“Have you got the dossiers of the two candidates I asked for? One of them is going to be managing our Nasik plant in a couple of month’s time.” asked TriStar Industries Vice-President Gopal Jadhav of his HR head Virendra Singh.
“Yes sir. This one is of Gautam and this is of Sambit’s” replied Virendra handing over two manila folders to Gopal.
Gopal did not need to look at their dossiers. He knew both of them reasonably well having worked with them in previous assignments. But just to humour Virendra he flipped through the pages of the manila folders anyway. He knew Sambit to be the smart talkative fellow with a pleasant smile and quick wit. One who could talk his way out of any situation. He knew Gautam to be an introvert; the quiet hardworking sort who nobody really notices when he comes to office and when he leaves.
Gopal in a way was already inclined towards selecting Sambit. He enjoyed the company of people who could talk well. Plus, Sambit was also distantly related to him. Sambit’s father was a third or fourth cousin of his making Sambit a distant nephew. The thought did cross his mind that Gautam had superior knowledge, but Sambit was such a good talker that Gopal figured he would learn and talk his way out of difficult situations.
“Do you have any preferences?” asked Gopal casually, not particularly interested in the answer.
“Well sir, if you were to ask me I think that Gautam is a good candidate. He handled the Boromax account very efficiently last year not to mention the calmness he showed during the crisis at our Bhusaval plant. I have noticed how his colleagues go to him for advice. His knowledge is good and he often plays the role of a teacher in his teams.” replied Virendra.
“I see.” acknowledged Gopal gruffly not really liking the answer “ And what do you think of Sambit?”
“Sambit is a smart talker sir. I admit that he has charm and personality and if I was looking for a salesman then I would be inclined towards him. But managing a factory. I don’t know. He has been lucky in his assignments so far. But he has never really been tested in a crisis and I wonder how he would fare.”
“Hmmm, I see. Well I am going to post both of them to the Nasik plant. They will work in the different departments under the outgoing head Savio Miranda . We will see how they fare, what Savio thinks, and then make a decision.”
“Sounds good to me sir.” acknowledged Virendra. But he was experienced enough to understand that Gopal had already made his decision. Gautam had only been put in the fray because of his good performance, and eyebrows would have been raised if there was just one candidate for the post without any competition. Especially a candidate who was related to the Vice-President. Gautam was an easy rival for Sambit. He was the quiet sort who would not complain even if he lost and would just go about his work as before.
It was on Friday that the two candidates received their transfer letters and it was on Monday that they reported to Savio Miranda in Nasik. On Tuesday Gopal received a thank-you note and cake from Sambit. It was a well written thank-you note with extensive use of flowery language, and even though Gopal knew that it was a clear attempt at flattery, he enjoyed the attention. He also noticed that Gautam had not done anything like that.
A week later Gopal called up Savio to see how the candidates were doing. Gautam was working with the finance department and Savio was impressed with how quickly he was picking everything up. He stayed late after work to go through documents and files, and regularly interacted with the finance heads picking their brains to understand the business. Sambit had been posted to the procurement division. He had taken a holiday on Thursday and left early on Friday and according to the procurement head had not spent much time with the team even on the days when he was in office.
Gopal was disappointed with the news. Sending cakes and notes and sweet talking was fine, but work also had to be learnt and done. No matter, maybe he would pick up with time, thought Gopal.
The month came to an end and it was time for Gopal to make his quarterly tour of all the factories in Western India. He decided to start with Nasik. He was keen to see the progress of the two candidates. Savio was going to be retiring soon and one of these two had to take over.
Savio, Sambit and Gautam were there to greet Gopal at the factory gates along with other senior members of the factory management team. Sambit was the first one to give Gopal a bouquet of flowers along with shaking his hand vigorously and wishing him exuberantly . Gautam on the other hand just wished him professionally and stood aside allowing Savio to do all the talking. Sambit did not, however, allow Savio to talk. He butted in at frequent intervals with quips and comments of his own. This annoyed Savio no end, but realizing that Sambit was Gopal’s favorite he held his temper in check. Gopal was thrilled with the reception he was getting from Sambit. Nasik was an important factory and it would be useful to have one of his coteries in charge.
It was a three day visit that Gopal was on and throughout those three days Sambit clung to Gopal morning, day and night making sure that all the arrangements were in order. While Gautam seem to be busy attending to factory matters, Sambit hardly seemed to leave his side. Gopal wondered when Sambit found time to work. Factory workers, accountants, department heads were constantly coming up to Gautam asking him for advice, giving him reports or just greeting him as he walked past. Nobody did any such thing with Sambit. The factory and Sambit seemed to exist in two different worlds.
