"Write your name on this paper," Mr Gauba, the general manager told me. Very nervously I did so, with my blue ink fountain pen. He glanced at the paper, and ruled, "Fine. You are with us." That is how I joined a company in 1948, after the partition of British India.
For many decades, after that surreal selection test, I wondered why Mr Gauba made me write my name. Clearly, it was a handwriting test. There were no computers in the 1940s. Typewriters were expensive and were used only by secretaries. Perhaps Mr Gauba knew that I would be handwriting many audit reports and wanted to assess my handwriting. Or, possibly he was a graphologist, who judged people's personality and character through their script.
Nevertheless, I was delighted to be employed. Partition had driven my family out of our home in Punjab, in Pakistan. We had arrived as penniless refugees in Amritsar. Later, I found work with a firm of chartered accountants in Delhi. I was despatched to audit an electrical bulbs manufacturer in Bombay. After a few years, they absorbed me.
My audit work took me across the country, large towns to little hamlets where we had projects. In an era where professionals swap jobs every three to five years, I often ruminate how I lasted 40 long years with the same organisation.
I realised that for a long innings in any organisation, it is vital to maintain high levels of integrity in one's work and conduct. Integrity means espousing an unpopular point of view, which may be in the long-term interests of the organisation. If the interest of the company is your guiding light, then you survive short-term turbulence. Other requisites for a long-term assignment are to ensure a high degree of discipline and harmonious work relationships. The most important, however, stays delivering results.
Among the lessons that stood out in my career were the counsel of the chairman, "As an auditor you must be fearless and without favour." The second lesson was about how to eat "aam-raas" (congealed mango juice). We were lunching in Wardha in Maharashtra in 1964 and were served "aam-rass" as part of the meal. I had never had this local delicacy before. Therefore, I started eating it with a spoon. "Learn how to enjoy 'aam-rass'," the chairman said, picking up his bowl and gulping it down.
Organisations across the world are apprehensive about rapid turnovers of employees. The malaise afflicts companies, hospitals, media, advertising agencies, etc. However, we were so committed to our company that we never even prepared a resume!
We had learnt that patience matters in a career. A long-term career in any organisation is like competing in a heptathlon. At times, you hop over competitive hurdles. Then you vault high to pick up a promotion. Sometimes you undertake a long jump to capture new markets. Then, you throw in the javelin to capture a strong competitor in the market. Sometimes you just sprint. However, at no stage, can you stroll easily. Nor can you give up, ever.