The Most Unforgettable Character I have ever met

Purushottam Waman Khandekar…. popular as PWK to one and all whose lives he touched…is no more. With a person like PWK मृत आत्मा को शांति मिले  need not be said at all!!!! Here was a soul so much in peace with himself and so wonderfully in sync with all his surroundings, people and environment, that he would certainly be in peace and joy!! This is my eulogy to the most unforgettable character I ever met in my life.

I was selected for a job in Siemens by him, when he was the Personnel Director in Siemens. Even in that selection, there was a Khandekar touch!!! All Section Heads in Personnel were internal promotees & career Siemensites. Some of them had picked up formal HR qualifications, while in the job, doing part-time studies. PWK wanted to bring about a radical change, in the way Personnel department thought and behaved !! And his approach was to recruit high caliber, young professionals from the best schools and introduce them as catalysts or petards under the chairs of the traditionalist Section heads. That was my entry into Siemens India, along with 2 other young turks from TISS and 2 from XLRI.

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Coming from IIMCal, of course, I had a chip on my shoulder; but soon I realised, whatever I had learnt outside, had to be foregone & I must sit at the feet of a practical master (PWK was actually called “मास्टर” in Siemens, in Marathi, which meant school teacher) and get qualified in the Khandekar Practical School of Management.  And after 36 years, I proclaim proudly that am a proud graduate of that school!!!

PWK began his life as a unionist: he was an office bearer of the Bombay Dock Workers’ Union. A major strike was called when he was a junior office bearer. Suddenly the authorities swooped down and arrested the labour leaders. Since he was inconsequential and too young, he was not arrested. And abruptly PWK found himself thrust into the leadership of a major strike. Never one to baulk down at challenges, PWK played the role thrust on him with elan, & skillfully led the tough nosed dock workers to a successful reconciliation. When the senior leaders came out of jail, they knew that a new star leader was born!!!

Restless to the core, PWK soon found new pastures for his intellectual desires. He leveraged his language proficiency and his communication skills, to land a job in British Council as a Labour analyst. Seeing his potential, BC sent him to England to meet unionists there. Besides the international exposure, PWK picked up a British life partner!!! He got married and had 2 daughters there. But his true-blood Indian roots brought him back to India. And he joined Siemens as an Editor for Siemens Sansar which was Siemens India’s internal magazine.

pwk daughters

PWK was a good artist and loved to paint nature. His was not the casual flirtation with the canvas. His oil paintings could easily have adorned the most rich and famous walls. Had he pursued this as a career, he could have given the likes of Padekar, Souza & Gaitonde some real tough competition. No formal meeting in Siemens was complete without PWK sitting and sketching in the Board Room. Seemingly totally absorbed in his sketching, head down, his ears were tuned to the proceedings. And whenever he was ready, he would interject with his most pithy and hard hitting comments; proving beyond doubt, that the sketching was only helping him concentrate and his sharp brain was absorbing all that went on, and could incisively enter in the discussions at his will.

Siemens in India has a huge debt to PWK. While an internal magazine Editor, Siemens factory saw an eruption of a violent strike and the management was at a loss to understand how to handle this. Comes a suggestion: here is PWK who has led a strike in the past, so he would certainly know what workers want and can talk to them in a different manner. This was how PWK got inducted into HR. Being an out and out people’s man, PWK took to this assignment like a fish to water and created a new history of congenial human relations for Siemens. Much later in late 70s, when Datta Samant made a violent bid for the leadership of the internal union, PWK again handled it in his characteristic decisive style. There was widespread violence:  in the plant, at the bus pickup points and at workers’ houses. Most managers were given police protection and were afraid for their life and limbs. And here was PWK moving around without fear. There were times when there was police protecting his house entrance door at Bandra, while the people who were supposed to be the perpetrators of violence (& Police was supposed to keep out of harm’s length) were inside PWK’s house, being served tea and biscuits in PWK’s living room and chatting up with PWK himself, rather than hurting him as Police feared!!! Such was the charisma of this वामन मूर्ति !!!

