Mr. Rohan Bhargava (Me) – Marketing Head
Mr. Vikram Gupta – Country Manager
Mr. Robert Moody – Global VP, Marketing
Mr. Thomas Dawson – VP, Asia Operations
Mr. Vikram Gupta
The SILENCE that can FIRE
- Beware of its Language -
Vikram Gupta is Country Manager – of a leading Company in boilers, headquartered in the USA. He is working in this role since 2007. He joined as a Production Engineer and he has been associated with the Company for the last TWENTY years. He is an aspiring leader, who is eagerly looking forward to the next level of the hierarchy. He missed one such opportunity in 2011 when the company decided to bring in Thomas Dawson for the role of Vice President – Asia Operations instead of promoting Vikram.
Mr. Rohan Bhargava
I, Rohan Bhargava, joined this company in 2010 as National Head – Marketing. I was functionally reporting to Robert Moody, Vice President – Marketing [working from Company Head Office in the USA] and administratively, he was reporting to Vikram Gupta. I was expected to increase India business for this company, which was surprisingly stagnant at 350 Million USD for EIGHT Years. I took revenues of India business from 350 Million to 575 Million USD and gross margin from 8% to 14% in the last three years. My personality trait encompasses being aggressive, independent, go-getter, and result oriented.
In senior leadership roles, be it in India or elsewhere, trust plays an important role. As you move up the hierarchy, trust becomes a crucial component. At the top, leaders support each other and many times, a manager is likely to support his colleague than his subordinate(s).
Friday, 27th June 2014
I was called to the cabin of Mr. Vikram & in the presence of Mr. Robert Moody I was informed that the management decided to bid adieu to my services with immediate effect.
This came as a shock of my life and I stood there like a statue as I couldn’t believe what I just heard. I was completely clueless about the decision for I was being rated “Outstanding” for the last THREE years.
A couple of minutes later, I regained my senses & tried to understand the reasons behind the decision. All I was told was that the decision was taken as a part of “Cost Optimization Measures”. Beyond this, they did not speak a word.
As the silence prevailed in the cabin, I left the place. However, the buzz around was that I was asked to leave in view of violating the company policies and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s). Given the context I was stormed with many unanswered questions; “Why did the company decide to take this step? What could be the actual reason for my termination? Was this decision taken in haste?”
Through the Memory La
In 2013, I won one of the single largest orders in the entire history of the company. The order was worth 75 Million USD with a gross margin of 15%. It was the moment of celebration for the company, particularly for Leadership Team in India. Details of the deal were shared with all concerned, including Country Manager and Vice President – Asia. The project was to be completed and delivered in a time span of 18 months.
THREE months later when the Project Team was preparing project charter and scope of work, it was identified that few of the terms agreed in the deal was not in accordance with the Standard Operating Procedures [SOP’s). As per the SOP’s, such terms should have the approval of the President of the Company. This resulted in hiring additional resources due to which the gross margin dipped by 3%. From Vikram to Robert and Thomas, everyone put the blame on me for creating such a situation & also issued a warning letter to me.
While the fact was that it was a collective failure as this missed the attention of all three (Mr. Vikram, Mr. Robert & Mr. Thomas), everyone shrugged off their shoulders. On that day it was decided that for the next 6 months I should seek approval of Mr. Robert for all new orders before committing anything to the clients.
I took it in the right spirit knowing that the entrepreneurial mindset is more towards - Deals, Deliverables & Profitability.
Having said this, I also feel that putting blame on me for the approvals missed doesn’t spare Vikram from his accountability because a leader should also be prepared to take the heat of the loose ends in a success created by his team member for the company.
During that period, a Corporate Announcement on promoting Mr. Thomas Dawson as the Chief Executive Officer and President was made.
