Mr A, my boss, does not have a strong aversion for clients and agents. But when he was given the additional charge of Business Relations, he resented it and felt imposed upon. “As a class, they are a nuisance; as individuals, they are a pest,” he grumbled.
I was therefore surprised when I heard him offering a cup of tea to a grumpy agent the other day. This gentleman, Ben is his name, does push our business to a fair extent, but extracts his pound of flesh, not only in terms of hefty commissions, but also by being troublesome. Agents are dealt with by a dedicated manager, but owing to the sudden vacancy created by unfortunate and untimely demise of our previous manager, Mr A was saddled with the job of handling them. Ben probably had no hand in inducing the heart attack in our manager – if rumors can be believed, his wife is the likely culprit.
Ben was not happy with the inputs being given by our office for the last few months. He said so, adding that since he was a gentleman, he would not like to express his views about a dead man. Ben demanded to know why our office was treating the agents shabbily and why were they not getting information in time and why…. In fact he wanted to know a lot of things. Mr A tried patience and reason to soothe him.
Mr A: We value our agents highly. If you have any specific issues… (Ben did not like the word ‘issues’ and said so. It was also evident that he did not like Mr A, but restrained himself from suppressing the sentiment.)
Ben: That is all very well, but when so many changes were made last month, why I was not informed?
Mr A: (Opening the computer system with great pomp and show) I will check. Ah here it is. Mail was sent to you alerting…
Ben: (Aghast at the suggestion that he was informed by so unstable a media as the internet) What mail? Don’t you have a phone? It takes one sec to alert a poor guy.
Mr A: (Struggling to keep his emotions in check) I have no way to know whether our late manager called you or not, but I can assure you.. (‘Assure’ is another word that Ben does not like, and he interrupted.)
Ben: I do not want assurances. I want to know what is the fact, as it stands today.
Mr A: (Again turning to the computer for latest facts) As I see, the latest rate list and specification were mailed to you. They are here and I will get a print out.
Ben: (Throwing his hands up in air, looking towards the almighty and mumbling) Will this man never tell me anything? (Then speaking directly to Mr A, in a very reasonable voice) I think I will meet Superboss, at least he will be interested in saying something.
And with that, Ben got up, finished his tea, and stomped off towards the room of Superboss. Mr A looked satisfied, even happy. “At least we did not get to hear his anecdotes,” he said.
Ben does have a lot of stories to tell, especially when he is in the mood. In fact one of our former managers, when asked to explain his low output, said he handled the account of Ben, and that should be an explanation enough. The justification was found to be reasonable and was accepted.
Two hours after the brief exchange recounted above, Mr A was called by Superboss, and was told clearly, that listening to Ben’s stories was not a part of Superboss’ job, and that Mr A had better handle the agents himself in future.
Mr A was in a serious fix, and I wondered how he would extricate himself from this black hole of public dealing. He could mess up the work and be forced out, I calculated, or he could rebel. He did neither. He took up the job with gusto.
Within the next few weeks, Mr A became the darling of the agents. His office was now packed with agents of all ages and genders and of all political persuasions. They came early in the morning, and invariably stayed for the day. Several rounds of tea and snacks, and even packed lunches, were now served throughout the day. They discussed politics and watched TV serials in our office. Our canteen in-charge decided to shift base to a place nearer our unit.
The reaction of other department heads over this development changed over time. Initially they found the whole thing funny, then they became suspicious, but by the end of the month, the dominant emotion was that of alarm. Admin said Mr A would ruin the delicate balance of our budget, if he kept on partying on company’s expense. Mr X said all the secrets of the company were being leaked out to the agents, asserting that he now was being asked to explain too many glitches and problems in our services. Others said that the peace of the office was being disturbed by too many callers, and that we may as well shift to a railway platform. The office of Techie was raided by the agents, who began with wanting to understand our computer based ‘information system’ and ended with wanting to reform it.
The department heads forced Superboss to call a meeting on review of Business Relations. Superboss was actually excited over the apparent upside in our relations with the agents, and was even contemplating a raise for Mr A. He was therefore irritated over suppressed grumbling on part of some people.
The meeting began with a laudatory speech by Superboss, who said that agents are central to our office, and that due attention was finally being paid to this aspect. Mr A on his part agreed wholeheartedly and hinted at his plans to involve the agents more and more with our daily activities. He even proposed to take some important agents on an international holiday.
Before Superboss could endorse the proposal, and the expression on his face showed that he was about to, Admin objected. “As it is we are running low on finances. Our daily expenditure on feeding agents is more than what we earn out of them,” he said.
Mr A was calm, but firm. “Our relations with the agents should not be looked at by the prism of immediate profits. Developing relations is key to surviving a competitive environment,” he said.
“But developing relations has to be done within our resources. Our former manager managed the relations within his assigned budget,” Admin said reasonably. Mr A laughed a sarcastic laugh, and it conveyed his opinion on the effectiveness of our former manager.
Mr X pitched in with the needlessness of letting so many people stampede our office. To this, Mr A admitted that the charge was justified, adding that he was as worried as the others, and had therefore prepared a proposal for purchasing and equipping a separate office, in a separate building. He would submit the proposal immediately, he offered.
Techie said he needed more manpower to deal with the increased workload of educating the agents on our information system and to redesign the system to make it more responsive to their needs. Mr A heartily endorsed the suggestion, and drove home the point by going into great detail on the weaknesses in our software and the hardware.
Admin felt the meeting was being hijacked into a wrong direction and interrupted, “Everything costs money. Here we are discussing ways to live within our means,” he said.
“And I thought the meeting was about Business Relations,” Mr A said. Superboss felt the same and asked Mr A to explain his proposal further.
Given a free hand, Mr A expanded on the theme of making Business Relations central to all our activities, and virtually redrew the organization structure to make himself a virtual number two. The expression of sublime bliss on the face of Mr A did not go down well with either Mr X or Admin.
At the end of his long discourse, Mr A said that he would take the proposal to the HQ to CEO and explain its merits so that other regions could also benefit. He suggested that an email could be sent immediately to the office of CEO seeking time.
That shocked Superboss, and he looked meaningfully towards Admin. The latter nodded in silent but sad agreement. Superboss had suddenly realized what Admin had been trying to convey with subtle hints. He decided it was time to tackle the situation with tact.
“What A says is right,” Superboss started, “But with the responsibilities that A already holds, it would be unfair to load him with this additional job. Admin, you must show some initiative, after all the proposal involves finances and infrastructure. Prepare a comprehensive plan immediately. I want it in three months. Once we finalize it, we will take it to CEO. It would not be right to take half-baked ideas to the boss,” he concluded decisively.
The additional charge of Business Relations was shifted to Admin with immediate effect. The crowd of agents shifted their base, and peace once more prevailed in our office. I could not contain disgust at the back-stabbing, conniving nature of Admin, and said so.
Mr A, deep into a game of Scrabble, smiled weakly and merely said “Superboss knows best. Maybe he felt Admin was better equipped to handle the reforms.” The incident once again shows why Mr A says he is above petty politics. One cannot but admire the man.