Will you be our chairman?

Will you be our chairman?
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First Published: Fri, Nov 25 2011. 09 10 PM IST

Updated: Fri, Nov 25 2011. 09 10 PM IST
This week I start this column, like Rahul Dravid, with great trepidation and uncertainty. I am not sure if I should be telling you what I am going to. The whole thing seemed very secretive and quite mysterious. With potential for great scandal. But then I was never asked to sign a confidentiality contract.
So I see no reason to withhold this column. After all this is India. Do we live in a free country? Of course. Do we have freedom of speech? Within reasonable limits. Do we have a free press? Without a doubt—we Indian journalists are free to print anything we want on behalf of any paying customer.
Therefore I have decided to throw caution to the winds.
Earlier this week I received a phone call from the offices of a multi-billion dollar, multi-national Indian business conglomerate.
I will not be able to name any names. But since you insist I can give you one clue. If you assume that name of the business group is ‘Burrito Sons’, then this sentence would make perfect sense: “Burrito, the chairman of Burrito, is going Burrito bye-bye.”
No more clues.
“Hello Mr. Vadukut?” asked a voice with abundant baritone.
“Yes?” replied a voice with astounding masculinity.
“We are calling from the offices of the ‘Committee For The HAHAHA Worldwide NOTREALLY Search For A New Chairman’ at Burrito Sons. We wish to know if you are interested in becoming our next chairman.”
Now I would be lying if I said that I was completely surprised. A little? Maybe. Was I caught unawares across the face like a Union minister, in a corridor surrounded by staff who did surprisingly little to intervene? Not at all.
Ever since it was announced that Burrito was looking for a replacement, I’ve somewhat fancied my chances. And with good reason.
First of all, the Burrito group is one of the few truly international Indian conglomerates. Not for them the chicanery of opening a branch first in Kathmandu, and then one week later inaugurating in Inorbit Mall, Malad, with the slogan “Now In India! Holistic colon cleansing with small fishes!”
Like them I also have substantial strategic experience in several foreign nations and nation-like entities. To name a few: United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah. The list goes on and on.
Secondly, the group has businesses in numerous varied sectors: automotive, steel, chemicals, watches, salt. Remarkably these are all products I have extensive hand-on experience with.
I did not hesitate at all.
Sir, I told the man on the phone, I’d be delighted to apply for the post of your chairman. Could he kindly first give me details on remuneration, date of joining, notice period, and severance package?
They would be happy to share all that, he said. But first did I not want to hear about the transition plan?
Immediately alarm bells went off in my head. Usually when recruiters try to deviate the conversation from remuneration, it means that the pay package has a large performance-based component. A component is usually based on unrealistic criteria such as 35% growth in revenue, 25% growth in profits, and any batsman scoring 100 centuries in all forms of the game.
But I played along cautiously. Tell me about this transition plan, I commanded him.
So apparently I was supposed to spend a year with the current chairman learning the ropes. And then, in December 2012, he would hand over power to me completely.
“What if I learn faster than that and want to take over in June or July?” I asked. Any astute business leader or member of the BJP knows that prolonged management changes lead to chaos, cut-throat politics and drop in morale. Why spend a year if I can pick things up in a few months?
The line went silent. Presumably, he was in discussion with his colleagues on the search committee. Five minutes later he came back and said that this could be arranged, and that the timelines were always meant to be flexible.
Also, I said, during the transition period I wanted to be known as ‘The Chairman’ and Mr. Burrito would be addressed as the ‘Retired Mentor to The Chairman In A Non-executive Capacity’.
This led to many minutes of heated debate and discussion before we agreed on calling Mr. Burrito ‘Mentor To The Chairman-In-Waiting’.
Finally he agreed to discuss compensation. As I listened carefully he first outlined the gross package, which was astounding, followed by the various cash and non-cash elements. And, right at the end, he dropped a bombshell.
In order to build brand loyalty in the new chairman, he said, 75% of my package would be disbursed in non-cash instruments including, but not limited to, a large number of very small cars made by the company.
Enraged, I blew up in flames. Sorry boss, I said. But I have a strict cash-only policy when it comes to compensation. Click.
And that was that. But I am happy to see that they have finally found a new chairman. I wish him the best of luck, and plenty of parking space.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at cubiclenama@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Nov 25 2011. 09 10 PM IST
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