Tuesday 9 April 2013

Why I Will Not Sue Rahul Gandhi for Stealing my Speech

Why I Will Not Sue Rahul Gandhi for Stealing my Speech


Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 09 April, 2013

Copyright © Dr. Seshadri Kumar.  All Rights Reserved.

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Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.


I was watching the TV last week on some goings-on at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) summit, notably the presence of our young Yuvraaj (heir-apparent) at the CII.  That reminded me of an interaction I had in a previous company I used to work in, not too long back ago.  Watching Rahul Gandhi on TV, I thought that was me speaking on screen, and that my presentation at my old company had been recorded secretly and was being telecast!! 

So, without further ado, let me tell you about my exciting interaction with my colleagues, years ago.  Judge for yourself if this is a straight lift or not.

My CEO had asked me to give a presentation to everyone in the company on my division’s performance and help everyone understand how we could all do things better.  Following are some excerpts from the interaction...I saved a transcript of the speech at the time because I was so proud of it.  Now it looks like I had good reason to be proud of it.


Dr. Kumar will talk to us about how we can succeed in this company, based on his experience in our company and his understanding of the challenges facing our company in this challenging environment.  In particular, our competitors are aggressively innovating, adopting new and more efficient sytems; the world’s economies are in a downward spiral and so there is less money to go around; being lean and still being profitable is a huge challenge.  Europe’s spending is rapidly going down, so we need to tap the Indian and Chinese markets to sell our products effectively.  All of these challenges need to be addressed, and we are hoping Dr. Kumar can help us see some light in this regard.  Please welcome Dr. Kumar!

My Speech of a Lifetime

What an Honor!

Thank you very much!  It’s an honor for me to be here today.  And I’ll tell you why it’s an honor.  These days, we think of our organization as a chemical company.  But if you go back 50 years, 100 years, you think of our company as rivers – rivers of sulphuric and nitric acid, streams of naphtha, petroleum, natural gas, chorine, bromine, fluorine.  Everything we make is based on those rivers.

And now, we have gone way beyond that.  We have built products, chemical structures, with energy and force, and you are the people who are telling the world about it.  And that’s why it’s an honor to be here talking to you.  We had rivers of chemicals, now we have rivers of products, and by that I mean rivers of energy, rivers of force – and you are giving those rivers of force to the people – I mean forces of rivers – I mean energies of forces – or was it energies of chemicals? ... sorry, I lost it.

When I joined this company 10 years ago, nobody knew about it.  It was absolutely unknown, even though it was founded by my great-grandfather and then managed successively by my grandmother and my father for 50 years.  People said to me, “what company is that?”  But now people know us!  So thank you!  Thank you for raising our company from the mess and wilderness that our founders, my great-grandfather and his colleagues, and those who followed him, like my grandmother and my father, and his colleagues, including many of you, left it in.  Like I said, that’s why it is an honor to address you.

Suresh the Plumber, or...??

I want to start off by telling you a real-life story.  I was coming to Mumbai from Dehradun via the Dehradun Express, and I met Suresh the plumber.  I asked Suresh why he was coming to Mumbai, and he said he didn’t know.  I asked him, did he know where he was going to work when he came to Mumbai?  He said yes, he was going to come to our company here and get a job.  I said, do you have a job offer from our company? He said, no.  We continued talking on the train and by the time we arrived in Mumbai – for the next 40 hours – and they call it an express – ha ha – isn’t that funny? -  I had really gotten to know Suresh the stenographer very well by now.  We went to his home in Mumbai, which was a 6x10 hut in Bandra, and he offered me tea.  Yes, tea!!!  In a 6x10 home!  That’s the kind of people we have in this country!!  I asked him how he was confident that he could get a job in our company when he didn’t even have an offer.  He said, hey, you work there, right?  How hard can it be then?  So, boss, that is the power of our company that I see!  The idea that we are seen as an employer for one and all – this diversity is our strength!

I want to talk about diversity rather than company performance for three reasons here.  One, it is easier than talking about company performance, which I know sucks right now.  Two, man doesn’t live by money alone!  Three, as Warren Buffet said, “Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”

Boss, what is important is that a Dalit like Suresh the accountant, who I met in the Dehradun express, has the same opportunities as people from other communities in our company.  Because if we don’t have that plurality, that diversity, our company will never be strong, and if it is not strong, we cannot get great results in the future.  I know we can.  We may not have them today, but I have faith in you.  I have faith in this company.  I have faith in the Dalits and Muslims in this company, like Suresh the office boy.  What an example Suresh the office boy can be for the rest of his community!  He can take the entire Muslim community forward – sorry, I lost it again – that was supposed to be Iqbal the office boy – and they all have hopes and we have to pave the dreams that our hopes are walking on – or pave the hopes that our dreams are walking on. (sotto voce: I think that’s right.  Yeah, sounds about okay.  Which consultant wrote this damned speech?  To think I paid Rs. 500 for it.)

