October 12, 2010
It is Friday afternoon. In Kaizen Tech, everyone is in the weekend mood. The early birds have already left for the day - except Paddy; though one of the firsts to arrive, he leaves only after Bob, his boss, goes to home. Uncharacteristically Bob has called for a late meeting. An unplanned meeting, late Friday afternoon, means only one thing: someone needs to be fired!
“Swing by my desk, when you have a minute,” Bob had left a message on the Outlook Communicator. Though Bob has not indicated anything - Paddy knows. Bob won’t do the dirty job. He will give instructions and wash his hands off the whole thing. Paddy is the executioner. In the past, Paddy had been unconcerned. But today it is a different case. The candidate, unaware of his ominous fate, is a dear one; at least, was dear to Paddy once. What no one knows, including Bob, is that Paddy has master minded the whole thing, with a simple plan: simple and full proof.
Padmanathan Ulaganathan landed in the US a decade ago. Among other things, he was thoroughly perplexed by Americans failure in pronouncing his name. Americans, as usual, with a penchant for simplifying everything, had shortened him for Paddy - which he liked instantly more than his real name. Over the period many had forgotten his real name – except his Grandma in India, whom he called every week. “Ulaganathan, don’t forget your roots,” she would remind, much to his dismay.
Last year, in the absence of a suitable candidate, he was promoted. Sticking to one organization was one of his many schemes. He was full of such seemingly innocent but effective-on-the-long-run schemes. These schemes would some day place him at the top – such was his hope.
Paddy was a survivor. He smoked the exact brand of cigarettes that Bob smoked; at the lunch hour, involved himself with the right kind of people; always dressed sharp; made the right kind of jokes in management circles; laughed at the right moment; and stopped laughing at the right time not to raise any brows. He was a smooth player.
During the course of the day, he would attend as many meetings as possible, where in he would volunteer to, jot down the Minutes. After the meetings he would promptly send Minutes to all the attendees, kindly requesting for possible updates. Though, many were unaware of his role in the bigger scheme of things, because of his constant presence at the meetings, he seemed like a promising candidate in the rat race.
Many a times he was seen rushing around with important looking documents – relentlessly giving instructions to subordinates on his hands-free Bluetooth - hooked to his right ear; that made him look like a character from Starwars. In Kaizen, 2 most unpredictable things were Death and Paddy’s e-mails. Paddy’s e-mails, lengthy, well formatted, important-sentences-highlighted, CC’d to upper management, would arrive at all possible hours. Clueless employees, upon opening the mail box in the morning, would find half a dozen of e-mails from Paddy, sent in the wee hours, requesting immediate attention – lest an unfathomable business loss would ensue.
Those were Golden days. He was a magician, a conjurer, a demigod: others were mere pawns. He was not like this always. A decade ago, new to Kaizen, he was simply a technical consultant. In those days he was considered a Geek. However, being in one organization for a long time, he was not abreast with the current technology. That didn’t bother him much. In his own words, he was a Solution Provider. In the outside world job market was low. There were not many openings for unskilled candidates. Only a year back, being an indispensable resource, he was not worried about job security or the job market. Then something happened.
Paddy would never finish his tasks before time – but at the right time- when people had just reached their frustration level. Either Bob had sensed this or had a genuine concern for the seemingly over-worked subordinate. He recruited an assistant for Paddy.
When Swami joined Kaizen, he was relatively new to the US. He had difficulty understanding American accent, and usually his American colleagues ended up repeating themselves multiple times, before he could finally get the drift. On the other hand, his boss, Paddy, was divinely blessed with two accents: One for Americans and the other for Desis: less mortals from Indian sub continent. Occasionally though, Paddy would mix-up the accents, use the wrong accent for the wrong group – but those were rare cases. Swami compensated his lack of soft skills with a strong technical knowledge. In this way both were opposite poles, thus, they attracted each other. Paddy wanted a disciple to listen to his management ideas, and the new guy was in need of a Guru – to teach him the American ways. Thus, the Guru and his protégée gelled very well.
There were some tasks on Paddy’s plate, which he had stalled for months; not by choice, but he simply didn’t know how to do them. Some of the servers were performing poorly. Performance is a relative subject. The more the better and, nobody have been harmed because of high performance. In the last stakeholders meeting, when the performance issue was raised, Paddy had lamely suggested to procure new hardware. The suggestion didn’t fly. In fact it backfired, and Paddy was asked to work on the issue diligently.
Paddy, if put his mind to it, could have come up with something. Instead he passed the buck to Swami. “Find a solution,” he told Swami, “and I will buy you a beer.” Swami, a born teetotaler but, ever-ready to please the Guru, worked on the problem day and night: searched all over the Net; posted queries on various newsgroups. Finally, he came up with a solution.
