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Case Study: Kamal Vs Raghu- A Leadership Dilemma

New York Process Plant Equipment Company (NYPP) is a US based MNC. The company  though prided in saying that it is not an American multinational but a global corporation. The company builds process plants for large chemical companies and has core skills in Process Technology, Project Management and Financing & Financial Risk Management (the company finances many process plants meant for captive use of a chemicals company, supplying capital to build the plant and then realizing it’s revenues in the form a monthly “Facility Fee”). The company also sometimes builds excess capacity for chemicals in such plants (that it financed) and sells those chemicals in the market.
The company entered the Indian market in 1994. The company first signed contracts with a huge Indian chemicals company to build two of it’s process plants on “Financing with Facility Fee Inflow” (FFFI) basis. They then formed a 100% Indian subsidiary – NYPP India Pvt Ltd, to executive the project. NYPP planned to build extra capacity in these plants (over and above the need of the client for captive use) and sell the excess product in the Indian market at an attractive profit.
The project execution required a large project team. NYPP India was headed by Arup Chatterjee who had spent more than 30 years in process plant equipment business in India. He had quit another Indian multinational in India on being passed over for promotion and worked for a couple of Indian companies in senior positions before joining NYPP India as Managing Director. Mr Chatterjee recruited many senior executives and NYPP got the projects going as well as moved to win more projects in India many of which it did though none as big as the first two.
Over the next few years, more executives joined in Business Development and other functions. Over time, Business Development and Management also became a strong department having many highly qualified and experienced individuals.  One of them was Kamal Khaitan
Profile of Kamal
Kamal Khaitan joined NYPP India three years after it’s inception. Kamal had great academic credentials, being a Mechanical Engineer from IIT, Mumbai and PGDM from IIM, Kolkata. Kamal came from a traditional marwari background and there was little knowledge of corporate life in his entire extended family all of whom had small businesses. He had mostly interacted with small traders before he had entered the corporate life as a Sales Executive in Mumbai based specialty oils company.
Before entering the corporate world, Kamal had also joined his father’s tiny business in Kolkata where he was born and brought up. He had tried hard to put energy into a tiny engine part business which was dying due to technological changes in the user industry. He recalls those days as his most traumatic as he could not cope with the stress associated with running a tough business and finally gave up and took up a job for the security of a monthly paycheck.
All this was before he joined IIM, Kolkata, which he did 6 years after passing out of IIT, Mumbai. After passing out of IIM, he joined a consumer products company in operations management. However, his previous experience had been in industrial products selling. He again had difficulties in a consumer products company and changed after one year to an Industrial Products one in the marketing department. He did well in the selling and marketing function.
He was at the time a branch manager for his company. His team mostly described as unduly high strung, very aggressive, but also honest, hardworking and willing to slog shoulder to shoulder with his team. His boss gave the feedback that he was not really a people’s person. One indicator, according to her, was that he was usually a little “disconnected” from people around him. However, she also appreciated his initiative, energy and resilience.
At this company, Kamal was not given a senior level job that he was initially promised. His boss too, apparently a person more desirous of pleasing her bosses than standing for what is right, did not support him despite the fact that his positive qualities were appreciated.
It was at this point, in 1997, that Kamal resigned and joined NYPP India.
Job profile of Kamal in NYPP
At NYPP India, Kamal’s job was to develop business for process plants on FFFI basis. He shone in the job almost immediately. He quickly mastered the company’s financial modeling, which usually took others a few months time to really get a grip on. He could quickly analyze a prospect, not only in terms of financial flows but also the prospect’s business outlook, the risks involved and he could then make recommendations that were convincing for investment decisions.
This was noticed by his Indian bosses as well as more senior ones based in Asia-Pacific office. He quickly acquired a positive image in the company and became well entrenched in his role. Over time, he could also analyze finance related matters more innovatively using his own models and those too convinced management to make intelligent investment decisions and raised his standing.
Kamal’s Peer- Raghu
Kamal noticed others in similar position in his organization. Being ambitious, he always checked out his competition. One person in particular always struck him. This was Raghuraman, called by all as Raghu. Raghu was somewhat above Kamal in terms of standing in the company. Being in the habit of checking every indicator of status, Kamal noticed that Raghu was given an AC car when he joined while Kamal was provided a non – AC version of the same model.
Kamal always wondered why Raghu should be above him. The reason for this was, Raghu’s education was miles behind Kamal’s. Raghu not only did not go to IIT and IIM, but actually did not get admission even to 2nd or perhaps 3rd rung engineering and management colleges. Kamal checked out discreetly the names of colleges and those names were not recognizable at all.
