The Common Man
You know there’s a big difference between being good and being great. We have a great year ahead of us, a great show planned for tonight, and a great audience here with us this evening. Now all we need is a great speech. And that’s what may be our so called ‘show stopper’. So, what should be done?? I am so done blabbering about great things; the final straw was the biography of Alexander the ‘great’, from last years’ annual bash speech. Toooo flamboyant!! My wife scolded me later, “does it go with Cybage’s personality?? Look at the CEO! Small built, middle aged, receding hair line and thick reading glasses! A few more years and you will transform into RK Laxman’s common man!!” She said referring to the cartoon character in the Times of India. Actually there was a time when I would have taken this as a compliment. This common man used to be my hero, till I finally figured out that the old cartoon character is just a mute spectator. Has zero identity!
Still, when my wife made this preposterous comparison I couldn’t help but sneak a little peak at the cartoon corner, just to re-confirm if my wife’s visualization held any truth! And that insecure peak led to an interesting adventure that I am going to share with all of you today. Have you ever noticed the caption of the R.K Laxman corner? It says by Pune’s own Laxman. Pune!!! I was so thrilled at my discovery that I leveraged the Cybage brand to establish contact with the legendry RK Laxman. And before I knew it I found myself sitting face to face with the real life common man.
The common man turned out to be a short old guy, strikingly similar to his cartoon avatar, sipping hot turmeric milk, while I was served ginger tea. We hit it off well. Laughed together on how both of us have to deal with so many cartoon characters and then like all old people he drifted back into memory lane. I am sharing some of the anecdotes from his childhood, youth and mid-life that he told me.
The common man was born in a small north western village of India in the 30’s. At a tender age he fell on difficult times when he lost his father and brother and was forced to stay with his uncle who had 6 kids of his own. To summarize his thorny childhood, while his cousins were served makkhan ki rotis (butter rotis), this kid was condemned with bajre ki rotis (pearl millet rotis). Still even today, he holds no grudges because he says his uncle did the best possible job of supporting his nephew while being fair to his immediate family.
Now, as I soaked his words, my thoughts rushed back to Cybage childhood days. In modern era, feeling loyal towards someone who has treated you less then adequately is an unusual occurrence. Only on the rarest of rare occasions one will have an opportunity to witness this purest form of loyalty. It so happens we have one such extra ordinary occasion today. You see, your company in its earlier days didn’t have the pleasure or the luxury of pampering its employees .So many of them initially sold out or naturally left for greener pastures. Some of the people stayed back in spite of the bajre ki roti they were offered. Four such die-hard loyalists marked a decade of exemplary service for Cybage this year and they are Santosh Survey , Meera Menon, Jaikrishnan, and of course Amit Mulay!
Now let’s get back to the common man’s story of his childhood and growing years. The young lad grew up, rising from rags, he finished his engineering, landed a modest job, tied the knot with a woman he never saw and soon fathered four children. The youngest one being a family planning accident! He strived for the survival of his children, and provided them a reasonable quality of living without compromising on their future. For example, he got a scooter and the children would get monthly turns to go for the movies. His priorities were clear; to invest in things that matter, such as a good education for his children and go slow on all transient luxuries.
My mind wondered off again. The common man’s youth had an uncanny familiar ring. Your company in its youth also lived within its means and focused on priorities, giving Cybagians a robust infrastructure and not a five star resort. This enabled delivering good quality to the customers and not just fake words of assurance from smooth talking salesman. The soul aim was to build assets to reduce running costs and not greedily chase inorganic expansions. And the result is for everyone to see. So let us not forget, that all the laughter that we are sharing here tonight, is because your company in its youth followed the common man’s approach. This approach helped successfully commence phase 1 tower 1 of our Cybage new campus and has helped in now proceeding forward with doubling our infrastructure capacity in the coming year.
Now let’s go back and capture events in the midlife of the common man. Children had now grown and flown away from the nest, and his professional career was all that he had left. He worked hard and honest yet when it came to promotions he stared at defeat. You see, the common man had never learned to play office politics! So he resigned and went into his own government contracting business. He soon realized, sustaining a contracting business in the 80’s required the trading of your soul. So he retired at the young age of 50 with a smile so big and no regrets.
As I amused over his ideologies my thoughts snapped back at the present day Cybage. Today our organization is standing at same crossed roads of midlife. Our company may have a set of flaws but one thing is for sure; we have always strived to play fair. The long term employee growth comes from performance and not nepotism. Customers are acquired on credibility and not on unethical practices. True, some of our principles may have cost us a few battles along the way but you know what, it’s the same innocence which allows us to look into the mirror with a smile and head held high.
Today if we feel proud of our annual growth rate, the thrill is no less at the fifth anniversary of our social welfare arm, Cybage Asha, which has touched so many under privileged lives from orphanages to old homes and from slums to far flung villages. It gives me immense pleasure to share that, Earlier this week, Karnavati, a village adopted by Cybage through Cybage Asha, received the ‘Nirmal Gram’ award for sanitation and hygiene at the hands of none other than the honorable President of India Mrs. Pratibha Patil. Now what better way to wrap up a great story than a presidential accolade with vertical growth, being sphered by loyal Cybagians and the horizontal touch provided by Noble Cybage Asha team members. The Cybage mission also stands nicely rounded up today and looks forward to Cybage’s happy future, just like the midlife retirement of the common man and his non regrettable hopefulness of the future.
I waited in anticipation for the old man to continue the dusk of his story as little by little he sipped away his milk that had now turned cold. I felt as if I have been sitting in front of him for as long as I could remember. So long that the darkness was slowly descending. Still there was so much left to hear but strangely he had left very little to say. I watched him closely and realized he was tired. His face showed fatigue in the reflection of setting sun. He had been suffering from a terrible disease over the last several months. In and out of hospitals, he battled his life with the family besides him.
It only took a few moments before it dawned on me that it didn’t really matter what more he could share. My story was already complete. “You have a fascinating life” I said, “why don’t you write an autobiography?” At this, the common man’s wife of 50 years who was sitting next to him right through, interrupted, she said, “Biographies are for successful people like you. Who would want to read his boring life story?”
She was wrong. I don’t know who would want to read his biography but I know close to 3000 people here who have enjoyed listening to this story and would have loved to read it in a book. To tell you the truth my friends; I never had the privilege of meeting RK Laxman, the common man. I shared this story and visualization with his name to bring to your notice that in a strange way, the above story was not about paying tribute to the physical form but it was more about acknowledging the beautiful soul that dwelt inside the common man. The story I just related is that of my father. I have had the honor of being the youngest family planning accident of this common man. I would hope for this great audience to give my dad a standing ovation. He couldn’t be here with us as he is recuperating from his illness and wanted to spend some time in his hometown, Ahmedabad.
My father’s absence here is a good thing as it asserts the gist of my story. The gist being; the physical form of any protagonist may be varied, but it is the soul and beliefs that are related to on a much deeper level. This story is about the beautiful soul of my father as a common man and his sacrifices and beliefs that inspired us as his children to face life as it comes and to do our best. This story is dedicated to the thousand other unsung ones behind each one of you teaching us that fostering, goodness is as important as pursuing greatness. There are very few companies which manage to strike this fine balance between good and great. And right now you all are standing in middle of one such outstanding institution. Once again a very good and great evening to all of you.