Before The World Could See
I am sincerely worried now. The acquisition did not do any good to us. The business is on a continuous decline. Customers are complaining about poor service deliveries, defective products and what not. I don’t understand what went wrong. The company had been doing so well before we acquired FRPs but now! Despite retaining most of their top talent, why is this happening? I need you. Please come back as soon as possible. We really need to discuss and sort this out.
It has not been even a year and things were already severe. It was Kiara’s decision to acquire FRPs, an IT company headed by Mr. Malhotra who is a serial entrepreneur. He starts a company, runs it for some time and when it is growing, the company is sold. It was on her agenda since the day Malhotra announced the intention to sell his company. There were more eyes on it and Kiara had used a lot of wit to get to the capturing position. His companies are usually acquired by big giants – a piece of cake it used to be for them. But if Kiara’s company, which is just a few years old and only recently, started earning the 7 digit figures, had to crack the deal, a lot was at stake, especially liquidity.
But, strategically, she knew that the deal will put her into the league of only a few companies that had the capability to provide both the hardware and software solutions in a single connected in-house package. Kiara had heard of the staggering growth of FRPs after Malhotra took it over from a small home owner who began to manufacture uniquely designed hardware inside a small store. Before that, Malhotra had explored many different businesses from telecommunications to designing to animation – a very wise gentleman he was – she always thought. Was she not wise enough to carry on the legacy of growth after acquiring his baby? She wondered.
On the wall hung a poster, black and white in colour with the face of a lady surrounded by waves of smoky fabric. In the mid of the melancholy shades of grey and white, her lips were painted dark red. Her deep and large eyes looked straight into Kiara’s soul. She always felt that the picture was more than just a modern art. It could speak. It could speak of emotions and it could speak to her. It brought calmness in her mind in situations like these. For others, it was only a gloomy picture that reminds one of human agony but for her, it was like a world of peace which she could use to focus. She would look at the bloody lips of the feminine portrait and her thoughts would start to straighten up. It was unique and at times the people around felt strange for she could see the hope even in the darkness of the paint.
She was positive by nature and believed only in the capabilities to achieve things. She never thought there was anything that she could not do. She still remembers the day when a tall and busty fashion bimbo, Anaya, had challenged her in the fashion show. Fashion shows were not her side of the bed yet how could she refuse a challenge?
“You know what. You are a fashion disaster” Anaya had said
“And you are a mindless bimbo who only knows how to shake your buts before the world while your head remains empty like a yolkless egg” Kiara had replied
“You are just filthy and that is what comes out in your words. I am the queen who shines on stage and you are a back stage. People like you always remain in the back of the stage. NO matter how hard you bump your head on your books, you will never be able to shine like me”
Kiara never spoke bad words to anyone unless she was provoked and this was more than a provocation. It was a challenge. How could she let the bimbo leave her like that with a challenge thrown?
“Listen you asshole. I can do whatever you can. It is not about my capabilities but my choice” It would have been easier if Anaya wore collars like men but she only wore deep cuts. Even her hair was short so, Anaya had to clutch her own fist to deal with the anger inside.
“This year, I will participate in the fashion show and beat you right on the stage” Anaya responded to her rage with a long laughter followed by others. Kiara wondered if she had done the wise thing by accepting an un-thrown challenge – On one side was the 2 years continuous winner of the beauty peasant and on other side was Kiara, a very ordinary looking and not so fortunately, a bookish girl who could not think beyond her career. She had to be reminded even of combing her hair ever day by her mom. How would she beat the beauty queen?
But, if it was not for that challenge, Kiara would never have realized her true potential as a winner and a woman. She had not just transformed her looks post accepting the challenge but had also made herself available to almost every guy in the class. And not just the guys but even the teachers. She only wanted to win – by hook or crook. Yes, she did not sleep with anyone except for Aryan, the ramp partner of her enemy. But it was not intentional. It was an accident.
Heavy rain. A young guy and a young girl stuck inside the school theatre. An attempt to leave through the balcony left them both drenched in the water. And then it was cold and with cold was the darkness as lights flicked and flicked every now and then. Not to forget the thunder and the grudging sound of lightening. The age, the environment and the hot guy! How could she resist herself when he was coming closer?
“Feeling cold?” He had said rubbing his hands. Kiara did not respond by words but with a slight nod and a sigh. Her eyes were staring at him. It was not just difficult for her to hold now but also for him. The girl was no more the book worm he knew earlier. The challenge and her fight with the bimbo had changed her into a slender, skinny, and tall beauty. The bare pink skin of her naked shoulder and her bloody lips were inviting him. He could feel the heat in the heart and she could too. The cold was getting hot suddenly as they came closer and closer. She felt his breathe on his face – hot and heavy. And his lips gently touched hers. She responded with her lips widened letting him inside her lips fully. He wrapped his hands around her waist and pulled her close. Pulling her closer and she felt like she was actually naked despite wearing a dress. The dress was made of thin satin fabric that made her shapes visible and she could feel the heat of his chest on her breasts. His hands moved slowly down her waist and touched her hips, pulling them close.