“I think we should do partitioning,” he told Paddy one day. Paddy listened. “Or archival,” Swami continued, “Archive the older data. Keep it on a separate server, serve the current requests from the smaller database and redirect the historical queries to archival server.”
Paddy absorbed the information like a sponge. The simplicity of the solution baffled him. The fact that his experienced mind could not come up with this solution first hand, made him cringe.
“Do you think we should inform Bob?” Swami asked eagerly.
“Not now,” said Paddy, “Do some more research. Bob will ask hundred questions. You need to cover everything.”
The next day, Bob stopped at Swami’s desk. “Got a minute?” he said, and continued without waiting for a response, “Paddy hit a jackpot, gave a brilliant idea. Archival! Archive older data and keep the delta in the current server-”
Swami listened to his own solution in shock. Paddy had taken the credit for his work – stabbed to his back. The Guru was a fake! Buried under the immense grief of betrayal, the protégée decided to break every rule he had learned from the Master. After all they were like water and oil - never destined to be mixed.
This incident made a crack in their relationship. Though, they continued like brothers, Swami started breaking all the rules. In the past paddy had stalled simple tasks for hours – creating an impression of the tasks being complex needing hours of undivided attention. Now, the same tasks were completed in minutes under Swami’s supervision. People realized: either Swami was supremely diligent or Paddy had been creating the smoke-screen all along. Both views were good for Swami. The trainees, tired of Paddy’s red-tape, finally found a friendly person in Swami - who treated them as equals.
Gradually, it dawned on Paddy that he was no more indispensable. There was a replacement for him. And, some people realized that the replacement was superior.
Paddy was waiting for the right time. Timing is everything – Bob used to say. Paddy had gone one step further: Timing and a knack for creating opportunities. Just a few months back, he had volunteered to drop John Clucas at the airport. Clucas, Vice President of Kaizen, operated from Chicago, was Bob’s boss. Paddy had never met him before, but recognized the old man waiting at the reception, at once from the company website. Paddy introduced himself to the old man, and realized that the old man was waiting for a pick up car. Paddy volunteered, being residing near to the airport. On the way, they had a small talk, and Paddy gave a subtle hint conveying he can handle Bob’s responsibilities if such a need arrived. The old man looked at Paddy amusingly and said he would think about it. Paddy had created an opportunity from almost nothing – just by driving 20 miles opposite from his home to the airport. He was an opportunist.
One morning, Paddy came to Swami’s cubicle with a fat file.
“Read this and estimate the efforts,” he said.
After 2 hours swami reported: “6 months for our team.”
Paddy had an 8 member team, consisting mostly fresh graduates.
“Too much,” paddy said.
“Paddy, it’s a complex application. We might end up creating custom components-”
“Dude, I know the game,” said Paddy, “5 months. No more.”
That put a stop for further discussion.
Later that afternoon, in the stakeholders meeting, Paddy gave a presentation for the project estimate.
“5 months is way high,” said Kurt, one of the business owners. In a prior meeting Kurt was unhappy with Paddy’s suggestion to procure new hardware.
“I know Kurt,” Paddy consoled, “But it’s a complex app. We need to develop custom components -”
In the corner Swami rolled his eyes.
“Paddy, you have estimated over a million dollars. There is no such budget for this project.”
“Kurt, believe me, I know, I did the math myself.”
Kurt let a sigh. He had underestimated the project. He was thinking of redirecting some of the budget to procure hardware. Now, that was out of the question.
“Swami, what do you think?”
No one had asked Swami’s opinion in the past. He was mostly invisible: a fly on the wall. Now, his very presence surprised some of the top guys.
The sudden question startled Swami, who took some time to weigh the question, finally he croaked: “one month.”
“But Swami, did you consider the-” Paddy tried to intervene. Kurt stopped him with a raise of his brows. Paddy mumbled an apology and stopped.
“Swami, you were saying?”
“Just give me the project. I will do it in a month,” he said confidently this time.
After the meeting Paddy stopped him at the cafeteria. “What was that?”
“What was what?” Swamy asked.
“Don’t play games with me, Dude.”
“Sorry Paddy, I estimated wrongly at the first time.”
Paddy stared his ex-protégée, searched his eyes, he thought he saw a twinkle.
So far Paddy was enjoying the game. Everything was under control. But the stakeholders meeting changed all that, made him unfavorable among some of the top guys. This was when Paddy drew a line; and, came up with a plan to fix Swamy – once and for all. He called for a meeting with Anusha.
Anusha was thinking of leaving for home early, when she got the meeting request from Paddy. She had a Redeye flight to LA. She called Paddy at his desk; suggested to postpone the meeting.
“Can’t do that, it’s urgent,” he said.
It was useless arguing with Paddy, he would only be more obstinate; and, would come up with colorful and creative reasons about why the meeting can’t be postponed.
