored. The elephant was in the room, everyone agreed.
A meeting of the department heads was called to resolve the tangle. The participants included representatives from other departments too, not concerned with the banking activities with the purpose of finding viable alternatives. The kick-off was an introductory brief from the Man at the head of the table followed by the head of banking operations presenting the current scene and the issues thrown up. When he was done, as was customary, the discussion was thrown open to the participants.
The executives quizzed the head of banking on the profile of these guys in the cross-hair, their skills, the training programs they had undergone, their on-the-job performance, work-ethics, team dynamics, etc. etc. What emerged was these guys were middle-aged technicians who knew their job and very little else. And some were active unionists.
As the enquiries subsided, one by one the participants fell silent and finally a graveyard silence prevailed in the room.
The Man at the head of the table went about in right earnest drawing them out on possible alternatives of profitably redeploying these unfortunate men in their operations.
Given the profile they saw no ready use for these guys in their operations. He was pushed back on every advance he made. Never mind he was the big boss – in fact, the biggest boss in the company owning a large part of it too. Stonewalling was complete with ‘In this era of electronic instruments and devices, you tell us what do we do with guys good with screw-drivers and spanners? They seem to be well beyond retraining. Well, if you insist…you’re the boss.’
The Man recognized their concerns about taking on some ‘dead-weights’. But he saw a bigger call. And not one to give up easily.
He closed the meeting with a directive to meet again and this time hoping for more helpful solutions coming from his executives.
The Man certainly did not know he was being observed closely by a youngster who happened to be in the room on that occasion. His honest efforts to protect the interests of those low-placed hapless guys, a small number of them, made an indelible impression and shaped the values held by the youngster in all his life.
I was not privy to whatever happened in subsequent rounds.
And the Man – Suneel M Advani, SMA as he is fondly addressed, at the helm of Blue Star Ltd, a source of constant inspiration.
On many more occasions, I had the privilege of observing this charismatic personality from close quarters, revealing admirable facets of strength, character and vision – subject for future posts.