General Manager

Many moons ago, when I worked for Siemens Kalwa factory, we had a General Manager, Motors Works named SRK Sareen. In those days (1980s) motors were in short supply and our sales colleagues from Delhi, Kolkata (Calcutta then), as well as down South would all come to follow up and expedite fulfillment of their important orders. They would catch a flight, stay in a hotel, book a car,and make the arduous journey to Kalwa Works in morning. All of us would assemble in the Officers’ Canteen in the morning for breakfast and then go for our respective jobs. Any visitor from the Regions stood out, was immediately noticed and welcomed. After he has shaken hands all around, he would reach Sareen saab’s table and when he said he had come to follow up for his Motors order, boss man Sareen would heartily escort him to his cabin in the Motors factory building. Enroute conversation was most sweet : solicitous inquiries about Arora’s family; colleagues in Delhi; what have you.

Ensconced in his cabin, Sareen would light up his Charminar (he could finish an unfiltered Charminar in 2 or max 3 looooong drags) ask Aroraji (or Bala or Banerjee, who so ever was visiting), whether he would have a cup of tea. Tea would be ordered and all the latest topics in the company would be discussed. Meanwhile Arora ji is getting impatient and a little flushed under the collar. Finally Sareen was a big man and the sales guy relatively junior. Needless to add in a very feudal setup like Siemens, the power distance was killing. After tea cups are removed, all generic chit chat over, Arora finally gathers the courage and says ” Sareen saab wo meri NTPC ki motors ki order ke baare me poochna tha” ” Sareen replies ” Kya? NTPC ki order? Motors ki thi?” Sareen saab would get up and glower down at Arora. Arora confused. Scared. Kya galat ho gaya bhai? He also gets up as Sareen sir is standing.

Then Sareen sir tells him: “Beta, mere saath jara bahar to aana.” In the corridor he stands opposite his cabin entrance. And asks Arora ( who by now is confused as hell and has quaking feet) : “Arora ji jara padhna yahan kya likha hai?” ” Sir ye to aap ka naam hai ; name plate hai cabin ke darwaze par” ” Padho padho yaar ghabrao nahin. English to aati hai na?”” “Sir likha hai, SRK Sareen” “wo to theek hai, uske neeche kya likha hai?” ” Sir likha hai General Manager Motor Works” ” Aha” says Sareen loudly, dramatically, “General Manager. General. To yaar Arora ye NTPC, ye Motors ki order, ye follow up : ye sab to specific hua na? Ye sab mai kaise jaanu? mai to General Manager hun na?” Then with a loud laugh, embarrassing Arora even further ” yaar mere saath chai pio, cigarette piyo, gappe lagao. Lekin koi order wagera ke baare me poochna hai to shopfloor pe jao. Manufacturing walon se poocho. Yaar mai to General Manager hun!”

By this time Arora has cursed his father and mother for giving birth to him, his Engineering college, the day he joined Siemens, he has shat in his pants and is ready to disappear into Mother Earth a la Seeta (and Geeta, for adequate measure). Arora ji goes back to Delhi chastened. Resolving never to come back to Kalwa again. And if some follow up has to be done, he is already deciding which junior in Delhi can be made the scapegoat. And Arora has learn a lesson of his lifetime: the difference between General & Specific; which he will not forget soon.

Sareen sir was a colorful character. Obviously when he began his career as an Industrial Engineer, he must have been very much a detail man. Specifics drive sustainable solutions. And without a full knowledge and control over facts, how can anybody resolve issues and problems ? much less an Industrial Engineer !!!

We all in Corporate India are taught : God is in the details. More facts that you gather, more analysis and quantification that you do: better will be the decisions. Truth is in the details. Governing is in the details. Results and solutions come from a meticulous detail orientation. We will all evaluate juniors and colleagues on how thorough they are and what amount of granularity and depth they bring to any decision. Indeed God is in the detail. If we look back at our experience, and how we were successful: it was all a journey of getting into specifics, mastering all the detail, and then armed with all that fashioning a proper solution which integrated all our learning and aligned it with the appropriate outcome that the company/project team/boss/we ourselves sought.

Why only corporate? think of the books of fiction or even novels that you read. Cornelius Ryan books on the war ( eg The Longest Day; A Bridge too Far) are devoured because of their detail orientation. Frederick Forsyth novels ( eg The Day of the Jackal; Odessa Files) we enjoy because he does enormous research on whatever he writes on. Jeffery Archer’s short stories or novels stand out for their research which brings the story so close to reality that often we are confused while drawing a line between fact and fiction. Hercule Poirot & Agatha Christie; Perry Mason and Erle Stanley Gardner all of them tread the line between detail and specific, as against superfluous and ephemeral. Why even JW Rowling became so very famous only because of the detail she packed into even fantasy books!! Even take a very diverse area like the Army: don’t you think it it is prophetic that the senior officer, in-charge on men and materials, and responsible for outcomes is called, yes, a General!!!