What could be the urgency? She wondered. Though she reported to him -- they seldom talked, unless there was an unavoidable need. She maintained a strict 8 hour work schedule - unlike Paddy, who, given the option, wouldn’t have minded staying in the office full-time. All early goers, in Paddy’s book, were not diligent.
“Other people are putting more hours,” Paddy had told her at the last appraisal, “I can’t ignore them.”
“I don’t need a promotion,” she said flatly. She didn’t care for the corporate ladder, which was a good thing – one less candidate in the rat race. Paddy was a front runner.
She would be in LA during the weekend - with Manish. Six months ago, she had met him at a party. They were the only people at the end. The person supposed to pick her up had forgotten. Finally, the hostess had requested Manish to escort her home.
She was silent during the whole ride. When the car stopped at her house, she didn’t get down, “Take me for a ride,” she said. He hesitated, but obliged - made a U-Turn. She inclined the front seat, let her head relax. Her dreamy eyes watched the moonlit sky from the open roof; here and there a few stars, shadows of tree braches. On the way back she was fast asleep. When she woke up, they were in the parking; he was waiting for her to wake up. She mumbled a quick Thank You and ran inside the house.
At the next party, she stayed late, knowing there would be an escort. “Take me through the longest route,” she said, while driving back from the party. Upon his hesitation, she said: “Your services will be well appreciated.” She was drunk.
As usual, she was sleeping when they reached. When she woke, she found him waiting.
“Do you want to come inside?” she asked.
“Just one drink.”
“No,” he said, “I have to drive back.”
She gave him look.
“What is it? Am I not your type?”
“You are drunk,” he said.
“Do you prefer bimbos over intellectuals?”
“Bye, we will talk some other time,” he said, putting the car in gear.
“Go to hell,” she slammed the car door getting out.
The next day she saw him at the mall. He gave a warm smile. They didn’t talk about the past night. While sipping coffee at Starbucks she asked: “what did we talk yesterday?”
“Don’t be smart; when you dropped me after the party.”
“What exactly did I say?”
“I don’t remember,” he said.
She smiled. After the Coffee they walked silently for a distance. “Thanks,” she said at the mall exit. He didn’t ask the reason.
After that, they met now and then. She liked him. “What is your story?” she asked one day. Then immediately added, “don’t tell me now. I don’t want to hear another sad story.”
“How do you know it’s a sad story?”
“One can not be compassionate without sad experiences,” she said.
He talked to her whenever she called - Met her when she wanted. When she pointed this to him, he said: “I don’t expect anything from anyone.”
She pondered - A man without expectations!
“Don’t you expect me to be there for you ever?”
“No,” he said, after thinking a while. That choked her; not only his reply, but also the fact that he had taken time to answer consciously.
“Don’t talk to me again,” she said. And she had left. He didn’t try to contact her. But she could not stay away long.
“You don’t know how to talk to a lady,” she complained at their next meeting.
“There were not many ladies in my life,” he said. That pleased her.
“Take me to Niagara,” she said.
“Why Niagara?” he had asked.
“Because I want to treasure the moments with you,” she said, “or may be I want to jump into it.”
He had smiled. When they were watching the great fall he said, “If you want me to beg you, not to jump- I will do it”.
At that moment she loved him. The notion of him kneeling down and begging in front of hundreds of tourists amused her. “Why didn’t we meet before?” she didn’t say the words; they didn’t materialize.
It was a long road trip, with beautiful memories. On the way back, they had decided to go for another such trip: LA.
She would meet Manish at the airport. But first she had to tackle Paddy.
At 5 she went to the conference room with a note book. Paddy, as usual, was on time. He was shouting orders to a subordinate on the Bluetooth; simultaneously composing a mail on the laptop. He had noticed her entry but ignored her.
“What is so urgent?” she said, when she found him free.
Paddy pushed an envelope across the table. She opened it. Inside, she found her Niagara pictures. They were not taken by a professional. Manish was in every one of them.
“What is this?”
“What if your husband sees these pictures?”
Her husband would divorce her. That’s what Ram would do. Ram was working on the East Coast. She was in the Mid West. He would come home alternate weeks – for namesake. It was a failing marriage - arguments over simple things; long silent days. They had reached a dead-end.
That’s when she had met Manish. The days with Manish were beautiful -made her feel younger; showed life could be beautiful. Exotic and heavenly days - almost made the risk worth it. Back of her mind, she knew, some one would find out and inform her husband. But that someone would be Paddy, made the whole thing more painful. She knew, with Paddy, there was no hope.
“What do you want?”
“I need a favor,” he said.
“I want you to raise a complaint to the HR against Swami.”
He said slowly every word. He had practiced this line several times.
She closed her eyes. “He will be sacked immediately.”
“That’s what I want.”
