In August each year, at the start of the annual budget exercise, treasury department notified branches of the base interest rate they were to use for deposits and loans when preparing the budget. Since the local currency was pegged to the US dollar the dollar interest rate was the benchmark.
That year the rate notified in August was 6%. Subsequently, the treasury changed the rate to 7% and informed branch control section at head office to notify the branches to amend their budgets accordingly.
Unfortunately, the branch control head forgot to inform the branches about the change. As a result, branches prepared their budgets based on 6%, while the treasury prepared its budget based on 7%.
In November, all branches and departments submitted their budgets to finance department for compilation. That is when the error was found.
The chief financial officer (CFO) (an Aussie) called me to his office.
By way of background, the CFO and I had a very good relationship, which started with our mutual interest in cars. However, he hated T and was forever looking for an opportunity to shaft him.
“I got him this time, mate,” he announced gleefully. “Your branches have got the interest rate wrong, and the budget is all wonky. In three days’ time the budget goes up before the board, and I am going to nail that bxxxxxd (T) to the cross.”
I realised that the CFO had found out about the error several days ago when the branch budgets had started coming in.
He had kept it totally hushed within his department and waited until nearly the last minute to release this bombshell, so that there would not be enough time to fix the error.
My heart sank.
This was a disaster, and yes, T was ultimately responsible for the branches, and this error would be hung around his neck before the board.
I hastened to T’s office and told him the bad news and how it had happened.
T raved, swore, cursed the CFO, and summoned the branch control head to give him the pasting of his life.
Then he turned to me.
“What do we do, my lad? Can we get the branches to change their budgets?”
“That won’t work”, I said. “There are only three days to go before the board meeting. There simply isn’t enough time to get all the branches to change their budgets.”
“Besides, that would be an open admission that there has been a screw-up. The CFO would advertise it for sure,” I replied.
“Then what do we dooooooo????” T was in near panic mode.
“Just bluff it out”, I said, “tell the CFO that you have instructed the branches to stick to 6%, and that treasury has to change its rate.”
“You can do it.”
T thought for bit, nodded, hitched up his trousers and sat down at his desk to phone the CFO.
“Good morning. What is this I hear about you questioning my decision about interest rates? “I am the general manager (GM), do you hear? I decide what rate to put in the budget, not some twit from the treasury.”
“Do you know what Alan Greenspan has been saying? Do you read the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal? Do you watch the financial news on TV? I DO.”
“The interest rate stays at 6%. That is my decision. I am the GM, and that is my prerogative.”
“Tell, the twerps in the treasury to amend their budget. My budget stays.”
“Have a nice day.”
T put the phone back, leaned back in his chair, beamed at me and said, “My boy, you are a gem. What would I do without you?”
The treasury made the change and the budget sailed through the board meeting. T beamed. The CFO remained silent and gave me dirty looks.
We did not discuss cars any more.
The ‘only human’ T
T was human, after all, and not immune to petty jealousies.
Despite the oppressive heat, the norm in the Middle East was that bankers wore suits when attending an external meeting. Within the office, however, this was not the norm. Jackets would be hung up behind the door of one’s cabin as soon as one entered office and retrieved when leaving at day-end.
(An inevitable corollary to this practice was that the jackets would remain almost pristine while the trousers, which were worn all day, would wear out. A year or two down the road the jacket and trousers would begin to look mismatched. If you were smart, you would get suits with two trousers and one jacket, and wear the trousers alternately with the same jacket. This made the ensemble last longer.)
To revert to the story, then……….
One morning I had to go for a meeting of bankers, held in a hotel.
Obviously, I wore my suit.
On my return to the office my secretary told me “Managing director (MD) wants to see you”.
The MD could not be made to wait a moment longer than was imperative, so I went to the MD’s office without removing the jacket.
The MD wanted some information on a business house in India, nothing to do with our bank and certainly not with T.
As soon as I came out of the MD’s office his secretary told me “Mr T wants to see you.”
I realised that T had asked for me, and when he was told that I was with the MD he had rung up the MD’s office and asked that I be sent to meet him asap.
With my jacket still on, I went into T’s office.
T hated the MD, but the MD was his boss and there was little he could do. However, he was very possessive of the loyalty of his subordinates and couldn’t bear the thought of any of his underlings getting close to the MD.
He was very suspicious of my meeting with MD. He couldn’t quite ask me what it was about, but jealousy and suspicion seethed inside him.
He looked at me wearing my jacket, which I never did when meeting him because we worked within the same office building. He snorted and asked “Why is it that when you go the meet the MD you wear your jacket, but not when you come to meet me?”
Inwardly I smiled, but patiently explained the happenstance of the jacket. I could see that T was not convinced.
After a brief discussion I returned to my office. An hour or so later T asked for me again along with George, our Operations Chief in H.O., who used to sit in the cabin next to mine.
“Hey Georgy,” I said, “better put your jacket on,” and wore my own jacket.
“But why, we are just going to meet T, aren’t we?” George asked, mystified.
“Never mind” I said “just do it”.
On the way to T’s office, I narrated my earlier conversation with T. George caught on, grinned, and agreed to play along.
As we entered T’s office I said “Look, Sir, we are wearing our jackets”.
T glanced at us, paused, and broke into a smile.
“You lads take the cake,” he said. “Come on in, and sit yourselves down.”
(Deserting engineering after a year in a factory, Amitabha Banerjee
did an MBA in the US and returned to India. Choosing work-to-live over live-to-work, he joined banking and worked for various banks in India and the Middle East. Post retirement, he returned to his hometown Kolkata and is now spending his golden years travelling the world (until Covid, that is), playing bridge, befriending Netflix & Prime Video and writing in his wife’s travel blog.)