The Cartel’s Siesta and the Spanish client

There was a good development. The Spanish company which had floated tender for the products that we offer returned with a favourable news. Our company was number 2 in the tender status. The buying manager of the Spanish company was saying that he is prepared to allot major volume of business if we could reduce our quotes further by another 10-12%.

The irony has been that all these months, the precise costing details are never shared with me. Like other things in this organisation, this practice was new to me. In previous organisations, cost sheets are always shared with the business development guys. This comes in handy during negotiations with the buyers. More than anything, one knows clearly the price level below which no reduction can be possible. The Finance Manager (one of the cartel) uses the word “confidentiality” to the good effect always, and I am denied detailed cost information. So in effect, the finance manager also acts as a pricing manager, which rightfully should have been my role. I decided to use the opportunity given by the Spanish Buyer to check the bottom level costings of our company.

I contacted the finance manager on Phone, and told him that the Spanish client is ready to confirm the business (I informed a higher volume figure than what the customer was prepared to give – a harmless lie) provided we give further discounts for each item. The finance manager could not straightaway say no to me, as this would mean saying no to the opportunity. After 30 mts, he called me back saying in a muted voice that there has been a mistake. While the finance manager hurriedly did costings, he forgot to check the current price levels at which similar products are being shipped to another client in Spain. After my phone-call, he had checked the same and realised that the pricing given by him are less than the current levels. He requested me not to make this an issue as it will be reflected badly on him. The other Spanish customer is being liaisoned by B, who out of his own insecurity refuses to share with me any updates or developments pertaining to the set of customers he is dealing with.

I derived a sadistic pleasure on hearing the Finance Manager’s predicament. The same guy was cryptically informing me the absolute price figures that I should quote for each enquiry, without sharing the cost assumptions. Every time when I am told by the customers that our prices are higher by 30%, 60% and in one case it was 1000%, I used to feel so bad. I always suspected that this guy must be adding margin to each costs, and at the end must be putting a margin below all costs as well. Who knows, he must be applying margin percentage on outgoing freight as well. The finance managers think they know-all about costings just because they have imported calculators at their disposal. They forget to consider that costing is a process that should involve idea contribution from all functions including that of Sales personnel for whom it is being worked out. It cannot be done in isolation by accounts or finance managers.

I asked him how much have we quoted cheaper in reference to current prices to other Spanish customer. He said 7-9%. I further asked him if the current quoted prices are at loss. He said no and conceded that 20% margin is considered in the quote.

I was happy now that I am in control of facts pertaining the business I am chasing now. Other spanish buyer is buying at higher price levels, so this customer is only trying to flex his muscles and wants more reductions. I knew what to do. I had kept 5% negotiation margin on the top of the price given by the finance manager. I will reduce 3-4% from the quoted price and will tell the customer that this is the lowest price we can quote.

Director Calling

The tea-drinking Director called me one-day. It was a surprise. He usually does not interact with me directly. The few times that I had met with him were always in the company of CEO.

The CEO and the Director had returned from a month-long overseas trip. Immediately on return, the CEO took a vacation and proceeded to Mumbai to be with his family. It was during this time that the director summoned me.

After discussing about the business opportunities that I am working on, the Director asked me suddenly – “How do you rate the CEO?”. The question came unannounced. I did not know what to answer. The CEO have always given the impression that he shares a close relationship with the Director. I have also noticed on more than one occasion that the CEO consults the Director on virtually every matter, however tiny it is.

I gave a measured response to the Director – “He is the boss. It is for the boss to judge the subordinate, not the other way round”. The Director smiled.

He then said to me “I read all your mails which are blind copied to me (I have been doing this frequently!) and I am aware of the blocks you face, especially in the form of either no response or late response or wrong response from your colleagues in the factory” I smiled, but remained silent.

The Open-ended question

In the last couple of weeks, I am seeing some different trends emerging. The VP who was least interested in having any interface with me started responding to my emails. A few times he called up on phone too. The VP’s activism is matched with complete silence of the Cartel. Production guy who was friendly to me also is not taking my calls on his mobile. B too did not reply to my calls.

I am not sure of the reasons for change of style. Is the cartel remaining silent with some reasons or objectives? Or is it the order of VP to have single point inter-face with me?

The CEO and the director are on a month long overseas trip. They are meeting each of our existing customers in Europe and in North America. I had also fixed a few meetings for them with the clients that I intend to develop for the company.

