Monday, 23 January 2017

Throwing one's Hat into the Ring


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This was the year 1981.Around sixty five of us joined Visvesvaraya Iron and Steel Ltd, Bhadravathi as management trainees. Most were engineers; a few of us were inducted for HR (personnel as it was known then) and materials (purchase) departments. After six months of training we were posted for 'on the job training' to our respective departments. I was assigned to the management development wing that catered to matters pertaining to executives. On reporting, the senior personnel manager welcomed me and assured of all support for a successful induction and career in the company.

After about a month of my reporting, boss invited me to come to his residence in the township at around 6 PM. He did not give any details about the reason for this unexpected invitation. When I reached there, I was surprised to see lot of goodies spread out in the drawing room that included sweets, savouries and fruits. Fifteen minutes later, another management trainee also turned up. Boss greeted us and introduced us to a gentleman who was in the house, as his brother. He then said that he had some urgent work and slipped out of the house, telling us to talk to his brother.

The brother timidly informed that he was an insurance agent based out of Mangalore. It was clear from his body language that the gentleman resembled boss only in appearance and that he did not possess his confidence. He suggested to both of us a particular sum assured and a 25 year coverage. I looked at a table he was carrying and said that  I wanted a lesser sum assured with a 15 years coverage. The agent protested feebly but did not make efforts to convince me of the advantages of his proposal. As for us, we were novices who hardly knew anything about what this was all about- What is the need, importance or advantage of taking an insurance policy. In 1981, the general awareness was even poorer than it is now about insurance. The person got us to sign on some forms and we departed. Boss had not yet returned.

A few days later when I received the policy by post, I noticed that the term of the policy was for a period of 25 years and not for 15 years that I had requested. Further, the sum assured mentioned in the document was also higher than what I had indicated. As a young man, my ego was hurt. "How could this person alter conditions contrary to what was discussed? If this could be done to an educated person what would he the plight of the uneducated? “These were the thoughts running in my mind.I could not even approach the agent immediately as I was in Bhadravati while he was living in Mangalore.

I went immediately to the cabin of the boss. As the legal manager was also with him, I said that I would come later. However boss insisted that I speak. So I vented out all my unhappiness about the way the matter was handled. He told me "You speak to my brother over phone." Those days it was not easy to speak to people over the phone, more so from small towns like Bhadravathi which hardly had one or two public STD booths situated far away from the township. Further the agent could easily avoid my call if he wanted to. So I told boss that I did not know his brother at all at a personal level and that the only reason I had taken a policy from him was because of his relationship with him. Therefore he should sort out the matter. Although taken aback by my response he smiled and said "let me see".

What I did not know then was that I had bitten off more than I could chew. I had ruffled the feathers of a very senior person in the hierarchy. I learnt later that the legal manager who was in the room had jacked up the emotions of the boss. “How can a mere management trainee who has just joined the company speak to you like that?” He is said to have asked and urged him to teach me a lesson on "respecting seniors". Soon I began to get pinpricks at work and was later transferred to a mine owned by the company in Bhadigund, 25 kms awayfrom Bhadravathi town.

This posting was usually given to the junior most officer in HR. I was posted although another management trainee was junior to me, as he had joined the company after my date of joining. Contrary to my original terms of appointment, I received a letter stating that I need to pass an exam in Kannada with class 4 syllabus in three months’ time. It was clear that this move was more to intimidate me than anything else. First of all this was a tough ask for someone from another state with no exposure to the language and even if I were to take lessons and work hard, I felt the results of the test was sort of predetermined.

It was later when I was visiting a relative who had a lot more experience of life that he advised me not to agonize over the policy. Even if you did not  like the way the agent handled this, it is always advantageous to start early when premiums are low and the longer and higher the coverage the better it is! If the man who sold the policy had educated me properly, I would not have spoilt relationship with an influential boss and be languishing in a mine with a prospect of writing an exam that I was most likely to fail!

After six months into my assignment at Bhadigund limestone mines, I was on a weekend visit to Bhadravathi, when a friend, an engineer who had joined like me as a management trainee, asked me why I was ruining my career by fighting with the powerful over a trivial issue. He advised me to make up with boss. I said that that I had objected on a matter of principle. Anyway, he may refuse to see me even if I were to go and meet him. The friend suggested writing a letter. Therefore, I wrote a letter drawing attention to the good relationship that we had earlier and the support he had given me and that I regretted how our relations had sunk to such a low over a trivial issue.