“What happened to other companies?” She suddenly jumped from her seat. An unlikely shift of her mind from a hot steamy romance to business – but that is how she was. “Did I miss something? What happened to other companies who acquired MAlhotra’s?” And the questions now kept pouring out from her hot head like an avalanche –
Did they face the same issue with the company after acquisition? Daltun, Agri India, Masteros, she explored all the past deals of Mr. Malhotra and there was a pattern. Why didn’t she see it earlier? All the new divisions in those company’s were bleeding after taking over malhotra’s babies but the gap between profits and their decline was not small. Some fell by 3rd year, some took 5 years. Nobody noticed because companies were too big to collapse and had other stars playing in their pockets.
News articles were floating all over the internet as if talking to her, blaming her. Why did you not read them earlier? No one blamed Mr Malhotra for the consequences and probably nobody ever thought that there could be a problem with acquisition. Why did this pattern exist then?
She was being warned by her partners – we do not have sufficient funds. It is a huge risk – they had said but Kiara argued, “I know we are short of funds but we can arrange them and once we acquire, our revenues will double. We will easily make up for it. I can clearly see the break even in the second year itself. We are at 30 Cr. And they have a huge customer base of 1L, we sell, we cross-sell, we up-sell, every move will get us revenues. Can’t you guys see?”
She has been known as the person who always took the right decisions. Within years of her beginning of the new company, the venture rocked. The idea rocked and within 2 years she also rocked as an employer for she was listed as the most preferred employer of the industry. The only thing that she had found as lacking was the lack of infrastructure. She could sell the software, get them developed from the brightest mind but often customers needed machines that made a major part of deal. If only she could have that lacuna filled by having the hardware capability, she would be able to serve customers in full and then, they would soon lead the market. The thought was noble. She wanted to grow but opposite was happening.
How could the most promising hardware start-up in the nation turn out to be biggest flop?
All she wanted to do now was talk to Arnold – there has to be a way out. The ticking sound of her watch was never louder as she waited and waited for his response. She picked her desk phone and dialled 9, the number reserved for kitchen – she desperately needed coffee.
She heard a ping on her computer at the same time when her cabin door was knocked. She let the peon in who kept the coffee on her table. She did not exchange the usual greetings with the office boy who looked at her in surprise. Sensing the tension in her head, he decided to not disturb her and left the cabin without a word.
I had warned you. We are not prepared to take risks and if this goes wrong, we would be finished. You talk of problems, keep them to yourself. I can’t help you. I have already decided to quit. But I will help you whatever way I can.
Best of luck
She could not believe that the most trustworthy and the most talent partner of hers was leaving her in the middle of storm just because things went wrong. Problems were there even earlier but he had always been the one to take the lead and resolve issues. She relied on him, always trusted him with his capabilities and now he is leaving and that too, all of a sudden. She realized that hearts could break even when you are not in love.
The words just flew out of her broken heart and not the mind this time –
What?!!! How can you? You never even hinted?
She was furious
I am sorry.
Was all she received in response?
Probably the email was not the right place so she picked up her cell and dialled his number which went unanswered – once, twice, and thrice –
“Ignoring me” She was about to throw her cell when she heard a knock on the door
“Come in” she said putting her cell aside on the table.
A skinny spectacled buy wearing too pressed white shirt came in running.
“Mam, there is a bad news”
She wasn’t expecting any good
“Mr. Ronald just called and cancelled our order”
“What?!!” She jumped from her seat, furious, shocked and broken all at the same time.
That was the only largest order she was depending on this year after so many lost customers
She banged on the table with her fist thrice and threw an angry puff of air from her mouth.
She was trying to wipe off the worries of her head as if it was only a sweat.
“Ok , I will talk to him” she looked at the lean boy who understood that he was not wanted more and he left the cabin in no time.
She sat on her chair and closed her eyes. She did not feel like talking to anyone but her cell kept ringing without having her attention taken.
“I have to fix this” she opened her eyes suddenly, “before the world sees”
She could lose the money; lose the customers but not her image of being the right decision maker, of the person who was a mix bag of talents and moralities.
She looked at her cell phone. It was beeping continuously – 10 missed calls. She picked it but not to respond to any calls. She opened her whatsapp and typed a message to Rockstar – Hey, want to meet you. Please call back when you are free
She was 21 when she met Siddharth first time in the college. An ordinary guy with ordinary looks but an extraordinary mind with extraordinary thinking. He was the master of technology and the reason behind her love for technology.
