Saturday, November 8, 2008

Resuscitation

It was one of those days again.

Had reached office at 8 a.m. and a whole 12 and a half hours later, was still there.

Did I mention that we were understaffed and overburdened? Or that we could have held a record for the highest attrition? Lately, I'd forgotten what sunlight looked like.

Since it had always been my burning ambition since childhood to be 'independent', I was happy to be working in an office, earning my own income, rubbing shoulders with - well, not exactly the 'who's who' of the advertising and marketing world, but quite close.

Plus, the terrible impression I had of those who worked in "business" was slowly changing. Some of the people who did this were actually human. Not heartless, cut-throat, ready to sell their own grandmother.

'Some' is the key word here, of course.

LL was a brilliant orator and he was quite different while interacting with our clients. He was charming, affable and humorous. He bent a sensitive ear to our clients' woes when required and when a client wasn't quite convinced, he was passionate and forceful in making his point.

Witnessing this for the first time, I was amazed at the transformation. I counted myself amongst his many admirers, for his intelligence and genuinely successful marketing tactics. And I was still proud to be amongst the chosen few recruited by him. (Notice the subtle self-flattery).

Thinking back, this must have been the quality that Adolf H. aroused whenever he spoke publicly. I'd read somewhere that without quite being able to recall any particular sentence of his speech, budding or fellow Nazis were willing to follow his ideology blindly, once at the receiving end of his magnetic oratory.

I was similarly still overawed by LL and admired the fact that he had set up a whole organisation like this, which ran on professional lines.

Ofcourse, I had many misconceptions as will become clear over time.

This was one of the days everyone at work had witnessed him being unnecessarily nasty with a newly recruited sweet, timid girl who had made a simple error in a communiqué to the client. His sarcastic comments yelled at the top of his voice reduced her to tears. We also watched him spectacularly lose his temper with another guy who'd dared send a press-release write-up to the client without LL's having seen it first. What upset him primarily was that his own quote was not included in the press release. LL did not like losing any opportunity of being quoted in media and ranked any journalist's call as the highest priority.

I was sure he'd have a couple of resignations on his table by tomorrow morning. And we’d continue losing people almost as fast as we hired them.

All us Marrkitians* soon understood that LL was rabid about getting credit for his contributions no matter how negligible. We were so used to him taking credit publicly, even for our team's ideas that we never thought about why he couldn't share the credit a bit. Or use "we" instead of "I" while talking of a successful launch or repositioning.

*Refer to 'Glossary of Marrkit's Marketing Terms/ Office Jargon' section for meanings

Still trying to come to terms with what colossal ego could get a kick out of picking on youngsters like that, I was revising my earlier impressions of him - largely got from his media personality. Oh yes, he was very often to be seen on the business news channels and widely quoted in marketing articles.

Did I mention already that we all had many misconceptions?

One of his favourite quotes recently was that the fifth 'P' - 'People' are most important in an organisation and must be treated well. Well, he didn't seem to be acting on it himself, did he? I did reflect on how he had never taken such liberties with some of us who were still loyal. I would never have stood for this sort of treatment. I'd made errors in judgement too, but followed that adage of never repeating a mistake again, which was getting me 'good' to 'excellent' performance ratings every quarter. (I'm sure you'll allow the continuing self-flattery here)

He also chose to mentor me, as this was my first job. This meant I was exposed to long, lengthy reminisces from him of his first job and subsequent ones. By now I knew his life history by heart. He was highly experienced in the corporate way of life, and passed on lots of useful tips on handling various situations, clients, people. I appreciated this interest and this was one of the reasons he fostered loyalty.

Over tea (for him), coffee (for me) and soggy biscuits in his office, he would narrate many interesting anecdotes from his early working days. I found these fascinating - each episode ended with him achieving fantastic targets, or reaching glorious new levels of sales for the companies in question, or devising a brilliant marketing strategy in the nick of time to save the brand from ruin by the new, deadly competitor. Or reaching hitherto unaccessed markets in remote locations and placing the product there.

I was enchanted and saw him as the gladiator of the sales and marketing world, who had now retired into consulting for lesser mortals.

