The Boss was a scrawny man of medium height.
However, his aura and personality made him towering.
He walked with a distinct and discerning gait, generally spoke with a high pitch, hardly ever smiled without good reason and evoked terror not only amongst his subordinates but also amongst his peers and superiors.
It was felt that keeping distance with this man was a good choice unless circumstances presented you with the Hobson’s choice.
To boot, he was a bachelor and having managed to celebrate 55 years of bachelor-hood with equanimity and distinction he firmly believed that the institution of marriage was largely meant to produce kids who added to an already teeming population of India and only achieved the dubious objective of bringing the GDP of the country down.
Marriage to him was thus a deprecatory ceremony in the overall scheme of things for the country.
He lived life frugally, travelled to the office mainly by public transport, avoided buying a car which he considered to be more of a liability and ate a very lean lunch at the workplace.
The general rumour was that his dinner consisted of at least three pegs of dark rum with some bread or puffed rice thrown in as accompaniment.
Of his various claims to fame, his demeanour was not one while mannerisms being one, stood out.
He was considered whimsical, moody, of acerbic tongue and off his rockers. He carried all these epithets with ease and stubborn nonchalance.
Despite all this, he did command a lot of respect and admiration for his in-depth knowledge of the subject, his sharp mental faculties and his constant eagerness to keep challenging the vast ocean of knowledge. He was an encyclopedia, a library, and a storehouse of knowledge.
His English speaking and writing skills were exemplary and got him encomiums.
Any officer in front of him was a lame duck and was generally shot down in no uncertain terms for reasons of poor understanding of the subject matter and writing skills. You generally needed to be attired with double bulletproof jackets to enter his cabin and face him but no matter how well you prepared on the subject he would manage to find a flaw, elaborate upon it and prove to you that this was the most basic thing that should have been known to you. QED.
You thus left his chamber with your head hanging low and your spirits hanging lower into the tide of various eager beavers waiting outside to have a crack at your expense over your fate and count the number of bullet marks on your jacket. It was another matter that everybody had been riddled with the Bosses’ bullets at some time or the other.
During those times the Insurance Companies had standard and conventional products and there were many situations where an existing product could not respond to the requirement. To tide over this situation, most insurance companies issued what was called a “Special Contingency Policy”.
The idea of such an Insurance Policy was to provide insurance cover for situations not available under the standard products and not specifically excluded under the standard products. In other words, if there was a novel requirement the requirement would be assessed and analyzed and a Special Contingency Policy would be issued to cover the situation. Such policies were custom drafted.
For example, if there was a milk powder manufacturing company which stored its product in warehouses and faced a situation where rodents were damaging and contaminating the product leading to a loss and damage to the product such a situation would get covered by issuance of a special contingency policy.
The authority for accepting and approving such proposals was vested with the Boss at Head Office. The idea was to ensure that such products be discussed and approved at the highest level and not issued indiscriminately and wantonly.
I was handling this portfolio then and my call for duty almost daily brought me to the line of fire as I had to analyze such proposals being received from the various offices of the country, prepare a detailed note around them and present them to the Boss for approval, rejection or discussion. The various offices who sent such requests would urge me to get the proposal approved by the Boss as the proposal was important to them and would help them make greater inroads into the client and so on and so forth.
I have been lucky to have survived those years on the battlefield.
Most of the time the Boss would find innumerable technical flaws in those proposals and most of the time rightly so and would thus either shoot them down or call for further details.
His process of filtration was straight forward. If the Company itself could not manage their storage from rodents let not an Insurance Company pay for their mismanagement. He had a good nose for smelling out the real requirements which did qualify for a customized solution through a special contingency policy.
Into this line of fire once walked in Jonathan.
Jonathan was a thorough gentleman and an erudite. He had spent long years at the Head Office and had worked extensively with the Boss. The boss had been largely appreciative of Jonathan’s knowledge and style of working and the boss considered him as a nice and bright officer in a crowd of crooks. There was a bit of uncanny camaraderie between the two.