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During the Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi in 1975, PWK openly came out in protest. He was close to SM Joshi, George Fernandes and the likes. Mrunal Gore was actually arrested while hiding in PWK’s house. PWK was also arrested and put in jail for his anti-Establishment leanings. Those were the days when neighbors feigned ignorance and refused to recognise you as there was fear of being tarnished by the same brush, & be considered anti-Emergency. And here was PWK, a senior management executive, of a German MNC, in jail for harboring “public enemies” of the State. PWK felt he had no right to put Siemens India in jeopardy, for his personal political leanings. So our man penned his resignation from Siemens and sent it to the-then MD Mr Salge. At a time when relatives and neighbors crossed the road on seeing an anti-Emergency protestor, Salge actually went to meet PWK… in the jail!!! He tore up PWK’s resignation and said his job was waiting for him when he came out of the jail!!! Siemens actually promoted PWK to a Director position on his return!! For this one act, Siemens deserves  तहे दिल से सलाम !!!!!

PWK was the one who taught me to carry a pen and a pad whenever I attended a meeting. He would say: See, every engineer carries his calculator to the meeting. HR is the only guy who puts his hands in his pocket and enters any meeting. Be a professional, he guided us. PWK was the one who encouraged us to have an opinion about everything: and express it fearlessly. Remaining silent is the worst thing you can do in a meeting, he taught. PWK told us all: always keep your resignation in your pocket. And take positions in important matters, in a manner you can pull out the resignation and walk off anytime. Never, but never compromise your conscience was his teaching. PWK encouraged everyone to keep an updated CV in his top right hand drawer of the office table. And once in a while float your CV around and attend interviews outside, he averred. This helps in 2 ways, he taught: either you get a better paying job, you can leave and be happy OR you realise you can not get a better paying job, so better be happy where you are, put your head down and contribute!!!! Either way you are happy!!! Great advice which I have myself told many others later!!! PWK once told me : we managers have a future, but a worker only has a past. Learn to respect his past and work hard to create a new future for him!!!! A gyan I have tried my level best to live up to, and benefited greatly from. It was often said PWK comes to office to play chess. Yes all lunch breaks, all evenings, all Saturdays were spent playing chess. But along with playing chess, he gave decisions, discussed hard issues, debated politics, and mentored and monitored the workings of his department and his company!!!

The office corridors of Siemens reverberated with many legends re PWK’s brilliance and solution orientation. My personal favorite was from a Finance person who complained to me one day: “You know the problem with PWK? if you go to his room, he will ask you to take out a 50 paise coin from your pocket. He will then take it in his hand. And then in the next few minutes he will convince you it is one Rupee. You go out of his room, happily holding the new Rupee in your palm. Only when you reach home and try to tell your wife about the 1 Rupee, she sees the coin and and tells you, what PWK convinced you was wrong and it is indeed just 50 paise. Only then you remember PWK had taken the 50 p coin from your pocket, to begin with!!!”

Now that the शेंडी मास्टर has reached his final destination, I wish him as many friends, and as much joy out there, as he has left admirers and fan-boys back here. I for one look forward to moving on, and being in his benign presence again, enjoying his loud laugh and recounting his आख्यायिका.

Thanks PWK for teaching us the way to live: vikas

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24 Replies to “The Most Unforgettable Character I have ever met”

  1. Another old colleague and counterpart of PWK, Mahesh Priolkar wrote:
    Quote
    Dear Vikas
    I was really thrilled the way you expressed about PWK.
    Before joining Siemens , I met him in the Office of Bombay Labour Union at Prarthana Samaj , Girgaum , Office of George Fernandez.
    I was a regular visitor at his residence at St Peters Colony at Bandra where he used to live with his family. I had very close association with him . Myself & my family have high Regards for him.
    I cannot express more than what you have narrated.
    Warm regards Mahesh Priolkar
    priolkar2000@gmail.com
    Unquote

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  2. SS Chitre, long term associate, team member, friend, fello Bandraite of PWK wrote a mail to me on seeing the blog. I am posting it here for all to see on his request
    Quote
    Dear Vikas,

    I read you’re your eulogy for P.W. Khandekar. You have very well captured his greatness, the contributions he made to the company and the impact he made on all of us.

    I was fortunate to work with him. He was the person who I greatly respected – my boss, my mentor. When you work with a person for many years, you develop a bond; a relationship. It was not just professional relationship; it was also a relationship at family level. We used to meet him in his house at Bandra; it was always friendly, educative and enjoyable.

    I was always struck by both the force of his personality, the depth of sincerity and quality of his integrity,
    Besides respecting him as a boss, I always admired him and remember his keen sense of fairness and his humane nature,
    He had the basic foundation skill- skill of empathy. He very well knew his people, was a great listener and person who had genuine desire to understand their concerns and always communicated in a way that the other person is very much at ease to talk and explain his difficulty; a point of view.

