T gave me an unusual assignment – sell off our bank’s share-holding in a bank in a Third World country.
I had to go to that country to get the job done.
T sent me off on my mission with these parting words: “Don’t bother to return if you fail to complete the job”.
I travelled to that country and set about my task. It turned out to be much more difficult than I had expected it to be.
At every step a new and complicated barrier came up, which appeared to be almost insurmountable.
Every night I would go to sleep wondering if I would be heading back to base the next day, with nothing but failure to report to T.
But one by one the problems were solved, and at last I reached the final step - get the board of the bank to approve the sale of the shares at a board meeting.
To explain, our bank held 50% of the shares in the local bank, the other 50% being locally held.
T had struck a clandestine deal with a local businessman, who wanted to buy our shares, against payment in London, via a bank in another Third World country, on a benami basis.
The bank’s board had eight directors plus the chairman. Four of the eight directors were the nominees of our bank, and the other four were local businessmen.
The later four strongly suspected that the deal was a benami one, concocted by their rival businessman to gain control of the bank under their noses, and were determined to thwart the deal.
The chairman was nominee of the government, strictly neutral in theory, but amply bribed by the buyer to get the deal approved.
Nevertheless, the chairman would make sure that the deal looked perfectly above board, in terms of all laws and regulations, so that nobody could raise any accusation of favoritism against him.
The executive director of the bank was our appointee, and one of our four nominees on the board. I was the second, and there were two other directors from our bank’s side.
On the morning of the board meeting the executive director told me: “We have to bribe the bank’s Lawyer. The chairman will ask for his opinion on whether the deal is in order or not. He is the key to getting the chairman to agree.”
With the connivance of the executive director, I paid $2,500 to the lawyer.
The board meeting went off to my entire satisfaction.
The Lawyer gave firm and positive opinions on the propriety of the deal, and the board approved – 4 for, 4 against, and the chairman’s casting vote in favour of the deal.
One of my partners in this “crime” was the other general manager (GM). He was the third of our four nominee directors at the crucial board meeting.
On our flight back to Dubai he asked me: “Kitna khilaya usko?” (How much did you “feed” him?)
I feigned ignorance, but the GM spoke directly in broken Hindi.
What he said was: “I saw that the lawyer chap was answering every question in our favour. Because of his replies our deal went through. How much did you pay him?”
I confessed and said “2,500 dollars”.
He said “Wah, Wah, tumne to bada achha kiya. Kamal kar diya. Shabash !!” (Great, great, you did very well. You really hit it. Well done!)
The next morning, I reported to T with the news – Mission Accomplished.
T greeted me with open arms.
“Well done, my boy, very well done indeed,” he said.
Then came the rocket.
“Did you bribe anyone?”
It was futile to lie to T. Besides, for all I knew the executive director may already have told T about it.
“Yes, I paid 2,500 dollars to the bank’s lawyer”, I said.
T erupted into a rage.
“You bloody Indians! You are all corrupt!! All you know is how to pay bribes!!!” etc. etc.
He caught his breath and asked me: “Why did you pay this bribe?”
I answered “Because that was the only way to get the job done. You had told me to get the job done, remember?”
“Yes, Yes, Yes!!!” T thundered “but I didn’t tell you to pay bribes. Why didn’t you ask me for permission?”
“Because if I had asked you, you may not have agreed. After that I would not be able to pay the bribe because it would mean disobeying you. The only thing that I could do was to pay the bribe and complete the job.”
“You have lost my trust!” T screamed. “I have no faith in you anymore. Get out of my sight”.
I retreated to my office, very unhappy indeed.
Four hours later T summoned me.
“I am very upset with you” he said. “However, because you have delivered results, and because I am very fond of you, I am willing to overlook this incident, provided that you promise never to do such a thing again in future.”
In the intervening four hours I had also considered matters.
My blood was up.
“I promise you, Mr T, that if in future I need to pay a bribe to get the job done, I will do so without consulting you.”
“Get out of my sight” T screamed.
I was in the “cooler” for the whole of the next day, but the day after that T was back to normal with me.
The morale of the story for me was: take T head on, don’t hesitate.
Postscript: Yes, T could be ethical when it suited him. But who had struck the benami deal in the first place? Not 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.)