A simple and great learning then – different from the success model epitomized by my dear friend Sareen – is that even God resides in the detail. For good solutions and flawless outcomes remember this truth ; whatever is to be done should be done thoroughly; details are ever important.

An interesting variation on this is “the devil is in the details”. Meaning there could be a catch or a mysterious element hidden in the details. If you gloss over the details, you may be in for a surprise and a total spin to the results expected. Another way to say this is, something might seem simple at first but will take more time and effort to complete than expected : so get into details!

To conclude: whether you are searching for God or the Devil : for getting the results you are working for : get into details. You just can not be a “General Manager”.

Wishing you great results & the strength for digging into the details: vikas

11 Replies to “General Manager”

  1. Vikas Sir, I enjoyed reading the article and the comments posted by your colleagues too. The comments actually helped to understand Mr. Sareen in the holistic sense. Only one instance cannot describe a person completely. We may rather tend to misunderstand the person. So thank you Vikas sir and a thanks to your colleagues too.


    1. Kirti as an HR person I have always believed that there are 2 sides to a story and the multiple aspects help us understand truth better. More holistically as you said. i was obviously exaggerating one aspect to make a point: we all have met people who are perpetually at 800 feet level and never get down to details. They are wrong. And so are people who are so close to the ground that they cant see the woods for the trees. We need both : Helicopter view and attention to detail.
      African saying : Untill the lion learns to write: every story will glorify the hunter. Cheers


  2. Thinking in details, numbers is hard work, people simply don’t want to do it. Daniel Kahneman in his book “Thinking fast and slow” brilliantly brings out this dimension of thinking. People are lazy, hence gets into superficial level with pedantic phrases. In economics Vivek Kaul is well known for details, numbers, and narratives based on numbers. If we remain at periphery probability of success is low.


    1. KK very valid point and I fully agree. There is NO ESCAPING details if you want to be in control and successful in your endeavors/life. I have not read Daniel Kahneman or Vivek Kaul: thanks for giving me two leads for sme interesting reading. Meanwhile take care and keep following me on the site.


  3. Dear Vikas
    Well depicted, the role of a General Manager is that of general discussion, often he is part of the problem & occasionally provides solutions. To maintain the hierarchical weightage they put “devil” in to suitable subordinates.
    I knew Mr. SRK Sarin, as LOC (location I/c kalwa works) and he was signatory to my appointment letter. My impression was that he was significantly ahead of his time & always anticipated what was on other side of the Mental courtain. I admired him a lot and truly a ” General Manager” I knew.
    Dr. Kulkarni GK


    1. GK yes he was a BIG man. Multiple areas of impact. And always stood tall and large. He was an inspiration to many. And for us HR folks he was always oriented to people. Gali bhi dega aurpyaar bhi. What i liked the most of course was his fascination withOld Monk: my fav drink. Long live his memories


      1. Vikas, thanks for taking me back to the Kalwa days. Being an Industrial Engineer and one who is blessed to have worked with Mr. SRK Sareen, I can state that there was more to him than what you mentioned. He had a range of skills from being specifically general and generally specific.! One needed to be well prepared to discuss any subject with him.
        Style flexibility and appropriateness , define Mangerial Effectiveness and there is no substitute to good preparation ( detailing) for any successful outcome in any meeting or interaction.
        Keep writing!


      2. Vish Of course there was much more to SRKS than what I have mentioned. I am exaggerating to make a point. What I remember most about SRKS was that he was very people oriented and a big supporter of HR. He could charm the daylights out of you if he wanted. And when he wanted he could scare you shitless. All this was possible of course because of his basic intelligence. I have chosen just one aspect and possibly made a caricature which does not do justice to him fully. But that is because my thesis was different and I was using just one aspect/anecdote which suited me. I too was in great awe of him and he lived upto that image. What I truly admired ( and hope to emulate) was that he died smoking and drinking without a care for his health and the future. He lived life on his terms and his terms alone. Salud.


  4. It was as lovely to read as it was to hear! The reason why most people don’t go into details is because 1) they don’t know what to do when they’re too deep into it (sometimes there’s a moral dilemma), 2) lack of support and hence don’t bother or 3) ‘Why get my hands dirty?’ but as you said more facts- more analysis – better decisions that should be a motto. Do write/talk about the moral aspect too in one of your blogs. What to do? who to listen to? the devil or the angel? I am sure you have enough and more examples in your kitty. love Amu


    1. Ameya thanks. It was our talk in the car that inspired this blog. I did want to explore the moral dimnsion but then it was already a thousand words. But will certainly think more and share more as you raise a very important question. Take care.And continue to tease and inspire me : vikasmama

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