On the last day of his tour, Gopal went to Savio’s house for dinner. The Vice-President and the Nasik Factory Head sat in the balcony sipping whisky, munching kababs and discussing office matters. Gopal finally got around to asking about the two candidates at which Savio fell silent. He had to tell his boss some difficult truths and he did not know how. But Gopal was in an encouraging mood and he prodded his subordinate to speak freely. Savio poured some more whisky in his glass and began.
“Gautam has worked in the finance department, the procurement department, the transport division not to mention spending a lot of time on the shop floor. He knows our balance sheet in and out, he knows about inventory management and the backlog of raw materials that we have; he knows everything about the machines that we operate, where we source them from and how to maintain a good relationship with the vendors. From the first day he has spent a lot of time with all the department heads, tagging along with them on their floor rounds and learning everything that he can from them. He has requested regular meetings with me where we discussed everything there was to discuss about factory operations and the business that we run. He asks intelligent questions and does not stop till he gets satisfactory answers. In the one month that he has spent here, he knows more about how we function than what most people learn in a lifetime.
Of course, most people won’t come to know all this. Especially the higher management. Because employees like that are so busy working they don’t have time to please the higher-ups. And unless you observe closely, these employees often go unnoticed even though they are the backbone of the company.
But going unnoticed is not a problem that Sambit has ever had. He spends all his days and nights getting people to notice him. Did you get a thank-you note and cake? You did, didn’t you. So did I. I liked the cake, it was tasty. But I need my employees to perform as well. Especially the managers. He has spent most of his time here charming people. How much has he learnt about the job? That is still up for debate. Sambit has been lucky so far. He has managed to charm enough people so that they do things for him, and charm many more so that his mistakes are covered up. He has not had to face any major challenges so far. But honestly his lack of knowledge frightens me. Who you select to replace me will tell the organization what kind of a culture we are going to follow. One based on merit or one based on something else.”
Gopal opened another bottle of whisky. He was afraid of precisely this when he had prodded Savio to be frank. This was going to be the beginning of a long and hard discussion. But he was Vice-President and he had to make some hard decisions.
On the way back to company headquarters in Mumbai, Gopal was lost deep in thought. He really wanted Sambit to get the post. But Savio was right. Gautam had more expertise and had actually worked, unlike Sambit. If only Sambit could combine his people skills with hard work then he would have a deputy that he could really count on. But that did not seem to be the case here.
Gopal was starting to confuse sycophancy with loyalty. It was a mistake that many leaders had made in the past only to regret it later. But an event would happen two weeks later that would clear this misunderstanding for Gopal.
It started in the middle of the night. The night watchman frantically placed calls to Savio, Gautam and Sambit. Savio and Gautam rushed to the spot. Half the factory was up in flames by the time they got there. Gautam quickly took charge organizing the emergency plans while Savio got busy coordinating with the fire department. Most of the foremen and factory workers who lived close by were at the spot within a short time. It took all night to fight the fire and it was not till the early hours of dawn that the flames were completely doused. Gautam then closely coordinated with Savio, the firefighters and the night staff at the factory for the investigation. A fault in the electrical wiring, a subsequent short circuit and a spark on some combustible material had lead to the fire.
But where was Sambit during all this time? He finally came in the morning looking all disheveled and sleepy. When Savio asked him where he had been, he sheepishly replied that he not been feeling well and that is why he could not be there.
There was plenty to be done to restore the factory premises. It could take days or even weeks before the factory could be restored to its former glory. During the restoration work Sambit only acted brashly, ordering people around and generally making a nuisance of himself. He was clearly out of his depth and it was showing. After a couple of days Sambit said that there was a family emergency and that he had to get back home quickly. Savio didn’t try to hold him back. He had enough problems on his hands without having to manage Sambit as well.
At the company headquarters in Mumbai, Gopal was getting all the information in the daily reports. It did not make happy reading for him. Sambit was not doing well. His demeanor during the whole episode had earned the ire of his seniors, juniors and peers. He had shown no loyalty to the company and the people he worked for. Rather than standing by them in their hour of need, he had run away. Run away from responsibility, run away from hard work, and run away from a crisis, which was the worst quality of any manager. Gautam had handled himself well during all this time and was becoming increasingly popular.
Gopal did not have to make a decision. It had been made for him. His heart sank a little bit. He would no longer have anyone sending him cakes and thank-you notes or singing his praises. But on the bright side at least merit had won. His own standing in the company would go up as his colleagues would praise him for appointing an efficient and popular factory manager. With Gautam in charge Nasik factory would continue performing well and since Nasik factory was under Gopal’s jurisdiction, it’s performance would benefit the Vice-President as well.
He picked up the phone, called up his secretary, and asked her to bring him the necessary documents. He had a promotion order to sign.