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Prakash and His First Job

M. J. Arul

Prakash was doing his post-graduation and about a month before his M.A. final examination, he spotted an advertisement, which said that the company (whose identity was masked by a post-box number) was looking for smart, young graduates, fluent in English, interested in making a career in sales and ready to go places. On seeing this "rare" ad, which asked for no experience, Prakash shot off an application.

Prakash received the call for an interview. He appeared for it on May 6, 1972, was selected to enter the second stage of screening on May 20, and was then short-listed for the final interview.

On June 27, Prakash attended the final interview in Bombay. After the interview, he was asked to wait in the lounge for some time. He used this time to collect his T.A. and incidental expense. As he returned to the lounge there was a summon for him from the interview room. He went in and was cheered:

"Congratulations, Mr. Prakash! You are in !! Please take your seat..... Mr. Prakash, tell me, isn't Rs.1100 big money?"

Prakash replied, "I suppose it's worth the job."

"That's okay", said the interviewer, "but isn't it a helluva lot of money? 1100 a month! Few of your classmates would be making as much, you know?"

Prakash just nodded and the interviewer went on:

"Then hold it with both your hands, don't let it slip. Don't hop! Now go and enjoy yourself. We have yet to hear from your referees. You will receive the appointment letter soon after we hear from them -- depending on what they have to say, of course!"

In about three weeks' time Prakash received the appointment letter. He was asked to report at the Area Office on August 21. He reported there on the date at 9:00 in the morning.

Now over to Prakash:

"Half an hour after I had reported on August 21, the Area Manager took me to the workshop, introduced me to the Service Manager and the foremen there and asked me to learn about the company's products : their code names, the names of components, the material they were made of, the specific utility of each component, the usefulness of the product to the customer, etc. The products were mainly weighing machines of a wide range-- laboratory scales, counter scales, movable platform scales, fixed platform scales, and weigh-bridges. Each of these types comprised scales of various capacities, with dial or non-dial reading mechanisms. The calibrations on the reading arm or dial varied from type to type and, in some cases, from capacity to capacity.

"After two weeks of this training in product knowledge, my training in office procedures began. On the first day of my office training I was introduced to Mr. Meiraj, who had just returned from his month-long, post-promotion holiday. He was now the Area Sales Supervisor, whose responsibility, I was told, was to train me and later supervise my work. We had a chat in his office immediately after the introduction. At one point in our conversation, Mr. Meiraj said, "Mr. Prakash, when you speak to me you shall never ever use words like "I think, may be and as such. You understand?"

"Yes, sir, I do," said I, "but I don't know why "as such" shouldn't be used".

"Get out!" shouted Mr. Meiraj.

I sat on and looked up, disbelieving my ears.

He shouted again.

"If you really want me to get out, I will", I said getting up to go. As I was leaving the room, he told me that I should wait outside and that he would call me in again.

"Seated outside, I felt like barging into his room to bid goodbye and chuck the job. But I thought it cowardice to quit the scene rightaway. So I resolved to stay on till the right moment arrived when I could teach him a lesson before we parted company. After about seven minutes of waiting, I was called in":

Meiraj : Sit down, Mr. Prakash. Do you know why I asked you to get out?

Prakash : No, I dunno.

Meiraj : Well, I don't like to be contradicted. In the university you pay the teachers; there you may talk back. Here I pay you.

That was Prakash's first day with his boss and his first-ever experience of the kind. He finished his office training in the next fortnight and was posted to a branch. The branch had two sales representatives; Prakash was the third. The reps had to report both to the Branch Manager and the Area Sales Supervisor.

The reps' job was to bring orders for new goods, repair orders, orders for preventive-maintenance service contracts, and collect outstandings.

On the first day of his field work, Prakash collected some outstandings, but no orders. The second day he called on potential customers, but no orders, again. As he returned to the office that evening, Mr. Meiraj met him and :

Meiraj : Yes, Mr. Prakash! How are you?

