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Posts Tagged ‘HP’

elementary-school-students-line-up-for-a-yearbook-signature-from-the-school-janitor

Found this amazing pic in Buzzfeed.

These kids are not queuing up for admission forms from a school or to receive some hand-outs from a local big-wig as is most likely in our land.

These are elementary-school students lining up for a yearbook-signature from the school janitor!!

There is no hint of where it happened.

Am fairly certain, it must be some place in US.  Could it happen anywhere else on earth?

Well, this jogs my memories about an ex-colleague of mine, A T Vijaykumar, fondly called, ATV.

Years ago, he sold Hewlett-Packard’s range of test and measuring instruments to large government customers in Bengaluru and later in other cities too. It was said of him in jest he could sell a double-bed to the Pope! But that was not all. At his customer site, he knew every ‘fly on the wall’ – guards, gardeners, lift operators, office-boys…He always had time during his visits to greet them warmly and make solicitous inquiries. No surprise he went on to be very successful in all that he endeavored?

I had a similar experience recently in my short visit to Chennai. I was treated to a ‘dheko’ by the indefatigable lady at the helm of operations at the renowned and venerable institution of Kalashektra. As she took me around, I saw her hailing the support staff – there were many to manage the sprawling complex and its activities – each by his/her name. At times it was them greeting her if they caught sight of her first. Not one tutored in management schools or groomed by corporate world, the lady is none other than the eminent and much acclaimed Bharata Natyam artiste, Priyadarshani Govind. Ever ready to jump into the ‘puddle’ with sleeves rolled up(!) quite unlike our cabin-bound executives and babu’s.  I missed asking her where from did she pick up these practices. So far we only knew these folks were given to king/queen-sized egos and abominable or often hilarious antics.

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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 insistyou’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.

Clap

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.

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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.

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PS: Nudging eighty’s, Shashi is still professionally active, growing younger by the years! He can be found in LinkedIn.

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