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Case Study: Is That Your Ego?

When nails grow, we cut our nails, not fingers. When EGO rises, cut EGO, not relations — Anonymous author

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Jimmy Dubash was extremely happy. Or as they say, his happiness knew no bounds. He had waited to be appointed head of Commercial and that had happened yesterday.

Jimmy was a good, very good resource and when he worked, he put head and heart into it and gave it his all. And in so doing, he had often forgotten his own personal goals, his dreams, his desires. Which was why he had not been able to direct his successes with strategy as many did. He invariably fell to doing as he was told, step into assignments he was asked to and fall in line with what the management wanted him to do.

Jimmy had been inducted into special projects for the chairman’s office for a year now. He had had the wisdom to see that even if a person shone in the chairman’s projects, it was not a guarantee for anyone special status or fame.

Which was why, Jimmy who had been kept there for over a year, feared he would be forgotten when it came to filling the chair of the head of Commercial in the Southern Regional office of Delaware, because he was also out of sight. And Jimmy really wanted that role. What was more, people in his office knew that he was suited for the job and they all spoke of him taking over. For even as he was on a chairman’s project, Jimmy had his eyes firmly on the Commercial goings and controls in the region, not abdicating his duties in any way.

When Raghav Kashyap from Mumbai took over South, Jimmy was even more delighted. The coming of Kashyap was exhilarating for one because he was a protégé of Jitu Singham, the terror of Business Systems and Controls, and Jimmy worshipped the ground that Singham walked. So, a protégé of Singham was fantastic news for Jimmy.

Jimmy’s anxiety over his move also lay in the fact that Delaware had some cast-in-stone rules for promotions and moves. If he did not get this role, then all future roles would be delayed and decimated. Last year, Delaware took over the FMCG business of the Morro Group and under the orders of the chairman’s office, Jimmy was sent to work on integrating that business with Delaware’s. Now, with the coming of Kashyap, he felt he stood a better chance.

Jimmy commanded a lot of respect in Southern Region (SR) not just for his commercial prowess, but even as a leader and team player. Aggressive on performance, Jimmy was very keen to prove himself; his career was at that stage where performance needed to be very visible for big moves to happen.

Within a month of arriving, Kashyap called Jimmy (highly recommended by Singham) and said, “I would like you to take over as the head of Commercial. (And this was why.) Three factories have moved under us after the Morro takeover, and streamlining their commercial systems and processes, the audit of the processes in these plants, all better be put in place by someone like you. I have stopped HO from sending me one of their clowns. What is more, we have been accorded Region status (after the Morro business was acquired and Morro was huge in the South) and for me systems are priority.”

Jimmy’s cup of joy brimmed over. The best job, the best location, the best boss… and a team that looked up to him. His relationship and rapport with Kashyap was excellent. He could even lay down his life for Kashyap. Such was Jimmy’s passion.

As for Kashyap, with Jimmy in place, he turned all his energies to sales on the one hand and supply chain on the other, overhauling the three factories, working on the all-India supply chain out of these factories and getting ready for sudden parachuting of foreign bosses who stopped by to see the Taj Mahal. That Chennai and Agra were two ends of the country was for them just detail.

Jimmy now became the resident god at Delaware, SR. Jimmy had the privilege and honour of being the number two man at SR. No one else in the region shone like Jimmy did, nor exact that order of respect and dependability.

Six months passed. By then, Kashyap too had come to establish himself as the best regional head. SR was an example of poise, excellence and great teamwork. Then, one day, the head of sales resigned. Nobody panicked. Kashyap ran the show effortlessly. But all eyes were straining to see who would be the incumbent that HO would send. Knowing Kashyap’s cinemascope vision of the organisation and reciprocally, the organisation’s view of him, they knew it would only be the best.
The order came in a week. One Varun Singh was being sent from Mumbai.

Varun arrived in the middle of April at the height of summer amid much fanfare. Short of bugles being blown and cymbals being clashed, there were all the other shenanigans of celebration. Admin was running all over the place, his office got a scrub down and a fresh coat of paint, curtains were changed and new crockery bought…. The whole office was buzzing Varun-Varun-Varun.

Who was this Varun, wondered Jimmy and what did he have to deserve such attention? But when Varun walked in that day, straight from the airport, he took over the mood of the office. Everyone simply stood there, totally enamoured. Even as he entered Varun was slapping many backs, shouting ‘Hi’ to each corner, receiving warm hugs and much bonhomie spread around the office. April in Chennai was always dull with the ACs unfailingly failing, admin shouting at the brand’s customer care, open windows meant the smell of sambar and dosai from the street vendors or untimely stotrams from the temple next door…. The heat killed the happiest person… yet Varun’s coming took the office by storm.

God had arrived, or so it seemed.

His exuberance, his laughter, his openness, his I-don’t-care attitude, his let’s-simply-do-it mantra was such a whiff of fresh air. Chennai needed a brash Punjabi, someone said.

