Story 20. Risk Taking.

This story has been on the editing board for a mighty long time as I could not make up my mind about posting it. I finally decided to post it after reading Wisewebwoman’s blog post on Risk Taking.

The reason I hesitated so long will become obvious as you read through the post. This will set the record straight for all those who have wondered as to why I took what was then perceived by them to be a very foolish risk. I never explained to them as to why I took it and today I can as, almost a quarter century has passed and most people involved have most likely either forgotten or would not be bothered any more.

For some new readers to my post, some background information is available on my post on Ambition.

After I was recruited straight off the campus in 1967, I worked for the same employer for 23 years and rose quite high there. During that period, I was part of a very dynamic team of people who built one division of that company into a highly successful market leader which attracted the best employees possible. During that period, a merger of two compnanies of disparate cultures also took place and that resulted in some very peculiar cross divisional postings of people. One such was posted as my direct boss who did not simply have a clue as to what our division was all about and thought that the route to increased profitability was to form a cartel with our competitors. He either could not or would not understand what it meant for people like me who by that time had put in around or more than half our life times in the process of building that organisation.

By this time, I also had access to the strategic approach that our parent company in the UK had developed which too was different to my idea of what it should be for the Indian arm. My attempts at trying to change their minds failed and it was another disappointment.

I was unhappy for the first time in that company with the immdediate and even long term prospects looking bleak and started to look our for other employment. I confided in just three persons about that decision. One was my late wife who encouraged me to do what I wanted to do, and one was my mentor from who I had taken over at his superannuation and other other a long standing friend from Mumbai / Pune. I secured two offers by late 1989, one for a position in London and one in Singapore, both with multinational responsibilities. When my friend came to know that I had made up mind, he and his elder brother who I had a great respect for visited me at Bangalore and made me an offer that I could not refuse and which made Urmeela happy too. They offered me a contract for five years which not only bettered what I had been offered by the overseas employers but also a chance to continue living in India which would have helped my son’s education.

By early 1990, I had lined up three options and had to make up my mind about leaving what by then was my second home and a whole lot of people who I had enjoyed working and growing up with. The risks were enormous and I was unable to take the final plunge and submit my resignation. When my annual appraisal exercise was concluded in January 1990, and I saw that my immediate superior did not have the same opinion of my performance as I did, I went back to my mentor for a consultation. We met a few times and when my prospective Indian employers sweetened the offer further, I took the plunge and submitted my resignation.

It was heart breaking and many of my well wishers were of the opinion that I was being irrational and stupid for taking such a big risk. I can still feel the unease that I felt for the first few months with the new employers, but I settled down comfortably in the new environment and successfully completed my contract and retired. I have no doubts that had I continued in the earlier company, I would have been able to retire when I did at an age when most Managers were hitting the home stretch.

Since I had a safety net built, my son had finished his studies and had started on his own career, I was able to take a few more risks with other employers without compromising on my integrity or self respect and continued as either a Consultant or a hands on Manager on and off till 2002 when I finally stopped such work due to having to take on care giving responsibilities. I was again dragged into corporate life with some Board level appointments for two years but they were in Pune itself and did not take much time away from my primary focus of giving care to my late wife.

To paraphrase Wisewebwoman, I never would have known about my own ability to adjust to different corporate cultures, if I hadn’t taken the chance on breaking off with a 23 year old relationship with my first post MBA employer. In retirement, I have no regrets whatsoever now. I however wonder often as to what would have happened had I not taken that big risk in 1990!

What Did You Want To Be When You Grew Up?

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This post has been at the back of my mind for a long time and every now and then something triggers off the thought. The LBC topic and What I Do/Did For A Living, got one of my readers to talk to me on the phone and that conversation again revived the idea and here goes.

During my corporate avatar when interviewing candidates for employment with us, I would not miss asking this question to try and find quite what kind of changes had taken place in the candidate and also to get some understanding about her power of imagination.

Naturally, I have asked myself the same question to get an insight into my own progress in life and today, I will share that answer and try and explain my current attitude towards, success and ambition about which I have written other posts.

My friends however had clear ideas like wanting to become doctors, engineers, soldiers, government officials etc. They worked towards achieving those goals with single minded devotion and would be puzzled by my own indifference to those laudable goals. They did not have access to my inner thoughts. I could not have articulated those thoughts then even if I had wanted to. I was just that different.

No, I did not want to become a fireman or a cop or a bus driver. What I wanted to do when I grew up most was to get out of my father’s control. To enable that, I was willing to do anything to earn some money to keep body and soul together and in the process have some fun too. I did that by wheeling and dealing and enjoyed those days with like minded kindred souls.

My father had other ideas however and despite getting out of his home, tried to tie me down to employment where he could indirectly control me. That I eventually was able to get free from under that situation and become a reasonably stable and productive citizen was due entirely to circumstances over which I had little control. I call that grace. That is why I have consistently maintained that in my life, I was just in the right place at the right time and events kept overtaking me.

Now, just imagine some interviewer asking me the same question that I used to ask. What could I have answered? Had I been honest, would I have been selected?

Pravin, how does that sound to you?