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Anecdotes: Goodwill Matters!

Let parents bequeath to their children not riches, but the spirit of reverence.

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He was, probably, the one person who taught me the most. Not so much by his words but by his actions.

He was the Chairman of India’s largest consumer durables company and my client. His company accounted for sixty percent of our agency’s billing.

Forty years ago at age 25 he had started making small parts for the durables after - market. From those small beginnings, he grew to become India’s largest consumer durable brand with a dominant market share. 

As I would do every forty-five days or so, that day I drove close to his office and called up his secretary on my cell phone, “Hi, I was just passing by. Is the Boss in? Wonder if I could drop in and say hello?’

She checked with him and said, “Come over.” She had by now realized that I was not in the vicinity by chance.

What amazed me was that there was not a single occasion when he did not accede to my request and every time he was most courteous. If there were one quality I would want his son to imbibe from his father - it would be this. 

His son who was the CEO of the company was famed for giving an appointment, making you wait the whole day and then his secretary would ask, nay, instruct you to come the next day. I had been subjected to this treatment many a time and I took it as my karma. My agency was so dependent on his business that I would caution my team to never give him any cause for complaints. I was aware that if he were to just sneeze, our agency would catch collective pneumonia!

As I walked into the Chairman’s room, I decided to praise him so as to get him into a good mood. 

“ Thank you so much for seeing me Sir. I am grateful, that in spite of your busy schedule, you always find time to see me.”

His frame visibly grew large in the plush leather throne.

“ You know, every week, four to five people come to see me. A few come from my hometown, politicians refer some and our dealers or vendors refer some. They all come seeking some favor, which is mostly about employing a son or a relative. In their heart they know we do not employ people that way, ” he said.

As he paused for breath, I said, “ And they also look forward to meet such an important person like you Sir?

 “ About that I don’t know,” he smiled and continued, “ but I always make time to see all of them.”

“ Like you always meet me Sir,” I said.

“ When I started my company we were very small and it is only the goodwill of so many people that has brought us so far. I am a big believer in goodwill and that is why I meet every one. I know I can never help everyone, but the least I can do is treat them with courtesy,” he said as tea was served.

As I reached for my cup, he placed one elbow on the large mahogany table, leaned forward and said, “Let me share a secret with you. Whenever you meet anyone, no matter how big they are or how small, always treat them with courtesy.  What you are actually doing is placing a small deposit in their heart and this is like leaving a credit balance with them. This is the goodwill that will always sustain you and your organization.”

Seeing the Chairman being so informal with me, I decided to stretch my luck. 

“I learnt something important from you today Sir. Thank you so much. But why is it that other senior people in your company do not practice this?” 

He looked at me for a moment and that worried me. Did I push the envelope too much? Suddenly he laughed and said,  “It’s OK. I know you are referring to my son. The truth is that it is not his fault alone. Maybe it is the way we evolved as an organization.”

I shook my head slightly.

“ You know we started as a tiny company and in the initial years I had to reach out to so many people for their help. My two elder daughters were born during that phase and have seen me struggle. They like me, know the value of relationships, and are grateful for what we have. My son was born when we were wealthy and all he has seen are people reaching out to me for help. It saddens me sometimes that he has not fully understood the value of building goodwill.”

“ All in good time Sir,” I said trying to lighten the mood.

He looked at me and smiled and I knew it was time to go.

As I wished him a good day and stepped out of his room I remembered a quote by Plato, which probably explained the Chairman’s dilemma:

Let parents bequeath to their children not riches, but the spirit of reverence.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Jayaram Easwaran

Author, Consultant, and Independent Board Director at Jindal Stainless

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