With every passing day, Jimmy began to develop a dislike for Varun. And to add to the fire burning inside, some events also happened that endorsed for him that Varun deserved to be disliked. Like one morning when as usual Jimmy arrived by 8.45 and took a round of the office, what should he see but a fresh-from-the-shop plastic-sheeted fancy office chair. Before he could even think, Devendra, the head of admin came sprinting towards him. “Yes, I have the bill for this, … here…,” he said, presenting a bill for Rs 45,000. “A special chair was ordered by Varun; he has a lower back condition and does not sit on any old chair.”

Jimmy: What condition of the back needs a chair without my approval?

Within minutes Kashyap walked in too and asked ‘Who ordered this?’ But a chat and a talk later, Varun got to keep the chair.

What was going on! Had the era of flouting rules arrived? Jimmy felt great discomfort. Why was Kashyap not resisting Varun?

For Varun, time was more important than money. His motto was whatever money was spent to save time was well spent. And this included saving time spent on taking permissions.

Jimmy picked up small nuggets about Varun now. “He takes everyone for granted, he has the ears of the chairman, is the blue-eyed boy of the board…” and so on.
As time passed, Jimmy became very cautious of Varun. And one day as they drove home together, Kashyap said, “Be careful about this fellow, he has a penchant for sidestepping all policies and rules to reach goals. ”

Jimmy twirled his moustache even harder now. Now I have to be very vigilant… I will fix him…!

In two months of his arrival, Jimmy and Varun began to have differences of opinions, sometimes in private, and then, sometimes in public and then soon, many times in public. It came to a point when 4-5 months down the line, they began to have public spats, as much as that if Varun asked that something be done, Jimmy would refuse outright, uncaring of who was within hearing range. Equally, there were times when Varun refused to do what Commercial expected him to. And often, these spats impacted the business. For example, there was a policy that if a distributor had more than three invoices outstanding, or whose cheque had bounced, would have to pay cash down.

But if there was a sign off jointly from the Commercial head and the Sales head, then that distributor could be reinstated and goods could be sold to him on credit.

An unprecedented bank strike resulted in distributors being unable to effect transfers in time. Jimmy refused to relent and declared that goods can be sold to them only for cash. But then equally Varun had a few distributors who had slipped into ‘more than three invoices outstanding’ which Jimmy attributed to his (Varun’s) flamboyant style of selling, marketing, backslapping… and aggressive pushing, and who cared if it was well-intentioned.

Things went awry. Stock positions in the market took a beating. Distributors who were denied credit began ordering less. So,in turn, some (retail) pockets of the region went into stock outs. Although stockists came under the purview of the Regional Commercial head, Sales dealt with the stockists directly. They would sit with him on Thursdays and make sure all despatches left by Thursday night as that marked the end of the weekly sales.

But Varun took this one level up. He would sit with the stockists and go on with despatches till Friday morning, shushing all protests. His documentation would show ‘Thursday’, taking the clock back by 6-8 hours. Jimmy cottoning on to what was going on, plugged the system and declared the eternal clock of the computer would be sacrosanct and invoices issued after the computer clock struck 8 p.m. on Thursday would be automatically treated as the next week’s sales.

So, like Spy vs Spy, they dodged each other’s smartness. Problem was, both were incredibly smart, driven and dedicated to their goals. But it took its toll on the teams which began to tire of their warring bosses.

One day, as they drove to the airport together, Kashyap casually asked Jimmy, “So when will you stop sparring with Varun?” Jimmy had been spellbound seeing that their battles were so noticeable. He had fielded that by putting all blame on Varun’s disregard for rules — an observation Kashyap himself had made right at the start when he had cautioned Jimmy. If Jimmy thought he had won that round, he was wrong. When they stood at the check-in counter, Kashyap said, “Systems, laws, rules should always have a smarter way to ensure implementation and that smartness should be a natural winner. And smart.”
Jimmy: Smartness should be smart?

Kashyap: Yes, smartness should be smart. Have you seen a mother handle her errant child? Like that. A smart mother wins every time. The child thinks he has had his way. You must know how to get your system adhered to without looking like the bad guy.
Jimmy: Did Varun talk to you about something?

Kashyap: It is clearly noticeable. Everybody is seeing it and it is not helping. At a sales conference rehearsal, Kashyap told Varun rather casually, “Too many wars with Commercial… when will you settle your differences with Jimmy?”

Varun shook that one-sided shake of his head and made a clacking sound to say, “Seriously. For them systems are not a means but the end itself! Ridiculous! Like the beggar who cut the top of his blanket and added it to the bottom thinking he was increasing the length of his blanket.”

Kashyap: But the beggar did think his blanket had grown longer, isn’t it? If he is happy, he has achieved his goal, no?

Varun: What do you mean?

Kashyap: You are not as smart as I thought you were. Go figure!
to both men, he had said as casually as tying his shoe laces, “I am not going to be the judge but the two of you must sit together and sort things out.”

Jimmy refused to be the one to initiate truce. If anyone will, it will be Varun. And in an undertone he said, “He came after I did. I set the rules before; he came and broke them..”

