On Thursday afternoon I was walking from the Khan Market metro station to, surprise, Khan Market. There I was, walking along the road without a care in the world—my mind deep in thoughts of frozen yoghurt and kebab rolls—when I was almost run over by a large sports utility vehicle.
Or was it a Maruti Omni van?
I don’t recall the make of the vehicle precisely, but I do remember that it was an utterly battered vehicle with no more than two inches of flat metal between any two dents. The paint job was Post-Impressionist. The driving was Brutalist.
The only part of the vehicle in perfectly working condition was a little painted panel affixed to the numberplate. It was the standard Delhi-issue government-panel, painted in red letters on white background. It said: “Official liquidator, Delhi high court.”
Instantly I was overcome with deep regret for my life choices. If only I knew that going to law school could have made me an “official liquidator” I would have readily abandoned the engineering student’s T-square and C++ textbook for the tools of the lawyer’s trade: verbal subterfuge and questionable morality.
Is there a cooler job designation in the whole world than “official liquidator”? Don’t the very words send a frisson of excitement coursing down your veins?
I wondered what the official liquidator’s job was like. Perhaps the liquidator sat in his office by a bright red telephone. Suddenly a call would come from the Delhi high court. “Liquidator saab, we have an emergency…” The liquidator would leap out of his chair and into his battered Omni Van. He would arrive at the scene and proceed to liquidate the criminal using an assortment of automatic weapons. This would go on till 5pm, at which point the liquidator would return to his/her official residence in Chanakyapuri, and relax over a single malt and Brahms.
Perhaps with an ambassador or a chief justice for company.
People are crazy about designations. People give up great jobs, pick up terrible ones, take pay cuts, shift away from family, commute long distances, and condone terrible bosses for designations.
And I totally get it. To this day, even when I should know better, designations like roving editor, chief creative officer and staff writer-food make me go weak in the knees.
I say I should know better, because designations are often the easiest way to trap good people in bad jobs.
Back in business school, perfectly sane people would suddenly lose all sense of proportion if anyone offered to hire them as vice-presidents or senior associates. Indeed, any designation but graduate trainee, management trainee or analyst made the hairs on the backs of our necks stand up.
Suddenly jobs with otherwise dubious prospects seemed rosier. Sure, the profile was iffy. But imagine telling your parents you were a vice-president at 26? Imagine telling the marriage broker!
A lot of us got suckered. A lot of business school students still get suckered.
Though this pales in comparison to the designation madness that enveloped us all during the IT boom of the early noughts.
I recall one company that visited engineering college campuses hiring code jockeys or websketeers or something like that. The designations were, frankly, embarrassing. They had this 60-year-old software veteran stand up in front of a hall full of aspirants and introduce himself as “uber people guy Venkatachalapathi”.
Nowadays we know exactly what to make of a tech company with overly funky designations:
1. They have received one round of funding but don’t know how.
2. Their annual revenue, rounded to the nearest dollar, is $12.
3. HP will buy them soon for $87 billion.
Why do companies try such stunts?
Simply because they work. They know that most people are completely besotted with titles and designations. These people know that other identity-obsessed people judge them by their titles. That the “CEO” of a tiny debt-ridden little body shop operation is held in higher social regard than a “staff writer” at a top notch international magazine.
Companies, aware of these mental proclivities, play their people like the string section of a symphony orchestra. For instance, because it is impossible to ascribe a monetary value to a promotion, we choose a 5% raise and a promotion over a 15% raise and the same old title. And we feel good about it.
Organizations play the guilt game too. They make it sound like a bad thing to ask for more money, or to choose a new job for the pure financial rewards. A “good” career move is when they promote you to project manager, one of 189 others. A “bad” career move is moving to a start-up, as a software developer, for three times the money.
Readers! Beware fancy designations. Like a cyclist’s blood test, they hide more than they reveal.
As for the official liquidator, this is what the website says: “The official liquidator is appointed by the central government under section 448 of the Companies Act, 1956, attached to high court of the state for the purpose of conducting liquidation proceedings of those companies which are…”
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read Sidin Vadukut’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/cubiclenama