The admin manager arrived at the airport a full four hours before his flight. As usual his assistant had checked him in the night before. So there was really no need for him to wake up so early, and taxi his way to the airport with so much time still left for boarding. Indeed it was a matter of great pride for him, with his wallet full of platinum/titanium loyalty cards, to never spend an unnecessary minute at an airport.
But this was no ordinary flight. Oh no. He was a man on a mission.
The email from his CEO had come the previous morning. “Dear admin fellow”, it started, “I have been deeply disturbed by recent news concerning a prominent Indian anti-corruption crusader. She is someone I have always held in very high esteem ever since I signed up to the Anna Hazare movement to rid this country of corruption. This is why I have set aside a full 25% of the CSR budget of our UP-based real estate division towards combating graft and administrative malfeasance.
However, I am now concerned about the expenses that we are reimbursing to our contractors, employees and other parties. Are you sure their bills are not spurious? If you cannot trust Ramon Magsaysay Award winners then who can you trust these days? I would like you to investigate our reimbursement policies with immediate effect.
Please file a report within the week.
Also Read | Sidin Vadukut’s earlier columns
P.S. Kindly update on the status of upgrade of my company car. As a CEO of this company it is shameful when I have to ride with other business leaders but do not have Blu-ray and 3D capabilities in the in-car entertainment system. This is a top business priority. The delay is disappointing.”
Our manager was no babe in the woods. His career was built on ingenuity and quick thinking. Moments after reading the email, he had worked out a plan. The next morning, a leadership and team-building consultant would be flying back to Mumbai on a fully-expensed trip. Admin fellow was the last man to believe in this leadership mumbo-jumbo. But the CEO was a Tibetan-chant-listening, bamboo-perfume-diffuser-using new-age type.
He would shadow the consultant through this entire trip, note down all expenses and then later wait for bills. Irrespective of how accurate they were, the admin manager would come out looking good. If the bills were accurate he would highlight this as an example of the admin department’s systemic efficiency. If the bills were spurious, he would estimate potential savings from tighter controls and highlight the commitment of the admin team to add to the topline/bottomline/ whatever line that over-paid hippy was obsessing about now.
Back at the airport. So far so good. The consultant had checked into business class and later consumed nothing but the free breakfast at the lounge. Admin manager had purposefully dressed in shabby clothes, sunglasses and baseball cap in order to seem low profile. He had also, with great dread, booked himself into economy class.
So he had to stand outside the lounge and peer inside through the glass windows, taking notes. The croissants, just on the other side of the glass, looked criminally delicious. The light bouncing off the buttery layers of soft baked dough. When the consultant had spent 20 minutes with a courtesy newspaper, our manager departed to an airport chain cafe. The shrink-wrapped croissant tasted like a baked tennis sock. He bit into it once and then threw it into the garbage bin. Where the croissant bounced around a few times and then came to rest. Manager proceeded immediately to the five-star cafe.
On the plane, he sat in the front row of the economy class. The consultant was well within view. As far as the manager could tell he did nothing but sleep and eat. Not one item was bought from the inflight store. Not one rupee changed hands. At Mumbai, the consultant stood in line to book a fleet-taxi and then quietly went his way like everyone else.
One week later the manager was aghast at the consultant’s reimbursement bills. Rs 3,000 for lunch at the airport, another 1,600 bucks for a ‘packed snack’ because the plane usually does not have nut-free food, and finally Rs 4,300 for a luxury taxi because “there were no call taxis available in Mumbai airport”. Lies, lies, lies.
He was just going to start his report when his assistant walked in. The CEO wishes to clarify something in the manager’s recent expense filing. Manager looked at her puzzled? Clarification? What clarification?
It appears there are two breakfast bills. One from Cafe Costarista Day and the other from the Oberoi counter. Yes, the manager said. The first one had been inedible. Surely the CEO understands that?
No he does not. He will only approve the first one. He wants to bring discipline to our expenses policy.
Ok, said the manager. After she left, he picked up the phone again. Hello? Yes is this the consultant? Good. We would like you to take workshops weekly. Yes yes. Fully expendable. Yes yes. Starting immediately. I have already approved your previous bills. Yes yes. Very good. Click.
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