Righteous vs ‘Smart’

Madho Babu’s tragic tale of treading the right path

I don’t exactly remember when I started addressing Madhav Kant Sahay as Madho Babu. It perhaps happened gradually and unknowingly as I witnessed him gaining in knowledge, wisdom and most importantly, in honesty and integrity. But these virtues were also accompanied by an exaggerated sense of self-righteousness in him.

Madho Babu would not budge from what he thought was correct. Though he did follow the right path most of the time, he was rather unwilling to amend his ways even at the cost of annoying his superiors. We know there is scarce space for such persons today. So, Madho Babu did rise in his managerial career but not to the extent he could have.

This is a sad episode from Madho Babu’s short stint as the career communication general manager in a multinational corporation with its Indian headquarters in Mumbai. The tenure could have been happier and longer had Madho Babu gone by the dictates of his immediate boss who happened to be the company’s managing director.

Usually, the corporate communication head reports directly to the organisation’s chairman or MD because s/he has to be aware of all developments and plans of the company and needs to interact with a host of stakeholders from employees to government and regulatory bodies, banks, dealers, suppliers and vendors, current and potential customers, and, of course, to the ubiquitous news media.

Let’s get back to Madho Babu’s entry into the new company in Mumbai. He approached the MD and sought to know his expectations from the corporate communication department. Strangely, the boss had nothing to share. Madho Babu returned from the MD’s office carrying a load of past annual reports, an almost ancient book on the company’s history and several marketing brochures. The MD did voice his desire for maintenance of the company’s reputation but also made it clear that he would be able to spare time for just one media interview a month.

Back at his desk, Madho Babu faced another shock. His team disclosed that the company’s in-house quarterly journal, which used to be distributed in the company’s 14 manufacturing plants across India, had not been published for nine months. It transpired that Madho Babu’s predecessor, basically a marketing professional with little writing and journalistic experience, was engaged in producing a book on sustainable manufacturing all this while at the expense of core communication activities. How could a multinational behemoth, which had acquired the Indian company only a few years ago, ignore its most important stakeholders – thousands of blue-collar workers spread across its huge factories in India? Wouldn’t this affect work culture integration?

Madho Babu also found that most communication works had come to a standstill because the team members had no corporate communication skills and had got their jobs, before the MNC took over, through recommendations and trade union pressure.

Madho Babu again sought the MD’s ears. The MD was aware of the situation but did not relish tackling problems. But he would not authorise Madho Babu either to set his team in order. Also, the MD would often order communication staffers to carry out his personal errands like arranging tickets for his personal foreign trips or buying gifts for his family.

Left to himself, Madho Babu burnt the midnight oil and published the long-languishing in-house journals in a far more interesting and employee-centric manner. He wrote articles on behalf of the MD and got them published in leading national newspapers. This naturally invited acclaim from the company’s top managers. Top business papers started writing about the company. Even the MD had to acknowledge Madho Babu’s contribution to the intra-company net.

Madho Babu, foolishly enough, retorted that much more could be done if the MD acted professionally. The big boss was not used to such candour. The very same evening, he told Madho Babu that he was not up to the challenges the company faced. Madho Babu asked him to be specific. The MD found the entreaty below his dignity. Madho Babu was out within three months of joining the company though his name remained on the rolls for another three months and the salary continued to reach him.

But no sooner had the six months expired that Madho Babu’s predecessor was back in the company, happy with the team he had built honouring recommendations from influential quarters. The corporate communications team became the personal fiefdom of the MD doing his biddings, right or wrong.

It is another issue that the company’s board sniffed mischief and showed the door to the MD within a year. But why do the likes of Madho Babu suffer? Are they not smart enough?

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Basant Chaudhary

Basant Chaudhary is a Poet, Writer, The Chairman of BLC and Basant Chaudhary Foundation. ([email protected])

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