When I was in India, I once worked for a guy who was the scion of an immensely wealthy family of landowners and farmers from the border region between the states of Karnataka and Maharashtra.
This man’s father, the patriarch, used to be known as the ‘haldi king’ of Karnataka, someone who had the Indian turmeric market virtually by the balls, besides owning vast tracts of prime agricultural and urban land.
In the mid-1970s, the Indian government promulgated certain laws that put a ceiling to the number of acres that a guy could own. Since daddy-o’s holdings were immense, he decided to sell most of his land and he invested the proceeds in the industry, more specifically the steel and forgings industry.
The old man was illiterate but someone with foresight must have given him some pretty solid advice. The Indian auto industry was on the verge of a great leap forward, most of it located in the western and southern parts of the country. Talk about being at the right place at the right time.
Meanwhile the old man’s eldest son got himself a Bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering from BITS, Pilani, and went on to do his MS at the go-to place for rich spoilt Indian kids – MIT. Thereafter, he came in and began giving his dad a hand, like a scion would. Those who are familiar with the Indian auto sector, will know who I am referring to. Let’s just call the guy ‘Bull’. That’s what he was full of anyway.
Feudalism ran through Bull’s veins and he thought of himself as a some kind of a modern-day yuvraj (prince), treating employees, even the senior ones, like serfs. He is now a leading industrialist, based at Pune in Western India, owning large automobile ancillaries with revenues in billions. His present personal net worth is $1.3 billion today, according to Wikipedia.
I do hope someone who knows whom I am referring to, shows him this piece so he will know what kind of a piece of work I think he and his ilk really are.
Bull had this habit of looking at you with dark piercing eyes that glowered malevolently all the time, making you feel like you were a piece of turd. Didn’t matter if you were a VP or an Assistant Manager. He always made it a point to make you feel inadequate. At meetings, he could smell fear and immediately pounced upon the unfortunate executive who showed it, just to satisfy the predator that resided in him.
I remember once (and I was in a senior position then) when he summoned me with some market reports. As I walked into his sprawling office, I noticed he had a group of foreigners (overseas clients), standing around him on the plush carpet. When Bull’s eyes fell on me approaching, he barked,” On the double!” It didn’t matter that I was just ten feet away and would probably take a few more seconds to reach him.
My pace just wasn’t good enough for Bull. He wanted to see me run. He wanted to impress upon those visitors as to who was the one in charge. I loved my job, along with the perks and the status that it provided and I didn’t want to give it all up. I ran, as the amused visitors looked on and I never forgave myself for letting him make me feel so insignificant that day.
Bull’s Dad, the patriarch, was an even bigger…let’s see, what’s that word now…as a verb you would use a pin to do it…starts with a ‘p’ and ends with a ‘k’? Jeeze, I do get mixed up these days.
An old shrunken individual with a perpetual sneer, daddy-o treated all his employees as his personal valets. If you took a trip with him, he expected you to carry his baggage, hold open doors for him and be there outside his hotel room until you were dismissed for the night. You were responsible for his comforts every second of the trip. You had his room inspected in advance, before he checked in, just to make sure everything was neat, the towels were fresh, the bed linen brand new and all appliances and fixtures worked. The car you hired had better be brand new.
At the airport you rushed an assistant ahead, to check in for the old crone, so he wouldn’t have to wait in line. He always sat on a particular seat number inside the aircraft, depending upon the model. It was always right by the doorway, first row, to ensure he had leg space and also so he could get in and out of the aircraft quickly (there was no first class those days). You quickly learnt by heart the seating layout of an Indian Airlines 737 or A320/310/300 and you made sure he got that seat.
I am not kidding. I personally know of three individuals who went home straight from the airport, for the final time, simply because daddy dear didn’t get his favorite seat.
Soon hotel managers, taxi agency managers, airport managers, hotel boutique managers, florists, restaurant managers, all became my top-priority, men to be kept happy at all times, far more important than the clients I was primarily hired to service as an outside sales rep.
