Yes, T took delight in terminating people, and would never miss a chance to wield the chopper. But not always.
There was one occasion when T did not terminate a deserving candidate. Hold on – it was not because he had a change of heart, took pity on the victim, went soft, or anything like that.
He simply could not bring himself to do it.
But he got it done anyway.
This is the story.
T had one great ambition – to be a market leader in syndicated loans.
To explain, a syndicated loan is a large loan – hundreds of millions of dollars – to a corporate borrower. Such loans are normally too big for one bank.
One bank, the lead manager, structures the loan and brings in several other banks as co-lenders, and they share the loan between themselves.
The lead manager also parcels off part, or most, of its own share to smaller banks in pieces of 2 to 5 million dollars, thereby bringing down its own exposure to a relatively small amount.
This business can be very attractive because the lead manager gets big fees for arranging and distributing the loan, plus recognition in banking circles as one of the big boys.
Though our bank was a big fish in a smallish pond, we had never done any syndications.
T wanted to make the bank a big fish in the international market, and decided to start a syndication business.
This business needed an expert to manage it. You had to find a suitable borrower, persuade him to borrow a big chunk of money through you, structure the loan, and find co-lenders.
We did not have anyone in the bank who had the knowhow to do this, so T decided to bring in talent from outside.
The specifications for this expert were stringent – he must be white, must have in-depth experience of arranging syndicated loans, have extensive contacts in both big business and big banking and so on.
T found the man he wanted; an Englishman named Jim Connors.
Jim was welcomed into the bank with great fanfare. He was given a grand title of director for syndications, a large office, a gori secretary, a Mercedes E240 and a plush villa.
T took him around personally to introduce him to all the senior people in the bank, and board of directors downwards.
Everyone waited with bated breath for the wonders which Jim was slated to work.
Jim set about his task with gusto. With T’s active support he lined up a large Saudi family business and persuaded the owner to borrow $125 million to expand his business.
It called for a syndicated loan, with our bank as the lead manager.
Hectic activity followed.
The terms of the loan had to be negotiated, a loan agreement drawn up, a prospectus prepared for inviting co-lenders and myriad other steps that paved the way to the final glorious moment – the signing ceremony.
The ceremony is a very formal event. The lead manager invites the borrower and co-lenders to meet at 11am one day.
Champagne is served (unless the borrower is Saudi, in which case pomegranate juice is the preferred alternative), copies of the loan agreement are presented to the borrower, the lead manager and all the co-lenders, handshakes all around, the ceremonial signing, and then a sumptuous lunch.
The borrower is usually represented by the owner or the chief executive (CEO), and the top honchos from the co-lending banks are present (unless it is pomegranate juice, in which case some CEOs send their deputies), and everyone leaves replete and happy.
T was on tenterhooks in the days leading up to the signing ceremony.
He went over every detail again and again, bombarded Jim with anxious queries and generally made a nuisance of himself. He even visited Stephanie for a haircut.
Everyone gathered in the banquet hall of a 5-star hotel at 11am on the appointed day.
Oh! Not everyone - the borrower was missing.
Jim had made a fatal mistake.
The owner of the borrowing company was very nervous – it was his first big loan, and that too a syndicated loan.
The loan document ran to over a hundred pages – damned if he was going to sign it without his lawyer examining each page of each copy to verify that everything was exactly as had been agreed.
Without thinking deeply, Jim had agreed to this.
Unfortunately, he had not worked out how long it would take the lawyer to check every page of seven copies of a 100 plus page document.
The owner, along with his retinue and his trusted lawyer, had arrived the previous evening and had been ceremoniously escorted to several suites in the hotel.
Jim gave the lawyer the final seven copies of the agreement and went through every bit of the signing ceremony, step by step.
Both owner and lawyer nodded, and the lawyer started the arduous task of checking the copies of the loan document.
Even at 11.10 the next morning, there was no sign of the borrower and his lawyer.
People started fidgeting, whispering amongst themselves and looking at their watches.
In near panic, T sent Jim off to find out what the hold-up was.
Jim came back with disastrous news. The lawyer had managed to check only four copies, three more to go. At the rate he was going the job would not be finished even by 5pm.
Worse, the owner had dug in his heels and totally refused to sign anything at all until his lawyer had certified each and every copy.
There was going to be no borrower at the signing ceremony.
There was no alternative but to inform those present that the loan agreements would have to be signed by the lenders alone, and that the borrower would sign later.
This news was met with disbelief at first, and when it turned out to be absolutely true, there was a great deal of laughter and merriment.
T did not participate in the fun. Neither did Jim.
To rub salt in the wound, the CEO of a rival bank came up to T and said “I say, one normally has the borrower present at a signing ceremony, you know. Well, it is your very first syndicated loan, so maybe you didn’t know. Just come and meet us, won’t you, old chap, if you ever do another syndication? We will be happy to show you the ropes.”
The CEO sauntered off with a chuckle.
It was a miracle that T did not explode, but perhaps he could not decide whether to kill that CEO, or Jim.
The next morning T summoned me.
“Jim must be terminated”, he said.
“Do it,” he said.
“What, me?” I asked in consternation. “He reports to you. How can I terminate him?”
“Just do it,” said T. So, I did it.
To date I have never figured out why T did not carry out the gory task himself.
Was it because he had hired Jim with great fanfare in the first place?
Or was it because Jim was a fellow gora? Or was there some other reason?
Would you know, dear Reader?
(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.)