“Hey” Sid would say every time he looked Kiara who would never show interest in him. The whole college knew what Sid felt about her but she could not care less until one day, she got stuck in her project. She was to make a wireless communication circuit and despite all the efforts, her circuit just didn’t work. Sid was the obvious answer so she went to him and it was for the first time that she said something more than a “hi” to him
“Hi, I need your help”
“Sure” he smiled like a small kid who had been waiting for a video game for long and was suddenly gifted with the same – excited, happy, actually super excited and super happy he was
‘What’s wrong with him, I did not propose him’ she wondered in her head, giving him a smile – a made up one
She walked to the lab room where she had kept her circuit and he followed the girl sincerely. He looked at the circuit just like a doctor would look into a patient’s body, a few wires were pricked, a few soldering were touched and he started to work. He flipped some wires, unsoldered one capacitor, added a resister, and added some more wires and jumpers. She had had made the circuit herself but when she watched him do the work, she almost felt like a novice, an amateur noticing a teacher to learn. She was quite impressed by his swiftness with the circuits, no wonder everyone approach him for help and she wondered why she didn’t get her circuit drawing checked by him before going ahead with the development.
“Now, switch it on” Exactly after two minutes, Sid asked Kiara to try the wireless again and poof! Like a magic, the transreceivers started to work.
“How come” She was shocked?
“This is a management problem not technical” Kiara told she wondering why she messaged her one time college lover who was a genius of technology for a problem that was more of management than of technology.
Maybe not for the technical but personal reasons. People were leaving her. He never left her even when she was never with him. She never loved him but he kept waiting and waiting and waiting till the college was over. Sid had tried meeting her many times but she got too busy with her jobs and then with her dream job of starting her own firm. It had been 8 years now. They hardly met in these years. They were living in the same city probably not very far physically, but mentally, she was still too far from him. Why did she remember him now?
“That is so selfish of me” she told herself, “No, it is not, I am just meeting him like a friend and not because I want him to solve my problems”
She got up; the clock was closing on 12 Noon. And she knew that soon, its pendulum would start banging on the walls. Perhaps, it was not the pendulum but her head that was going to bang with it, she wondered. Click Click bang Bang – as the clock struck 12, she looked at the pendulum and said, “I never knew you had a voice and rhythm too”
Bang…tick tick tick…bang …tick tick tick….with every tick she marched her legs and with every bang she jumped.
She was on the 11th bang when the door knob started to move and her last jump ended with Rohit entering the room. Obviously, her luck was not on her side – Rohit saw her dancing. She felt like throwing one last bang on him but decided to remain calm,
“As per our office protocols, people are supposed to knock the before entering my cabin unless there is an…
“There is an emergency” And the bang was only felt inside her head as Rohit spoke. He was also trying to control the laughter probably knowing that the girl in front of him would no more be the boss but a monster that would eat him up if he laughed on her situation.
“Wow!” She took a sigh, “Another?” She laughed only mildly, “If I am unable to make things right, in one month, I would be bankrupt. What could be worse than that?”
“Our servers caught fire”
A big frown covered her face. Ouch! She felt another bang inside. Probably her heart was copying the clock act inside her
“Why are you here?”
“To take your permission to start the recovery process” and he handed her over a few papers
“Now, tomorrow if you tell me that even the DR has caught fire, I would not be surprised” she said as she signed on the papers.
ROhit took the paper but unlike his usual style of leaving the cabin immediately in a hurry to capture the next item in his to do list, he stood there looking at Kiara
“What” Rohit was not the person to talk to someone without work? Could it be something more to tell? Yes, most probably, she thought.
“The addressal is in an hour.” Kiara was to address the staff to announce the cost cutting and present the list of those likely to get fired within a month.
“Why don’t you do it?” She picked the newspaper that was filled with the news of economic slowdown; nothing was interesting, not at least positive for her.
“Mam, I am sure they would like to listen it from you and not me”
“No, I can’t do this. “ She said putting down the newspaper on the table with thrust, “I don’t want to do this she folded her hands giving the hint that was not interested in discussions.
“As far as I know you Mam, you are not a quitter. I am sure you will find a way out soon” That was surprising to come from a man who never spoke any word that was not about approvals, analysis, or analysis.
She looked at him, feeling a bit relaxed. At least there was someone who trusted her. Unfortunately, she was herself clueless of how she would come out of the problems.
“How Ro? I have no clue” hundred questions pinched her face and for the first time, she found herself exposing her worries in front of a junior.
“I have an idea” said Rohit.
His words gave a ray of hope and she wanted to hear more. All her attention went to the analytical guy
“You don’t even have to fire or let the news of staff cut down out in the media” he came a bit closer, the volume of his voice going down and his expressions made the talk appear more personal.