Eventually, Jonathan was transferred out of the Head office and took charge of a Division as the Divisional Manager. Now, once you become a Divisional Manager your primary focus moves to business development and for the sake of practicality, you learn to sacrifice or bypass certain technical considerations here and there for the sake of picking up business.
For this very reason, the Boss, therefore, considered most Divisional Managers as useless. For him, they were perfect ambassadors of doom for the Company as most of them hardly understood the subject and those who understood sacrificed most of it on the altar of business development. An action he deeply regretted and spewed venom on the matter whenever he got the opportunity.
One fine day Jonathan referred to me a requirement of a special contingency policy. A large Electric Distribution Company wanted a cover for electric thefts. Therefore, distribution losses through thefts would be quantified in monetary terms and the insurance coverage would pay for such losses.
Jonathan had prepared a detailed proposal right from the stage of electric generation to delivery, excluded normal transmission losses calculated through past averages and even further excluded a certain percentage towards unknown and unexplainable losses. After this, the difference between the generation and the final delivery converted to monetary value would constitute a payable claim under the policy being attributable to transmission theft.
Jonathan was a good soul and while I was not entirely convinced about the proposal because of the various technical fall outs that I could envisage I decided to give it a shot to try and convince the boss. Also, Jonathan badly wanted to do this business as he thought this could create a mark for him with the client and give him the much-needed opening to get into their main insurance program which was big and that is where the meat was.
Although Unconvinced about the proposal I made a recommendation note and sent it to the boss. As I had anticipated I was summoned by the Boss after a couple of hours and completely taken down due to lack of understanding of the matter.
- How can such electricity thefts be controlled in India?
- What was the Corporate themselves doing to curb these thefts?
- What could be other distribution and transmission losses?
- How will transmission losses be calculated?
- How will illegal hooking be controlled?
- How robust is the metering system?
- What sort of outage has been factored in?
- Are there scheduled downtimes?
Were some questions which were thrown at me. There were many more and they all seemed relevant.
I had no answers.
I was told in quite uncertain terms not to play ball with Divisional Managers and with Corporates who in Insurance only tried to find an ally to pass on their crimes and losses without doing much about it themselves.
However, as the Boss knew Jonathan he asked me to call in Jonathan the next day for a discussion.
Jonathan reached Head Office at the appointed time and I ushered him to the boss following him, albeit, sheepishly having once being smitten and with the feeling of at least twice being shy.
After the usual pleasantries, and the boss never spent more than a nanosecond on them the topic was placed on the anvil. The Boss attacked Jonathan with his volley of questions and soon Jonathan was knocked out flat with no answers and no good reason to do this proposal as it was not making technical and insurance sense.
Jonathan then made a final attempt. He looked at the boss and said: “ Boss this business is important as it would allow me a foothold into this big Corporate and this is my chance”.
The Boss heard Jonathan out, looked at Jonathan in the eye and without batting an eyelid stood up. I could see his eyes twitching, his hands shaking just a bit, his countenance turning graver, his gaze becoming more piercing and his stance aggressive.
Here was a bull ready for the attack
I quickly scampered to the corner of the room.
It was then that the Boss made is now famous dialogue.
“Jonathan you were a bright young lad but now for the sake of business you have forgotten your moorings and your technical knowledge”.
“It seems Jonathan with you now there is nothing technical it is all testicle”.
He paused and I could see Jonathan uncomfortably shifting his gaze.
“Jonathan”, the boss continued,” you do not have the requisite courage and the ability to enter the corporate through the front door armed with your competence and skill and convince them to give you their main business”
“Instead you want to enter the house through the drain like a dirty mouse carrying a special contingency policy in your mouth and assuming that you would be invited to the dinner table”.
“Grow Up Jonathan and do not waste our time”. “ The mouse which goes in through the drain generally lands up in the mousetrap”.
With that the Boss, without flinching an eyelid walked out of the room banging the door behind us and making sure that the last nail in the coffin was hammered in.
We were still in the cabin and from the corner of the room I looked at Jonathan and Jonathan looked at me and no words were necessary.