How do people who have been on a pedestal for short or long periods of time, handle the fall from their powerful positions? This could be in any area of life – whether the commercial world, or political or professional. It is interesting to see how they feel lost, or live in the past, or readjust to a new life with vigour and gusto, as just another phase!
Ajoy was chairman of a very large corporation for nearly two decades. A successful corporation, which diversified and grew rapidly under his able leadership. He was also tall and well built- literally, a towering personality.
When he entered a conference room, all eyes were on the door, and the entry, amidst a sudden silence. Everyone sat only after he did. He chaired the meeting and was always the first to speak. The others spoke in their turn – but with a certain deference.
When he visited a hotel owned by the company, he would be given VVIP treatment. I once left the dining room of the hotel without having breakfast, because it took so long to come – while at the next table, the chairman, who had come 15 minutes after me, was served a full breakfast, from juice to omelette and coffee, with three waiters dancing around in attendance. So much for attention to paying customers, rather than to the boss!
And as he walked out, the car was already waiting at the entry porch, having been called well in advance by the concierge!
After he retired, he missed all this attention- being master of all he surveyed. Very few took much notice of him – less and less as time passed.
At the social club, he was just one of the members. He had to speak to the concierge and give his car number, so the driver could now be called. Sometimes, he had to wait in a Q.
He thought he would regain some of the power by now getting into some business, with all the connections that he had in the past. He began with a collaboration with a former distributor of his old company.
But he was used to having expert staff in the past. Now he had to manage with more amateur staff at every level – and not enough of them. The small business remained small and finally came to a sorry end.
It showed that he was successful in the past (in a large measure) because of his team- well organised and well trained; and not just because of a great chairman.
He never came to terms with the present – and the past could not be replayed. He ended up as a disappointed man!
And this can happen to politicians as well. I once saw VK Krishna (VKK) Menon, from my office window, waiting on the pavement outside the Bombay Dyeing show room at Ballard estate.
He had two large bags (purchases made at the festival sales?) desperately looking for a cab. He could not get one. Two cabs stopped and perhaps finding the trip too short – they refused and drove away.
VKK meant nothing to them, they had never heard of him! For me, it was like a film short – this man, once so powerful, India’s ambassador to the UK, defence minister of India, defender of India at the United Nations (UN) where he made some of the longest speeches -- was now unable to get a cab to help him get home!
Finally, I left my office, took my car from the parking lot, and went and offered him a lift. He was surprised and overjoyed when I told him I knew who he was. And he was grateful for the lift.
Where was he going? To the Ritz hotel at Churchgate, where he was staying (no wonder the cabs refused). His thank you was profuse. He said he would never forget the kindness. I protested that it was too small a favour to be remembered!
On another evening, I was caught in the crowds at Churchgate station at the peak hour of 5pm. Hordes of office goers were pouring into the station, going home after work. As I was making my way, a familiar face appeared just in front of me and I said “hello.” He said hello in reply.
And then I realised I did not know him – but thought I did. It was Madhu Dandavate, whose photos I had seen often in the press. He was the minister for railways until the previous week – and was now back in Mumbai and travelling in Mumbai's crowded suburban train, going home to Dadar.
Spontaneously, I said – “How nice to see you use the suburban train, sir”.
“I always did, and will do so again now,” he responded.
Then he added – “I am in a hurry. Please excuse me. Have to take the 5.15”.
He taught me another way to manage the fall from the pedestal of power.
The only way to manage the fall is to adopt the attitude that this too will pass. Nothing is permanent. There are good days and bad – culminating in good seasons and not so good – the spring and the winter.
Those who have made the climb themselves will find it easier to manage than those who have had success gifted to them.
The trauma here is much greater and is sensitively portrayed in the story of Henry Ford, who missed the last flight to Detroit and had to stay overnight in New York. He went to the Waldorf Astoria and was booking a single room at 8pm.
When the receptionist saw him writing his name in the register, she called the lobby manager, who called the general manager – and the three of them escorted him up to the top floor suite. Mr Ford was shocked. “But I want only a single room to spend the night. I leave at 6 in the morning.”
The GM answered, “But your son always stays in this suite when he is here.”
“Yes – my son has a rich father. I don’t,” was Mr Ford’s answer!
A lesson for most of us who feel that power, status, and money are forever –those who never plan for anything else, foreseen, or unforeseen!
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books; a business columnist; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe, and Asia. His latest 3 books written in collaboration are 5Gs of Family Business; Marketing in a Digital/ data world; and Customer Value Starvation can kill. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)