A couple of days after their departure, I had got to finalize a deal with a customer in Patna. The deal was very profitable. But somehow VP was finding some reasons to object. One by one on each day he gave reasons not to accept this order.

– We can supply the product only without labels as supplying with labels will ruffle the existing clients – I resolved it by convincing the client to accept the product without labels.

– The price is not attractive – I proved that the price is very lucrative by arranging invoices of / quotes from the competitors.

– Apart from A grade product that we will be supplying, VP wanted the new party to buy B grade by-product also. – The new client agreed to this also due to my persuasion.

This dilly-dallying lasted for 7 days while the customer helplessly had to wait for finalizing the order. I did not like this particular high-handed approach with a first-time customer. At the same time, I played along with VP as taking a confrontationist approach would not help.

Luckily for me, immediately after this deal, I finalized another order with a client based in Jaipur. Then, I received documents for an annual tender from a big Spanish company to supply them with 500 tonnes of product. The outcome for the tender is still not known yet. My informal interactions with the Spanish client had been positive so far. I do hope to receive a positive answer from him soon.

Why has VP suddenly become responsive? My wishful thinking is that after two quick deals, the VP may be sensing that my stars may be rising. So he may want to align with me slowly. Another guess is that the CEO was on the copy of all emails pertaining to the Patna deal and he would have noticed the VP’s trying to make things difficult. So it was possible that CEO may have called the VP from overseas and have asked to co-operate with me. If my second guess is the reason which made VP responsive these days, then it may last only for a short-term. Let us see!

It is not that VP’s responses are always qualitative. His English is rather poor and half the time, I do not understand what he writes about. VP finds it convenient to reply only those emails which concerns about domain he is comfortable with. Any projects which requires study of technical feasibility and which has a long-term scope does not elicit any response from him. Either his confidence is too low or he does not want me to succeed on those deals! There is a high probability that the former is the reason!

CEO had become very excited about the month-long trip on the eve of departing. It looked very childish to me. He neither prepared himself for various customer meetings nor collected copies of correspondences etc. One can be extempore in a public talk, but for business meetings? Need one not be prepared?

After every meeting, he used to call me on phone and brief me in a weird way. He has this tact of talking absolutely bereft of points or sense.

“I met XYX Corp’ Director. I asked him to buy from us. He says he cannot buy all the products from us. I told him he need not buy all the products, but few products from us. He is landing in India tomorrow for some personal work. So you can call him up on his US Mobile number and persuade him to buy from us”

My head started spinning. If I have to call up the customer on his phone to canvass business, when he is on a visit to India,  What was CEO doing in New York? How can one have a conversation with a customer in such a general fashion like the excerpt shown above? Shouldn’t we be talking about the past discussions with the customer, about the products discussed on the last occasion the customer visited the plant, and more specific details, etc? How can one have open-ended discussions if one wants to have some outcome? Are CEOs made this way? If CEO can’t conclude anything, why is he traveling in the first place? Won’t it make more sense to allow me or B to travel? At least, it gives chance to CEO to ask for results from us. Now who can ask CEO about results of the trip?

The Capitalist Circus

I remember going to circus when I was a kid. After a show, I was returning home along with my Dad. Asked him “wish there are more than two jokers in a circus…infact all players should be jokers only..no ring master..no motor-riders..no acrobats etc…only jokers”….Dad remarked “if there are only jokers, it wont be called a Circus. We need all the characters to make circus more interesting”. Dad may have been right. But I still felt having full of jokers would only make circus more interesting. I did not realise that to enjoy such a circus, the viewers also have to be jokers.

The problem is that I refuse to become a joker myself. The circus I am talking about is the preparation of a capital budgeting proposal to be presented to the board of directors on the need to build a new freezing tunnel in the factory. Two of the Cartel Members (Finance and Production) and the VP parked themselves in the office in advance of three days. I was also embroiled into the proceedings when I was asked to project sales for next 5 years. wow…I am yet to make a decent sales myself in these 6 months and I am asked to predict sales for 5 years. what an honour! The sales projection for 5 years was needed as the Finance Manager wanted to work out pay-back period.

