Lessons from the Past 101: When Tigers Become Cats
In the corporate world, there are times when you have senior managers who develop into 'Tigers' over a period of time. Brusque, sharp and cruel when they can—these are noticeable and formidable stripes and roars. But there are times when they lack the courage to face a situation, when they retain their stripes but become cats who can meow but cannot roar!
I look back at a situation over 60 years ago, when I had graduated from management trainee to sales executive (there was no ‘marketing’ used as a term, in those days) and, as assistant to the sales director, developed a small ‘new product development and market research’ unit in the company, working in coordination with the technical development unit. This was a large pharma multinational, where, in a short time, we developed two very successful products and we were so enthused, that we were looking forward and planning for many more successes. 
My Tiger boss perhaps thought that, if he brought in a senior person (in age/experience), the results delivered would be even more outstanding. So, very secretly, he looked for and found a person, senior in age, who had headed the consumer product division (which had closed down recently because it had failed) of another multinational. Tiger John must have felt very guilty of doing this and facing his team, because he got Gill to join the company soon after he had himself left for a three-month home leave to the UK. He acted like a cat.
The personnel manager took it upon himself to introduce Gill to the staff that would report to him. This brief and businesslike introduction, combined with the absence of the sales director—and the surprise element in the selection and appointment—changed the convivial environment in the department. The situation worsened when it was found that the new boss knew nothing about pharma technology and had to be explained, at least thrice, before he got ‘the hang of what’s going on’. All the people reporting to him were, in fact, conducting training classes for him. I was also fed up of the situation and was blessed to find another—and a better—job very fast. Mercifully, I could be relieved in just one month, because I had accumulated leave, so I was well away before the Cat returned, and he could now resume acting like a Tiger! Though we were close to each other when we worked together, I never saw him again……..
At another time in my career, in another company, another Tiger chief executive officer (CEO) somehow took a great dislike (never knew why) to the advertising manager (AdM). The CEO kept putting pressure on me, the marketing manager (MM), to discontinue the AdM. I resisted this. I was clear that the AdM was more than adequate for the job - and there was nothing wrong with him. “What reason can I give him?” There was no clear answer from the Tiger except to say “He is no good. He needs to be replaced.” 
Finally, I offered to resign, so the CEO could take whatever decision he wanted to take directly, to discontinue the services of the AdM. The Tiger did not want to use his own claws! He relented. And for a brief period, he kept his stripes but became a Cat! In this situation, the MM briefly became a Tiger!
Vivek was a very bright 27-year-old, who had joined a multinational startup as MM. The Tiger CEO here told him that if he achieved the targets for the first two years, he could be promoted to marketing director. The post would be kept vacant for two years. Vivek worked hard and achieved the objectives set. However, the CEO was not able to convince the board at the overseas headquarters to promote Vivek, because they felt he was too young. 
The CEO then gave up the cause and moved towards inducting a new marketing director and selected Vartan, a 38-year-old marketing manager with a consumer product company. The Tiger CEO threw a perfumed rag at Vivek by sponsoring him on a six-week-long senior management programme conducted by IIM-Ahmedabad. 
When Vivek returned, he was shocked to find his cabin occupied by the new boss appointed in his absence (of which he had no knowledge) and his own office shifted to a cabin down the line. Tiger CEO had also gone abroad for two weeks to the overseas HQ. In spite of so many surprises all at the same time, Vivek mustered up the courage to go and introduce himself to his new boss, and had no choice but to make it a pleasant introduction meet. The show went on. Tiger CEO returned and pretended that all was well. He was glad to observe that Vivek and Vartan seemingly got on well.
But Vivek had already begun planning his next move. He got another job in a larger firm in the same industry, at a much higher salary and gave in his resignation with a month’s notice. The CEO was shocked. The CEO wanted to thwart this attempt by Vivek to ‘escape’ and win. He wanted to know where Vivek was going and asked him. Vivek refused to tell him but assured him that he would let him know at the right time. 
Tiger CEO knew that the new marketing director needed Vivek badly, especially since this was the time for making plans for the next year. Finally, Vivek told an insistent CEO the name of a company— which was incorrect! 
Four days later, Vivek got news from friends in that company that Tiger CEO had phoned their MD, and given him a very poor report on Vivek with the suggestion that they would make a mistake by hiring him. However, this CEO told Tiger that he was not aware of any Vivek joining his company!  
A greatly annoyed Tiger hid his anger and continued with the request to disclose the next destination. Vivek gave another false name, and the earlier story was repeated. Vivek had emerged as another Tiger to fight the Tiger CEO. 
Finally, Vivek left the company at the end of the month and disclosed his destination at the farewell meeting. He also told him that he knew that Tiger CEO had contacted the two companies that Vivek had named earlier. The Tiger CEO had now become a cat.
These happenings reminded me of a story I once read in a Rotary magazine in 1998 which is, perhaps, relevant here:
Smith and Jones, the only two judges in a small town, had the misfortune of being arrested for speeding on the same day. Since no one else could try the cases, they decided to try one another. Smith stood trial first. “How do you plead?” Jones asked him. “Guilty,” was the reply. “I hereby fine you $50,” Jones ruled. Then they exchanged places and Jones took the stand. “And how do you plead?” Smith asked. “Guilty,” said Jones, expecting the same fine he had ordered for his colleague. “These cases are becoming far too common,” Smith said sternly. “This is the second case like this we have had this morning. I fine you $100 and sentence you to 30 days in jail.”
Jones had become a Tiger with stripes and a roar!
(Parts of this article are taken from The Winning Manager by Walter Vieira – published by Sage and available on Amazon)
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India- FIMC. He was a successful corporate executive for 14 years and then pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books, a business columnist and has been visiting professor in Marketing in the US, Europe, and Asia for over 40 years. His latest books are ‘Marketing in a Digital/Data World’ with Brian Almeida and ‘Customer Value Starvation Can Kill’ with Gautam Mahajan. He now spends most of his time on NGO work and is presently Chairman, Consumer Education and Research Society, India)
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