Mumbai Masala

I had to travel to Mumbai on a Friday. Did not realize that I can’t go alone! The boss insisted on accompanying me for this visit, as he wanted to use this pretext to visit his family in Mumbai and spend the weekend.

He is living on his own in this city. His wife did not want to re-locate; she has a cosy job with a MNC in Mumbai.

There were only two meetings originally – with a fast food Chain and an off-shore facility management firm. This could have been managed on a single day visit to Mumbai without needing to stay there. But CEO wanted to stay over the weekend, so he wanted me to invent a meeting on Saturday too, which I did – with a prospective distributor for our retail range.

Being a hot summer, the CEO instructed the concerned staff to book the tickets on a plane on a Thursday evening time itself. For a flight that was scheduled to leave at 5.00 PM, we left the office at 1.30 pm. The CEO was too punctual!

On Friday, we went to the first meeting. He was thrilled at the response we got. Actually, it was nothing special. The potential customer shared all his volume details, target pricing and the product specifications. Needlessly, in the midst of the meeting, CEO called up VP on phone as if he would be ready with all the details. In fact, the VP uttered some inaccurate market info just to show off to CEO. The CEO duly passed on this info to the customer’s official who was chairing the meeting. The latter dismissed it curtly, saying he buys that particular ingredient at half the price of “market info” given by VP.

At the end of the meeting, the CEO was so elated that he wanted to have a beer over lunch. Once he started drinking, he forgot the notion of time. He started calling his ex-friends, current friends and to-be friends one by one. I should have brought some cotton to plug my ears. He was busy shamelessly selling himself to some potential targets.

The excerpts :-
To a Medical Doctor who used to study with his son — “You must be over-worked, once in a while you should relax by having dinner with me”
To H (his present secretary) – “You must realize I am not a Hanuman”
To a 45-year-old Lady (his ex-secretary in his previous employment) – “I know today is your Birthday and I was dying to talk to you…….oops …is it next month?… what, advanced Happy Birth Day”

The telephonic talk went on for almost one hour. While we were early to the airport on the previous day, we were not so early for the second meeting.

The second customer was a bit irritated at our late reporting for the meeting ( by 60 minutes). I gave some lame excuses. We were told to wait for some time.

The CEO again started talking on phone in the customer’s place also. He sounded pompous during a loud phone conversation with some unknown person (male friend for a change!) – “so bloody busy with hectic work….need to relax…will have to plan a holiday soon…. Have you been to Mauritius?…is it a good place to holiday?” – I was wondering why he is showing off so much in this place….and then found the reason immediately– there was a gorgeous receptionist sitting opposite to the place where we were waiting….as I started thinking why has this guy not started talking to the receptionist as yet, fortunately, we were called in for the meeting.

At the end of the trip, the CEO appeared impressed with my contacts and the presentation. He started speaking motivating words – “Let us make it happen…we should double the turnover in a year…we can be a good team”. I did not know what to reply, simply remained quiet.

Unexpectedly, the CEO asked me – “do you know any good candidate who can replace the VP?” — I wondered why he is asking me this. Before I say anything, he said “Let this be confidential between us….can you recommend any one?”….I said – “Let me see” – sounding non-committal.

Nice opportunity to replace VP, really. I can speak to my friend who is working with another processing company. I am sure he will be interested. I have worked with him before – a good, reliable and knowledgeable guy. He will be a good guy who can support me a great deal, unlike the present VP. But I needed to be sure if the CEO is really so powerful to replace the VP. Or is he just trying to use me as a pawn in his power game? Curiously, he was not willing to share the details on why he wants to replace VP. So let me be also silent and do not initiate anything, at least until the CEO convinces me of his invincibility.

The Monologue

Philosophers say that life operates at two levels, external and internal. Our internal world comprises of our thoughts, perceptions, turbulence, dreams, fears, mind’s dialogues etc. The external world makes up all things physical, titles, political power, possessions, wealth, designation etc

New age guys tell us that it is essentially our internal world that gets extended out as illusory things that we perceive as external to ourselves. One particular school of Buddhism principles states that our environment is part of us only. This means that it is our conscious thinking that constantly creates the external world we experience. There may be time delays between conscious thought and the unfolding reality, actually it does not matter in spiritual world (as the factor of time is non-existent and illusory).