    He could sense development needs and bringing up abilities of people. He was quick in reading the political and social currents during negotiations, meetings and day to day interactions.

    I remember, on the side table of his cabin in HO, he had displayed a board carrying a message (I do not remember the exact words though,):
    … ‘it is management’s responsibility to develop an average person in to an above average employee. ‘

    No wonder, he was liked and respected by all who came in contact with him.

    Vikas, it’s many years since we were connected; let us try to recover the gap.

    Regards to you and your family.

    Chitre.
    Unquote

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    1. Chitre saheb I too remember the quote. The exact wording was :” good management is getting above average work from average employees”. I have quoted this often in my career when people complain about their team. My challenge to them was…. Improve your own game!

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  3. Deeply shocked with the news of the sad demise of PW Khandekar. Our heartfelt condolences remains with the bereaved family and prayer for the departed soul. He was a legend of a personality that touched many lives including that of mine. My first interaction with Mr. Khandekar was in the initial phase of my service in Siemens and during his visit to our Kolkata office at Russell Street. I was with Mr. Maitra and Mr Lahiri in then regional personnel department. I still recall his walking into straight to my desk for which I was not prepared. While I stood and answered his query about what all I was doing he insisted me to sit and when I would not sit then he sat on my table table and started inquiring about my family. It was such a comforting gesture to the one junirmost member of the department coming from project commercial background and naturally not a true HR breed. I rarely felt ever such comfort and caring in my lifetime till date. When he knew from me that I hailed from a teacher’s family and my father being a teacher, he spoke highly about the teaching profession and asked me to convey his regards to my father. That 10 minutes I still recall and relish in this long journey of life and preserved with care. Second time I met him was also during his office visit and I recall having a meeting with all team members of regional personnel at New Kennelworth Hotel where he was put up. While we tried to organise chairs and tables in his room to have the meeting he suggested all to sit on the floor and we had a meeting which in the corporate circles are unheard of. It was this simplicity, care and comforting that remained unique and touched many like me who came into contact with him even for a short period.
    Few years later when I was sent by my boss for a short training in Kalwe for exposure to IR, Mr. Nerurkar assigned my training under you Mr. Shirodkar. I still recall those evenings after office when you will take me along to your Thane flat and have snacks and dinner with social activists and sometimes a couple of union activists as well. Same sitting on the floor together and the oneness and togetherness only draws parallel to the mentor the “मास्टर” and you are surely a true disciple and flag bearer to a great legacy. Thanks for the touching posts which surely is penned down from your heartfelt emotions and feelings. Let’s stay in touch. Kabir.

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    1. Kabir you have done me the GREATEST honour by calling me PWK’s true disciple and flag bearer to the great legacy.
      Of course I am too small compared to the legends like PWK and Arun Bhende. Both these legends taught me the importance of personal relations and helped me put the “human” back in HR. Siemens was a typical mechanistic engineering company, but it was stalwarts like PWK & AUB who blazed a path for us to emulate. I am forever beholden to them for showing me the real path and keeping my feet on the ground.
      The ability to keep your point of view and still understand the other person and find solutions which work was the practical genius of these gurus.
      I will be always proud to be called a “Khandekar chela”

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  4. although not directly got the opportunity to work during his tenure, but heard a lot about him after joining SL. A great People’s person…has set an excellent example to us. Thanks for sharing and taking us back to the unforgettable memories at SL

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  5. “A gentleman will open your heart”…so true.. although not directly got the opportunity to work during his tenure, but heard a lot about him after joining SL. A great People’s person…has set an excellent example to us. Thanks for sharing and taking us back to the unforgettable memories at SL

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    1. Thanks MAB. With Khandekar and Bhende it was way beyond respect: it was truly idol worship.They carried there greatness very lightly. So thanks for saying VS special…..they deserved the very best and beyond

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  6. Superbly written Vikas
    Incidentally, PWK knew my father too quite well. He called me a few months after I joined Siemens and told me that he had v high regards for my dad ‘Shridhar-pant’ !
    Also, I will never forget one incident…. he came on our 3rd floor and stopped to say hi to late Mr. Dhulap from d staff union. Since tea was being served on the floor, he had half a cup….. but he had from the saucer and gave d cup to Dhulap. My first lesson in HR – no management institute can teach you these finer nuances !!!
    Indeed fortunate to have met him on a few more occasions. 🙏

