Saturday, August 22, 2009

Of firm and fair

How happy you are at work can depend a lot on the type of person your boss is - and there are so many morons out there that the chances of getting a 'good boss' rather slim all things considered.

I was lucky though, all three of the men I worked for were amazingly wonderful managers, with a great sense of fair play.

Being a Planter is about being able to manage people. A typical Estate Superintendent or "Periya Dorai" carries in his hands an inverted triangle, of anything between 350 to 1500 people - people of different personalities, whims and fancies. The PD's Assistent Supertintendents (Sinna Dorai's) would have a Field Officer reporting to them, the assistant FO's to the 'Kangany's" and then the work force proper.

My 1st boss, Mr T.S, was a senior planter with close to 25yrs experience, most of it in the low country. His diminutive stature and mild outward manner masked a shrewd, lightening fast mind that analyzed a situation in seconds. A man of few words, he kept us on our toes by appearing by seemingly knowing EVERYTHING going on!

He was the type of Planter who believed in work and play, insisting that his three SD's turned up at the club every week, participating in the social activities.

That first day I met him, after asking me if I had "taken over', he went on to tell ask about the motor bike and then to restrict my use of it! I was told that though the bike was given he would frown upon me using it before 5pm, and that too, only to come to the office or factory. And he went on to say that I was expected to get 'permission' in the event I wanted to leave the estate, even to go to town.

Might sound a little harsh, but I'll tell you this, I appreciated everything I learnt a result.

Mr TS loved Camellia, he loved her with a passion, often telling us that he owed everything to her. He was a firm and fair man who backed his SD"s 100% if they were right, took responsibility for their actions if they were not. When he wanted to buy time, he would feign deafness, getting the issue repeated a few times; but inside, his mind was five steps ahead of all of us as he considered the implications of what was to come and made his decisions.

As SD's we would hold a weekly meeting with our respective workers on Tuesday, dealing with the issues that popped up in this little world of ours - work issues, disputes amongst the workers, complaints, requests, the list was endless. We would write down every single one, sort out the ones we could, defer the ones we could not for the Superintendent to deal with the next day.

Wednesday morning our 'Labour Diary" would go to Mr TS, along with the action we had taken. By 5pm he knew what exactly had taken place the previous day and what to expect that evening.

I remember one occasion where I had made a bad call, one in retrospection I could have handle differently. As the Union Leader complained to him about my decision, from the corner of his mouth I heard him say "You messed this one up son", as he cocked his head and pretended he could not hear what was being said.

He then went on to deal with the issue which earned him a sense of loyalty and respect that I still hold for him so many years later, sorting the issue out in a way that dealt with the problem and still maintained my dignity.

He liked to drive himself around and would do so at most times. Being a little short, all one could really see of him meeting his jeep head on was just part of his head above the steering wheel. Anything we found amusing about this was quickly quashed were he to cast an eye in our direction! Everyday, after breakfast at 7 he would drive to the office from the 'Big Bungalow' taking a different route each time. Same applied going and coming from lunch and again going home in the evening - so we never quite knew where he would pop up, just that he would around this time or that. And let me tell you, come rain or shine, late night or not he did it everyday.

One 31st night he piled the 3 of us in his jeep and along with his wife - a sweet lady I have to write about too - took us for the dance at the Bogawantalawa Club. An arrack and soda man, he could out drink all of us, this man who was at that time in his 50's. His signature move was to walk on to the dance floor, place his glass upon his head and dance with bended knees' balancing the full glass without spilling a drop!

AT club nights, he would come up to us, put his arm around our shoulders, ask how we were, buy us a drink, joke with us, push on to the dance floor, laugh with us, joke with us. At work he hardly cracked a smile, held us responsible for our actions and tolerated no nonsense. Woe be unto you if you tried to bluff, for he knew everything.

His wife was a gentle sweet lady, atypical of what a planters wife usually is. She was like a mother to us and took a personal interest in all three SD's especially the bachelors who lived by themselves, dropping by once in two or three months with boss to see how we were managing the bungalow - it was to her that I turned for help in changing my curtains and I know she was the one who convinced boss that I should get it done.

She was also a perceptive woman, from day one she used to tell me that Planting was not for me, that my future was elsewhere, even today, when I meet her she reminds me, "I told you, didn't I, and now see where you are"

We got back to the estate at 5am that 1st morning, just in time to drink couple of cups of coffee, shower and turn up for muster at 630am.

As I stood there, taking a count of the workers that cold mourning, I heard a familier purr - Boss's jeep, he's on his way office, making sure we are at work. The warm, friendly man of last night gone, here came the Superintendent!

Mr TA, sir, thank you. You taught me, by example, to be firm and fair, that integrity, honesty and hard work were rewards in themselves, that the only thing that I get to take is my reputation and that, if tarnished, could never ever be polished to its original luster


  1. Wow.. that was such an inspiring story.. I have met many types of hardworking bosses in my life too but never a one of such values. You were very lucky to have worked with him.

  2. wonderful post Sigma! He's indeed a leader by example... you're lucky to have had such a person in your life! :)

  3. @ Harumi and Chevie: I was indeed! I was lucky to have worked for some really amazing people in that life - the downside is that no subsequent boss has ever lived upto those standards