Balacing at the Top

My manager called me for a meeting early in the morning. Usually he does not call unless he gets some great idea (what he thinks great) and since his mind is always busy in routine matters, the great ideas rarely come to his mind. I felt something else is cooking up. Anyway first thing I thought I should do is to see that it is not something against me. I thought I should go immediately, before anybody else, so that I can have informal thoughts about the subject matter and dilute if it is something affecting me and think about what I should do if it is something else.

I got up and went in straight- every other thing can wait.

I was the first to reach. The Manager was sitting with a newspaper cutting. I was reasonably sure about the subject matter now. It was some news, which came on a newspaper. I cursed my habit of not reading the news papers daily - now he will ask 'have you read this news yesterday?' and I would be one amongst the few who is forced to say 'no'. What a shame!

We exchanged greetings and started talk in some general matters. I knew sooner or later the informal discussion would start. I tried to steal a look at the paper cutting. The distance was too much and with my present glasses it just looked a plain sheet.

'What are our average monthly expenses like'? Came the question and I knew the meeting is going to be something connected with expenses- reduction of expenses, cost reduction, increasing productivity something of this sort...but what the hell has the paper cutting to do with it? It is not something new for us to have discussed expenses in the past. In fact if we have nothing else to discuss, we discuss expenses- because we are the top management!

I realized there was a question unanswered from my boss and I was thinking a little too far when my manager added "need not be exact, tell me a round figure.. it is alright."

"About ten millions sir" I replied. I rounded off to millions so that the range could be anything from 9.5million to 10.5 million!

'If there is a 34% reduction, what could our savings be in a year?' Came the next question. I had thought several times in the past that I should take a calculator whenever I go for meetings. While asking questions like this, people do not realize that it is a bit difficult to do mental calculations. Frankly speaking, he could have asked the impact of 30% reduction or say even 35%... anyway we are just estimating something aren't we?

I did a quick calculation.. 30% is 3 million and 40 % is 4 million.. even if we assume ten months' savings for the year it is 30million or 40million.. so the figure is something like 35 million. Still I was not sure of my calculation so I said 'about 35million to 40 million Sir' 'Assume it to be 35 million... How much it will improve our bottom line in terms of percentage?'

Now this is too much. In order to answer I need to know so many things. For discussions like this, the meetings should be fixed sufficiently in advance and by giving the requirements. The sales manager dropped in and saved me from immediate embarrassment. Taking the opportunity I dashed out and went straight to my assistant ' Ravi, what could be our improvement in bottom line if there is a 35 million to 40million reduction in expenses?'

'Our total expenses last year were 100.8 million sir. 35 or 40 million reduction'how possible sir?' I did not have time to explain, 'just tell me the figure' I said.

'About five to seven percent Sir' That is what I wanted. I am here not to explain the things to my assistants you see.

I went inside again. The chairs were occupied. Almost every senior man was there.
I just went near the Manager and told him 'it will work wonders.... profits will jump from the current 12 percent to say 17 to 19 percent Sir'.

'OK' said the manager. The meeting began.
'Gentlemen, we have a serious thing to discuss' shot off the Manager. 'I have a paper cutting from yesterday's news paper about a company in the US' very similar to us, 'saneheads' he showed the cutting and as usual asked, 'have you read this?'

None replied.

The manager continued. 'Well, I have made copies for you all. The crux of the matter is that the senior management of this company took some drastic measures whereby the expenses were reduced by 34% and the company was able to improve the bottom line by a whopping 4.5%'

'This is wonderful. We can also try ' pat came the comment from Sales manager. Smart he is. How many times I had thought I should also be quick and produce dialogues like this and be considered as man with positive thinking!

'That exactly is the agenda of this meeting. ' continued the Manager. ' Each one of you have to be true to your conscious and look into your respective departments and come out with suggestions as to where we can also cut expenses'
'But is there any clue where that company reduced expenses?' The purchase manager wanted to know.
' The major areas are employee reduction, reduced perks for staff and identification of unproductive expenses ' explained the Manager.
Then started the discussion and it lasted about an hour and ten minutes! Everybody was instructed to keep the discussion confidential.

Such a lengthy meeting! Every body was convinced at once that they should do something.

I came back to my seat. First thing I did was to close all the files. Ravi came and wanted to discuss something.
I told him 'everything else can wait. I have something important to do'
I took a sheet of paper noted the names of all my staff - total six in number.

One- cashier
Two -receivables in charge
Three- payables in charge
Four -bank transactions in charge
Five -attender
Six -myself, Manager of the finance Dept.

I noted down the salaries in front of the names. The total salary per month of my department is 60,000. I need to reduce this by 34% that is (this time I have calculator in my front.. sighed in relief) 'by 20,400

I started noting down the 'what if' situations removing one staff after other. I noted down who can handle that persons job. I made all permutations and combinations. I could have asked Ravi to make all these easily but we were asked to 'keep the issue confidential' you see and as I was doing a job which was without any last year calculation clues....I had to toil hard.

