“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune,” announced Mr A.
Wow, Shakespeare! Mr A, my boss, was in an exuberant mood, and I was curious. I don’t know why, but I had an apprehension that Mr X, his chief rival, may have fractured his limbs, and said so. This seemed to cheer him up even more, but he waved his hands before clearing my doubts.
“CEO is going to be in the town and I have been asked to be with him during this period. You realize this is a rare opportunity? One of the southern regions has gone headless and I can position myself for the post,” he said.
“That’s great,” I said, feigning delight, while trying to imagine him as Superboss in another region. I failed.
Later that day, while I was having lunch with Phil, I mentioned the recent developments. Now Phil is a veteran in the HR, who had assisted me while I was temporarily given charge of that department. Though initially I had a rocky relationship with Phil – at that time he had failed to appreciate my ahead-of-times ideas – I have come to like him and value his worldly-wise opinions.
“You know Phil,” I began, “though I admire Mr A as a shrewd operator, I feel he lacks the flamboyance to be a big boss. Do you think CEO will take him on as a region head?”
“Had you seen Superboss before he became top boss?” he countered with a question. Phil has been with the company for ages – he has stuck to this department and the company has forgotten about him.
“No, that was before I joined. Why?”
“You would have hardly noticed his existence.”
That came as a surprise to me. Superboss dominates and stamps his presence with his trademark loudness. “No! Really?”
“The path to the top is slippery. It is attained by the ones who have the least number of enemies, who pose the least threat to the bosses. There is a purposeful search for the biggest duffer for higher posts,” declared Phil. The disbelief on my face forced Phil to elaborate. “Anybody posted at the top is a potential threat to the ones who are appointing him. You would have noticed that bosses rarely like their immediate juniors, and seem to love the super-juniors.”
His facts and arguments made sense. I came directly to the point – “Is Mr A Superboss material? What are his chances?”
“In our zone Mr A, Admin and Mr X could consider themselves as potential candidates. There would be others in other regions. There can be fresh recruitment for the post also. So Mr A is just one of the many who can be in the contention. He will not be recommended by Superboss, who would not like any of his juniors to become his equal. So A would have to bat for himself,” explained Phil.
“That he says he will do,” I agreed.
“But that is not enough, unless you are a relative of someone. What counts is to get into a list of potential candidates, and then to prove yourself to be the dumbest. Believe me, it is a delicate game,” smiled Phil.
“Since you know so much, how is it you have been an assistant for so long?” I asked bluntly.
“I was out of the rat race long back. There are some crack-pots like me everywhere who like to watch the game rather than play it,” he said. It was an idiotic statement, but somehow he sounded truthful.
“Will X and Admin also play the game,” I asked.
“Definitely. But A is ahead in the game by getting himself attached to CEO on his tour here. X has a natural advantage of being a genuine duffer. He has a chance if he does not act intelligent or accidently does something smart. Admin has a low-grade personality that would work in his favour. He knows that. You will notice he will wear his especially worn-out suits in the next few days, and try to prove himself to be a disaster. I won’t be surprised if he irritates Superboss by arranging for a bad catering or something and thus induce Superboss to shout at him. He may try to go for sympathy vote.”
Phil sure had had studied the main protagonists in depth. I decided that I too will watch this game closely.
Later that week I got the chance to witness the masters at work – or should I say at play? The setting was our conference hall where the CEO was invited for an informal cuppa with the officers of our zone. Mr A, half bent and all humility, ushered the CEO in the room, where we were waiting for the last hour. CEO beamed with happiness on seeing us, apologetic for having kept us waiting. He explained that the shopping had taken longer than he had expected. For some reason that cheered up Superboss considerably, who said that it always happens, that we all had a pretty nice time waiting for him, and that he was hardly late at all.
Pleasantries over, Superboss welcomed the CEO with a glowing speech. He then looked around for Admin – wanting to signal the start of main business for the day – serving of refreshments. But it was not easy to locate Admin. He was there somewhere in the room, of that all of us were sure. But he was so well camouflaged in his off-white shirt, and dusty grey tie (no coat), that it took Superboss full two minutes to locate him. The tone of Superboss was harsh when he said, “Admin, why don’t you sit here,” indicating a vacant seat next to himself, “And could you kindly start the service?”
I could see a look of definite interest in the eyes of CEO, who was now observing Admin keenly. Admin then overdid the unassuming bit, and mumbled in a confused stammer. It was not clear whether that worked in his favour or not, but Mr A and Mr X looked worried. Mr X, suddenly got up, announced that he would see where the problem is, and, as if on cue, bumped into the table and hurt himself. With a “Sorry, sorry,” said probably to the table, he rushed out. The interest of CEO shifted to Mr X, and the expression on his face indicated that he had stuck a gold-mine of potential zonal heads.
An apprehensive Mr A waited for the next move by X. I wondered whether any of them would go the desperate extent of spilling hot tea on the CEO. Superboss, who seemed to be having similar doubts, firmly took charge of the situation by glaring at all and sundry, thus clearly indicating that any further display of dumbness would be viewed seriously. That had a sobering effect on Mr X, who sat down, and on Admin, who got up to supervise the service.
Mr A was back in business when CEO was to be ushered out into the wide world. Again he was half bent in humility, and acted like a minder of dumb child-artist, wary of each step the child takes. Mr X and Admin wistfully looked at the two of them disappearing into the horizon, virtually hand in hand. They had given their best shot, they thought, and now the matter was in God’s hand.
The next few months were spent in expectation and speculation, and throughout the period, Mr A had massive mood swings. At times he was philosophical and calm, at others, agitated and irritable. I am told Mr X was seen plucking flower petals, mumbling, “will he, won’t he.” Admin was distracted to the extent that he accidently sanctioned the purchase of electric kettles for the juniors.
But suddenly one day the hopes of all were dashed by the news that the company had poached a manager from a rival company for that zone. But before the news could hit the our three bosses badly enough to lead them to sick-bed, the another bit of news filtered in – that the new incumbent was actually a cousin of madam CEO. That brought smiles back on everyone’s face – as if being a cousin of madam CEO was a higher qualification, justifying the appointment. An additional source of solace for all was that no one from our zone was selected.
“The best laid plans of mice and men…” I told Phil, shrugging my shoulders.
“Keeps on happening. It is a never ending game – people will go on at it till kingdom come,” he sighed, sounding a little despondent. “It is not an ideal world David. People will act as per their selfish ends, forgetful of the larger picture.”
“And what is the larger picture?” I asked smiling.
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances,” Phil quoted Shakespeare.
“So let’s wait for the next Act, and meanwhile can we have some popcorns?” I asked.