I just ran my imagination wild…and projected a volume of 800 tonnes in the current year and 4000 tonnes in the fifth year. Finance Manager made me sit with him and went through the costing for each product. As expected, he further increased the sales price by another two rupees in view of the investment in Freezing Tunnels. A whopping 5 crores (Rs 50 Millions) is being planned to be invested! I did not understand why the benefits of having a new and improved freezing tunnels are not being discounted to the current pricing structure to help us tap increased sales, but only costs being added to the price. The poor sales manager (that is myself!) has to bring Rs 2 per kilo more to the already over-costed product prices. hmm…things are going to be tough for me! I could not laugh like a joker.

I learned that it was the production manager’s “technical expertise” which helped arrive the magical figure of 50 Million Rupees as capital investment for this project. Apparently, two quotations were secured from two contractors based in the town where the factory is situated.

The production manager spent a good amount of time with me. He sought out ideas from me on modern freezing tunnels that are coming. He also sought my assistance to speak to some contacts from the Industry and to exchange notes on the project. These reputed consultants or project contractors are from Pune and Mumbai. Those guys discussed modern innovations such as maintenance-less compressors, tri-mix flooring needed for the freezing tunnels, plastic racking systems instead of steel, panelling instead of cement building etc., They also advised that these measures would bring down the project costs substantially. I also introduced the production manager to a friend of mine, working in another company. The company which this friend of mine is working is also building a freezing chambers in their factory. We asked that friend about the project details and about the outlay for the project. He replied – 10 Million. This confirmed my view that our project cost is over-estimated. The Production Manager said that he will consult these guys again once the project is approved by the board.

We three (myself, Finance Manager and Production Manager) were sitting with CEO. I raised the question of outlay – “don’t you think 50 millions is too high investment for a 1000 tonnes Freezing Tunnel?” CEO asked me in an irritating voice – “when did you become a technical staff? Do you think the Production Manager is insane?”. Production Manager was grinning. Finance Manager was expressionless. I did not know what to say. Then I said -” I am not. But I talk from the experience of working in other places”. CEO did not pay cognisance to what I said. He started discussing some unrelated subject with the Finance Manager.

It appeared that the project did not go through in the board meeting. CEO mentioned to me the next day that other directors are sore about this quarter’s performance. This made me presume that the project proposal did not find the board’s approval. After a couple of hours, I heard from H (CEO’s secretary) that the CEO and the tea-drinking Director are sitting in Chairman’s chamber. I also heard that the Chairman could not attend the previous day’s board meeting as he had returned from a far-east country only the previous night.

After a day, we all received a circular from CEO’s office that the Freezing Tunnel project is cleared by the Chairman. To my surprise, I noticed that the storage capacity had been reduced from proposed 1000 tonnes to only 500 tonnes. I looked at the financial outlay. It remained unchanged at Rs 50 Millions. The logical explanation to this change was escaping me.

I was discussing with a friendly colleague about all these. This person works in Corporate Finance dept of the Group. He is responsible for raising finance for capital investment of any of the group companies. He was not surprised about 5o millions. He said – “they have become sensible and have made plans which do not need a lot of outlay. Three years back they planned for an expansion at Rs 350 Millions…whose capacity is utilised at present just 15%.”

A lesson in Capital Budgetting indeed!

Stale-mate or Work-in-progress?

The work has not been going right for me. I sense a lull in flow. The passion with which I went about eliciting enquiries seems to have subsided now, mainly due to lack of any major success so far. Apart from the savoury company which bought a small volume and a trader in Hyderabad who had ordered a truck load, there was no other note-worthy success.

Some people say that the work is a process and not an end. Do I place much emphasis on visible results and not simply focus on the process? This could be the case.

My clinging to gain instant recognition is hard to go by. I do not seem to resist the idea of recognition and crave it unceasingly. If I do not get, I strive for it so badly that I tend to unbalance the process itself as it unfolds.

Do I see a pattern here on what happened in my earlier job? During my first six months there, my work was noticed very much. A sizeable first order brought in euphoria. And then much inquiries followed. Few foreign trips materialized. But after that, the enthusiasm died down when none of the enquiries fructified. Few heartburn of colleagues ensured that my job allocation got altered unreasonably. Then I started losing momentum. The pattern is obvious.

What could I have done better in my earlier organisation?

I should not have lost momentum at my lack of success. I should not have viewed my senior as a friend and should not have started venting my frustrations. I should have maintained a healthy distance with him. I should not have shown excessive competitiveness with my colleague. I should have regularly cleansed my jealous emotions that arose on seeing the colleague booking more business. I should not have carried the so-called sense of superiority in me with regard to the colleague. I should have refrained from criticizing the colleague openly. Instead of focusing exclusively on results, I should have focused on learning and observation.

