Ever since Rajat Gupta was convicted of securities fraud by an American court in June, many young Indian professionals have been racked by doubt and uncertainty. As we sit in our cubicles engrossed in mundane tasks such as crafting a spreadsheet that populates a ‘Monthly Taxi Expense Form’ with random quantities between Rs 150 and Rs 320, a hundred questions are passing through our heads:
What did Gupta really do? Can anything I do in office be construed as insider trading? Am I breaking any law? Will I get arrested? Should I throw in a Rs 1,200 outlier amount on the spreadsheet to make it look authentic? And most importantly: Is Raj Rajaratnam’s Galleon Group still hiring?
A file photo of Rajat Gupta. Photo: AFP
As with all things in life, there are no simple answers to these questions. Our textbooks in business school explain insider trading rather tritely: “Trading in the securities of a company based on non-public information.”
Thank you once again, MBA textbook writer, for explaining that important question with the nuance and cultural sensitivity of a Scandinavian cartoonist.
But things are rarely that simple in the real world. In the real world of cubicles and emails and faxes and USB drives and water cooler gossip, the ideas of insider trading and non-public information are shot through with many shades of grey. Sometimes as many as 50 shades.
No need to fret young cubiclist. This week, your columnist will help you deal with these shades of grey with a healthy dose of business S&M: science and mathematics. And to simplify it even further, I will do this entirely in a format that readers of Cosmopolitan magazine will be aware of: the multiple choice behavioural analysis.
ARE YOU DOING ENOUGH IN THE BOARDROOM TO PLEASE YOUR COMPLIANCE OFFICER? CHANGE INTO SOMETHING SKIMPY IN SATIN AND FIND OUT NOW!
1. Your friend from business school sends you some molten-lava-hot gossip about the company he is working in. The potential to make a killing on the market is immense. Do you
a. Rebuke your friend severely and immediately delete the email trail.
b. Move the conversation to the security of personal WhatsApp accounts.
c. Keep it casual by saying things like ‘Send me some internal emails no? LOL!’ or ‘Are you sure your stock will tank after this magazine cover story next week? ROFLFORBES!’ Masterful deception indeed.
2. You are silently celebrating that you got inside the airport lounge with an expired Platinum Visa card, when you overhear two guys at the next table loudly discussing undisclosed quarterly numbers for a fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) company. Do you
a. Walk across and tell them to maintain some privacy.
b. Gently lean back, close your eyes and go into your ‘I look like I am sleep, but I am really memorising like a mad man’ mode. (Refer to previous columns for the Vadukut Process of airborne surveillance.)
c. Point your phone at the FMCG guys, make a call to your half-crazy-full-criminal stock trader uncle in Kochi, and then let him hear everything.
3. You access a workstation at your Dubai branch only to find that a previous user has left a folder of extremely sensitive information on the desktop. The information could be worth millions. Do you
a. Delete the folder, format the computer and then ensure the installation of a new software on company computers that cleans all folders on log out.
b. Hang around till around 9PM, then take a printout of everything.
c. Create another folder on the desktop with copies of Nigella Lawson recipes from the Internet. Compose an email to your spouse asking him/her to ‘Check these out honey!’. At the last moment, by mistake, attach the folder full of confidential documents instead. Go home and enjoy some provocatively cooked double chocolate cook(the book)ies served with a delicious strawberry short(the stock)bread.
If you answered mostly As: You are a tender, but ultimately tragic lover. After many frustrating years in the business wilderness, moving from underpaid job to underpaid job, your integrity will eventually explode into a flurry of frustrated, fierce insider trading and securities fraud in the last few years of your career. Expect to go to jail for 5-10 years.
If you answered mostly Bs: You old school romantic! Your head is in the right place. But your techniques are passe. You will get caught the very first time you try to trade anything. But the company will let it slip. However, scarred for life, you spend the rest of your career in cosy, unexceptional middle-management. No jail for you. No cookie either.
If you answered mostly Cs: ROAAAR! You bad, bad boy/girl. The secret to your success is your blend of method and madness. While you rake in the millions, you leave behind a trail of…absolutely nothing. You may eventually get caught one day. But by then you are an adviser to the Prime Minister, the CBI is being mysteriously slow. And there is a fire in the Sebi office. Naughty, naughty.
I hope you will spend the weekend in rumination. As I will. Mmm. Nigella...
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at email@example.com
Also Read | Sidin Vadukut’s earlier columns