LESSONS FROM THE PAST 9: Learning from Elders
It was a heady time in the mid-1960s – when I was employed with a young multinational, starting out at a very low turnover base – and only a handful of managers to use their ingenuity, work hard and show results. The average age of the executive staff may have been 27 with a combination of youth and enthusiasm. It was an army that was ready to go. And in this small battalion was one senior person who stood out in the crowd. He was the distribution manager, who was hired before many of us and, therefore, reflected a different profile, set by the earlier management, that was now gone. 
Eric Lopez, that was his name, was perhaps 55 years of age had retired prematurely from the Indian Navy, was thorough with his work, and tried his best to keep up to the speed of this crowd of cubs! There was always a lot of work to do. The numbers of staff members were never enough to meet the needs of a fast-growing sales operation. 
Every structure set up got out of date within a few months. The result was – working late, virtually every day, till perhaps 7pm or 7.30pm, out in the Fort area of Bombay, with the saving grace being that the traffic home had reduced by that time of the evening (this is, of course, no longer so in Mumbai in 2020!).
One evening, before leaving the office at 7pm, Commander Lopez came to see me – and tell me that he was leaving for home. “Mr Vieira,” he said, “You perhaps do not realise that by the time I reach home every day at Mazagon, it is 8pm or later. You are a bachelor, so you will not realize that people like me, at my age, have two bosses. One of them wears skirts. The other is you. I have to answer to both.” 
I felt bad for him. He told me that his wife complains every evening, that she could understand an emergency or at budget preparation time but every day of the week, round the year was not on. There had to be something wrong with the whole organisation! 
I felt very guilty. We made a pact that day: Commander Lopez would leave sharp at 6pm, whether there was work pending or not. Minor adjustments were made as we progressed and the problem was solved. 
In the meantime, I found out that Commander Lopez was an excellent musician. He was the only person in India who played the wooden saw with a violin bow. He (with his daughter, whom he taught the technique, would go abroad to give live performances). Wow! 
When I later had a chance to hear him give a performance, I was greatly impressed. Then I also came to know later, that he had been the piano tutor to Zubin Mehta when Zubin was a schoolboy in Colaba. That was really saying something! 
In some small way, he helped in the emergence of an ‘idol in the field of Western music.’  
On a trip to Lucknow, to settle some distribution problems, we checked into the Clarkes Hotel (a charming old, heritage hotel) early evening and we promised to meet in the lobby at 7.30pm for dinner. When I arrived at 7.30pm, I found a big crowd at the billiards table. What was happening?  
Commander Lopez was giving an exhibition of putting the balls in the pockets, completely blindfolded, after being given a chance to see the lay of the table. He was a trick billiards player!  
Again, something I had never known. 
He later told me during this outstation visit, that he was also a crack shot (rifle) – and had a licence to shoot in any part of the British Commonwealth. The Maharaja of Bikaner was supposed to be another to have such a licence. 
We continued to work together; but, over a period of time, we all fell back into our routine and again delayed Commander Lopez, despite his best efforts to keep to the new schedule. Every month, we would try and correct the situation and then again fall into the bad habit of working late. 
Commander Lopez told me one day that I will never realise the gravity of the problem, until I get married and have a family. But the show continued.  One day, a month before he retired, on my birthday, he came to my room with a box. I thought it was cake. 
Commander Lopez was also a carpenter and sculptor. He brought me a slice of wood (treetrunk) on which he had sculpted:
“Always remember,
 that today is the day we worried about yesterday
 – and it did not happen!!”
Comm Eric Lopez, Retd.
I cherished the gift and the giver, for many, many years till now—and have never forgotten the message.
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in 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; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe and Asia. His latest books are "5 Gs of family Business" with Dr Mita Dixit and "Marketing in a Digital/ Data World" with Brian Almeida. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)
11 months ago
Excellent Excellent. Please keep sharing such great experiences. Thanks a lot Sir.
11 months ago
Great write up!
Ramesh Popat
11 months ago
excellent! but sculpted sentence defeated by many black swans !
nothing is anti fragile!
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