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    1. SSD thanks for the lovely memory. That was vintage PWK.
      I remember a couple of years after we adopted Rashmi he sent a message that he wanted to see her. We were in Atul then but made a special trip to Bandra. Tai and PWK greeted Rash with a doll and bhatukli cha saaman as a gift. Shows his sensitive nature.
      Rashmi was a precocious self confident child. So we had brainwashed her before taking her there. After a while PWK asked her why she was sitting in a chair all propah. She said AAI Baba told me you are abig boss and so I should behave. His reaction: Vede ahet te doghe. He forced us to stay in the room and chat with Tai while he took Rashmi to explore the house
      seeing his studio and canvases she asked him Can you paint? when he said yes, she said show me.!!!! and PWK painted for her…!!!!!
      what a man

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  7. Spontaneous, “dil se” description of a decisive and effective manager, but above a great human being. Guess one of the most important lessons, we in HR learnt from him, is never to forget or overlook the human factor in our words, deeds or decisions. Very well articulated in your blog!

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  8. Vikas,
    Your blog is really an apt tribute to a legend.
    I on my part unfortunately had no opportunity to interact with PWK during his working life in Siemens.

    In fact my only meeting with him was on the day of his retirement.
    I had been to old HO A bldg to see someone. No one was around in the office. Came to know everyone was up on the terrace attending the retirement function of PWK.
    When I went up the terrace was fully packed. PWK had just started his farewell speech. The whole speech was so captivating, I continued there till the end of the function. That’s the time he recounted all the aspects of his lifetime as mentioned by you in the blog.

    My real interaction with PWK began once I started handling the portfolio of retired managers. I was new in HR function. We interacted mostly on phone. Had very many rewarding discussions. He made it a point to know about my Siemens life right from the day I joined SAG in Erlangen. He was aware of the tumultuous times we spent in Germany. (No point discussing it here)
    Once he invited me to his home in Bandra where he used to stay with his sister. Spent a very memorable evening with him. Had good fortune to see many of his great paintings and more so the stories behind those paintings.
    Siemens HR as well as the Company will always miss him.
    I still remember his words.

    “My door was open to all. They came in with grudges, problems etc.
    I did not have solutions to all their problems but I ensured that they left my room with a smiling face and a lighter heart.”

    Vikas, as you rightly said, no point in saying RIP to him. He was always at peace with himself and his environment.

    Best Regards
    Prakash Pai

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Prakash
      really appreciate your long acknowledgement of my tribute to PWK. Dealing with unions, dealing with managers, dealing with Germans, interacting with ladies at social events, PWK was a pleasure to observe and learn from in all his avatars. I have yet to see a man so grounded and humane. We were fortunate to have met and interacted with him

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  9. A tribute very well penned. Though I had been in a part of the PWK era and probably been one of the beneficiaries of his strategies during my Siemens career from 1977.
    I consider myself unfortunate not to have got many opportunities to directly interact with him.
    Yes, the corporate world needs more PWKs now…and I am sure that his Shagirdhs like Vikas are there to keep the philosophies alive.
    Thank you Vikas. I am now able to relate to the good old days in Siemens.

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    1. Suresh you made my day my friend. I was always proud to be known as a PWK’s chela. Whatever I am today is due to his influence in the early days of my life. We all gained a lot from Siemens and it was leaders like Nilkanth and PWK who made Siemens such a powerful company. We were fortunate to be in such exalted company of men who were giants and who raised our levels also so very much

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  10. Extraordinary way of paying respect to
    an outstanding individual who shaped lives of many.
    Courage of conviction , wit and observation skill were some qualities many respected.
    Pranam!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well observed Suresh. He was a towering person and still managed to reach and touch everyone around him. And yes his wit was phenomenal. You remember Paul Rodin’s famous sculpture The Thinker? It was travelling to India and was being displayed at NCPA. PWK told one of our managers: “Dhawan saab apka manpoer requisition Vikas is not able to fill? Koi problem nahi. Aap ja ke wo Paul Rodin ka Thinker le aao” Such was PWK

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    1. Thanks Nitin sir. I am what I am because of the greats like PWK, Shriniwas Pandit , Arun Bhende, Karl Slym that I had in my life. I owe them a lot. This was just a small way to acknowledge these masters

      Like

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