Some years after training as management trainee, I was appointed a sales executive at the head office, Glaxo, Bombay. I had enjoyed my time as a salesman for nearly two years, in areas as far flung as Belgaum/Bijapur, Saugar and Bhatinda. In Bijapur, among other things, I had learnt to live for four to five days only on Becadex syrup, and Macrafolin Iron tablets (samples of the Glaxo products that I was carrying), because there was a cholera epidemic raging there, during my visit.
In Saugar, I was held up by bandits on one of my forays into the interiors – and succeeded in befriending a few of them. In Bhatinda, I learnt to order a half and a HALF, and another … before the butter chicken and naan. That was half whisky (neat) followed by a glass of beer—an appetizer formula, still being followed in parts of Punjab—a legacy of the Scottish regiment that was posted there for many years. The full address for service—Mayrose bar and restaurant (hope it is still there!!)
All salesmen were expected to post an arrival notice postcard immediately on arriving at the station. The HQs could thus connect this with the approved tour plan for the month and make sure that the salesman was travelling as per the plan, and not wandering around on his own holiday plan! Of course, there was also a daily report, to be filled in and posted every evening, listing the doctors met, products discussed and samples given. Everything was well organiased and worked like a well-oiled machine. No wonder, in the 1960s, Glaxo was No 1 and was constantly being challenged by Dumex Pfizer and Sarabhai Squibb!
As a sales executive, I was now spending some time on salesmen reports—analysing them for accuracy, looking for new trends, and perhaps some creative ideas in the comments.
However, one day, I had a dilemma. I had two arrival notice cards from the same salesman for the same day, from two cities 80 miles apart. In each town, he had met 10 doctors! Obviously, it was a scam. He was at one place or the other. And who knows? Perhaps at neither.
I drew the attention of the sales director Ernest Woods, a crusty Englishman, who had spent 35 years in India and knew the geography of the country better than he did of Great Britain. Let me think about it—he said. Please come back in half hour. I did. What shall we do, he asked me. My opinion - we need to dismiss him. A serious offence. He cannot be excused. He listened to me and looked at me for a long time. Then he asked me to call him to Bombay from Poona—and get details / confession from him before we sacked him. I did this, and found that Sunil had seen more doctors on four days and then distributed the extra visits beyond eight a day, to the two other days (when he had taken an off to see his girlfriend in Hubli). He had seen the doctors, but the dates were not accurate. He had given the arrival card to the stockist to post, who had forgotten to do it until two days later, when Sunil was already in another town and posting his card from there. Sunil had been honest in doing the job, but he had taken liberties with the reporting. And his sales record was very good. He had been with the company for six years. He was valued. What should we do? Mr Woods suggested we give him a stern warning. It was going to be his last chance. We decided we will not fire him!
Some 20 years after I left the company, I met Sunil again by chance at a hotel. We recognised each other. We greeted each other warmly. And was he still in Glaxo? No. He had left and joined a large Indian pharma company and he was the all India sales manager of the company. He had a successful career.
God had been kind to him—and of course he had worked hard. “But thank you for not acting in haste when I made the silly mistake a long time ago,” he said. “But for you and Mr Woods, I would not have been where I am now.”
I now realised why Woods did not take decisions in haste, even when it seemed a clear case of wrongdoing. He would be weighing the pros and cons, measuring contributions in the past and perhaps possibilities in the future, looking at what is forgivable and what cannot be condoned. It was the wisdom of age and experience, which many impatient mangers today may not have the time – or the inclination -- for.
(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!)