Does the past give any clues about what should I do?

– The start is usually good. So I am a good beginner. But I seem to be having troubles finishing. So I give up and start looking for change. The change is not helping me at all, as the patterns re-emerge. (Analysing more deeply, even the notion that I am not able to finish may not be true….in my previous organization, I had got a very major deal with huge profitability just a few days before being relieved..)

– I have this tendency to look for friendships inside the organization. Some times in Bosses, Sometime in the colleagues. I seem to be searching for friends in a fiercely competitive place called – Organisation. When I do not find a friend in Boss or in the colleagues, I view the environment as harsh.

– I tend to colour the events with a lot of emotions. So my view, at times, are not balanced. I always tend to wear my emotions in my sleeve. This ruffles others who do not understand my point of view. I do not understand the simple fact that everyone cannot and will not understand my view.

– In the process, I always set my self very high standards. I am not able to accept my own short-comings and be able to live with it. If I am good to myself, If I am moderate in my expectations, then I will be able to accept others – be it the Boss which has his faults, be it the colleagues who are competing. Only in accepting the things and people as they are, lies the mechanics of improving whatever one thinks as imperfect.

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Am I really feeling the lull now? Why am I feeling it?

Let me list out the business opportunities which have brought me to a stand-still at this point of time. May be, listing them out would make me look at them objectively thereby help me gaining different perspective with which those opportunities can be approached at.

– The Canadian customer pushing goal-posts every time I think he is about to finalize. First it was on pricing, now on the packaging format…… is he chasing a real business opportunity? If it is a real and present opportunity, why is he not clear about two main components – price and packing?

– The savoury preparations company in Bangalore keeps asking for two new products. The Purchase Head was chasing me for a while on phone but when I sent him the product images for his confirmation, he became silent. When I called him to remind him on this, again he sounded interested. But no communications later on. Did we take a long time in responding to his needs? Has he in the meanwhile started working with a different supplier?

– The Pizza chain agreed to test our second sample (after our first sample was approved and our price quote was considered ridiculously expensive! – https://hemgan.wordpress.com/2010/05/27/the-closed-screen/ ). But the rejected the second sample as unusable. Our QA manager also agreed with their observations without any counter-arguments. So I presume type B samples may have been really bad.

– The fast food chain in Mumbai still has not sent us the images of their current raw materials for our technical team to check. Our guys are also equally belligerent that they will not make samples unless they receive the product images from the client.

– The Ketch-up and Sauces brand has taken unusually long time in evaluating our samples. The needed improvements in our sample were communicated after a long wait and many phone calls. The concerned staff in that company are always traveling. So when I call them – they say “X is in Patna today, Y is in Kochi, Z is returning from Cuttack tomorrow.”…This sounds very strange because the people I follow-up with are mostly R&D personnel. When the guys are always on the move, when will they work?

– The importer in Japan has passed on our samples to his client, waiting for feedback. In this case, no stale-mate yet.

– The flavour-extracting company had asked for our standard specifications of a particular product. The technical head of theirs and our QA manager are having difference of opinion over most permitted Total Plate Counts (a microbiological measure ) in the product. They both are tired with their arguments and stopped exchanging emails. The project has completely come to a stand-still.

– Two inquiries received from Italy and Turkey are yet to be replied to, as I am waiting indefinitely for pricing from the factory.

– The American Retail sourcing company have cancelled their agreed visit to our plant twice and am still waiting for them communicating a new date.

– Another US Client visited the plant and was impressed about it. Bur did not accept our quotations though. Not sure what they have in mind about working with us. If they show some signs, then we can walk the extra mile…they have been aloof and indifferent.

Hmm…not bad…I have been pursuing many leads…. why should they be viewed as stale-mates? Shouldn’I consider them as work-in-progress?

Calm mind, Clear Understanding, Not giving-up mentally, Keeping patience, Clear focus……what more do I need to keep going?……persistence against odds….actually, nothing is at stake….just to keep on working…that’s all…

The Reality Show

 The two days that I spent in the factory have revealed few more things of which I was not aware so far. The finance manager who is one of the cartel member is a complex personality. I have noticed his closeness to CEO. CEO considers him his man in the factory. I saw his different side this time.