Or perhaps it would be more correct to say - he saw himself that way.

I was beginning though, to feel uncomfortable about the fact that I was tending to take the easy way out. By simply doing everything his way - compromising on what anyone else thought was best for the situation, including my own judgement. To use a trivial example, in any press release we penned on the client's behalf, I would automatically include a discerning quote from LL, which he sometimes found good enough to not improve on at times. One clearly needed to develop a very thick skin to be working with him. Was I getting one? Telling myself that I had to earn a living and that he was basically honest and ethical as far as I could see, I decided that we had no right to question any of his tactics. After all, we were earning a living thanks to him, and it was his company. Things could be worse.

All in all, the day was one of those which whizzed by with unimaginable speed, ate up my lunch break, and included uncomfortable thoughts crowding in, about my employer.

I badly needed to cheer up, get home, relax, watch some Frasier.

And an 'approval' from LL on another strategic note drawn up and his signature on it. Knowing that once I got this, I was a free bird for the day, nay, for the evening, I barged into his cabin.

I knew he was getting an update from another Sales head (let's call him Mr. Milkah) on what was going on in his territory. Mr. Milkah had a naturally lugubrious countenance and I wondered why the atmosphere seemed funereal.

This was not one of my clients, however, so I barely listened to what was going on.

LL didn't mind that I'd intruded. He knew that this note had to be sent right away. While nodding at Mr. Milkah across from him, he casually skimmed through my file.

"And our team is doing a really good job. We have expanded in many new territories already. A lot of first-time orders", said Mr. Milkah, looking mournful.

"Good, good..", said LL absentmindedly. His Cheshire cat grin was in place like a fixture. Depending on his mood, it could make him look menacing or happy.

"And we have even converted some outlets completely. They have stopped keeping our competitor's product".

"That's great news. Congratulations..", chuckled LL, still not looking up.

Mr. Milkah didn't mind. He was on a roll.

"All thanks to you Mr. LL", he said dolefully, giving credit where it was due.

Now I started to pay attention. I badly needed to hear something good, something that would affirm that I was working for a marketing whiz and that all this daily drama with emotionally battered colleagues, was worth it.

I looked over at Mr. Milkah. He finally smiled and so did I. LL very flatteringly introduced me as one of his brightest and best and spoke of how my clients had increased their business with us since I'd taken charge. Flattered, I promptly forgave him his past sins.

Yep, back in those days, it was usually that easy with me. And well, timely bonuses and pay hikes also helped.

Mr. Milkah decided to impress me, though his words again seemed at variance with his demeanour.

"You know", he added, "Thanks to LL, our business has increased and my area's sales have gone up so much that our Directors are really happy."

"That's wonderful", I responded. "But I'm not surprised. That's what we usually deliver for all our clients".

"And that amazing idea he gave us, was so good..", Mr. Milkah continued, looking even more depressed. I wondered if something was wrong, despite the breaking news of record sales he seemed to be reporting.

LL pointed out a minor rephrasing to me in the document. I peeked over while nodding at Mr. Milkah, now paying attention to what LL was trying to whisper.

Mr. Milkah continued his woeful rave, "The team was so reluctant at first, but I explained it to them like LL had to me. We arranged a bus ride for them and called them all for a training…"

I listened with half an ear trying to simultaneously fix my expression such that either party would feel I was paying them attention.

"…I had to give them all, what is it called? My English is not so good. I am so bad at all these terms. Ah yes, mouth-to-mouth. I personally gave them. Each and every one.."

My attention snapped back. My God! He was describing a catastrophe. Hadn't I read something about it in today's papers? A bus load of tourists got stuck in a landslide? Surely that wasn't Mr. Milkah's sales team? And that too, headed for a training that Marrkit was indirectly responsible for!

LL too was looking over his glasses at Mr. Milkah. He looked over and noticed my expression. And went back to reading the file. Thick-skinned indeed.

Unable to believe that even LL could be so completely heartless to this tale of mayhem and horror, I stared with shock at Mr. Milkah.

"Oh my God, how are they now?", I asked, not really wanting to hear the answer.

