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This office is not oval, sir

This office is not oval, sir
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First Published: Thu, Jan 22 2009. 09 53 PM IST
Updated: Thu, Jan 22 2009. 09 53 PM IST
As I watched Barack Obama take oath and then make his inaugural speech, the thought suddenly hit me: What if you had someone like Obama in your office? How would it be to work with this epoch-making leader of people and eloquent speaker as your boss?
To answer this question, I rang up a number of people who worked in middle-management positions across various sectors and asked them a single question: “What if Obama was your boss in the office?”
First on the list was P.K., a journalist. I put my question to her and then waited a few moments as she screamed and whooped with joy at the very thought of being in the same room with the heart-throb.
When she settled down, she said: “Actually, I’d probably end up working ten times harder. He seems like the sort of chap who is always giving his best. It would be tough to work for him and not put in as much effort. I think it is best if he was someone else’s boss. I could totally hit on him then.”
The unfortunately initialled B.S., a private equity expert from Chennai, felt that Obama was a good delegator. “I think he would decentralize work with a lot of clarity. Unlike my boss. And then step back and make us work. Like my boss. It’s good to have a boss who doesn’t stick his nose into everything.”
But there was one caveat: “His subordinates will have to triple-check whatever they bring to his table. This dude caught the chief justice’s mistake during the swearing in, so…”
B.S., therefore, didn’t think Obama was the type you could pull a fast one on with some PowerPoint slides, Pareto charts and Drucker quotes.
But who would know this better than my management consultant friend, A.S., who works for PullWool, Overeyes and Co. (name changed)? When I pried A.S. away from his spreadsheets and asked him to ruminate upon Obama as a boss, he thought for a while and then emailed me a short white paper: “First of all I would think he will be good to sell projects as he is a good speaker and will be a good motivator.”
“Secondly, I think he will be good at coining short, catchy strategy phrases like ‘change has come to America’ or ‘cost-optimal globalized sourcing methodologies’. And, finally, he has no domain experience whatsoever. So, to prevent him from handling projects, we’d probably make him partner right away.”
We concluded that if Obama were to join a consulting firm, he’d probably come in as a junior partner in charge of sales and marketing and campus recruitment. “We could use his persuasive skills to stop paying joining bonuses,” A.S. explained.
I also spoke to my dear friend S.K.K., a hawkish trader in government bonds out of London with an uncanny knack for spotting corporate bullshit and a complete distrust of other human beings.
Thanks to his unique trading strategy—“go short and go home”—S.K.K. actually made money during this meltdown. S.K.K. had this to say: “I would be nauseated by colleagues gushing about him. Nobody would question anything he said. In short, he would make a great CEO for our bank.”
All this was a little disconcerting. I’ve always liked this Obama fellow. I mean how can you hate someone who is addicted to his BlackBerry?
Feel free to research this, but I strongly believe that no two countries with heads of state who used BlackBerrys have ever gone to war against each other.
But my survey above had painted the US President in poor light.
Perhaps Mata HaRi, our secret mole in the human resource department, would have a clue. She nodded solemnly at my question and said: “Obama would make a terrible boss, you know. He’d be like one of those expats or NRIs who come and make long idealistic speeches. Oblivious to the fact that the only guy who really knows the cash position is the office boy. They love it when everyone calls them ‘sir’ but then can’t figure out why people take leave for their maternal cousin’s uncle’s neighbour’s wedding. Finally, they leave in six months because ‘the children are finding it difficult to settle at school’.”
“Besides, I’d like to see him try that ‘yes we can’ business in an Indian office,” HaRi explained. “All that is too much kich kich (hassle). People will nod and agree when he speaks. And then go back with the steel resolve to format his laptop, when he is out for lunch, whispering, ‘No… we won’t!’”
HaRi concluded that idealists such as Obama would get chewed up and spat out in the Indian office environment.
So what will Obama do in the corporate world then? I asked her. What position can utilize his skills without allowing him to cause damage?
She thought for a while. “I think he would make a splendid independent director.”
Cubiclenama takes a fortnightly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at cubiclenama@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Jan 22 2009. 09 53 PM IST