On the first day evening, he joined us for dinner. CEO was at his usual self uttering stupidity after stupidity in the name of humour. When we went to the restaurant, we found one corner and was sitting there. While the server was giving us the drinks, the CEO had a glimpse of a woman on the opposite corner holding a beer glass in her hands. “wow..the lady with a drinks” -The CEO muttered and then said to us “I think we are sitting in a wrong corner…might feel suffocated soon…let us shift places”. We moved over to adjacent table where “the lady with the drink” was sitting.

Strange are the ways of CEO’s thinking. Just because the lady consumes Beer or alcoholic drinks, she is looked at as glamour woman. The poor lady with the Drink had come with a small boy who would not be older than ten years. I did hear the lady uttering some rhyme to this boy while the CEO was continuing his stupid talks with the finance manager.

The talks slowly got diverted to official matters. The Finance Manager started bitching about the VP and then about B himself. He kept harping on the continued depreciation of Euro these days. Most of the volume of exports that we do are denominated in Euros. The prolonged depreciation has been hitting our bottom line. While the export contracts are done on an annual basis with a fixed price, the currency depreciation that may happen later will cut the price realisations.

While the currency management is a matter of financial department, our finance manager kept blaming B for not re-negotiating the contracts with the customers and get price increases.

CEO : “B was telling me that he has managed 1 euro increase from one of the customers…is it not helping us?”

FM :”no sir, it is not so. It was earlier a FOB shipment, now it is changed to Cost and Freight terms with some nominal increase. whatever increase we got will be nullified by the marine freight we would be paying”

CEO : “is it? I did not know this. Raise this topic in tomorrow’s meeting…I shalk ask B for explanations”

The above conversation was a complete surprise to me. I always had thought that the Cartel is closely knit. It seemed there are ambitions and competition among the Cartel also. In my view, Finance Manager is just cribbing about B and the customers without doing anything using financial instruments such as Forward Contracts.

I do know that B has been giving monthly shipping schedules to the finance department for planning cash flows.  Finance Manager does not seem to be interested in managing currency risks using hedging instruments, but more interested in blaming B.

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Next day, when I reached the factory, I entered into B’s chamber. We discussed about sales related matters for a while. Thereafter, B asked me about the dinner yesterday. Usually B does not speak these topics. I said to him that the Finance manager (Let us call him FM for convenience) joined us for the dinner. He said he was aware. I wondered aloud how.

B : “FM himself came to me this morning and told me about it”

me : …

B : “did he complain to CEO about the price increase that I got with Danish customer?”

me : “he did….but how did you know”

B : “he came and told me about it”

me : “that’s strange….but why did he back-bite first with CEO and then inform to you as well?”

B : “because he knows very well that I would anyway come to know about his complaining…he is scared, that’s why he informed me in advance”

Then B explained about the formula of price increase he got. Actually B did the right thing and acted like a shrewd commercial guy. The customer wanted to convert the FOB delivery terms to CFR (Cost and freight). At that time, B had used the pretext of higher logistics cost to get a price increase which is more than the real freight component itself.

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In the meeting, FM raised the issue as planned. CEO uttered irrelevancies and then asked for explanation. B was ready for it and he had carried the workings and correspondence copies with him for the meeting. Appropriate explanations were exchanged. Every one was satisfied.

The observer in me had a hearty laugh. what is this called?  A well-orchestrated and pre-scripted meeting…just like the popular reality shows!

Words and Silences

One day, it was decided that I and CEO would travel to the factory and interact with the staff there for a couple of days. I was not clear why I should be visiting the factory. I did not particularly ask the question and just decided to go with him.

On the way to the factory, CEO was on a very preachy mood and started emphasising the need to stay cool irrespective of any situation. He also said keeping one’s emotions under control is vital for success. To me, it looked as if his tone concealed more than it wanted to show. Many times, I have noticed he switches into preaching mood either when he wants to demonstrate his domination on the listener or when he wants subtly to push the listener to agree to something.

On reaching the factory, the first meeting went off without any incident. I did notice that VP was avoiding eye contact with me. He did not address me even once during the conversation. Then CEO suddenly addressed B and asked him if he could use his usual charm demeanour and talk so that these two guys (indicating me and VP) become friends. This was not expected.

