Bosses and How To Survive Them – Part 43: Playing ‘Shikhandi’ for the Boss
While working in the Middle East, my bank received a request from none other than His Highness (HH) the Crown Prince. The request was for a US$300 million loan for a new project launched by HH.
 
On account of the personality involved, I was specially deputed to discuss the matter with HH’s office and finalise the loan.
 
The person I had to deal with was a retired British army brigadier. He was backed by a whole team of lawyers who kept coming up with demands that were impossible to fulfill, such as issuing a letter of credit in their own format instead of the world standard Uniform Customs and Practice for Documentary Credits (UCPDC) format.
 
The discussions dragged on and on with long letters written in legalese emanating from the brigadier. Every time I received a letter, I had to show it to my boss and discuss how we should respond.
 
My boss would tell me verbally what to write, but he would not sign the reply himself, nor would he initial the draft to record that he approved of what was being written.
 
I was in a dilemma.  
 
If I issued a letter based on what the boss had said, and the brigadier took umbrage and complained to HH, the resultant fallout would be 100% on my head. My boss would tell the managing director (MD), ‘I don’t know why on earth he sent such a letter. He should have asked me. I would never have allowed such a letter to go to the HH’s office’.
 
If, on the other hand, I asked my boss to record his approval of the letter, he would not only refuse to do so, but would also get very annoyed with me.
 
I was the ‘Shikhandi’ for the boss to protect himself while returning salvoes to the brigadier.
 
(For those unfamiliar with the Mahabharata – the Pandavas attacked and killed the great warrior Bhishma while hiding behind Shikhandi, knowing that Bhishma would not shoot back fearing that he could hurt Shikhandi, because in his previous life Shikhandi had been a woman.) 
 
So, I chose the ‘deep blue sea’, relied on myself, and signed all the replies without the written approval of the boss. 
 
Fortunately, I survived. The deal went through and everyone was happy.
 
The “Not Responsible’ Boss
 
A young national had become the manager of a branch where the main business was car loans and personal loans.
 
A year later, a routine internal audit took place at the branch. Strangely, the day after the auditors arrived, two of the branch staff, both Pakistanis, suddenly resigned. One was the officer-in-charge of car loans and the other was the sales officer for car loans.
 
The audit revealed that many of the car loans given in the past one year had turned bad. No instalments were coming in and the borrowers could not be found. Further investigation showed that the documents in these loan files, such as passport copies and car registrations, were photocopies of photocopies. 
 
It was soon clear that the documents were forgeries, and that there had been quite a large-scale fraud, most probably carried out by the two Pakistani staff members, who had recently resigned and who were found to have left the country.
 
The manager was questioned. As expected, he protested that he knew nothing of the frauds.
 
“But you have approved all these loan applications. See, you have signed ‘Approved’ on each one of them,” the auditor had pointed out.
 
“Yes, of course, I have signed. I am the branch manager. I have to sign.”
 
“But didn’t you check the papers before signing? It is so clear that the papers were all fakes!”
 
“No, I didn’t check. That is the job of the staff. My job is to sign.”
 
“I am not responsible!”
 
Needless to say, nothing happened to the “not responsible” young national.  The whole matter was a part of his learning process, it was held.
 
He was transferred and later promoted.
 
The Boss’s “Job Description”
 
Young Mustafa was a charming young national with whom I had become quite friendly. We used to converse in broken Urdu or Hindi rather than English – his English was ‘not strong’.
 
Mustafa was promoted to the position of commercial manager of a large branch. His role was to develop business, keep track on the goings-on in the nearby wholesale market, and build relationships with important businessmen.
 
But Mustafa had other ideas, very clear ideas, at that.
 
I asked him, “Bhai Mustafa, tum commercial manager ban ke kya karega?” (Brother Mustafa, what will you do as commercial manager?)
 
Mustafa replied:
 
“Mera ek bada office hoga.” (I will have a big office.)
 
“Bahar ek secretary hogi. Gori hogi to achha hai.” (There will be a secretary outside, better if she is white.)
 
“Andar sofa hoga.” (There will be a sofa inside.)
 
“Dost-log ayega, chai piyega, baat karega.” (Friends will come, drink tea, chat.)
 
“Paper aayega, sign karega.” (Papers will come. I will sign.)
 
Have you ever seen a clearer job description?
 
(Deserting engineering after a year in a factory, Amitabha Banerjee did an MBA in the US and returned to India. Choosing work-to-live over live-to-work, he joined banking and worked for various banks in India and the Middle East. Post-retirement, he returned to his hometown Kolkata and is now spending his golden years travelling the world (until Covid, that is), playing bridge, befriending Netflix & Prime Video and writing in his wife’s travel blog.)
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