I was given a tough assignment: set up non-resident Indian (NRI) banking in the Middle East.
Our bank was already three years behind Citi, Grindlays, and StanChart plus several nationalised banks, which made the task quite daunting.
I developed a marketing plan, complete with newspaper ads, hoardings and jingle – all the usual bits of a ‘marketing mix.’
However, the crux of the plan was to have sales guys on the ground in the Middle East to contact NRIs and convince them to place deposits with our bank.
The first port of call was, of course, Dubai – that was where the action was.
I called on the chief executive officer (CEO) of United Arab Emirates (UAE) in his luxurious office at Dubai.
He said, “I hear you chaps are planning some new-fangled marketing stuff in my territory, just to get some money into India. Is that right?”
“So, what exactly are you planning to do?”
I explained that we were planning to advertise in the local papers (Gulf News and Khaleej Times).
The CEO nodded and said, “Yes, we can help you with that. Talk to Jim – my marketing manager. He has these bloody newspapers under his thumb – we advertise so much already, you see. What else?”
I ventured to say that I would like to put some sales staff on the ground to mobilise deposits.
That got his hackles up.
“What are these sales chappies going to do?” he demanded.
“Well… they will contact NRI customers and mobilise deposits for our branches in India,” I explained.
“WHAT? Are you telling me that your fellows will actually go to customers and ask them to put money in our bank?”
I softly confirmed that this was the general idea.
The CEO exploded: “You can’t bloody well do any of that! We don’t ask people to put their money in our bank. They do it on their own. Asking people to place money with us, indeed! Unheard of! This is what BCCI and the rest of those crooks do, not us!”
The CEO paused for breath and said: “Listen, you Indian, I will not have you running around in my territory begging my customers for deposits. It will destroy our bank’s image in this country. I will not have it!”
That was the end of the meeting.
I went back to my hotel and called my boss, CEO-India, to tell him about the problem.
He was very supportive.
“I quite understand,” he said. “Give me some time and I will get back to you. Remember, I am here to support you.”
The following day I was summoned to the office of the CEO of UAE.
All he said to me was: “Just bloody well get on with whatever you are planning to do. Only do not bother me anymore.”
I was delighted! I set up offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, and then in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait. I put my (Indian) boys in place, and they ran around the market getting NRI deposits. Happy to say, we exceeded our target by 50%.
Only later did I find out why the CEO-UAE had done an about-turn.
My boss, CEO-India, had rung up the general manager of Asia and Middle East and demanded that the CEO-UAE be instructed to toe the line.
His exact words to the general manager were, “I have promised to support my marketing chap, and that I must. You need to support me now.”
The general manager provided the required support.
A nasty phone call to CEO-UAE got him in line, albeit fretting and fuming.
Support from the boss is valuable indeed.
The “Captain” Boss
We had a CEO who said that he believed in teamwork.
He kept saying, “We must work as a TEAM!”
One evening, after a few wee drams of the ‘spirit of life’, he explained what exactly he meant by ‘team.’
“We are a team, boys,” he proclaimed.
“I am the captain. You, Ravi, are… let’s say…..the outside right.”
Ravi was singularly pleased with this ‘honourable mention’ from the CEO. Would it mean a promotion soon?
The CEO went on.
“Your job, Ravi, is to send in a cross from the right-wing to the top of the penalty box, just in front of me, and I will shoot it into the goal.”
“Boys, that is teamwork. Remember, I am the captain!”
Poor Ravi suffered a mild KLPD (I dare not explain this).
I was not aware that this ‘captain’ stuff would ever affect me personally, but it did.
I started writing a column in the Times of India on Sundays called ‘Money Matters’ (thanks to Debashis Basu). I used to write about a fictitious spinster aunt who (I hoped) would leave a huge fortune to me when she died. Until that sad/happy event came to be, she needed education on financial matters. The column talked about basic finance stuff such as: how bonds are priced, how gold markets operate etc.
I wrote the column in my own name.
This column gained a bit of popularity, following which a leading business weekly invited me to write a one-page ‘comment/view’. My article was published with my name and photograph.
The CEO would not ever condescend to read the lowly Times of India. An Indian newspaper? His limited reading ability was generally exhausted by the WSJ’s Asia edition.
However, the business weekly was another matter. He had to read it because the chappies in head office did.
He saw my article, with name and photo, in the business weekly and erupted.
My dear colleagues, the chamchas around him, were quick to inform him that I had been writing a column in the ToI, too.
I was summoned by the CEO.
“You are NOT allowed to write in newspapers and magazines, do you hear? We are a team, and I am the captain. If anything has to be written anywhere, I will write it. Stop this nonsense at once.”
I dared not ask the CEO: what makes you think that the ToI, or any business weekly, will ever print what you write?
Anyway, I had to tell the ToI editor that I could not continue the column because my CEO told me so.
“Nonsense”, the editor said, “my readers like your column. Just write under a pseudonym.”
That is what I did for a couple of more years.
Fortunately, either the CEO did not care what I wrote in another name, or his chamchas did not realise that Nabendu Debsharma was me!
(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.)