Mr. Milkah too, apart from his general expression of woe, seemed to be maintaining his composure quite well. He frowned at my question.

"Who?"

"The sales team!"

"They are fine, thank you".

"Glad to hear it", was all I could say, still in some shock. I imagined them all in a row of beds, in some hospital, recovering from the accident and showing up for work swathed in bandages.

LL finally looked up. "Mr. Milkah, Mr. Milkah...", he chortled. By now I was feeling sick that he could giggle at such news.

"Mr. Milkah….", LL said, wagging a finger at him, "It's called 'Word of Mouth'. Not Mouth to Mouth. Hahaha! It's word-of-mouth marketing - THAT's what it's called!"

10 comments:

Beta said...

Reminds me of my managerial communication classes. I was given a U (fail) because I was supposed to number the pages (in Arabic numerals on the index and summary and in Roman numerals after that). For my life, I couldn't figure out how to get microsoft word to do that.

Annoymously said...

Ouch. Must've hurt. Where was this?

Beta said...

That was in the city of sanctions. Lets see if you can crack this one :-)

PS - Please remove the word verification before posting a comment. It is annoying as hell.

Annoymously said...

Well, anywhere in the middle east/ S.E.A could be described thus I suppose.

Thanks for the feedback. The annoyance was unintentional. Done the needful. Shall now expect my comment box to be flooded :)

Beta said...

City of sanctions = Ban galore = Bangalore.

A product of boring afternoons in campus coupled with superfast team solutions to the TOI crosswords which meant that we started developing our own cryptic clues. Get it?

PS - I just changed my comments thingy back to full-page hearing that the embedded page crashed on the 'fans'. Now you have switched to embedded comments. Ironic. Ha Ha.

Annoymously said...

This is what comes of over zealousness in reacting to feedback. More fool me.

You constitute half of my readership right now, so was trying to please. :)

Okay, you show-off you, that was a good cryptic & at the risk of exposing my dying grey cells, am so bad at those. :)

Incidentally, visited Bangalore for the first time last year for a leisurely 3 weeks and loved it! Comes close to Bbay w.r.t. freedom of movement.

PS:-Back to full page.

Annoymously said...

At the risk of flogging a dead horse, forgot to post my main question - Even allowing for all kinds of eccentricity, why would any coll in Bangalore want Arabic numbering??

Beta said...

Sorry, it was the other way around.

My professor asked me to number the index/executive summary in Roman numerals (i/ii/iii etc.) and the rest in Arabic numerals (1/2/3 etc. - Yes they are called Arabic numerals and not English).

So, it was not that eccentric afterall. But definitely pointless and I made sure I let her know about it :-) Perhaps, thats why I got a "U".

Hiren Gajria said...

Hey the 50% of your readership is just back. Did i miss too much?

@beta
I still fail to understand why the 1,2,3 should be called arabic numerals, however i realise that there are better things to reason, so ill leave this one as it is.

@annoymously
suggestion - try to include in your blog, your experiences of your B school days. Im sure there is a lot that you can write about.

Annoymously said...

Finally, Mika. You were becoming conspicuous by your absence. I realize how everyone's ignoring the actual post, which means it's my worst yet. Deliberately frivolous - is all i can say in my defence.

That's a great suggestion Hiren - though writing abt just day to day life as it is now would be fun too. Especially as mine has been so drastic in terms of change! Almost like each chapter is a story scripted by different authors who seem to be vying with each other to be as different from the previous.

Seem to hv painted myself into a corner with a themed story on work life, so wondering if putting it here would dilute that.

Plus, you understand the reasons behind the fictional identity am assuming here & I wouldn't want to jeopardize that just yet. All names/ identities hv been changed. Also, any time squeezed out is mainly to update this blog!

Though i used to think of blogging as a partly narcissistic exercise, am enjoying this so much mainly because of the interaction & offloading on others' posts. And mainly because all of you write so well. Am quite awed. I think i'll get withdrawal symptoms if u guys stop writing! :-)

Will start a general blog soon though, if y'all promise to drop in there as well - gawd knows i hv enough fodder for that!