Column: Corporate dreadmill

Nice guys can finish first

By Rakesh K. Simha

The boss wants to see you.” That was Lisa, the pert little secretary of the new president, Rajiv, of this huge, crabby outfit where I run the 10-hour rat race every day. Although she can make it sound like an orde —and she’s pretty good at being bossy (more on that another day)—I don’t mind it one bit. Hell, she knows, and more importantly I know, that Rajiv’s calling me to handle something important. It could be: “Simha, why don’t you look at that Mckinsey deal; Arun’s pretty much raw and could use your experience.”

A few hours later, it could be: “Marketing’s on autopilot after Aditya left; just watch the boys and guide them.” Better still: “This Linus is too much; impossible to contact when you need him; spending too much company time on his personal life. Blast, he’s on the mobile all the time.” 
Linus is the head of my department of which I’m the No.2. Rajiv doesn’t think much of Linus and there’s no way I’m going to miss up that opportunity.You see, after all the lousy bosses I’ve suffered these past 10 years, after being deferential to my immediate bosses all these years and having got a dead dodo in the bargain, I’d veered around to the view “You’re on your own, baby”.

Hey, I’ve got absolutely nothing against Linus. Poor fellow, he’s insecure as hell ever since I joined this place and he’s afraid that I’ve been brought to replace him. All right, now that reader sympathy’s gravitating towards Linus, let me fill you on some events of the recent past. 

A crash course at Harvard wouldn’t have pried him out of the eighties mindset that he was stuck in. He was glued in and clued out

Linus just doesn’t make the cut. Sure, he’s been through the grind and has stuck with the firm and all that. But perhaps because he didn’t have the exposure to global standards, he just lost it when those standards came home. A crash course at Harvard wouldn’t have pried him out of the eighties mindset that he was stuck in. He was glued in and clued out.

Now there were quite a few technologically and professionally challenged persons in my department, which by the way is brand promotion. Guess, where their loyalties lay? I had a hard time controlling this unruly bunch and they liked to report everything to Linus after I’d briefed them.

Though turf issues really didn’t bother me, I just didn’t like it because of the time they wasted in reporting stuff back to Linus. It also confused the brighter, younger lot that often did the same thing. Were Linus and his underlings more powerful or was Simha, who kept getting calls from Rajeev and the odd marketing babe, likely to take over? OK, I just made it difficult for them 
by fishing out my mobile and saying: 
‘Yes Rajeev.’ ‘Sure Rajeev.’ ‘You got it 
done.’ ‘Ooh, that’s swell. I don’t believe it.’ ‘Yeah, but I can’t say that over the phone right now.’ Words designed to spread shock and awe among listeners.

As I entered Rajiv’s office, I wondered what it was this time. I wondered whether I’d goofed up somewhere. Actually he’d called me to introduce me to Ajay, who I was told had joined as vice-president. As usual, Rajiv was in troubleshooting mode. 
The west and the south had been cribbing about glitches in the supply chain. He had a plan: the department would be split into three areas to fix responsibility; Ajay, I and Linus would handle each one. Ajay was quiet, so I said: “Rajiv, it would make a world of difference if you announced the changes in a meeting and then implemented them. That way everybody is there to get the message.” Translation: Linus gets the message.

“Yeah I’m calling a meeting in an hour’s time and we’ll take it from there,” said Rajeev. This guy has been sent by someone up there who likes me. Ajay 
and I hit it off together. He was modern and though older than me he didn’t 
mind being obsequious in my presence. Wonder how insecure people are. But 
for the fact that I was where I was, I’d be insecure too.

The meeting started off quietly. And minus the usual jokes this time. Linus had a worried look on his face. I had no sympathies for him; he’d sided with a rebellious junior recently and had probably encouraged the twerp to attack me. To me that was criminally dumb behaviour. No.1 and No.2 are supposed to be friends. He’d asked for it and I wasn’t about to shield him from the flak that was about to hit him. 

Rajeev began the barrage. “Linus, I’ve seen that you are clearly overworked. Now that Ajay has joined we need to apportion work as per skills. The junior executives need some mentoring. Which is why the management has decided to split the division in three. You stay on as the collective 
head but Ajay and Simha will handle south and west. The brand promotion team will be split accordingly.” This was Dilbert stuff. Linus was speechless. He choked and tried to swallow hard. He must have wished his chair had an ejection button. He tried to wiggle out, saying the rank and file would feel confused if there was such a splitting of responsibilities. A cohort seconded it. 

I had to come to Rajeev’s aid. “I am sure Linus will ensure the targets are met despite the organisational rejig. Besides, nobody is getting the boot,” I offered, to Linus’ discomfort.

Akhila, a senior vice-president who had come to attend the meeting, joined forces with us. Though a very nice person, I’d always believed she was pally with Linus. But she said: “Let’s try it out this quarter. Besides, how can it hurt? We have the same team, the same products, same office. And you are still boss.” Linus nodded. At that time I was afraid of only one thing — that he’d start bawling all of a sudden.

By day, Rakesh K. Simha is a real executive at a real company he’d rather not name.

September 2005

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