There was an air uncomfortability inside the chamber. When CEO exited the chamber, it seemed B did not know how to start the conversation. poor B, what does he have to do with VP’s hate towards me? I think it was a dumb move by CEO. Both I and VP was taken by surprise by this. I also did know for a while how to handle the situation in which I was thrown in through the designs of CEO. is he trying to prove that he is a master strategist? or is he hinting at me to sort of my issues with VP myself? what happened to his repeated requests earlier to find some replacement for VP? has his efforts to get rid of VP have met with the resistance of the Director?

I grinned and started talking to VP – “we had no major incidents in our interaction so far, except for the heated argument we had over the fast food client (“The Rough Weather”). Our differences of opinion may have sparked emotions in both of us. Then when you mentioned something which I thought was unparliamentary, I also retorted back. If you think I had insulted you or something, then let me apologise unconditionally. I hold you in respect for you are elder to me and also my senior in this company. what more I can say….”

VP’s response was rather muted and evasive. Instead of being authentic, he went into avoidance mode. He asked irrelevant questions – “are you not getting answers to all your emails from the factory managers? are you not getting all the samples you are requesting?….I really do not know whats happening here”…he was incohesive…was keeping his face rather stiff…. The conversation was uncomfortable. In order to put this to an end, I made an overture….”come on sir, let us shake hands”…..I extended my hand to him…but he did not give his hands. He said  “I cannot shake hands with you”. Lamely, I pulled back my hand. then the uneasy silence continued for a few minutes….then I stood up, went towards the sofa kept for visitors and sat on it. I took out my laptop from my bag and tried to check my mails. Wi-Fi was not connecting.

Then VP asked “what is your agenda for coming here?”. I shook my head to indicate I do not know. He sarcastically said “so you have come without an agenda”. I did not respond back.

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The next day, the CEO chaired a meeting consisting of all Factory departmental heads. When the meeting took up things that I was working on, I was asked to list the issues I am facing. I complained about high cost structure which is not enabling me to get some breakthroughs. Then the meeting discussed the individual product costings and VP took the lead. In the meeting, it was decided that I should try to finalize some trial businesses at low prices just to get started on my side of things. It was not that I agreed everything with what the team members in the meeting were saying. Mostly I kept quiet.

Then when I asked if I can send out the quotes now itself, one by one conditionality got added : (1) The pricing will be valid only for three days. Any orders confirmed within three days will be executed at these “low” prices. (2) The “trial” business has to be for minimum order of two container loads each (3) a margin of at least 5-8% will have to be added to the suggested low “prices”.

After the meeting, CEO was proudly asking me in private – “see how VP has changed his attitude and co-operating by agreeing for low prices” I nodded my head fakely.

While I was typing out the quotations to the target customers, my mind was asking me – “am I getting into the web spinned by the VP? is he challenging me silently that I wont be able to finalize even if we cut the prices drastically?….what if there was no results after this “historic agreement” to work at the realistic low-level pricing?…….”

Then there is over-powering voice within me which sounded saner than the logical and suspecting mind – “If no desired results come about, even if VP thinks he has defeated you, how does it matter? are you here to prove anything to anyone? If you think you are thrust in an unwanted power struggle between VP and CEO, what can you do about it? If CEO tries to show off to people in the factory that you are his chum…so be it. You were never his chum. You are neither with CEO nor with VP. You are pursuing your own path and are on your journey. Just stay in the process as long as you are here. Process is about doing what you think is right. Getting the results is not your responsibility”

While the saner voice was speaking to me inside, my phone rang – A customer from Hyderabad was on the line. He had confirmed a truck load of goods a week back. I had not received the agreed 25% advance. He was apologetic and said he had finally remitted the funds now. He was asking me to check with our bankers if the funds had hit us.

On the same day evening, I received a mail from a  Canadian client asking if they can confirm a business at prices 10% below our quoted price. 10% was only a negotiation margin which I had kept. I knew what my reply is going to be.

The Commas without Fullstops

The CEO is very inventive on how to defer avoiding taking any decisions.  I have been seeing  this from the beginning itself. Of late, his indecisiveness has reached peak proportions.

On one particular deal, he tested my endurance so much by being unreasonably rigid about extending a small credit terms to a good customer. I was convinced that this customer is credit-worthy.

When I had almost given up on the deal, the customer came down a bit and offered to pay on delivery of goods. It was late in the night when customer spoke to me. So I decided to email about it to CEO.