If the above are true, does it mean that the three obstacles that I perceive also are of my making only? B or VP or CEO – are these and their behavior towards me are of my creation on a subtle level?. Have I attracted these people into my life in some unknown way and hence have they assumed the role of my colleagues? If so, these colleagues are needed to be present in my life at this particular point of time to fulfil some purpose (of which I may not be conscious now).

There is a second group who say that the external world operates separately and does not have linkage with the internal world. They further say that it does not matter how we live in the external world. We should live in both the worlds in independent way. While one may be pure and virtuous internally, he can be ruthless in the external world to serve his self-interests.

The three obstacles are my external world at this point of time. Should I spend my time plotting ways to remove these obstacles? This should logically mean that I should make CEO dependant on me, to indulge some power politics to get rid of VP (who according to my logical mind is not very useful to the organization and is wicked to me personally) and to expose the vulnerabilities of the Cartel. As a ruthlessly practical person, this should be fine.

But I shall be belying the first theory that the internal values and the external world should be balanced. According to this, any form of power politics is to opt for external control, which is more a fear-based reaction and not a Love based action. What should be the Love based action in dealing with the three obstacles?

Three Obstacles

Whether to keep up the equanimity of emotions and act silently? Or to make some noises to be heard? This has been the main question that has dodged me always.

In the past, I have seen that making noises usually does not work. It only puts off people. It does not make the shouter to be one of the team members. But again to be accepted as team member even if one is docile is also sometimes a bit tricky.

We have two bosses who either do not know how to drive the business or just want to maintain the status-quo to make sure that they continue to stay in their respective positions. If that be so, why should I be hired then? The management may genuinely be aiming at increasing the business volume. CEO may have mooted the idea that he needs one more business development manager to contribute more.

What he has not done so far is to make the working smoother by opening the gateways of information. The cartel’s insecurities have kept the gate closed and even if the gate is opened – only slightly. The VP’s presence is causing more confusion. Under these circumstances, getting any type of sales support or directions or decisions from either VP or CEO has become a strenuous effort. I also suspect that the ants are being influenced by the Cartel not to be very free-flowing on my informational needs.

My instruction to M (one of the Ants) to give me the customer-wise pricing data went unheeded. While I kept reminding her politely, she kept saying she was busy and would take out the data as soon as she gets a bit free.

I needed to quote for a particular product to a domestic customer. As no transparent costing were made available, I had to be reliant on B who informs me the price for individual product before I quote to any customer. On this occasion, I was given a US dollar price on Cost and freight basis and was told to work backwards. Accordingly, I quoted Rs 145 for that item. Customer promptly asked if we can agree at Rs 125. I got stuck. B informed me that we sell that item to MNO at more than Rs 160, so further discount to already quoted lower price would not be possible. If it was Rs 160, why was I given a mis-leading basis to work out the price in the first instance? Either B was being casual earlier or he gives me a wrong information now to discourage me in cutting the price and in the process not being able to finalize the business.

VP was causing commotion differently.  A few deals were at the stage of finalization and some operational issues had to be addressed. VP was non-committal and said it can be solved only over a medium-term, so finalizing the business may not be immediately possible. I was not sure if the customer would be ready to wait.

On another potentially large business opportunity, VP kept repeating like a parrot that he would need buyer’s specifications. The buyer was not to be bothered for these paper work, as I know from my experience that he never has any written specs for his products. He had given us only the photo images of the products which I am sure would be adequate for the factory team to start working on it. But VP would not listen and this time he blamed ISO 9000 procedure for insisting on buyer’s specification.

CEO had not time for taking business decisions. He is busy meeting either advertisement sales representatives from a web portal company or home brokers for buying a property for himself, or making H (the secretary) sitting in front  of him to listen to flirt talks. My email reminders to him seeking approval for 7 days credit terms for XYZ Corp remained unreplied. After a few days, I went to his cabin personally to ask him about it. He went on with his usual irrelevancies. When I asked him specifically towards the subject, he admitted that he has sent the mail to the Finance Manager for decision-making.

B’s blocking of smooth flow of information, VP’s intransigency, CEO’s complete refusal to take decisions even if it costs only a rupee…. the three things I am confronting with!

