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Exclusive Extract: The king in his castle: the ‘ECM’ muddles

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Exclusive Extract:  The king in his castle: the ‘ECM’ muddles

Veteran ad person Sunil Gupta’s much-awaited book, ‘Living on ‘Adge’ in Jhandewalan Thompson’, is set to be published by Roli Books later this week. Starting December 7, 2009 till the launch in New Delhi on Thursday, December 10, exchange4media brings you exclusive extracts from the book.

Multi-tasking came early on in my life, because along with the battle zones detailed above, another front had also opened up along my flanks. These were my interactions with Head Office (HO). However, onwards, onwards (OPM used to put it so well: ‘Aage bado, aage bado’ he would exhort us in his inimitable style), and so off I went, all excited, to attend my first ECM (National Executive Committee Meeting) in Bombay soon after I took over at Calcutta. So on to the Big Day. I arrive at the venue, a meeting hall at the Taj, and meet (some for the first time!), my colleagues at the top of the pyramid.

What transpires from then on does not change a whit in all the thirteen years I attended these conclaves, barring changes in personnel, so this account will be probably one of very few that you will have the pleasure of reading about.

There is large rectangular table, around which we will all sit. At one end of the room is a flip-chart board, and a screen. On the table is a slide projector focused at the screen, and some empty carousels in which we will slot our presentation slides. Below the height of the table, and at an angle, are VHS and a U-Matic tape players, joined umblically to a TV set (no computers or data projectors, as you will recall). Mahinder sits at the head of the table, and whoever is his favourite of the moment, or whoever wants to be such, or if we’re jumping through our hoops for some passing white-skin, then it’s he that gets to sit on one side of him; the other side is reserved for the finance bloke. At the other end of the room is a table with tea, coffee, and cookies.

This configuration remains constant for the next thirteen years, apart from upgradation of equipment and the changes in personnel. Indeed, the proceedings too remain constant, notwithstanding the upgradation of equipment. Then begins the invariable routine (the IVR, if you like) we are to go through every ECM without fail.

(1) Before we sit, a few jokes are exchanged between Rajiv, Anil, and SV, loud enough for all of to hear and understand that proceedings are indeed under way. These consist of Rajiv, in his American accent chivvying Anil on his billings, asking how much he’s held up his sleeve, and in the same breath informing SV that he’s reversed the debits for whatever HO expenditure has been foisted upon IPAN. This is a running battle between them, which we all know is done for effect, as HO expenses being debited to the offices is, like death and taxes, inevitable. Anil drawls out the usual repartee, which consists largely of Gujju-Punjabi invective. SV smirks. Mahinder looks on as a fond parent might, seeing his two favourite children performing their mock drills. We wait.

(2) The badinage over, Mahinder calls the meeting to order. ‘Chintamani will now take us through the overall company figures,’ he says, and CNG rises like the UN Secretary General inaugurating the UN General Assembly.

Then the following happens, every time:

• CNG asks for the lights to be dimmed to enable the matter on the screen to be more visible. No one knows where the light switches are.

• General confusion; hotel stewards scuttle around; so does the person from the AV dept of Bombay office; Mahinder has a dyspeptic appearance, and begins haranguing the hotel staff in a grating mixture of American and Bambaiya Hindi (he took this very seriously, did Mahinder: part of the act was to mispronounce Indian names as the Yanks might do, so ‘Gadi became ‘Guddee’, like ‘thuggee’, and ‘Karwal’ became ‘Karwell’, being pronounced with much deliberation, as would be the case with a foreigner).

• Lights are finally dimmed, but not without a madly choreographed sound and light show, with the wrong sets of lights going off, then all going off, and then going off at random, and Mahinder by now sounding as caustic as a cheap detergent.

• CNG attempts to display his first slide by pressing the ‘forward’ button, but the carousel refuses to turn; he looks at the remote control in his hand, almost willing it to work; he presses the ‘back’ button, and sure enough, the last slide of his presentation appears; tries again, but the carousel gets stuck; Mahinder is by now in a cold rage; he launches into the AV exec (for many years it happened to be Randhir Behl, who had been in client servicing before a shake-up in Bombay office saw him relegated to the world of tapes and producers, and he usually bore the brunt of the meteor shower, but with an equanimity that was remarkable).

• The slide tray is finally removed, the carousel changed and finally we get under way. (This was at least a mechanical malfunction: when the computers arrived, it got really hairy, for there was no physical tray, etc. with which we could wrestle, and this made it seem that nothing was being done to rectify the problem. The problem was essentially the same in effect, i.e., the file not opening, or the computer not booting, or the file opening but no image appearing on the screen. This made Mahinder even more acidic, as he couldn’t actually see people rushing about trying to do something to salvage the situation, except a boffin who was rebooting the laptop or pressing buttons on the data projector. Data projectors were the windmills to Mahinder’s Don Quixote.)

The first slide is a summary of the company’s financials for whatever period we are covering, and always, but always, CNG starts off by saying: ‘The Eek-alent (Equivalent) Billing of HT A is Rs x, and as you all know, revenue is 15 per cent of Eek-alent Billing, so our revenue is Rs y, and looks around sternly, as if to reassure himself that we’ve learnt our maths lesson.

He then reads out (that’s it, without an iota of comment or point made) all the relevant figures for the company and all the component offices/units, but he makes it sound as if he was reading The Declaration of Independence. At the end of it, Mahinder says ‘Thank you, Chintamani, for an excellent presentation’ and CNG positively simpers. (CNG’s behaviour with Mahinder reminded me irresistibly of the poem ‘Ben Bolt’ in which Ben’s love, Alice, ‘wept with delight when he gave her a smile, and trembled with fear at his frown’. If Mahinder smiled, CNG smiled; if he frowned, CNG frowned; if he looked tetchy, CNG looked tetchy: I swear that had Mahinder shed a tear, CNG would have followed suit. I often caught him looking earnestly at Mahinder, trying to gauge his mood in order to re-align his expressions accordingly. Still, CNG was harmless, even though he referred to Steve Waugh – CNG was an avid cricket follower – as Steve ‘Wog’.)

Tomorrow: The Motorola pagers story

Extracted with permission of the writer and the publisher
Living on the ‘Adge’ in Jhandewalan Thompson
By Sunil Gupta
Publisher: Roli Books
Pages: 480, Price (paperback): Rs 395


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