Article (January-2021)

Articles

LESSONS FROM THE PAST : Noiseless HR

Walter Vieira

Designation : -   Certified Management Consultant; and Fellow

Organization : -  Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC), Mumbai

01-Jan-2021

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Keith Roy, who was an ICS officer with the government of India, quit the service in 1947 and joined the private sector, as personnel director of Glaxo India - the largest pharma company in the country at that time. An impressive personality he was - tall, fair and handsome, the product of a Bengali father and a Scottish mother, very erudite and a thorough gentleman! He was in charge of human resources (HR), which was called personnel management at that time. In the early-1960s, personnel department was low key. In the post COVID era, one can join into at least one webinar on HR every other day. What a sea change! HR is the flavour of the year!

About two years into my joining Glaxo - and still a management trainee - I was at the bus stop at Worli, waiting for a bus to take me to Queen's Road, to All India Radio (AIR), where I used to do some programmes in my spare time.

A posh car came to a halt and Mr. Roy opened the window and asked me to hop in. I did and told him where I was headed. He lived at Carmichael road, which was half way. He said, doesn't matter. We can have a chat at least for some time - 'and my driver will drop you after he drops me home'. We had a lovely, frank chat. He got to know a lot about me in those 20 minutes. In some ways, we became friends - in spite of the wide gap in our corporate positions. Mr. Roy was truly an HR man!

A few months later, I was to accompany Mr. Roy to Delhi for a few days to see how he works with the government departments. A day before, he came to know that I would be at the Janpath Hotel (what I was eligible for at my level in the hierarchy), while he would be at the Ashoka. He got this immediately changed. He said he could not have me in the lobby of Ashoka, waiting for him three times a day! He got my accommodation changed to Ashoka. And, thanks to Mr. Roy, it was my first five-star hotel stay in life. It was a pleasure to see government officials treat Mr. Roy with respect - not just as a past superior, but as a mentor and well-wisher. They seemed to have loved to work with him when he was in the service.

There was a situation where Ted, a young 25-year old management trainee, was posted in the advertising department of the company. The department was headed by a 45-year old divorcee, Margaret, who was efficient, careless in the way she dressed, and fond of India where she had been for over 15 years.

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But after they fell in love, Margaret's look changed. She now dressed well, had make-up on her, and had her hair done, and as she walked down the directors' corridor to a meeting, it looked as if a box of essences was broken in the air (Tennyson). First there were murmurs. When they moved to live together, there were louder whispers. Mr. Roy took this event as a personal challenge. He went to Darjeeling to meet Ted's parents and convince them that this match may not work. But to no use.

Finally, Mr. Roy arranged a job for Ted in Calcutta and agreed with both of them that they can get married if they still feel the same way about each other after a full year of separation. They did feel the same. After a year, they both resigned their jobs and took the flight to Canada, to start a new life together. It was an example to all of us, young execs and single, of the kind of personal interest that Mr. Roy was capable of taking, when it came to a serious challenge! Mr. Roy was truly an HR man.

Sometime later, I found that Mr. Roy always hosted a Christmas party every year at his home. It was 10 am-12.30 pm on Christmas day, when everybody was invited, from the peon to the director - to have a coffee or a beer and a piece of Christmas cake. I went to the party. And found peons as well as directors there.

Mr. Roy treated each one as a special guest on this Christmas day. It was goodwill to all! This event created so much goodwill, not just among those who attended but also those who did not - (and had only heard about it). Mr. Roy was indeed an HR man.

My interaction with Mr. Roy was limited. But from what I saw and observed, there was a lot to be learned - in small matters as well as in larger issues - things that one will find hard to forget, even in a world where values are a-changing!

Mr. Roy managed human resources without fanfare - and without noise!!

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Walter Vieira