A close look at The Cartel

I spent relatively long time with the Cartel members when I got a chance to visit factory on the occasion of XYZ rep’s visit.

The Cartel comprises of 4 members – B, Finance Manager, Production Manager and QA Manager.  While the Cartel members have their own personality traits, they are united by common causes – to perpetuate their stay in the company and make them immune from changes happening at the higher levels of the company.

They all hail from the nearest town close by and have started working with the company around the same time. In all they have spent more than 15 years to-gether ; have not worked with any other company.

These managers, I observed, were not too ambitious. In a way, they are very content about their life (unlike me?). They get to live in their home town and be with all their relatives and child-hood friends. Their respective jobs did not carry much burden as they have mastered their respective role expectation (which I believe have never been too high) from the company. In a way, the company’s systems have started depending on these people very much.

B joined the company as dispatch clerk, but stuck to the company despite changes happening in the top. Many work managers and Vice presidents came and went. The customers saw different men at the helm of affairs, but B, QA Manager and Production Manager were always around. So these 6 customers have found it safer dealing with the known faces of the Cartel. B became the Dispatch Manager in a few years, hence had been the key contact for these customers for so long. The then business manager who developed these businesses met with a tragic road accident when he was on an overseas trip. There was a vacuüm till a new manager could be recruited. B used the vacuüm wisely and assumed the role of Export Business Manager.

The Director found it convenient then as he need not have to deal a new power structure in the office as he would have found it safe to elevate B whom he viewed to be loyal and long-serving. Moreover B had complete understanding of the operations and so he could envisage problems and issues well.

The Director did not feel the need appoint a new exports manager until the CEO (who entered the scene only about 10 months back) saw the need to have one more Exports Manager and hence I was recruited.

I have started developing self-doubt on seeing the Cartel Members and their complete control of things on factory and operations’ side. Would I ever be able to acquire such a self-assured attitude leaving my vulnerability aside!

Are they viewing my joining as a threat? I could not get any clue from the members, as the talks were at superficial level only. While they sounded nice to me, I could sense an invisible wall wherein the deliberations were never free and open.

I did observe during  my interactions that  out of 4 members of the Cartel, the 3, with the exception of B, were not very fond of VP.  The Finance manager was loud about it. I also observed that while production and QA managers too did not like VP much, they sounded hesitant to be viewed as disobedient to VP. So that explains the delays or no replies to my various emails. They expected to be told by VP to reply to each emails.

When compared to the other three, B is totally different. The closeness and camaraderie he has developed with the 6 overseas-customers must have given him the enormous sense of command over the scenario. The VP (who is a complete new-comer from a different industry all-together) has to be dependant on B and Like-wise CEO also (whom, as we have seen in many episodes before, has no grip on the proceedings except raw usage of positional authority).

They both perhaps might have intended to please B as their survival depends on him indirectly, and denied me any interface to the existing customers. Is it a good place to be in personally? – As I have to work from scratch to develop all new customers with no handle on what’s happening on the current business front.  B will run so smoothly with the well-set business. I must admit B is in an enviable position – reward for staying with the company for Long? Is there a lesson here?

Working Holidays

The CEO meets me almost daily – either uttering irrelevancies or issuing stale instructions or stating the obvious – but he sees to it that he sounds sweet.

B wants to work with only 4 existing customers. With this, the CEO had got opportunity to see only Belgium and Germany, whereas yours sincerely (that’s myself!) work on widening the market base. Inquiries keep flowing in from Israel, Italy, USA UK and Spain.

This sincerity of work helps the CEO in two ways. Firstly, it enables him boast-of with tea-drinking Director (who is too tired to manage things!) thereby earns him some browny points.

Secondly, the CEO gets to see new destinations. Mind here, the poor export manager should stay back in the office to make sure that things are under control, so he will not be traveling. Moreover, Directors and CEOs are expected to utter only niceties and not specifics when meeting customers in their own countries. So the export manager who knows only details need not travel. Of course, the export manager will get the reward of eating in expensive restaurants when the customer visits here.

