So, as usual, this Wednesday was looking like being a typically miserable mid-week working day when, around 11.30am, B. Ramalinga Raju sent his letter out into the world.
What followed was media frenzy. Every serious media outlet—TV, print, blog, Twitter, mass SMS spam, Facebook status update—used every journalistic resource at their disposal to brainstorm, to collaborate and to leverage their experience to answer some pertinent questions: How could something like this happen in broad daylight? What were Satyam’s auditors doing? (Right now? Shredding paper.)
But the most important issue facing Indian media was this: How do we generate as many pun headlines as we can using the terms “Satyam”, “fraud” and “lies”? Entire newsrooms were dedicated to this very purpose.
I came up with the following little ditty that was immediately rejected by our editors:
Raju Raju? Yes, papa.
Missing assets? No, papa.
Unnecessarily trying to acquire a real estate company to save your skin?
Okay, show me your balance sheet!
Ha ha ha.
But for one moment let us step back and look at the business of corporate scams with an individual perspective.
How come people such as Raju who ran Satyam with some 53,000 employees (one-sixth the population of Iceland), General Motors Corp. and indeed Iceland itself, can make such phenomenal blunders/frauds/deceptions and then send a letter out to apologize and then ask for money from the World Bank or Hank Paulson? Why do organizations, CEOs and even countries get away so lightly?
Let us put this in cubicle terms to explain the gripe. Have you ever made a mistake with your expense statements in the office and then tried to clarify things with the folks in accounts? Perhaps you laundered one more shirt during the business trip than was allowed. Or you consumed a Red Bull on an official lunch, a beverage missing from the approved list of meal accompaniments.
In all probability the guy in accounts will tell you that this is a serious deviation from corporate policy and clearing the Red Bull bill will need, at the minimum, a special decision by the board of directors. But only after you file an official request in triplicate, which is signed by the V-P (HR) in Bangkok. So, you end up spending thousands of rupees in international calls and courier charges to, effectively, consume a can of energy drink.
But the CEO of the same company, on the other hand, can one day solemnly send out a fax to all the branches saying that something terrible has happened and they can’t seem to find the asset side of the balance sheet anymore.
Try saying that to your credit collection goons. See who loses his asset side then.
But one moment. Perhaps there was something in Raju’s methods that we should all adopt in our personal lives. Perhaps we all worry too much about our financial problems and irregularities and make a big deal out of nothing. Perhaps, à la Raju, all we need to do is write a sincere heartfelt letter and send it out to our employers, friends and family. Maybe they would understand and put up websites to support our cause like they did for Raju.
This thought bothered me all Wednesday till I decided to give it a shot later that night. Here is a transcript of an email I’ve just sent to the missus:
Dear Mrs Vadukut,
It is with deep regret and tremendous shame on my conscience that I inform you of the following:
1. Unlike previously mentioned at the time of our sangeeth and then marriage, I am not completely credit card debt free.
2. My cash savings of Rs2.1 lakh as indicated last month while having dinner with your parents is largely non-existent.
3. I may have overstated my annual income by around Rs13 lakh for the last fiscal year. My actual annual income for 2007-08, after tax and fixed payments, is around Rs14 and some Sodexho vouchers.
This gap in my financial situation rose purely out of inflated income assessments passed on to you over the last three years. Attempts were made to plug in this gap. You may remember that I had suggested you apply for the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) flat allotment draw. The idea was to take the application money from you, deposit it in my account and then blame the DDA for the delay in refund. But the resultant outcry from your parents led me to abort the real estate deal.
However, I am prepared to stand firm and face all consequences for my actions as soon as I land in Dubai with whom India does not have an extradition agreement.
Cubiclenama takes a fortnightly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org