A new fortnightly column by marketing whiz Walter Vieira
It was Peter Drucker who set the example. By writing an interesting and immensely readable book, titled “My Times, Others’ Lives”. So, when Debashis Basu, the editor of MoneyLife and I were swapping stories one evening, he suggested that I also do my brand of a Peter Drucker—at least in this respect! Could I dip into my memories of over 50 years of a working career as a corporate executive and later, as a management consultant, much of it in India , and some of it abroad—to work out thumbnail sketches of people I have worked with, or just met, or seen, or even heard about ? Would this be interesting as profiles in management, or even as a backdrop of how business was done in the 1960s to now in the 2000s? Debashish felt that it would. And I picked up my pen and dipped into the past….
It was my first interview in the early 1960s. I had graduated in science, and then again, in pharmaceutical technology. A friend of my dad’s suggested that I go and meet Col Mohinder Singh of TCF—a pharmaceutical company in the Rallis group at that time. It was my first interview for a job, and I was so excited!
The colonel had an opulent office, set in immaculately tended gardens at Andheri. He was punctual and courteous, but curt and not friendly. He glanced at my CV and asked – What would you like to do? I said, that depends on what openings are available! He said that I could work as a junior in the liquids department—and the pay would be X.
Perhaps, I looked scruffy, so he offered me a scruffy salary. It was so scruffy, that I was bold enough to tell him that I would not be able to smoke my brand of cigarettes at that salary! He turned red in the face. He was not used to 'back-answering'. Army discipline had invaded civvy street.
“Then you should change to a cheaper brand of cigarettes Mr Vieira,” he shot back. He was blunt and curt and just with his tone, he indicated that the interview had come to an end.
I thanked him as courteously as I could bring myself to do and left. I was relieved to be in the cool and fresh Andheri air outside (it was fresh in 1961!). As I walked towards the gate, I smelled the all permeating unmistakable smell of Minolad tonic which I was not destined to help produce! Perhaps, it was just as well!
Later, much later, with many years of experience, I looked back and reflected. What could Col Singh have done?
He could have asked for my expectations first. Perhaps, explained the company’s salary structure. Regretted that the gap is too wide to be bridged easily. Perhaps when there is something more suitable, he would write to me again. Yes – there are so many different approaches and options!
Some years later, we met in the balcony seats of the New Empire cinema. We both recognised each other. He knew or assumed that “I had arrived”! I not only kept to my brand of cigarettes but could also afford the same more expensive seats, as he. Another few years later, after that chance encounter, I began meeting him at trade association meetings - each of us representing our respective companies. We were now both on the same side of the table and, in this setting, at the same level.
Col Singh, who was better known in city restaurants as a 'gourmet', rather than as an authority in industry taught me my first lesson in corporate life.
“Always be courteous to candidates at interviews. Don’t play God. Power and position are transient.” Many of the candidates will be on their way up, when perhaps, you are on your way down. It is like the escalator in the shopping mall. You look across and you see a familiar face. And who knows? This candidate who you had so abruptly rejected(and who is on his way up)could be interviewing your son, twenty years hence. And he may not have forgotten the father . Especially if he has a readily identifiable surname like VIEIRA!!
So, even from an entirely selfish point of view, it is prudent to go beyond being civil—to being courteous and pleasant. Every candidate recognises that you cannot give the job to everyone who applies. But YOU can be courteous to everyone you write to (rejection letters) and everyone you meet (at an interview).
This is where HR management is everyone’s business – and cannot be relegated to the HR department alone. Every manager is also an HR manager!
This was a lesson I learned early in life. It has held me in good stead. And soon after this interview, I saw (fortunately) that there were many others who one could learn from about 'what to do' rather than 'what not to do' at the final point of candidate contact!
(Walter Vieira is a Certified Management Consultant; and a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He has written 11 books – some of them best sellers – translated into Chinese and Indonesian and 3 books in collaboration with Prof. C. Northcote Parkinson of Parkinson’s Law fame. Mr Vieira has straddled the space between business and academia – and shares his vast experience with students and peers, to help make this a better world!)