I made up my mind. The cashier is required. Ravi who looks after bank work is intelligent and assists me in so many things. I can not imagine life without Ravi here. Then comes attender- he does many a things for me like homework of my children, bringing groceries, paying my electricity and telephone bills etc. Moreover his salary is too negligible in the context of what we are looking for' a 34% reduction!

I was struck by a bright idea! How about clubbing receivables and payables functions and put one person in charge of this? Axe has to fall on the job of either the man in charge of receivables or the man in charge of payables.

Good idea. I calculated the salary savings. If we remove the receivables man it is 15%, if we remove the payables man it is 12.50%, not enough but still a big one. We had a meeting to discuss the proposals the next day. I had to finalize.

I got the employee file of the receivables person. He was my Manager's man'.Spoiled - the whole plan is spoiled. I went and brought the payables man. It is our Sales manager's relative. I remembered, with great difficulty he had pushed this man in. In the ultimate race for this post, he had beaten a person from my native place and I could do nothing!

Yes he has to go.. but with this, reduction is going to be 12.50% only. I did not have any other idea. How about consulting Ravi?

I knew he would have some idea. He uses brain when pushed around. I called him in. I wanted to put him on tanter hooks.- so I asked him to close and lock the door. I told him it is top secret. I told we had a serious discussion on employee reduction and his name is also being discussed to be included in excess list. I pretended as if I am his savior. First he was upset. He started giving all sorts of explanation for taking so much of time in banks. 'Non availability of parking space' he declared 'is the main reason. Please try to convince the management' he begged. I acted swiftly. I told him that so long as I am here, he is safe.

I asked him what we could try and do in this regard. I also told him my idea of clubbing receivables and payables section. 'That is the maximum we can do' he told.
'Better Sir.. if you could convince management that we are only six in the dept and it is easier if they concentrate on departments with more than 10 people' I noted this down for the meeting the next day.

He continued, 'May be the US Company in fact had excess staff'. I did not note this down because this had already come up in the discussions.
'Try to retain the other staff Sir, otherwise it will be difficult', he begged. I told him we have to show compliance like the other departments do.

'Further reduction is only possible if they re organize the work so that part of our work will go to accounts dept and also some to administration dept' he explained. 'Worst case we can do away with the attender' he told. I noted this down too.

'Thank you Sir,.. for not considering me for removal' Ravi was full of gratitude. '34% reduction is impossible in our dept unless they think of sending you off sir' remarked Ravi presumably in a lighter vein. 'That is a good joke' I patted him on his back.
'Keep the secret' I said and sent Ravi back.

All that night I had only this in mind - are they planning to send me out? 'Don't worry ..They will not. It is very difficult to measure efficiency, you see' my wife quipped in.

We were all ready for the meeting again the next day.
'I hope everybody has done their homework' started off the Manager
We all saw each other's face and smiled.

Each dept head was giving details how many people he can get away with and what percentage savings it results in. I was happy that I was one with one of the top savings plans, but all in all it was coming to only 4.5% savings in total. Where is 34% and where is 4.5%? All department heads started to tell how their dept work will suffer if anything more is done.

'I am not happy' said the manager. 'There should be at least 10% savings so that we can do something. Re do your homework and let me know. I will do my own calculations as well' he declared. ' We will meet again tomorrow'

This meeting had lasted only fifteen minutes.

That night I took two pills for blood pressure. 'Remove your attender . Instead of sitting in your cabin, you can move the files here and there. This way you will know which paper is on which table' suggested my wife. 'Moreover remember the doctor told you to reduce. This will help you in weight reduction as well' she added.

Even I had sacrifice of attender in mind as the last resort. I called some of other department heads- nobody had any clue as to what the Manager was thinking about. I was thinking for a long time and I did not know when I got sleep.

Everybody was tense in the meeting the next day. Exchange of greetings looked all the more a formality. We sat down for a discussion.
'What do you have 'my friends, come on.. let me know' said the Manager. Nobody spoke.
'You, Mr John' he pointed towards the Purchase manager.
'As per our assessment no further cut is possible Sir' but we are ready for any decisions you take sir'. hurried the Purchase manager. This was exactly what I had thought I would say. Now I had to change my wordings.
The question was asked to everybody and almost the same was the reply.
It came to me.
'Worst case I may sacrifice my attender Sir' but that won't give us any significant benefit. It is up to you Sir' I put in mildest voice.
Last was the Sales manager. 'What about you Mr. Menon?' asked the smiling Manager.
'I have no additional plans Sir. The whole department is a well-knit unit and nobody other than me is excess in the dept. You want me to go, I will sir' he said in a tone which was half jovial and half-protesting.

The Manager laughed loudly and we all joined. Laughter made matters scale down a bit and tension levels also came down immediately.

Slowly the Manager looked at everybody, took time and took another paper cutting from his pocket 'this company increased employee to sales productivity by 25% we will discuss this type of improvement in over the next week' he declared. 'We will conclude this meeting now ' said the Manager and we started off for our respective departments.
'How is your Son's studies Sir?' asked the attender on my way to my department. 


More by :  Gopinath Rao

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