The professional’s quote

I reached out to a set of professionals whom I deeply admire: doctors, managers, software architects, bankers, journalists. These are people I call “professional’s professional”. I had asked them for three things:

1. Qualities they think essential to be a called a professional
2. A positively uplifting anecdote of professional behavior and
3. One negative anecdote they have come across in their dealings with other professionals

Here is the response to my request:

A humbling story
Dr. P V Ramana – Chief Consultant Neurosurgeon & Medical Director, Care Hospital

Story that exemplifies professionalism
Pradipt Kapoor, Director – Offshoring and Outsourcing, SITA

Lesson from two workers on the shop floor
Venkatesh Komarla, heads delivery at MindTree’s Knowledge Services Business

Ownership and commitment
Warren Luedecker, Attorney at American International Group, Inc.

Story about integrity and values
Amit Varma, Vice President – IT Services, MindTree Ltd.

Story of a rookie salesman
Scott Staples, Co-founder of MindTree Ltd. and CEO – Knowledge Services

A humbling story
Dr. P V Ramana – Chief Consultant Neurosurgeon & Medical Director, Care Hospital

“The ghat-road passing through deep jungles on the way from Koraput to Visakhapatnam (Vizag) is dotted with hamlets inhabited by tribal people living in harmony with nature. Medical facilities are not easily available unless they travel to the nearest town – sometimes to a primary health centers through forest paths carrying the sick on a make shift stretcher. Usually the literate among them or patients from small towns who have relatives at Vizag come here for specialized treatment. This is how a family of four landed up at our hospital one night.

The father and mother were holding a thin boy of nineteen years in their rough, weather beaten arms. The younger sister was hiding behind the mother’s sari awed by the hospital’s bright lights. The troubled little group radiated innocence, pain and poverty. The boy was shifted to Neuro ICU immediately. He was unconscious for fifteen days and also malnourished due to vomiting and dehydration. Prior to becoming unconscious he was having headache and fever. The boy was diagnosed as having raised intra-cranial pressure. I called aside the boy’s father and spoke to him in Oriya. I told him that his son needed a CT Scan first and later he may require surgery.

The father asked me to go ahead with the treatment and not to worry about expenses, as he had brought five thousand rupees with him.

The answer grounded me. The expenses could run up to more than ten times the amount! I explained this to the father of the boy. We gave him the other option – of shifting him to the government general hospital for continuing treatment. The family members became annoyed at the suggestion and wept. They did not agree and I had to give up persuading them.

Giving up the persuasion trail, I requested the scan center to do free a CT scan of the brain. The scan confirmed hydrocephalus; a condition that required surgery. He needed a shunt tube to be put from the brain to the abdomen.

The hospital administration obliged to treat the patient in the general ward free of cost.

Doctors donated drugs the boy needed; other patient’s attendants and relatives helped them by giving them food and moral support in spite of language barrier.

The boy was operated upon and he made remarkable fast recovery. Even before a week passed, he was eating by himself and walking around the ward. He started gaining weight.

All these happenings gave me a real “feel good” within and appreciation from others.

But the patient’s father was stone-faced with no expression of happiness nor did he offer thanks. This attitude troubled me throughout their stay in the hospital. On the day of discharge I couldn’t resist asking him if he should be thankful to all us for putting his son back on his feet again and almost free of cost in a modern corporate hospital. He was surprised and asked why should he? The purpose of bringing him here was to have him cured – so why the thanks? If that was not the case, “Why would I have taken all the pains to shift him here?”, he asked me.

Then he told me that he had sold all the land he had for five thousandrupees, and for first time entered an unknown place.Other than his hamlet the only place he had ever visited is the weekly “haat” (open air market) near his village to sell the forest products he collected for the whole week. He wanted to save his child and that alone made him venture into a big city.

The halo around me crumbled.

My contribution did not seem too much compared to what he was doing for his son.

After all this I felt some of the elation leaving me, but I still felt like laughing.”

^ Go back to the list

Story that exemplifies professionalism
Pradipt Kapoor, Director – Offshoring and Outsourcing, SITA

“One of my sales managers in a past company came to me with great concern. He knew he was on the verge of signing a deal but he wasn’t convinced that the solution we were selling to the customer was needed by him. The customer seemed to want a “Rolls Royce” where a bi-cycle would do. It seemed that this was because the CEO of that organization wanted an IT solution without having any knowledge of IT. Even though the commission associated for the deal was big for the salesman, he felt uncomfortable. We went back to the customer seeking a meeting with the CEO. We explained our views to the astounded man. In doing what was the right and not the convenient thing the Sales manager not only won favor of the customer but also built the reputation of the company. He put his personal short term benefit to a side.”

^ Go back to the list

Lesson from two workers on the shop floor
Venkatesh Komarla, heads delivery at MindTree’s Knowledge Services Business

“While I have seen many examples of professional behavior quite a few times, the instance that I remember quite often is my experience at MICO, Bosch. I joined MICO straight from engineering school and immediately after training was placed on the workshop floor as its superintendent. This was the first shop floor started at MICO, in operation for almost 4 decades, and consequently had very experienced employees – most of them with a service record of over 20 plus years.

This workshop was marked for modernization in a different facility. Once the modernization was to be complete, the employees were supposed to move over to other jobs within other workshops. I continue to recollect the dealings of my two foremen – Prakash and Gundanna. Both were in their late forties, had a tremendous understanding of the manufacturing process, had good understanding of the operations, commanded the respect of their teams, and had given their best every single day.

