Managers can be schooled, but leaders are born

1st Sep, 2015

| by writesolutions

Don’t know how, perhaps it was a chance meeting with a boorish boss, that my thoughts flew back to Vicky Oberoi, and how he changed my perception of a true blue leader….

Here’s an account of my meeting with the distinguished gentleman, several years ago.

  Up, close and personal…

As a cub reporter for the Times of India, nearly fifteen years ago, I was once sent to attend a lunch meeting with Vikram Oberoi — no less.

Son of P.R.S. Oberoi, scion of the EIH hotel chain, Vicky, as he is known among friends had active invited my department head, Sabina Sehgal Saikia (she met with a tragic death during Taj Hotel blasts, two years ago), but since she had another pressing appointment with TOI’s Vineet Jain, she trundled into the office, looking for her replacement.

A tall, well-built woman, her piecing, kohl-lined eyes scanned the nearly bare office (the  reporters happened to be on the field at that early hour) before she fixed them on me — “You go,” she hissed, thrusting the crumpled invite in my hand, leaving no room for any kind of a protest.

That’s how she was — demanding, larger-than-life, and not ready to take ‘no” for an answer. At least not from a flunkey jurno. I was just one year into the profession; and completely raw. The one-on-one with the young Oberoi had been arranged to announce the launch of the Group’s most ambitious property — Raj Vilas in Jaipur.

I hailed an autorickshaw and we drove off in the heavy downpour, meandering our way through a labyrinth of lanes and bylanes, before the driver finally came to a screeching halt in front of an imposing building.

‘Is this it?” I quizzed, looking up at faded white facade.

“That’s it.” he said, sounding sullen and impatient to get going.

I settled his fare and dashed for cover, past rows and rows of cars parked on either side to a small gate. It opened into a narrow alley. Voila! I emerged from the other side of the underground tunnel to the muted opulence of the main lobby. I stood dripping on the Persian rug, and must have cut a very sorry picture, so when the PR girl’s eyes fell on me; she did a double-take and said “Well there she is, Mr Oberoi!

“We were waiting at the entrance for you, Radhika,” she muttered under her breadth to me, not making any attempt to hide the derision in her voice for my clumsy appearance.

“Hey, where did you come from?” quizzed Vicky, looking just a wee bit amused.

I pointed to the opposite direction.

“Oh that? That’s the service entrance,” chuckled Oberoi, “But it doesn’t matter. I am glad you are here, and sorry that Sabina couldn’t make it.”

I couldn’t be sorrier — for myself.

“Suniti, you can leave us now. I will take charge of Radhika,” he said, nudging me gently away from the PR girl.

“Have you been here before…? Let me take you on a guided tour,” he said in a warm, friendly tone.

During the next half-an-hour, I became witness to the easy charm of old money, noticing how well he knew his staff, how he greeted each one by their first names, shook hands, dropped a kind word here, a wink there and they went about doing their work with  completely nonchalance, oblivious of the presence of the owner in their midst.

“Where would you like to eat?” he inquired and I stumbled again. “I don’t know. Anywhere,” I sheepishly said.

“Okaaay…in that case, let’s visit our Thai restaurant….its quieter, we can talk in peace there and the cuisine is good.”

He was right. Baan Thai, the Thai restaurant that I haven’t had a second chance to visit in these 17 years, turned out to be a very inviting place. The food was sumptuous, but more than that I remember our non-stop prattle on an inane variety of subjects — my childhood days in Tarn Taran, our family’s move to Kanpur, my job in Delhi, Vikram Oberoi’s studies in Stanford, his girlfriend and yes, even a bit of politics and current affairs!

At one point, he betrayed so much interest in the newspaper business that I felt inspired to offer him a visit to the ToI office, forgetting for a minute that I was only a junior employee in the establishment.

To my surprise, he readily grabbed the offer, called up his driver and off we went to the TOI building on Bahadurshah Zafar Marg. At the reception, he signed himself in yet the famous name didn’t register. We went from one department to the next, while I explained what little I knew and the rest others filled in and somehow we managed to wade through, until we were done and I could, finally take him to meet Sabina.

She was sipping water from a glass, that nearly slipped from her hand, when I pronounced his name. Recovering quickly, she invited her into her cabin and they spoke for a while before Mr Oberoi could take his leave as he had a flight to catch that evening.

“Please see your guest to the door, Radhika,” Sabina called out.

I did as told, and at the gate, my guest said, “I am going to watch out for your stories…so work hard.”

When I was back with Sabina, she pounced on me, besides herself with laughter. “How on earth did you manage that?” she said…

To this day, I don’t know how I did, or whether I did…

“I don’t know…he just seemed interested in coming here,” I muttered and retreated into my corner, while she did the office round with the scoop of the day!

writesolutions

Radhika Sachdev

Content Strategist

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