like sun rises in the east and now a practicing freelance consultant finding fluff-free solutions to business issues for his clients.
I met him after a lapse of ten years. Piqued by certain astute observations he made in our brief initial meetings I decided I must talk to him at length on how it has been with him professionally. He kindly acceded to my request and came over to spend a couple of hours. In those two hours he freely shared the high and lows of those ten years that had passed.
He was doing well in his job managing his customer accounts, reporting directly to one of the founder-directors of the organization, a well regarded medium sized IT organization engaged in providing IT consultancy and services. Things were going swimmingly.
At a certain point, the organization decided it must reinvent itself and pitch for more aggressive growth – convulsions organizations bring upon themselves every few years. He thought and rightly so unless the course is clearly charted with definite ideas about how it would all happen, growth would remain only as numbers in a spreadsheet and a few catchy slogans going with it. Not a guy to quietly sit thru these sessions, he expressed his reservations on more than one occasion. It was not long before he was dubbed as a guy not right for the management’s vision of the organization, refusing to be energized by the bosses’ exhortations and not rising to the cause and credo. Fissures developed – disagreements widening, arguments turning increasingly unpleasant, unrealistic targets thrust …
If you’ve spent time in the Indian corporate world, here was a situation, not uncommon, unfolding in which one could still flow along the tide and thrive, let alone survive. Reasons that could not be faulted were/are always aplenty to explain away the non-performance .
Instead of lying low, our protagonist responded in way that left him with no option but to quit! A job he was good at to the point of earning a six figure yearly performance bonuses thrice in a short span. Just when things were cascading down in an avalanche after the 9/11 . Hiring was scarce. Had not lined up any firm job offers though he had some local contacts in the industry. No idea of the market demand for his competencies. But he decided he had enough. So what if his visa status was uncertain. Had bought a new house with stiff monthly payments. Wife and children. Even his ex-bosses were worried for his survival. While some guys unsolicitedly helpfully advised him on how to get best prices for his furniture.
We would not be far off the mark calling the move ‘reckless’, ‘impulsive’ and even ‘asinine’.
Was he always like this?
Probing a little on his younger days revealed:
His village is on the banks of river Godavari, surrounded by lush green crop fields and orchards growing guava and mangoes. A banyan tree spread over half an acre, the hub for the young to hear stories, for the old to exchange gossip and discuss village affairs, for vendors to hawk eats and for passers-by to rest. Also the classes he attended with a bunch of other boys. It was left to his ‘school’ headmaster to tweak his grandma-bestowed name and record his date of birth!
At 14, he didn’t know where the next meal was coming from. Sat out for long hours at the village temple eagerly waiting for offerings the devotees sometimes gave away. At times a mango or a guava from the orchards when the watchman wasn’t looking his way. Witnessing how an ‘engineer’ – probably a civic official – riding in a jeep commanded respect from all in the village, he resolved to continue his education and not earn a living doing this and that as most kids do. So what if he didn’t have food for a day or two? Amazing, isn’t it? How an impressionable young mind registers what is seen as common place!
At 15, his family could not afford to spend Rs 18/ towards the fees to appear for the school final exams (10th class). He knocked the doors of a gentleman who was no more than a nodding acquaintance and asked for and obtained a loan with a promise to return whenever he could! One of the very few from his village to be educated this far.
He went on to complete his Bachelor in Engineering from REC (Bhopal) (It’s another story how fortuitous was his admission into the course) followed by post-graduation (MTech) from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.
For paucity of time, I could not get him to dive deeper into these life-defining experiences from his youth. While I pulled up my sagging jaws seeing him in a new light, he added it was no different for most youth of his age growing up in the rurals of 60’s and 70’s.
Early in his employment career it was his inclination to stay within the system and fight for his cause. At some point he found wisdom in: “Zen: There are rocks in its way. Does it slam into them out of frustration? It simply flows over and around them and moves on! Be like the water and you will know what harmony is.” No confrontational face-off’s. This switch paid off handsomely in his new avatar as Director (Consulting Practices) whence his performance was consistent, highly rated and rewarded.
The second transformation took place years later after many successes and failures in his career. He tested his position and course with: ‘If my interests are not served what am I doing here?’ Disillusioned with the entire corporate sector, not merely with his current employer, he decided to strike out on his own. Two books a) George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ and b) Spencer Johnson’s ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ read by a contemplative mind triggered the changes. Henceforth he wasn’t going to be play Boxer in his life – a strong, but naive and ignorant horse in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, described as the farm’s most dedicated and loyal laborer, but led first to the slaughter house. Outside the cocoon of a safe and steady job he would shed his ‘weight’ and chase the moving ‘cheese’ – homing in on changes and chinks in the evolving business scene and the resulting challenges for IT with a menu-card of high-valued consulting services he was best placed to offer, rather than peddle his traditional skills.