Next day morning, CEO called me to his chamber promptly. I thought he would be happy with the progress made with this particular client. But he said this was not acceptable and now wanted 100% pre-payment before the goods leave the factory. Inside me, there is upsurge of anger and was about to erupt outside as words any time.  Luckily, his phone rang at that time.  As he was about to pick that phone up, he said I will call you later. I came out quickly. I must thank the phone call, lest I would have really brought out the anger outside.  Althought I did not let out the anger, the anger persisted inside and I was able to sense the losing of energy from inside.

After a couple of hours, he again called me to his chamber. This time, he wanted to discuss the language of my email which I sent to him the previous night.  I found it really silly when he mentioned some fullstop, comma errors in my English.

He wondered aloud – “While emailing is convenient, the quality of the correspondence goes down. In a speed, we just type whatever that comes to mind. We do not think and write. In my younger days, I used to dictate the letter to our secretaries, then we will read the draft, make more changes after careful thought and then only the letter will be finalized. In this SMS era, there is hardly any quality in communications”.

While he was about continue his intellectual musings further, my phone rang. I excused myself and came out to talk on phone. I did not go back to his chamber later. Phones are a boon!

The Closed Screen

Negativity that we undergo from time to time is like a Theatre Screen. It obstructs the show while preparations are on in the other side. If the viewer gets impatient or restless about the closed screen and leaves the theatre mid-way, then he will miss the joyous show ahead.

The internal mood during negativity can be very tumultuous. It might force us to do something impulsive, or stupid. In fact, few of my previous job shifts were the results of becoming impatient about seeing the closed stage screen. So, while we observe the negativity from inside as it floats around, we should stay clinging to our deep-seated faith that the screen will be lifted soon and the show will start.

I have been wooing a potentially a large volume customer for quite sometime. Finally, the time came for us to send our best prices. When I emailed him the rate, there was complete silence. Then I spoke to him over phone ; did not sound enthusiastic. We agreed to meet each other personally.

Prior to the quotation process, this particular customer had sampled his current product and wanted us to match or better that. The technical team had no practical point of view while submitting the product sample to the client. They took a very ideal view and submitted A-grade sample which, as expected, was approved by the customer. Our technical team, in its enthusiasm, exceeded the quality of sample submitted by the client. I infer that the customer’s sample may have been B-grade.

In our exuberance to impress, the market reality was ignored. We did not realize that the client is used to certain price level and the quality can be commensurately lower than our premium quality A-grade sample. It may also be possible that the VP must have influenced the QA manager to send A-grade sample to this client (despite knowing market conditions!) to sabotage my efforts.

When the customer saw our price, he was taken aback. It was too steep. As we being a new supplier and trying to get entry as a supplier into that large company, we did not do any favour to ourselves by quoting unreasonably high price, ignoring market realities.

My minutes of the meeting subsequent to my personal meeting with the customer triggered a dialogue process, which in itself a positive development.

I was aware that we do not have regular buyers for our B grade product. Infrequently, we are able to sell B grade at price far less than what indicated by this particular customer.

Now, the moot point is – should we re-sample the product or not? My answer was – no need. It was because that the customer himself will not use the product that we will be supplying and it will be distributed to various franchisee restaurants for consumption. I was proposing to ship a trial consignment of B grade only without informing them so. If the trial supply goes through smoothly, we can safely enter into annual contract with them.

The CEO as usual was non-committal and did not want to take any decisions himself. This was evident from his saying that he would be discussing with the factory guys when he visits there in about ten days from now.

Surprisingly, the tea-drinking director took sudden interest in this business. So he called me into his chamber, where as usual CEO was already sitting there. Inescapably, I was served with Black tea as usual. The director did not approve of my idea. He said that what I am proposing is not ethical. He felt that we should somehow make them to approve our B-grade sample and then go ahead with trial order. My practical approach had to give in to his holistic cum authoritative approach.

The Director’s and the CEO’s apparent apathy to diagnose the deeper ill – lack of business perspective by the factory team and its leaders – did disturb me a little. I chose to over-look that and concentrate on further process ahead.

I decided to go by what the Director told and started thinking ways to propose re-sampling of our product again by the customer. Do not know if their Vendor Management / QA Systems will permit this. CEO had asked B to re-do the costing of B-grade product and inform me. I think I would propose the revised quote with a provision to re-submit the samples. Let me see what their response will be.

