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