I know a lot of people are saying that we should focus on hiring people based on their knowledge of chemicals, chemistry, the chemical industry, and other such irrelevant things rather than look at Dalits, minorities, women, tribals and other such groups.  The argument used for such ideas is that we are a chemical company.  But let me tell you, we are a company made of humans first, and then a chemical company.  The biggest danger for us – well, for me – is if we stop hiring minorities who have no knowledge of chemistry but are beholden to me and instead actually start hiring competent people regardless of their background!  How will this company – or at least my group – survive?  Well, you did ask me for MY perspective, right? – so there, you got it!

I Have Faith in You!

There are many things lacking in this company.  I know things have been bad.  I know it is my group’s responsibility to build the infrastructure on which the rest of the company depends.  But I cannot do it alone.  I need you.  I need you to solve my problems.  I know you can solve them.  That’s why I want to encourage partnerships between my group and other groups in this company – together we can solve my group’s problems – the problems I couldn’t solve.  I have faith in you.

And why is that?  Well, when was the last time anyone in our group talked to the rest of you about what you want in the last 10 years when I was the group manager?  What kind of infrastructure were we building without talking to you?  When did you have any input into what we were building?  Have you ever been asked for your input, in the last 10 years that I was heading this group?  That’s a question!  I’ll tell you - the answer is no!  The manuals we are using in our group talk about how to make tea and coffee, when the need of our company is to make acetic acid!  When was the last time you needed a lesson to make tea?  I don’t remember the last time I needed one.  Hahaha – aren’t I funny? 

So we need to change the way we train our people.  There has been no vision in the way our employees are being trained.   We don’t have vision because we cannot see!  We don’t know how to make acetic acid.  All that has to change.  And you have to help us make acetic acid.  But only if you understand and accept diversity.

No Knight on a White Horse

Sometime back the company went ahead and got an outside management consultant who gave lots of suggestions on how to restructure the company to make it more efficient.  I tell you the problem with that.  See, companies like that – Accenture, McKinsey – these companies are very simplistic in their thinking.  We are complex.  You are all managers of complexity, so you will win in the end.  You are dealing with people trained in complexity.  Our problems will not be solved by some knight coming in on a white horse telling us to focus on simple things like efficiency, innovation, vision, aspiration, and the like.  

If you cannot carry all the diversity of the company – Suresh the security guard, Iqbal the cook, and the others, with you, then all solutions are useless.  Diversity is the only thing that will take our company forward.  The decision-making structure in this company consists of a few senior managers who take all the decisions.  How can the company move forward with this model?  Unless we have every Iqbal, Girish, and Suresh involved in the decision, we can never be profitable.  I consider Wack Jelch a hero but he was only a representative of all the other heroes in GE.  I want the voice of all the minorities in our company to be heard.

And that is the central question: how to give voice to Girish, Suresh, Iqbal and others like them.  We do things like this, we do it softly, and we will win.  You know, visitors come to our company and I take them to the cafeteria for lunch, the noise there drives them crazy.  Boss, why is everyone here complaining about the company, they ask.  They ask me, give us a simple answer.  I tell them no, I cannot give you a simple answer because our environment is complex.  It isn’t because we are sinking as a company; it isn’t because we haven’t paid a raise or bonus to our employees in years; and it isn’t because promotions have stopped for the last ten years.  No, that’s not why they are complaining.  Those are the simple answers you are looking for...but we are not simple.  We are complex, like a complex beehive full of activity.  They are complaining because they don’t have voice.  I tell them I know that’s too complex for you to understand, but we in our company, we are trained in complexity.  So we will win.  All we need to do is give everyone a voice.

***End of Speech***

Concluding Thoughts

Now you see why I was stunned when I saw Rahul Gandhi’s speech.  I thought it was just lifted straight from mine!!!  My immediate reaction was anger.  He stole it, dammit!  He should be punished for that!  My talk was recorded, but was for only intra-company viewing - some rascal must have sold it!

Then I thought of how rich Rahul’s family must be, and I started getting greedy visions – visions of me suing the hell out of him for damages for copyright infringment, getting awarded millions by the courts – and then I would retire, spend my time shuttling between the beaches of Goa, Kerala, Majorca, and Miami; the hill resorts of Kullu, Copper Mountain, and Turin; live the life in London, Paris, and New York; and sip martinis in Rio.  Maybe even get myself a dacha in the Crimea and discuss defense deals with Putin and Depardieu.  Time to call Ram Jethmalani, I said to myself.

Then suddenly reality hit me and I thought of a possible discussion in the courtroom.  The judge might, I thought, ask me a simple question: “What damages?  What benefit do you think he might derive from your speech?  And why do you believe it will benefit him?  How much did it benefit YOU?”

That stumped me.  I didn’t know how to answer that one.  Googly! 

Because, you see, the day after I made that speech in my past company, they fired me.


Concluding Disclaimer:  For those to whom it isn't yet glaringly obvious, the entire preceding article is meant to be a joke.  I do not mean to imply that Rahul Gandhi actually stole from this speech - it really isn't worth stealing from! :-)  Just making it obvious in case someone is tempted to use legal flak!  Also, some of my friends were worried about the ending of the article - the company firing me.  Rest easy.  This story is fictional.  If I really had given this speech, I wouldn't be telling you about it publicly - I'd be too ashamed of myself.  Not ashamed had I been actually fired, but ashamed if I had given such a miserable speech :-)