My partner and I had been manning our forex dealing room for a few months with little success when a game-changer arrived – the Reuters screen.
Hitherto, we had no way of knowing what the international exchange rates were, except by contacting an overseas dealing room through the telex, but now the rates were right in front of us, live and up-to-the-second, on the little screen.
We were not quite sure how to use this gadget or, indeed, what was expected of us.
The latter point was clarified soon enough.
The boss walked into our dealing room, pulled out his pipe, tamped tobacco into it, lit it, emitted a puff of aromatic smoke and said, “This contraption is expensive. I want Rs30 lakh (3 million) profit a month.”
We were aghast. Our monthly profit would break through the Rs5 lakh barrier on a very lucky month, but now this gora wanted Rs30 lakh!
I ventured to ask “Why Rs30 lakh, sir?”.
“One lakh a day and 30 days in a month, got it?” the boss elaborated.
“But we work only 20 days a month, sir. On Saturdays and Sundays, the markets are closed.”
“Well, 20 lakh, then.” Another puff, and the boss turned and left.
After this magnificent example of budget-making, my partner and I looked at each other and set to learning about the Reuters screen and what we could do with it. Things went quite well, profits rose, and soon we were nudging the Rs10 lakh mark. Things were going great.
Until the fateful day………
My partner and I reached office to find that the pound had dropped below $2 for the first time in history after frenzied selling in New York the previous night. It stood at $1.997.
We both felt, quite strongly, that the pound had to bounce back. We decided we must ride the wave, and bought 3 million pounds against US dollars at 1.997 in the Singapore market.
To our horror, all day long the pound fell and fell and fell. We just could not bear to cut the position and take the loss – it was too big! Yet, the loss grew and grew and when we finally cut the position at 1.969 in New York at 7.30pm, we had lost nearly Rs5 lakh.
Remember, in those days Rs5 lakh would get you a nice three bedroom flat in Bandra, which could cost Rs10 crore (Rs100 million) today. Dammit, Rs5 lakh was the combined salary of my partner and me for five years!
That night my partner and I drowned our sorrows in a bottle of Old Monk. We were certain to be fired the next day.
The next morning, we were standing outside the boss’ office at 7.45, knowing that he came in around 8am.
He arrived, took one look at us and asked “You boys want to see me?”
“Well, come in,” he said.
Once the tobacco tamping and pipe lighting ritual was over, the boss looked at us and said “How much?”
“Five lakh,” I whispered.
“Not funny, is it?” he asked.
We shook our heads. No, decidedly not funny, in fact disastrous.
“Well, go and make it up today.” the boss turned and picked up the Economic Times.
We almost ran out of the room, not believing our luck.
Once back at the office, we looked at the Reuters screen. Pound was at 1.966.
We looked at each other, took deep breaths, and said, almost in unison “Buy.” We bought 3 million pounds in Singapore and sold them in London at 7 pm at 2.095. We had recovered the Rs5 lakh, and more.
That night, we hit the bottle again (DSP this time) and, in a drunken stupor, agreed that this hell or heaven business was not going to work. From now on, we would cut a losing position when the loss hit Rs10,000, no more.
Thus, was born our own version of 'Stop Loss' which served us very well indeed. In the many months to come, my partner and I never had a red number on our daily profit sheet. Eventually, we did reach, and sustain, the Rs20 lakh mark, which the boss, in his wisdom, had set for us.
Forgiveness was indeed heavenly!
The Caring Boss
I was a junior officer, staying in the bank’s ‘chummery’ in Bombay when my mother died in Calcutta. I got the sad news at eight in the morning, and also the news that my sister would be flying to Bombay from Ahmedabad, with her six month old baby, in a few hours. I was to take them to Calcutta by the evening flight.
I went to office to meet my boss, the operations manager, to tell him what had happened, and also ask for leave.
He nodded, thought for a moment, and asked “What will you do with your sister and her baby?”
I had actually not thought about it, and all I could say was that I would pick her up from the airport and take her to the chummery to wait until it was time to catch the plane to Calcutta.
He said “You idiot, have you any idea what a small baby need? Do you have milk in the chummery?”
Before I could figure out what to say he ordered, “Take my car, pick up your sister and take them to my house. My wife will look after her and the baby. In the evening, go to the airport in my car.”
My boss cared!
Unfortunately, he did not seem to care quite as much for his wife, because he omitted to tell her that we would be landing up at her house.
Needless to say though surprised, she rose to the occasion and took great care of my sister and the baby the entire afternoon.
(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.)