There are pitfalls if new customers are not discovered. That means that the export manager is useless and will need to be replaced. Nowadays CEO finds it convenient to continue with B only. New candidates nowadays are so demanding that they do not join unless they are assured that they will be allowed to travel overseas.

With people like B, around there is no such problem, you see! B will be content not to be traveling as meeting overseas customers means that the sentences in English have to be completed in English only and Hindi words also cannot be mixed into to the sentence to make sense. Very inconvenient!

Sometime back, I had requested H (CEO’s secretary) for CEO’s tour notes when he visited Germany in October last year. She gave a note-book, whose pages were totally blank and only three business cards were posted on the first two pages. No scribbling, no notes. After a few pages, a City Map of the place he visited was there and some spots have been circled in them. This map must have been torn from the tour directory that must have been kept in the hotel room he stayed. In another page, a scribbling pad was inserted. I am sure he must have taken the ball-point pen also from the hotel room. Most probably, his son must be using the pen to write the notes in his college.

H further revealed that during last trip three big-wigs visited Europe – Director, CEO and VP – together. They travel in groups only, so that one guy speaks and the rest listens. Since the Director himself was present throughout, CEO and VP are not answerable and held accountable for the success or failure of the trip made. Very convenient, isn’t it?

Day 32 – The Cartel and the Ants

Despite completion of the first month in the organization, I am still to become part of the team. What are the reasons? Do I not reach out to people? Have I tried that sincerely?

Initially when the environment was unfamiliar, I tried to evolve some strategy. In the first few days and on the days I spent in the factory, I went out of my way to be pally with the people there. Was I being fake? I think I was.

Subsequently when email wars started, I was wondering how to react. Now the CEO reads my mails which are on copy to him, briefs the Director on daily basis and they both talk to the concerned persons in the factory over speaker phone.  After this phone call, B, QA Manager and Supply Chain Manager are prompt in their replies. A complicated sales support system, but it works for the moment.  

The cartel (consisting of B, Production Manager, Finance Manager, QA Manager and Production Manager) in the factory appeared to me initially to be difficult to crack. It now appears that what it needs is call from the Director. I would like to reach a stage where the Cartel replies voluntarily on reading my mails. I would like to know what the Cartel is thinking about me.

Who are the weakest and the strongest link in the Cartel? Are there gaps among the managers in the factory? I spent far too less time to come to any conclusion on it.

My impression is that even CEO has not gained complete control of the managers in the factory. That’s why he makes all the calls to the factory only when he is together with the Director. Out of the people in the factory, it is only two managers with whom CEO gets along well – Supply Chain Manager (not a part of the Cartel) and Finance Manager. This could be inferred from the various meetings I had with CEO and at every opportunity he preferred to talk to only these two people, even if it is VP who will be in a better place to answer all operations-related issues.

Is VP part of the Cartel? As far as I can see, he wants to prop up B only and always like to ride on his shoulders.  He does not seem to be having any special bonding with other Cartel Members. VP senses a threat in me for the reasons best known. How to read the VP?

I would like to introduce another group of people at this stage. There are a host of support staff who sit outside my chamber (whom we call The Ants).We had already met one of them, Ms.M of Export documentation (Day 22 – CEO’s War and Love). These guys are world unto themselves, very lowly paid clerical and assistant cadre staff. Frustrated souls! They are keen observers of power-mongering managers and hook on to whoever has the power. These support staff is headed by an assistant manager whom we call as VN.

VN is with the company for more than 18 years. After serving in the factory for 8 years, he was transferred to corporate office. A sweet talker! But he seems to hold many knots with him. The managers based in the factory keep close ties with him, because he would know well what’s happening in corporate office. CEO also keeps good relations with him, because he is a distant relative of Divisional Director.  Support staff (which also includes Ms.M – the Documentation Girl) swears allegiance to VN.  

VN and his staff are generally friendly to me, but they refrain from talking anything official. Is it because they are gauging me if I am loyal to the coterie of factory manager or to CEO Or to VP? Another reason could be that they would prefer to report to CEO like they do now, so shun any deal with me fearing I may try to boss over them.

Hmm…endless list of questions! My mind is going over-board with thoughts….am I being objective here? Or am I being biased due to insecurity or fear of failure ………Let me start meditating on clear blue sky now to seek some clarity!!!!