Jimmy, who made the rules and systems, in fact, had the flexibility to loosen his grip now and then.

But he never did for Varun. Of course, he never did anything overtly to damage the business but he held on to the systems with an iron hand, rules that were not easy to conduct business with. For example, Delaware had 1,800 stockists and every day one or the other fell short of the systems.

An efficient Commercial head would take a considered call and move on. But Jimmy grinding his heels impacted the business at one level and the teams at another.

Most felt his severity was more in order to score a point against Varun.

As one of his own people observed, “That Thursday closing can be made Friday morning 4 a.m. closing and no one is the wiser for it and if at all, the business benefits because it allows late night shipments on Thursdays and it is also when the highway stays open for truck traffic, whereas Friday morning truckers have to leave by 4 a.m. as trucks cannot ply after 5 a.m.!”

But Jimmy chose to not see reason.

Or take the time when a regional salesman was being appointed and a slew of documentation were needed to validate his appointment. Now, if two papers were missing, Varun could sign, Jimmy could sign, legal head could sign and they could move on. But Jimmy sent the sales people back saying go get this, and this and this… What had begun to happen was, in the name of resisting Varun, Jimmy was resisting the entire sales team. He would play it by the book and not by the business. He had become far too rigid and severe and unable to enable the business.

When someone from Sales pointed it to him, Jimmy said, “I don’t think I am deliberately holding back sales or making him miss the numbers…” but he knew he was irritating Varun, frustrating his move, and so on.

Once or twice Kashyap’s words played back in his mind and brought a flavour of guilt. But Jimmy was adamant. I am not going to Varun or sitting with him and sorting the relationship. If I lose my job, so be it. I can’t be faulted for ensuring the rules. He must be faulted for breaking them.

Funnily neither did Kashyap kid-glove them, call them together and make them shake hands and be friends. He had told both of them what was wrong. He had told both of them they needed to get to Point B from Point A. But how to traverse the distance or what vehicle to take, he would not tell them. That was his management style. Those who had worked with Kashyap knew he would never make solutions easy for his people nor would he provide the solutions. He would demand solutions and wait for it to be found by the team. He also knew they would find the solutions and accomplish it.

But the relationship was waiting to explode and it did. A distributor, Murugappan Agencies, had earlier been distributor of the Morro Group’s products too. Now after the merger, he was being asked to clear his dues to Morro. Murugappan was under stress and unable to do so. There were also outstanding Delaware invoices.

The senior patriarch argued that he was carrying unsold stocks of Morro that he had been unable to liquidate. That he needed time. That any new payments by him be used to set off against dues to Delaware. Jimmy was not in favour. He claimed first-in-first-out application of payments. Consequently, he went on to treat his invoices as ‘unpaid’ and refused to authorise further despatches.

Varun was outraged. Assuring Murugappan in a mail (with a copy to Jimmy) that he will not let unfair practices pass muster, he went after Commercial, all guns blazing.

Jimmy returned the compliment with attack. “Unfair practices? Who really do you think you are?”

Varun: It is not a bad debt! He only wants to keep Morro receivables distinct from Delaware! Then again, it is a receivable and we are not losing asset value.

Jimmy: But it is a reflection upon your distributor’s intentions.

Why is he buying time? Let him pay! You should have the interests of Delaware at heart, not the delinquent distributor.

Varun: Don’t you dare call him delinquent. And you will gain from this knowledge that credit today is directly linked to more profitable sales in the future. You are being foolishly risk averse where there is no risk!

Calling Kashyap from right there, Varun belted, “Are we now treating Morro customers as our step children? When are we integrating them into mainstream? Morro customer no credit; Delaware customer yes credit! What the hell!

Jimmy: Don’t lie Varun! I am saying no credit to defaulters — whether he is a Morro customer or Delaware's. And to refresh your super brain, there is no “Morro” customer. They are all ALL (he yelled now) Delaware.

Kashyap walked in, hands in pockets, and stood some 10 feet away as they both slapped tables and gesticulated monstrously.

Varun: To hold back credit to an existing customer is to lose money. Oh, how did I forget! You are an accountant, not an MBA! Allow me to teach you. Murugappan is an investment we have already made. We are already invested in him! Withholding credit is regressive! Murugappan has been our customer since 1988. Where is your *abuse* problem?

Kashyap came and stood between them. “I can imagine a Ratan Tata or a Azim Premji having a similar argument with their people. Classical argument, I admit. But I clearly do not see them falling short on the English language for expression. Bottom line: speak better English. Good for business.”

Turning to Jimmy, he said, “I have to trust your financial judgement because I always have. And I would always like to say that your judgement is trustworthy. If by 3 p.m., you do not wish to revise your decision, then Murugappan pays cash. No credit.”

The air was so taut with unspoken anger, you could cut it with a knife. But the daggers remained drawn....

Read Case Analysis: Ritu Mohan | Anu Oza

To be continued...

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