Wearing Your Perks with Grace

Courtesy and grace are not only seen through what is said and written, but also through the way in which the manager carries himself, carries his position, and resists the temptation to flaunt his perquisites- especially in the company of those who have not been as lucky to garner such privileges.

Executive perquisites are one of the main attractions of executive life. Most times, it is the perquisites that managers work so hard to be eligible for, rather than the straight pay packet.

In the old, established British companies, it was essentially the perquisites that distinguished the manager from the hoi poloi; and among managers, it was the covenanted grade that were the anointed ones.

They were the ones who had the furnished flat, the car and driver, the entertainment allowance, the use of the seaside villa…. While other managers looked on enviously and waited their turn to become eligible!

This is only natural. People in all walks of life keep working to improve their lot, and to improve their standard of living. Many of them want to have what their parents never had and could not afford.

Managers in government and industry are no different. However, it takes a special kind of manager to carry these perks lightly on his shoulders and enjoy them naturally. Intended, or at times unintended boasting can only project the individual as obnoxious, and create problems in interpersonal relationships.

My friend Shyam rang me up after a very long time. I had not spoken to him for perhaps, six months. He phoned to say that his father had died a month ago, when I was not in town, and perhaps I did not know about this. I did not. I offered him my condolences and told him that I had very happy memories of his dad, whom I had met many times over the years.

Then Shyam, who was chief executive officer (CEO) of a large transnational, went into a twenty minute-monologue of how his father was admitted at the expensive Jaslok Hospital for three months, how he was discharged twice, but had to be readmitted; how he had ensured the best treatment by the best doctors; and how he had got some of the prescribed drugs by air from the UK; and how he had private nurses to attend to his dad, day and night.

In this detailed narration, which also included indicative costs, somehow the sadness of losing his father seemed to have been forgotten. Shyam had been so caught up in the broadcast of the CEOs medical benefits- for himself and his family- that he had forgotten the essence of the occasion.

I had known Raj for many years, in India. He now had a senior level job with a large electronic trading company in the UAE, and was obviously handsomely remunerated. We were meeting over a drink in Dubai. After the second drink, I hinted at leaving for my next appointment.

Raj however, would not let me go. He was so effusive and so insistent. “Have one for the road- just a small one. After all this is all ‘on the house’. It comes with my generous entertainment allowance.”

With that remark, the third drink lost all its taste for me. It seemed that Raj’s hospitality and warmth towards me was based only on the fact that the company was footing the bill. If he himself had to pay for it, he might not have been so hospitable – or so it seemed.

Again, Raj, like Shyam was wearing his perquisites on his sleeve.

Ravi had prematurely retired from the army as brigadier, and had joined a large diversified organization in Delhi. He started out as deputy general manager of one of its divisions, and over a period of 15 years had reached the position of managing director (MD) of the company.

The brigadier had not changed his ‘army discipline’ style of management even after 15 years in the industry. But when he became MD and therefore No. 1 in the company, he allowed his MD prerogative full play.

He installed a telephone system in his office where he could phone any of his senior managers, but none of them could phone him. It was one way communication between the MD and his subordinates.

This finally ruined the company. Ravi had paid undue emphasis on what he considered was a necessary perquisite for the MD!

The chairman of a corporation in Bangalore took the perquisite even further. When we were in the middle of a discussion, he said he would clarify a point immediately. That he could check with the VP-manufacturing.

As his call was connected, the VP appeared on the TV screen. However, the VP could not see the chairman and was therefore at a disadvantage.

It was as if George Orwells Big Brother was watching in on the corporate sector- it seemed to hint at the times to come.

I mentioned this to the chairman. He pooh-poohed this comment, and added that this was the chairman’s prerogative and perquisite.

George Koch Jr. in his book, Executive Success, rightly asks managers to clock themselves on excessive use of status symbols, and to answer the following

Am I guilty in any flagrant ways of marking myself as a user of status symbols?

Am I counting upon my use of status symbols as a crutch to bolster my confidence?

Am I, unwittingly adopting someone else’s status symbols in an effort to emulate him or in trying to better him?

Asking these questions at regular intervals may help to keep many of us from going overboard with the perquisites of the office and the position!

(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books; a business columnist; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe and Asia. His latest books are “5 Gs of family Business” with Dr Mita Dixit and “Marketing in a Digital/ Data World” with Brian Almeida. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)

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