Under any other circumstance, either of them could have easily taken over the stewardship of the entire workshop but here they were – asked to work with and report to a 22 year old workshop superintendent. They did aspire to become superintendents one day but this new reporting structure did not bother them one bit. They went about their work as they had done for decades. They ensured that I was brought up to speed on how things worked and helped me come up to speed on operation. No job was too mundane or no activity trivial. They took the same interest in every single activity. They did have personal concerns but never once let that affect the quality of work. Over a period of 6 months, we built a great relationship and smoothly transitioned off all the employees to other divisions as we closed down the shop. They were consummate professionals.”

^ Go back to the list

Ownership and commitment
Warren Luedecker, Attorney at American International Group, Inc.

“A colleague was under a tight deadline for submission of a business plan. There was a tragic death in his family. The “professional” who had been a mentor to the colleague attended the services, consoled the colleague over the loss, cancelled a 3 day ski vacation to work with the colleague on the business plan and it was submitted on time without any attribution to the “professional”. However, the colleague had the courage to explain the genesis of the document and the result was a stronger bond in the unit of the organization.”

^ Go back to the list

Story about integrity and values
Amit Varma, Vice President – IT Services, MindTree Ltd.

“This is an incidence that goes some time back when I was 14 yrs old and was representing my state (West Bengal) in cricket. We were playing the final game of the qualifiers and the semi finalists would have been decided based on the outcome of this game. We were playing Karnataka and both of us needed to win to qualify – we still had an outside chance of qualifying based on the outcome of another game but Karnataka had to beat us to qualify. It so happened that the weather intervened after the first half of the game and per the rules the points were to get split between the teams. This would have given us the advantage and would have helped us qualify based on the total points and would have knocked the Karnataka team out. We were all rejoicing in our dressing and the high fives had started when our coach walked in and said that he had agreed to play the game again the following day. Needless to say, there was shock, dismay and disbelief on our face when we heard this – why would someone want to do this especially when this outcome had helped us qualify?

Our coach told us that if we really wanted to win the championship, we should do it by winning and not by relying on statistical methods – in his words “you win by playing; if you had to sit and do statistics, you are all better off sitting in school and attending the right classes”.

We lost the game the next day and didn’t make the semi finals! None of us could ever believe that our coach had done this to us.

It so happened that Karnataka went on to win the championship and when the team went to collect their awards, their coach called our entire team on the podium and ensured that we all received the awards with his team. He specifically called out our coach and said that if he had not been professional and agreed to play again, some other team would have been receiving this award and he actually went on to dedicate the award to our coach and us.

We felt extremely humbled – the seeds of professionalism were probably sowed in most of us right then and there but the true understanding of what happened sunk in much later in life. Even today I ask myself – would I have done the same had I been in our coach’s shoes especially with the benefit of knowing that we actually lost the replayed game? As much as I’d like to think I’d have done that, I’m really not sure.”

^ Go back to the list

Story of a rookie salesman
Scott Staples, Co-founder of MindTree Ltd. and CEO – Knowledge Services

“Ethylene Glycol is widely used in the manufacturing of plastics, but most people are not aware that this is also the key ingredient for manufacturing automotive antifreeze. In the late 1980’s, the U.S. had a number of issues at plants that manufacturer Ethylene Glycol and hence a spike in pricing for automotive antifreeze occurred due to a lack of product in the market. Automotive antifreeze and other automotive after-market products are primarily sold in the market by local distributors. But the manufacturers of these products also sell in a limited direct channel as well through the use of manufacturer’s representatives. Jeff Lang was a direct salesman for one of these manufacturers. Jeff was new to sales, new to the business world, and just 23 years old. Normally, local gasoline (petrol) stations buy their products from the local distributors, but occasionally the manufacturers run direct specials and people like Jeff go and push these across their territories. One summer, Jeff was asked by his boss to push automotive antifreeze to local gasoline stations as the price had skyrocketed and there were fears that it would go much higher. Since antifreeze is typically sold in the fall and winter months, it was a perfect time for local gasoline stations to start stock-piling product. The manufacturer was offering some discounts to entice buyers, but the product had to be bought in bulk (by truckload) and that is a lot of product for a small business owner to invest in. Jeff had convinced a local gasoline station owner to make this purchase before the fall set in and the price went up higher. The man owned three stations and could probably push 1/2 of a truckload in an entire season, plus he needed financing, and a place to store it. Jeff contacted another station owner nearby who was also interested in making this deal but had the same constraints. Being a good salesperson, Jeff got them to split a truckload of antifreeze, found them a small warehouse to store it in, and arranged financing. He made this deal happen and walked away with a signed contract. He had only sold one prior deal (much smaller and not antifreeze) for his new company, so this was big news. His boss was ecstatic and Jeff was happy to finally be making some commission money. He had a signed contract, but had not yet submitted it to the home office as all orders were sent in on Fridays and this was still early in the week. Later in the week, Jeff got some astonishing news. A very large Ethylene Glycol plant was coming back online after being down for a year with damage from a fire. The price of automotive antifreeze would dramatically drop because product would now be available. He immediately thought of his two small business owners who had a huge investment in a product they could now not sell. They had made the deal at absolutely the worst time possible and they would have to sell the product at a loss. This would mean financial ruin for them as they were way over-exposed. Jeff had the contract in-hand and it could not be cancelled, but he had not yet submitted it to the home office. He immediately tore it up and called the two business owners to let them know what happened. He would make no commission and his boss was furious. Jeff made the ultimate professional decision, because a bad deal is not good for anyone. He saw his business on a larger-scale and determined one bad transaction was not worth his reputation in the market and his professionalism. This was not an easy decision for a 23 year old kid looking to make his mark at a new company, but it was a decision that propelled his career because from that point forward he chose to be a professional, not a salesperson.”

^ Go back to the list

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest Posts
Books