“I trust you. I know you will come up with a solution within a month. Now, assuming this, we may not fire anyone but ask them to take an unpaid leave of 3 months. By that time, things will settle down and those who want to join back can join. 3 months would be enough time to also search for a new job if they want. “
This made sense to her. At least she would be saved from the bad media publicity as well as the administrative burdens of firing and restructuring as a result.
“Just an idea. It’s up to you to consider” He reassured her.
“Why you never gave any idea earlier?” She always thought that he was only a “yes boss” man who followed instructions. Such a man could also have his own ideas and that too for people management was a surprise to her. This did not however give any shock as she had become used to getting surprises in past few months. At least this one was good surprise.
“Thanks” She said and hurried out of the cabin.
A crowd of over 500 people waited in a big hall. The faces were dull, tense, upset, hopeless – everything that was unlikely to been seen on the same faces just a year back. It would be so painful not just for them but also for Kiara if she had to announce the names of potential releases.
“Good afternoon everyone” said Kiara, receiving an energy less response.
“I know you guys know why I am here. Believe me, I never saw you as my employees. I always thought that we were a family. It would have been easier for me to make this announcement if you were only employees. You know that we are going through crisis. Last few months have been really tough and I know you could have left me earlier. But you stayed. You stayed with me in crisis. Because I know even you feel like this is a family that you belong to. I am really grateful that you have faith in me. Here is a list” she picked the paper that was kept on the table beside her. “List of people who the management has decided to cut down” It was a 3 page document with names written in 10 font. Without even reading them, she could guess that there were at least 150 names in the list which would swoop away at least 35% of the staff from the main office. The expressions on the faces got more pronounced. Those fearing the release were now on the verge of crying and those deeply tense were now hopeless.
“But, I have an offer for those who are in the list”
The murmurs started. Offer? Firing offer? What could it be? A relief package?
“Here is the deal – I don’t fire you but you take a 3 months unpaid leave and then when thins settle down, you join us back”
The murmurs turned into roars as the people started to talk loud.
“I know you must be thinking about your families and finances so I have another idea – you know we have a very strong performance appraisal system. We accumulate two year performance bonuses and give you all in the month of April every two years. We are sitting on Oct so we have an accumulated bonus of one and a half year which we will not hold but release this month itself. So, you get the salary for this month and the accumulated bonus which you can use for next 3 months. Rohit’s face was lightened up not just because his idea was accepted but Kia had refined it with an extra shot which would make it appear more workable solution.
“This idea of not releasing you but giving you a leave is actually not mine but Rohit’s” The face was now even more brightened. Kia always knew how important was recognition for a human who is why most employees remained happy and the turnover was less.
“Can you tell me Ro, what is the average accumulated bonus?”
ROhit flipped through his laptop which he always carried and in a few minutes, he was ready with a very crisp answer. Kia loved Rohit for his speed of analysis. He could find answers in no time.
“Mam, if we release the accumulated bonuses, it would make up for at least 1.5 months of the salaries for almost everyone.”
“Great! So you will get 1 months’ salary and 1.5 months bonus in this month itself which will be enough for you to sustain your three months. Those not in the list will continue to work as usual with onuses released only into he month of April next year. But I have another offer for them. If they want, they can release their bonuses to the department such that we divide their bonuses equally among the listed people in the department. Ro, will it cover up for the remaining half a month”
A few more strokes and ROhit said, “I need time to tell you the exact figures but yes, it would definitely cover up”
“Great! Now those releasing their bonuses to others are actually doing a favour to the company which obviously would be considered while they are given final bonuses next year. It is a risk for you in case the company does not get back on track but I promise you good returns if things improve”
“Mam! Can I share one idea” an excited interruption came from Rose, the finance girl standing in front row, who hardly spoke earlier
“Sure” said Kia , surprised again
“Mam, if instead of using the bonus, if we just use one month salary for us and invest rest in shares of our own company then it would increase our market position. Because of crisis, the share prices are all time low so we will have a lot of shares with us. When other investors would see sales, they may also buy shares and our market value would increase. “
A smile came to Kia’s face, “Why don’t you guys share such ideas normally?” Giving Rose a thanking gesture, she said, “I can see that those people least expected with ideas are actually coming up with great ideas. So, here is another deal – I want you all to write at least 3 problems that we are facing and 3 solutions and submit the same with your name to Rohit. Ro, you will do a feasibility check and cost benefit analysis of all these ideas to filter. Get all ideas by Saturday, complete your analysis by Wednesday, have a discussion with me on Thursday and then we will have a brainstorming session on Friday. Let us work together and let us bail out ourselves from this crisis” she gave a very hearty smile.