Story 14. Doing Business With Friends.

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I met S for the first time in 1974. I was a visiting customers and he too was as an agent for a big textile company. We kept meeting each other in the market for many years till 1990 I joined the company for which he was the agent. By that time, we had known each other fairly well and both of us had visited each other’s homes many times.

S is a deeply religious person forever going off on pilgrimages and visiting temples. An activity in which his wife actively participated and they were well known for their fervour including their significant contributions to the establishment of a local high school based on Hindu traditions.

S has been blessed with two children the elder a daughter now a grandmother who lives in the same town that S lives in. Her daughter, son in law and grand daughter live in the USA and the proud grandparents often go to the USA to baby sit and shop.

The younger child M, our hero, is a son and also a grand father now. He too lives in the same town and shares the same residence with his father. His two young sons were the first ever in my life to call me grand father. The grandparents doted on the two boys and in many ways, at least in my opinion, spoiled them silly.

When S was our agent for a few years before I retired, M used to work along with his father in the agency. He however decided to branch off on his own as S was quite a control freak and would not let the young man have much freedom. He set up a manufacturing unit rather than start an agency and by all accounts, he flourished. He also became a sourcing agent for a European company and did well on that business as well.

This was however galling for S and when M decided to move his residence to a near by city where his establishment was, relations between father and son broke and they stopped talking to each other. They however needed to communicate with each other on various family matters, and I was elected by both of them to be one of the links. I was and continue to be registered in M’s mobile phone as God Father!

In due course, the grandchildren grew up and the elder boy unfortunately became an alcoholic. He caused havoc in the small town where the family’s reputation and businesses suffered and the family spiraled their way into near penury in a short time with neither the grand father nor the father able to spare enough time and funds to mend damages constantly caused by the errant son.

I had to step in and arrange for the young lad to be admitted into a rehabilitation center and what happened to him subsequently is an entire story by itself. Suffice it to say that for the past one year he has been sober. In the meanwhile, the younger lad was sent to the UK for advanced education at considerable expenditure and on his return he joined M in his business but relations quickly soured between the two as the youngster did not like the way the father was conducting the business.

By now, you would have gathered that the family had become totally dysfunctional and it took a toll on S and his wife’ health with both suffering heart attacks with the latter succumbing to one of them three years ago. M too had an attack and recovered to find everything in shambles and started to rebuild his life with some vigor but had to simultaneously play a number of care giving roles which started to affect his life in multiple directions.

I had linked some of my business associates with M to supply raw materials for his business and when M started to default on payments, I was dragged into the mess with increasing frequency. It was during this period that M stopped taking my telephone calls, which he was doing with his suppliers too. I went through some tough times resolving these issues, which I was able to with some dexterity by linking up with M’s customers and forming a syndicate to sort out the cash flow problems.

As I write this, the problems where I was involved have been solved and M came to meet me last week to apologise and to make amends as it were. He requested me to intercede on his behalf to restore supplies of raw materials on credit, so that he can get back on his feet. I flatly refused and informed him that what made me withdraw my support to him was his refusal to take my phone calls. He pleaded with me that he was going through so many difficulties and was not in a position to answer me with any assurances, but I held firm and said that I had had enough and despite our long lasting and special relationship, I would no longer get involved in business matters but would be available as a family friend. He went away sulking and it broke my heart to see him in that condition but I decided that at my age and stage of life, I can do without such melodrama. I still do not know if that was the right decision but, I have decided to be firm on my resolve.

One of the maxims that is very popular in Indian business circles, observed more in the breach, is not to do business with friends but to make friends with business associates. I give this advise to all my mentees. In this case, I followed the maxim but a friend made via business turned out to be my Waterloo.

Skepticism vs. Disbelief

Welcome to the weekly Loose Bloggers Consortium Friday posts when some of us write on the same topic. Today’s topic has been chosen by Conrad.

I was a nogoodnik till, with great difficulty and two attempts, I got my High School certificate. My father gave up on me. My late mother did not. She kept nagging me to study and at least get a Bachelor’s degree. This was very important for her as, she felt that I had more in me than what my father saw in me.

After that, I started working and studying for a Bachelor’s degree through the then equivalent of distant learning. There were regular letters from my mother when she could not harangue in person to study and reach my potential. My father, when he came to know about my part time academic pursuits was skeptical.

Lo and behold, I got my Intermediate certificate on the first attempt and my mother was ecstatic and rushed to my father with the news. My father’s reaction was disbelief. He told my mother that her son was a liar. So, I got a letter asking me to send a copy of the certificate duly attested to be a true copy. With some difficulty, I got that done and disbelief turned to grudging belief.

My mother would not leave me in peace. Despite the fact that I was making and spending money and thoroughly enjoying myself, she kept nagging me to continue the distant education to get my Bachelor’s degree. Just to keep her off my back I enrolled in a course and when my father came to know about it, you guessed it, he was skeptical. The Gods were kind to me and I got that degree at the first attempt and my father’s reaction to that news was again disbelief. Just so that he could prove to my mother that his nogoodnik son was lying again, he sent one of his minions to check from the university whether I had graduated and when that was confirmed, he had no chice but to accept my mother’s glee and joy.

The story does not stop there. My mother came across an advertisement asking for students for a high profile Institute of Management and insisted that I sit for the competitive examination and when I passed that hurdle, the skepticism and disbelief till proof of admission was provided, repeated.

When due to some unavoidable circumstances, I was forced to relocate from where I was living then, I decided to accept the offer of admission and went for my MBA program. Skepticism was once again the reaction from the father. He told my mother that I would be thrown out of the Institute in a few months. When i survived the full two years and graduated, disbelief was once again present till I took the diploma home, along with a job offer from a high profile company who had recruited me via the campus recruitment process.

I have had first hand experience of skepticism and disbelief, Conrad. I have overcome both in my own humble way, with God’s grace and the nagging of my late mother.

There is a famous couplet in Tamil, my mother tongue, which translates to: “Greater is the joy for a mother than giving birth to a son, is when she learns that her son is learned.” I am glad that I was able to give her that joy despite skepticism and disbelief that she was exposed to.