I once spent two days with the old shrimp in Kolkata where he had gone for meetings with defense procurement officials and some leading businessmen in the same industry sector. In the evening he wanted to take a stroll along the Hooghly riverside promenade.
So there we were, at this marvelously serene spot called Outram Ghat, when the taxi eased to a stop, let us out and began following us at a creeping pace. Immediately the old man was off with long strides, staring imperiously ahead. I scrambled to keep pace with him and as I drew level with him, he turned and gave me a withering look and I realized that he did not want me in step but maybe ten paces behind. I fell back.
In this way we trooped around Outram Ghat in silence for about 15 minutes, me following the alimentary-canal-end and the car following me, till he suddenly wheeled around and said,” Take me back to the hotel.” Never once did he make an effort to get to know me, then a young engineer just starting out, desperately in need of encouragement.
Driving anywhere with the old richard-head was trying, to say the least. He had this annoying habit of asking questions that even a 5-year old would classify as stupid. We were passing the racecourse on our way back to the Oberoi Grand and he says,” How many horses do they have in a race?” He had this sullen, rasping tone of voice when he spoke, especially when he asked a question. I so wanted to say,”How the f–k am I supposed to know, you idiot?” Alas, the need to continue to earn a salary and be able to eat, held me back.
Back at the hotel, I was hoping he would retire for the day. He had an early morning flight to catch, bookings for which had already been made well in advance. In fact I had booked every morning flight leaving Kolkata the next day, to Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore, just in case old Pops suddenly decided to go somewhere else. It was normal to see me walking around with a thick sheaf of tickets in my jacket pocket.
The SOB, instead of walking to the elevator at the hotel, veered off toward the boutiques. We entered an antiques dealer who had a lot of ivory statuettes on display. The geezer walks to one, inspects it for an instant and rasps,”Have it gift-wrapped and sent up to my room. You can go now. Wake me up at six.” With that, he wheeled around and left the store.
Those days there were no credit cards and I had just five grand (then a princely sum) with me. The ivory piece was worth twennie grand plus tax. What was I going to do? There were no such things as ATMs and banks closed sharp at five. It was eight.
That was when my personal contacts with the hotel General Manager came in handy. He gave the store manager his personal assurance that the money would be paid by the next evening, gave me a reassuring wink and hurried off. I saw to it that the carving was wrapped and delivered to the old man.
As to returning to pay the money that was owed, that was no problem. Whenever the old man or his son traveled, slush funds moved along with them, available for the regional branch managers to spend if and when necessary.
Which brings me to the recent fiasco at JFK aboard a Korean Air jet where a flight purser got his ass hauled off a plane that was already on the runway, heading toward the threshold markers for take-off. A stewardess in the first class had served nuts inside the original packaging (those small sealed plastic packets) to a customer whom she had probably not recognized as the daughter of Korean Air’s founder & CEO. The woman also happened to be the airlines’ VP-Customer Service. As per protocol, the stewardess should have served the nuts on a plate instead.
The brat immediately began berating first the stewardess and then her boss, the flight purser, in a high-strung, trenchant tone of voice and the long and short of it is that the spoilt little lady ordered the aircraft back. The pilot obviously wanted to keep his job and meekly brought the plane, along with 200 odd passengers, back to the terminal where the hapless flight purser was kicked out of the plane. Did the purser get to keep his job? Probably not. To think that the hullabaloo was over a packet of stupid nuts and a brat’s desire to show who is the boss.
Google ‘psychopathic & predatory bosses’ and you’ll get a flood of results, leaving you with the realization that they are anything but stray instances. Psychologists say most psychopaths are not behind bars and at least one study shows people with psychopathic tendencies are four times more likely to be found in senior management. “Not all psychopaths are in prison — some are in the boardroom,” says Dr. Robert Hare, a Canadian psychologist who is co-author of the book “Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work.”
“Most of us have an image of a psychopathic personality that is inaccurate. We think of a killer, but the fact is that psychopathy is a personality disorder that may or may not result in criminal behavior,” says Dr. Hare.
This is my message to the father and son terror duo – oops, I forgot they can’t see my middle finger up here.