Steven Fraser was in a fix. His efficient man friday Dilip Khare was found to be corrupt. Should Khare be asked to go, or should he be given another chance?
STEVEN Fraser read the fax message as it rolled out of the machine. “We have discussed Tapas Roy’s case amongst ourselves, with our legal advisors and HR director Maya Suri. We have also given due consideration to your feelings on the matter.
However, we feel Roy’s involvement in the accident was marginal, unpremeditated and his subsequent actions a result of panic. We feel it would be too harsh and unnecessary to terminate his service. The matter has been recorded in his personal dossier….”
Steven, the country manager of Pemento India, shook his head. “Very well, so be it..,” he muttered, not entirely happy. Personally, he had nothing against Roy, but the entire episode was fraught with callousness and insensitivity, he felt.
Four months ago, Roy, a salesman with Pemento, had hitched a ride with a friend on his bike. Roy was attending to a sales call at Masjid Bunder in Mumbai and since he was late for a post-lunch area review meeting, he jumped on to a friend’s bike to make it to Flora Fountain before 3 p.m. In the rush to get Roy to his office, the friend jumped a red light at Mohammed Ali Road and that was when he hit a pedestrian.
Intending to help the lady, Roy got off the bike, but his friend sped off. Rattled and fearing mob fury, Roy got into a taxi and fled too, but not before the public got the cab number. The lady, it turned out, was a school teacher whose husband was a lawyer” he filed a hit and run case.
Unable to find the bike rider, the police traced Roy through the cabby to the office of Pemento India and what followed was a nightmare. Roy claimed he did not know the person who drove the bike, that he had simply hitched a ride. That did not wash with the police or the lawyer who threatened to file a case of negligence. Eventually Roy was forced to identify his friend.
Steven was hopping mad. “This is absurd,” he yelled. “It is a matter of a serious human rights violation and at Pemento we take a serious view of these issues. Roy is guilty on two counts: one, neglecting to help an injured party when he was partly responsible for the injury, and two, lying that he didn’t know the driver of the bike. Clearly, he will have to leave Pemento.;”
HR director Maya Suri tried hard to defend Roy. “There is no court proceeding against him” the law has declared that his responsibility was minimal because he was not the driver. Roy simply happened to be there,” said Maya. “Nonsense!” said Steven. “What view the law takes has nothing to do with human rights. That a responsible member of the company, on duty, acts in a manner not befitting the image of the company is the issue.
How can we take a lenient view of his lying, of ignoring a pedestrian who has been hurt by the very friend he was riding with? If he could act thus to save himself, could he not similarly lie to the detriment of the company to benefit himself? Can we be seen as a company that protects such a person?”
“Steven, Roy is young and ignorant,” said Maya. “He `lied’ as you say, but that was because he panicked. He had intended to help the victim, but fearing public ire, he fled. This is India, Steven, where mob fury is unmitigated and lethal. Then again, just because a friend was in the wrong does not make Roy an accomplice. Roy was in a fix and he was trying to manage it somehow. The fact that he came straight to the office and didn’t disappear is proof enough of his honest intentions. To now say that Roy was also guilty of negligent behaviour appears unfair to me. We must stand by him.”
“People must learn to accept responsibility even for their ignorance and for their inability to act responsibly,” said Steven. “Social responsibility is an integral part of being a corporate citizen.” Maya had then taken up the matter with the board, whose verdict was now lying in print on Steven’s table.
Steven shrugged his shoulders and put the fax into a tray. Looking up he saw Dilip Khare, his personal assistant, standing before him with a pile of papers. “Dilip, Roy stays, that’s the board’s decision,” he said. “What do you think?” “It’s best to forgive and forget,” said Dilip.
Steven considered the remark as he watched Dilip potter around the room putting away papers and files, pulling out folders and setting the alarm for a meeting at 4.30 p.m. As he put a post-it sticker which read `Stockist Mathur’ on the clock, Steven smiled. “What would I do without you, Dilip?;” he asked.
Dilip was more than a personal assistant. He did much more than his job called for, which meant managing the life of his boss too. When the Frasers came to India, it was Dilip who arranged their stay, accompanied them on shopping sprees for linen and upholstery, cutlery and gadgets, even helped with their house lease, bought the car chosen by Mrs Fraser, organised its servicing, the petrol account, a driver… In short, he was the one person who had made their India posting manageable.
Steven was enormously overworked. If he left the workplace at 7 p.m., it was only to return to his study at 10 p.m. and slave away at market reports, plans, etc. Often he would call Dilip at 7 in the morning to dictate the tasks for the day, before he left for the plant. To make matters easy he had given Dilip a cellular phone. Later in the day they would talk and check on work done and new jobs to be done.
Dilip in turn managed Steven’s deadlines, meetings, follow-ups on action plans etc. He was very efficient and Steven, who had come to India wondering about the quality of assistance he might have, was relieved. He encouraged Dilip to study further — a course in sales management — and promised him that his dream of getting into core operations would be fulfilled before Steven left India.
After 18 months in the country, Steven had come to rely on Dilip Completely. He was his coping mechanism in the hectic life that the indian operation entailed. Now Dilip managed a lot more independently
At 26, Dilip was very ambitious with dreams of making it big, even to step into Steven’s shoes if he could. So enamoured was he of Steven’s style and demeanour that, within a few months, he took to growing a small French beard like his boss. Steven had no class biases, shared his cigars with Dilip and often took him out to lunch at the various five-star restaurants he dined at. It was Steven’s desire to treat him as an equal, socially.
By the end of 18 months, Steven had come to rely on Dilip completely. He was Steven’s means of coping with the hectic life that the Indian operation entailed. Now Dilip managed a lot more independently, like collecting sales reports, collating them and e-mailing them to Steven wherever he was. Or issuing print orders for new stationery, buying supplies and even deciding on the supplier. Steven did not have the time, or the inclination, to look into such detail. He had trained Dilip adequately so that Dilip knew what was needed, anticipate them and execute them as necessary. The odd query that came directly to Steven from the market was efficiently passed on to the functionaries concerned for action. Pemento was now on the threshold of bigger things and the routine had to fall into place
But Dilip’s airs and his demeanour irked the managers. It was common to see him, feet on the table, a cigar stuck between his lips, talking on the phone when Steven was not around. At such moments if any of the managers walked in, Dilip would not correct his posture, but gesture to the visitor to sit, which was rather unbecoming of an personal assistant, it was felt.
Dilip’s growing irreverence towards his seniors did not escape Maya Suri’s eye. “When you are working with a senior person like the country manager, your conduct comes under scrutiny. It is very important for you to be respectful and courteous, no matter what pressures you may be under,” she had said to Dilip. “For instance,” she said, “I wouldn’t walk into Steven’s room with a cigar stuck between my lips, as you are now doing.” Dilip grinned and readily pulled the cigar off his mouth and stubbed it out on the floor.
Tough though she was, Maya knew that Dilip carried an efficient head on very young shoulders. At 26, he was like any youngster, full of cola and MTV and an attitude to match. But when it came to work, Dilip was the personification of efficiency and agility.
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