Just staying in the process without expecting any one particular outcome is very soothing. It helps enormously to stay centred and to keep negativity at bay. Under present environment that I find myself in, it may be the only suitable way as the variables and actors are too many. Why to rush out hurriedly on seeing the closed screen or be under the spell of negativity? The wait for a glorious play to begin may not be long.

In the name of Respect

Mostly people start invariably from the bottom – except for a blessed few!  From my own experiences so far, I have seen and observed that the concept of respect keeps changing at various levels.

Twenty years back, I started working with an ice-cream brand. I used to address everyone “sir” – the immediate supervisor (who at the every opportunity will go out of office at any pretext to be with his brother to aid him in Auditing assignments), the drunkard Junior accounts executive (whom I later came to know as a school drop out), the Fatty Cashier (  who will keep on counting more than ten times even if it is Rs 300 that he is disbursing ) and an angry assistant production manager (who threw his weight around by shouting at everyone for no reason – Later, I came to know that GM production did not rate him highly and because of this, this assistant production manager was suffering from low self-esteem. His throwing weight around must have served him therapeutically).

The demonstration of too much respect helps one initially. When one starts without any working experience, there is no pre-conceived notion of superiority in one self. It is easy to get along with people at any level then, by demonstrating a lot of respect externally. As one grows in the career, some sort of expertise is acquired in whatever function one focuses on. By that time, one’s individual value systems decide how he shows his respect towards the senior and junior colleagues.

If one is a practical career-oriented person and an insecure one in heart, then he gives the superiors too much respect and over-does it to the point of embarrassment to others. One of my ex-colleagues (with whom I am still maintaining contact) went to the extent that he used to carry the GM Marketing’s personal luggage when he accompanied on any official tours. He is now a GM in a tea exports company. I feel sorry for the guys who would be working under him now. They must be carrying his weight – both figuratively and literally!

In some industries such as advertising, IT etc, I have heard that the environment is very informal. So the employees are encouraged to call any colleague on a first name basis, irrespective of the hierarchy. I have not had the opportunity of working is any such organizations, except on one occasion when I was working for a Foreign company. It was about ten years back. I had a few Indian colleagues working with me. We used to find it very difficult to address our Chairman plainly as Lee (His full name was Stanley Lee). My colleague and friend – Dhiraj Bansal – who is from Delhi – forgetfully addressed him as “Lee Saab” once. Mr. Lee said – “I don’t own a Saab, Dhiraj. I drive Mercedes”.

In my present organization, I see that all managers are called sir by everyone. I find this too strange considering that Indian corporate scene had undergone so much cultural change in the recent times.

Many times the garb of respect is worn when one is low on competency and confidence. The VP (who is almost 5 levels senior to me in hierarchy) always addresses me as Mr. Raman in his emails. Ditto while talking over phone also. I told him a few times that he can call me without adding Mr as prefix.  He replied – “I am always trained to give respect to all people who I work with”…..hmm….immediately after saying this, he called B for something – not as Mr., but on B’s first name. So VP has communicated something to me through this – “Do not expect me to be friendly with you, Mr. Raman.” So respect also acts as a tool of disdain – if one does not want to become informal and to keep colleagues at a distance.

B is little weirder. B communicates minimally with me, thereby not allowing me to know him clearly. However I do get glimpses to his “real” personality at times. Whenever I call him on phone for official matters, he starts the conversation with a predictable sentence – “Raman Saab, hukm kariye” which roughly means “Mr. Raman, I am at your command”. This sounds so shallow. Such phrases hide people’s real faces and intentions. No, actually they give out the signals which we can decode – “Please do not come close to me. Tell me only what you want me to do. I shall do it if it is convenient”.

Last time I spoke to B, the conversation started with the customary I am at your command. I asked if I could get an action plan for one of the projects which we were working on. He said I cannot get it, as the computer systems at the factory is down and is not expected to be in order for several hours. After I had put the receiver down, I immediately received an e-mail from B – a forward mail which he had sent to all his contacts (it seems that he had included me also in his mailing lists…..I am lucky!).  His forward mail contained the image of some saint whose Samadhi is located somewhere near Rishikesh. The mail instructed its recipients to forward the image to at least 8 people. I acted as if I am at B’s command and immediately forwarded the mail to 8 of my contacts.