Well, suffice to say in the years that followed, he has had no occasion till date to regret his decision. The glow in his face and the ready mirth I was seeing said it all.
Some of his interesting anecdotes/wisdom I culled as he reminisced about from his ‘Boxer’ days (in no particular order):
There was this customer, a legal firm raising the roof over the problems it was facing with his organization entrusted with a business and time critical application that wouldn’t get off the ground. Deadlines whooshed by. The MD of the firm was all set finally to pull the plug on the assignment and make his organization pay many times over. There was utter chaos back in his office. No one had an idea on what could possibly be done to douse the fire. Our protagonist was all set to be transferred out of the country to far-east on promotion. And this was not his direct account either. The ‘Boxer’ he was, he volunteered to help though it meant putting off his moving out – something he was eagerly looking forward to. The MD gave him a set of damning reports from his IT users for him to read and gave an appointment for next morning, not relenting even a little on his threat.
Our Boxer perused the reports. He could see their pain was genuine and they were quite fair and logical about the whole matter. Next morning he was ushered into a full house waiting for the inevitable to play out. He was given twenty minutes to say his piece.
In what followed, he carefully steered clear of scope creep, delayed approvals, unreasonable demands, etc. etc. Nor was he defensive about whatever failings of his organization. He fashioned his entire talk on how important it was for of the customer in his own best interests to persist with him as the vendor at this late stage. It immediately struck a chord with the audience. While they expected him to trade blames, he was talking about their way ahead. They heard him out for all of the twenty minutes and more; at the end of it the MD agreed to give him and his organization more time to get the project back on track. Mission accomplished: the immediate objective of stalling the threat and buying time for figuring out a solution was achieved. Business from this salvaged account grew sizably in the following months and years swelling the bonuses of, yes, Boxer’s successors.
An Egyptian customer in Persian Gulf, very well-connected politically, not signing off on final acceptance of software deliverables, threatening at times to arrange for the closing down of his entire operations in the geography, said to him: ‘The one reason I always heard you is you always throw a fish, albeit small, to catch a (big) fish.’ Small concessions made for a favorable conclusion in negotiating with a difficult customer.
His son doing college in USA once asked his roommates of different nationalities in their teens if they were worried about all this talk of outsourcing and jobs disappearing. Their response: ‘You only have to fear if all of what you know could be captured (on paper) or communicated. You’re then not an expert yet.’
It was a retail chain wanting to revamp its field-data capturing devices, networks and processes. One of the Big Five was appointed as the consultant. About 10 vendors were listed and jointly addressed in the initial rounds. It was immediately clear to him he was not in the running. How did he know? In his proposal, he had raised some points very pertinent to the problem on hand, he thought. And these issues were never brought up by the Consultant in the joint discussions. How does one climb up the Consultant’s evaluation ladder? An arduous task with uncertain results. He was not one to be stopped by the Consultant. Sneaking into the CIO’s office, he grabbed his attention by throwing at him ‘Are you going to be doing more of the same or blaze a new trail?’ It was not a gimmick or a diversionary tactic. He had lured the CIO with a well-researched pitch on Windows CE that was just making it to beta sites. He genuinely thought it was the right solution for the prospect. It worked – the rules of the game had changed! The CIO promised him a berth in the shortlist of three. Eventually it turned into a large infrastructure and system integration contract for his organization.
This is a bit a bawdy: When he shared with a friendly Malaysian customer his woes dealing with a CIO who dumped on his vendor everything he couldn’t get done with his own staff far beyond the scope of supply, the Malaysian wasn’t surprised. He facetiously likened it to what a man does to a girl in cathouse what he cannot to his wife.
Well, I’m sure he had a lot more to tell. But it was time to wind up.
My parting question for him: What is he? How does he see himself?
Amazingly, he was ready for it – he summed up what he was not, very succinctly with a bit of humor from ‘The Simpsons’:
“Why do u get up in the morning?’
‘To read the newspapers.’
Wishing for a professional biographer to get it all out of him one day. While we wait, if it isn’t a weighty imposition on time, a slide-deck from him would be of immense help to wannabe AM’s. I appreciate it cannot be on ‘How to earn six-figure bonuses?’ 🙂
PS: His contact details available on request.