“This will go in his employment record. No big company will hire him!”
“Why should the HR take my side?”
“I will leave that to you. You are smart, I am sure you will come up with something.”
“What is the guarantee that you won’t black mail me again?”
“You have my word.”
“Your pictures don’t prove anything,” she made a desperate try.
“I know Ram very well. He doesn’t need a convincing proof.”
With that he stood up. “Keep the pictures. I have copies,” he said.
He left her alone behind the closed doors. She had maintained a strong posture in front of Paddy. Now she collapsed. She had been cornered. The beautiful days ended. The dream was shattered. The priorities would be changed. LA plan needs to be cancelled.
The grand master
Last week was uneventful. But Paddy was sure it was silence before the storm. He had seen Anusha in the HR room. Things were moving as planned.
Usually firing happens on the second half of Friday. Bob gives instructions to paddy - who is the executioner. The candidate is called for a sudden one-to-one meeting. In the meeting Paddy breaks the shocking news. The candidate is not given much time to recover. Eventually, he would be led to his cubicle, with a brown cardboard box for his belongings. No more computer access. The security team would have already changed the credentials. The access card for the premises will be revoked. Then Paddy would march the candidate through the long narrow corridor to the exit door. For the uninformed rest of the employees, the brown box is a red alert. A hush prevails among the employees who will soon witness the dead man’s walk. During the whole march Paddy maintains a serious look, with a detachment and seriousness of an executioner. In his mind, in the past week, he has rehearsed this march with Swamy hundreds of times.
“Swing by my desk, when you have a minute,” Bob had left a message on the Outlook Communicator. This was like deja vu. He had seen this scene in his mind. He went to Bob’s cubicle.
“You know, I am bad at sacking people,” started Bob.
“Leave that to me. Just tell me the name,” Paddy said innocently – everything was going according to his plan. Even Bob, unaware, talking the same words Paddy would have scripted.
“Things are really not in my hand. I am very sad-”
“Bob,” Paddy intervened, “Who is it?”
“Paddy, you have been relieved.”
This was not on the script!
“What..What do you mean?”
“You have been terminated. Today is your last day.”
Paddy shrank in the chair. He could not find words. “There has been a mistake.”
Bob pushed an envelope across the table. Paddy saw the pictures of Anusha and Manish.
“She raised a complaint: Blackmail-” Bob said.
“This is a set up.”
“We did a forensic,” Bob replied, “Your finger prints are all over the pictures. The whole thing has snowballed. Also, some top people are not happy.”
“Top people - Who? Is it Kurt? You know Kurt hates me.” Paddy said in desperation.
Bob didn’t answer the question. He said: “I have talked with HR guys. They won’t file any charges if you leave quietly. In fact the whole incident will be treated as if you are resigning. That way your records will be clear. And I can any time give you a good reference.”
Paddy sighed. There was no way out.
“Sorry I could not do much,” Bob said.
Paddy looked at Bob, who looked sad and helpless. They had worked well as a team. He was grateful; Bob had given him a clean slate. They sat in silence.
“You need to vacate the premises in 15 minutes. You know the drill,” Bob said. Rest of the things followed smoothly. There was some paperwork - formal resignation and such things. When they were ready for the long shameful march, Paddy said: “I will be back in a minute.”
He went straight to Anusha’s cubicle. She gave a start at his sudden disheveled appearance. Paddy could hardly control himself.
“You know what is in store for you.”
“Took me a long time to decide,” she said, “Paddy, I am no different than you. But I can not ruin an innocent’s future. Probably that’s the difference between us.”
Paddy was impatient. He had no time for philosophy. The plan had backfired because of the sly bitch. “Be ready for a divorce-” He wanted to say more. But Bob had placed a heavy hand on his shoulder. “Time to go,” he said. They marched quietly through the corridor. Though it was an empty corridor, Paddy knew he was being watched by several curious eyes, from the crevices of the cubicles. At the cafeteria Paddy saw Swami; their eyes met; paddy could not decipher anything from his, now ex-colleague’s, blank face.
“Say Bob,” Paddy said at the exit, “since when did we start involving Forensic?”
“You didn’t do a forensic?”
“But you said-”
Bob smiled. “Remember Clucas?” he asked.
“Who?” Paddy asked.
“John Clucas - VP. You dropped him at the airport.”
“What about him?”
“Prior to Kaizen he was in the army.”
Why this story? Paddy wondered.
“He was in the War,” Bob continued, “I was reporting to him; saved his life one time.”
Oh, God! Paddy thought. He was obviously not privy to this information. In a hurry, to mitigate the situation, he tried to say something. But Bob stopped him. No more schemes. They were outside the main door.
“Good luck, Paddy.” He said.
Paddy sighed - accepted his fate. Reluctantly shook hands with Bob. Bob went inside, closing the door behind him.
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