The SOP’s that made me Soak
In the month of May 2014, I received an email from Vikram stating that I missed taking his approval before renewing a service contract with an ad agency. On referring the SOP manual, I found there was no clarity given whether the approvals were required for new (or) ALL service contracts. However, Vikram’s interpretation of SOP was that the approvals must be taken from the Country Manager &the Global VP, Marketing. Hence, I was in no position to speak as the one to whom I look up for support had viewed this as a violation. This came as another dent on the efforts to reconstruct my image.
Following week, I received TWO emails from Vikram highlighting the violation of SOP’s in getting approvals for:
- An incentive plan that was launched for Channel partners during 2012
- Ad Campaign for India in early 2014
From then on things were becoming stressful. At one point in time, I felt as if Vikram was building a case against me. However, my colleagues and friends advised me to maintain a low profile as they felt that anything that I was doing was hitting the roadblock. And as the days passed, there was hardly any communication between me & Vikram. One day I received a call from Robert regarding his plans of visiting India in the following week. I could sense a piece of ambiguity in his plan as the purpose/agenda was not clear. On the last working day of the week that followed which also happened to be the last day of Robert’s trip to India, I was called for a meeting. As I entered the meeting room, I saw Robert sitting across the table. It appeared to me that they had already rehearsed on what they wanted to do & could sense that Mr. Vikram was all set with his script for any kind of situation. All those professional courtesies were missing and within a few moments of entry into the room, I was asked to put down my papers duly quoting the reason – “Cost Optimization Measure” as I happened to be one among the 5 highest paid employees in India. I could have argued or disputed my termination but preferred to stay calm and quietly walked out of the cabin. However, I still comprehended on such a decision in spite of justifying the compensation with my performance & deliverables as agreed.
While you may be busy investigating into the material facts to establish the roots of my exit, let me introduce you to the Silence that fired me.
The Silence that Fired Me
You may recollect the Corporate Announcement about promoting Mr. Thomas Dawson as the “CEO & President”. This promotion created a vacancy of “VP – Asia Operations”.
At that point in time, Mr. Vikram offered his candidature for the position only to face the disappointment of getting rejected as he earned the tag of manipulating, misrepresenting and mismanaging facts and affairs in India. Later I also came to understand that it was for the 2nd time that he faced a similar situation within a span of 4 years.
It was during those times of his gloom, rejection & hurt, I made a place for myself amongst the leadership team in India with my performance and results. This probably could have made him feel that I had become a hurdle on his way to get crowned as “Vice President – Asia Operations”.
Given the background, I am sure you all might have now understood that “mine was a clear case of planned & premeditated exit”.
As we come to the end of my story with this company, let me just share with you the 4 major incidents that made me “Beware of the language of Silence that can fire”:
- FOUR weeks before my premeditated exit, there was little or no communication from Vikram. I used to send emails regularly. However, Vikram was not responding to any of those emails unless it was very mandatory.
- During those times, once I sent an email to my reporting Manager, Robert Moody. However, he responded very rudely & it appeared to me that he did not even read the mail completely. It could be because his mind was fully preoccupied with some inflated information about me.
- The trip of Robert to India was planned in haste. He was traveling to India and being his direct reports, I was not aware of his schedule. This was contrary to his previous visits.
- Finally, the presence of Mr. Vikram in the meeting room all set with his script for any kind of situation.
As I leave…..
Now that you are familiar with my story & my perspective, you may like to delve into the following:
- Am I really fired as a part of the cost optimization process as I am highly paid?
- Am I fired because of my non-compliance to the SOP’s (needs clarity?)
- Do you see the Non-compliance as my deliberate attempt?
- With the 1st one being an ‘oversight’, do you see the other two instances are deliberately pushed on to me?
- What was the turning point in my story?
- Do you think Robert could have played a constructive role?
- Do you think things would have taken different shape had the company not promoted Thomas to the next level?
- Do you think I was made a culprit or scapegoat hide something else?
Sanjeev Himachali is a Strategic HR Consultant, Talent Strategist, Management Consultant and a Performance Coach. He exhibits over a decade and a half years of progressive, leadership experience and core competencies in talent acquisition, management, and development, HR program management, compensation & benefits management, and staff engagements.