 The letter enabled me to wriggle out of a tough situation. However, my animosity to the concept of insurance and those connected with insurance remained. Therefore, for the next fifteen to sixteen years I kept a safe distance. It was after many years in 1998 when the matter of tax savings came up while working in another company, that an agent approached me and explained about the concepts of insurance. He was shocked that I was woefully short of adequate coverage. However, by then I had already touched the age of forty, which meant that very high premium had to be paid for the same sum assured that would have been very low if taken at a young age.

Cut to December 2016. I am standing at a tea shop in Koramangala, Bangalore sipping tea. I hear a friendly   voice asking the tea maker to make some great tea- “should be as good as it was yesterday!” I turned around to look at the speaker and we smiled. He told me that his name was Krishna Prasad (KP to friends) and that he worked for Max life insurance as associate partner (sales).He asked me what I was doing. I told him that after over three decades of service in HR in public and private sector companies, I was now facilitating corporate training programs representing my own company Niche Learning Services. I said that I also devote time to blogging and sharing corporate experiences with MBA students.

He immediately asked me whether I would be interested in becoming a financial advisor (read agent) for his company. I smiled and said that it was not my cup of tea as I was not from a sales background. He said that Maxlife gives a lot of importance to training and that apart from becoming an advisor I could get opportunities for training as well. All the persons engaged as advisors have to undergo a week’s training on insurance as a career and pass a mandatory examination conducted by IRDA (Insurance regulation and development authority).

“My office is just around the corner. Why don’t you come in so that I can give you a better picture?”  As I had nothing urgent to do at that time, I went along to the office. KP explained that insurance has come a long way since the time it was a monopoly with operations by only one insurance company. Today there are 23 companies operating in India and seven year old Max India is a leading company in the private sector,which is a joint venture between Max Financial Services (72%) and Mitsui Sumitomo, a 120-year-old company based in Japan. When I shared my early negative experience with insurance, KP said that there is no way that Max could do business like that. “In fact, our focus is on educating customers on their needs of protecting oneself from the impacts of  an early death, living too long and erosion of the value of money over a period of time.”

I told KP that at this stage of my life and career, I have my own focus areas to which recently spirituality has been added and it is now on the top of the list. Therefore, presently my first priority is spirituality, followed by training and blogging. KP said that the focus of Max is also on educating the customers so that they can take their own decisions on securing their future. According to him, it is a noble profession that is next only to the doctor’s profession.

Many people are unaware about the benefits of various types of insurance. It is the only product in the world that provides you money when you are there (Maturity value); money when you need it most ( Partial withdrawals during emergencies) and money when you are not there( Life cover benefiting your beloved family in your absence) “We don’t chase customers. We only seek 45 minutes of customers’ time to educate them on wise financial planning so that they and their families can have the desired lifestyle throughout their lives. After our education, it is for the customer to decide whether to buy the policy and if yes, which one as per his specific needs” I was very impressed with the genuineness and clarity of the company's and  KP’s mission. Yet At that time, in view of the priorities mentioned, I politely declined the offer.


Come 1st January, and the new year, KP called to wish me. He requested me to review my decision. He said that I could venture into the field without compromising on my present priorities and that this role primarily envisages educating people and can in fact complement what I am already doing. As one interested in learning, taking up the seven-day course would certainly enhance my knowledge in one more discipline. If not anything else, I can educate the  readers of my blog on the various aspects of securing one’s life at various stages of a  lifetime. KP has promised to be the expert for answering readers’ queries in the financial blogs.


A decision has finally been made. Given my unpleasant experience very early in life,who would have thought that one day I would also throw my hat into  the ring…. 



10 comments:

  1. At least educating people about the pro and cons of financial policies through your blog would be a nice idea.

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  2. Amazing post....sir i bow to your experience and hardship this post is an inspiration to us young people to not take our work so lightly....the value of what you have is so needed to be known. Also my best wishes for your new endeavor:)

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  3. Thank you so much Shweta. Appreciate your feedback a lot! Thank you also for the best wishes!

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  4. Yes, early life experiences and perceptions do impact our future decisions in life! However, convincing and informative feedback later in life on our early life experiences also enables us to sometimes revise our own perceptions and further (informed) decisions. Indeed an open mind is very necessary for all this. And Rajeev, I guess, it is your open mind that finally enabled you to throw your hat into the ring and gain new experiences and perspectives. Thanks for sharing this interesting, informative and engaging slice of your life!

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  5. Thank you so much Padmaja for your insightful and exhaustive feedback as usual! It made my day!

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  6. Nice Post and your posts are inspiring all MSSWians.. Reg Vyas

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  7. Thank you Vyas! Happy to receive your feedback and to know that our MSSW fraternity is benefited by my posts.

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  8. Replies
    1. Thank you so much Sunaina! Glad you liked it.

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