Prakash : Fine.

Meiraj : How many orders?

Prakash : No orders, sir.

Meiraj : Then what do you mean "fine"? The company is not interested in your personal life, Mr. Prakash. We want orders.

The next day, Prakash brought an order and two outstandings collected.

Meiraj : Good evening Mr. Prakash! How are you?

Prakash : One Two-one-oh-four, Sir.

Meiraj : Good, but that is for today. What about the dues of yesterday and the day before? You should have brought three orders at least.

After a week in the branch office, Mr. Meiraj left for his Area Office. Prakash says he felt happy to be left alone. He secured a few orders and was gaining experience in the job. On one of his business tours, Prakash came across a stretch of tea merchants, only one of whom had a weighmaster scale. Prakash called on the merchants and found that they were all negatively disposed toward Weighmaster Company. "All of them referred to their "unfortunate" neighbour, who had bought a Weighmaster scale, which was "no better than a show-piece". The damn thing hadn't worked for a month and the company wouldn't replace it! This one disillusioned customer had grown to be an immense block to any Weighmaster scale's entering that area. My repeated requests to replace the scale were turned down by the supervisor. I promised the supervisor that if he allowed me to replace that one scale, I would bring at least five orders the same day. But I was not permitted to do so."

On another occasion, Prakash contacted a government customer, who had three weighbridges of Weighmaster make. None of them was under any maintenance contract. One of them was out of order and the downtime was causing a big loss of revenue to the customer. The customer (a mining engineer in the state government) wanted the company to rectify the weighbridge as soon as possible--free of charge! Prakash assured the engineer that the machine could be set right in a week's time, but only if he signed a maintenance service contract or paid for a one-time repair.

The mining engineer insisted that the repairs be carried out free of charge, or else he would go out of the way to stop all business for the company from all government departments in the state. He pulled out and showed to Prakash a written agreement from the company for five years of free service. Prakash saw it and noticed that the agreement was a trick played by his predecessor to get his sale through. (Prakash also noted the signature and realised that its author was currently three levels above him in the organisation.) All the same, Prakash told the engineer that he would do the best he could and took leave of him. On his way back, he inspected the machine at its site and took note of its condition. In his daily report, he referred to this customer as a good prospect for maintenance contract, but he did not follow it up for some time.

Prakash spent his free time, and later on also part of his business time, with some of his newly acquired friends. He often heard them say that Weighmaster guys were tough and bossy and that the turnover of their salesforce was pretty high. Prakash says he didn't have to be told about the first part and he did not find it too difficult to believe the second. He was himself aware of a rep who quit the company, jobless, in three weeks after joining, i.e., even before he completed the training.

Prakash also observed that his colleagues cursed the ASS behind his back, but wouldn't say a word save for "Yes, sir", in his presence. He was also highly amused, he says, at the supervisor's behaviour in the presence of higher authorities. "Mr. Meiraj, who acts so tall and sure-of-himself with us, is shamelessly obsequious to the Area and Divisional Managers when they are around".

One day, Prakash received Mr. Meiraj's note from the Area Office saying that he would be visiting the branch in eight days from then. On hearing this, Prakash decided to confront "the ASS". To start with, he let his whiskers grow for the week. Mr. Meiraj arrived at the end of the week. The moment they met, Mr. Meiraj told Prakash, "I don't like your sideburns". Prakash shrugged his shoulders and said, "That's okay". Mr. Meiraj stared and ordered Prakash to come to the BM's office upstairs and the scene was as follows:

Meiraj : I said I didn't like your side-burns.

Prakash : I like them.

Meiraj : Go shave them off immediately !

Prakash : I won't.

Meiraj : Well, the story is finished, then.

Prakash : What story, sir?

Meiraj : Are you thinking of changing, Mr. Prakash? Don't you like the job?

Prakash : Did I say that?

