It was several firsts for me coming from academic world just an year after graduation: my first job, first month in the job and first travel by flight.
I reached the airport late and all flustered a few minutes before the counter closed. My colleague if he was annoyed did not show. He checked both of us in and we proceeded to the departure lounge and almost immediately by a bus to board the aircraft. All along I stuck closely by him, only I didn’t hold his hands.
Once inside the aircraft, I saw people ahead of me stowing away their hand-luggage in the overhead bin. I tried to do the same except the bin would not open. I’m one of those guys to turn a handle the wrong way first. My colleague saved me from further embarrassment. In a swift move he had the bin opened and my luggage thrown in and the bin shut. Likewise I had trouble fastening the seat-belt or setting up the table in front for holding the refreshments when served. By now a dozen eyes were watching me slyly to see what I would do next. Thanks to him I averted those minor disasters waiting for me at every turn.
None of this seemed to affect my colleague’s composure – perhaps I wasn’t the first bumbling rookie he had encountered, I thought.
We reached Bangalore without any further incidents.
Now I was a few months old in the organization.
One day an important visitor – a project consultant acting as an advisor to our prospective clients – was late in coming to our office to collect a contract template. My colleague had to rush for another appointment. He instructed the typist to hand over the template to me when he is done and I would give it to the consultant.
So the visitor finally turned up. I expressed regret for my colleague’s unavoidable absence, ordered some tea for him and engaged him for a few minutes in some perfectly inane conversation punctuated by awkward silences. Luckily before his impatience blew up, the typist came in and handed over a sheaf of papers – it was the contract and its carbon copies. He was relieved to collect the papers and leave.
The fact my colleague had not asked me check the contract was not lost on me – he knew I was not competent and more importantly I did not enjoy doing such non-technical tasks only a few months into the job.
When he returned, I updated him.
‘Good, now get me the file-copy, let me check it out.’
‘What file-copy? I gave the whole lot to him as you had said.’
‘You mean, you did not retain a carbon copy for our records?’
How could I know, eh? He was not being reasonable this once, I thought.
Roll forward a few more months:
A stocky well-dressed guy landed up in our office asking for Hewlett-Packard (HP) Computer Sales. The receptionist buzzed for me. I took the visitor to my senior colleague from Sales. I was mighty happy we snared a prospect sitting in the office.
For flexibility of configuring to meet his needs, he wanted the prices of various combinations and options read off from the micro-fiche price-list. At the end of about an hour or so, he had almost the entire price-list of active HP computing products. Just then, my colleague returned from some field work. He stared at the visitor for a moment as he entered his cabin. Moments later he called us into his cabin.
‘What is he doing here?’
We gleefully informed him how a prospect for HP computers has landed right in our lap.
‘He took down all item prices and you guys didn’t suspect anything?’
‘He works for Y (a competitor).’
A small string of episodes, to give you a flavor, none of them in a 7.5 Richter class individually. But enough straws in the wind to show me the door?
Well, he did not give up on me and I didn’t let him down either, I would like to think, as I quickly wore out my goofiness.
Like his successors G R Khanna, late Sashi Ullal and Assar Sambtani, he amply disproved the popular myth that only fire-breathing sob’s made successful bosses. Viji, as he was fondly called, got more out of us than any sob would have. A born leader, a straight-shooter, agreeably tough with enough charisma to get his team climb mountains if it was good for business.
It was no surprise he became a very successful entrepreneur to emerge from the stables of Blue Star Ltd. when a few years later he founded his company ‘Advanced Micronic Devices’ (now a listed company).
K Vijayaraghavan remains ever-green in our memories as our revered and loved hero.