Meiraj : Mr. Prakash, it is the company's rule that you should wear no sideburns.

Prakash : If it's the company rule, sir, I shall certainly shave them off. But you said you didn't like them. Actually I would even go by your likes and dislikes if you were a better man. But you know only how to shout at me. Then why should I care for your likes and dislikes?

Meiraj : What do you mean I always shout? Tell me how many times have I shouted at you?

Prakash : I don't keep a diary of unpleasant experiences. Yet I can tell you a few. (Prakash cited a few, starting from the most recent instance. Then finally he referred to the first meeting at which "his majesty" had asked him to get out for "contradicting" him. The BM was watching the whole scene.)

Meiraj : I've trained so many reps. No one ever said anything. I did all this only for your good.

Prakash : Maybe you intended it. It didn't do me any good. The moment you are with me, I am all tensed up, anticipating a yelling.

Meiraj : That's bad! O.K., Mr. Prakash, I promise I won't shout at you again. (Pause). But I can make life hell for you.

Prakash : I won't give you a chance! (Prakash says he meant his resignation, but the supervisor took it differently.)

Meiraj : That's the spirit. (He shakes hand with Prakash). Now, go have a shave and we shall go together on business today. I am going next door and will be back in 20 minutes.

B.M. : (Alone with Prakash, shakes hands and says): Boy, you gave it good; it serves him right.

Prakash went home for a quick shave and soon returned to the office. Mr. Meiraj and he made calls together that day. Wherever they went, Prakash promptly introduced Mr. Meiraj to the customer, with the result that Mr. Meiraj had to bear the burden. They made a number of calls, but drew a blank. They went for a cup of tea, during which Prakash said, "Bad day; no orders!" There was silence for a while. Then Prakash continued, "Sir, there is a hot prospect; a huge triple contract; all weighbridges; one of them is very badly off and the customer is losing a lot of revenue. If we rush there before six, we can walk back with the order."

"Let's go!" said Mr. Meiraj and they went.

Prakash took him to that Mining Engineer and told the engineer that Mr. Meiraj had come specially to attend to his problem. The engineer thanked Prakash and explained the problem to Mr. Meiraj. Mr. Meiraj's stand was no different from what Prakash had taken. The engineer was annoyed and he threatened Mr. Meiraj with loss of business and a law suit. He called his secretary and began to dictate a letter to that effect. Mr. Meiraj stood up and walked out, with Prakash trailing him.

Next morning, the BM, the ASS, and Prakash were at breakfast together. The BM and the ASS were very concerned about the mining engineer's case. They were engrossed in finding a way out. During their discussion, they referred to the earlier rep's written agreement with the customer as the real headache.

Prakash intervened:

Prakash :Sir, I have an idea.

ASS :Yes, what's it?

Prakash :Although we don't give a guarantee, the customer has managed to get one. There is no point, therefore, in telling him that we don't give any. To my knowledge -- pardon me, if I am wrong -- no guarantee is binding once the customer has tampered with the product. Is that right?

BM & ASS : Yes, Do you ... (Prakash didn't listen).

Prakash :Then we have won! The engineer has cut two inches off one of the plates.

ASS : How do you know?

Prakash : I inspected the site. The engineer himself had it cut and he told me that "even that didn't help"!

ASS : Why didn't you tell me this there, yesterday? I could have cut him to size.

Prakash : It just didn't occur to me, sir.

Prakash says he finally did what he had for long wanted to do. Now he was ready to quit the company. One morning, he went to the office and asked the office secretary for a sheet of paper. She quickly gave him a few. Prakash commented on her generosity and told her that the paper was to bear his resignation. There followed a tete-a-tete, which Prakash would rather cherish in silence! That afternoon, Prakash put up his letter of resignation, which read :

Dear Sir,

Please accept my resignation, for I don't like the job I am in.

Yours truly,

Sd/- Prakash
18-4-1973.


Other cases.