After a couple of years, Kamal noticed Raghu’s stature rising further in the organization. He was provided a bigger car and this was followed by a significant promotion as well as enhancement in Raghu’s responsibilities. This agonized Kamal quite a lot, his view being that since he was more capable as reflected in the education, he should have been ahead of Raghu, if not by miles, then certainly by a few steps. Kamal, however, observed a few incidents, as below:
·         Raghu and Kamal reported for a long time to a common boss. The boss designated his secretary Carolyn, a Malayali woman, as their secretary also. Carolyn had a reputation for being a very difficult person, showing irritation at the slightest pressure and refusing jobs to those she considered “lesser” managers. She did not take kindly to receiving instructions from anyone other than her main boss. Kamal insisted with her that she serve her in secretarial capacity and a number of times she refused saying she was busy with more “urgent” work. This even caused a heated argument also between Carolyn and Kamal once.
However, Kamal noticed that Raghu never had problems with her (or vice versa). Kamal had no idea how Raghu did it but it was noticeable. After a while, Carolyn would even come to Raghu’s cabin for taking “dictation”, something which Kamal had never been able to make her do. Kamal chafed at his failure but did not think it to be a serious deficiency.
·         Kamal never found it easy to interact with Mr Chatterjee, the Managing Director. Mr Chatterjee was a very arrogant person and never wanted to apply himself to nitty gritties of business matters, happier talking about macro level issues such as government policies. It was apparent to Kamal that Raghu had a better time with Mr Chatterjee since Raghu was getting invited to important meetings which Kamal was not.
·         Kamal noticed that Raghu was not able to analyze finances as well as needed. They worked together on a small project. Kamal quickly created the worksheet with all cash flows calculated with neat formulas. The calculations were complex and Kamal expected someone at Raghu’s level would notice the formulas and understand the calculations. To Kamal’s surprise, Raghu failed to understand the calculation and sought Kamal’s help in explaining every little bit. Even after Kamal had explained the calculations to him, Raghu still did not get a full grip on the worksheet as came out later in the discussions with the client.
·         Raghu had a subordinate named Jayant known for speaking in loud voice. Jayant had a grouse reporting to Raghu since Jayant considered himself to be too senior for it. On one occasion, Kamal was witness to an interaction between Jayant and Raghu. Jayant was arguing his point of view very aggressively and in a loud voice. He was countering his boss and implying that Raghu did not know much of a particular business in which Jayant had spent a long time.
Raghu surprised Kamal again by remaining calm and finally telling Jayant in a calm but firm voice to speak in an even voice. Watching the scene, Kamal was getting excited and thought that if his subordinate had behaved in the same fashion, he would get replied back in the same coin and probably be told to accept boss’s decision and get on with the job. However, Raghu appeared to be taming Jayant with more caution.
·         Kamal noticed that Raghu seemed to make special effort to put himself on a pedestal. On one occasion, the company barred managers to travel to short distances by air unless train tickets were not available. Kamal and Raghu were to both go to Chennai for the project mentioned above. On learning that AC tickets were not available, Kamal willingly agreed to go in non – AC, this being a short journey overnight. To Kamal’s surprise, Raghu not only made air ticket for himself but also insisted that Kamal do the same. Kamal assumed that Raghu did not want himself to look bad in top management’s eyes, while at the same time not compromising on his “level”. Kamal noticed similar “level maintaining” behavior in Raghu more than once.
On one occasion, Raghu wanted to talk to Kamal about some matter. He called Kamal on phone and said: I wanted us to discuss this, can we meet in my (Raghu’s) cabin. Kamal felt this was a transgression and politely replied that Raghu could come to Kamal’s room if he wanted to discuss something. Kamal registered, however, that Raghu was always trying to ensure that he was considered “senior” and “high level” by everyone.
·         Kamal noticed that Raghu was always politically correct. He never voiced opinions, even on macro matters that did not involve any individual, that went against the mainstream opinion. Over time, Kamal noticed that all aggressive individuals had difficulty in the company while those relatively less outspoken were rewarded.
Over time, Kamal acquired the reputation of being a very aggressive man who was unmindful of other people, though a brilliant business analyst. Kamal too was promoted in the organization but remained behind Raghu, who eventually quit in 2000 to become part of the burgeoning IT industry, three years after Kamal joined.
Kamal coveted Raghu’s job. However, the job was again denied to him and again a person much less well educated was given that position. This, along with deteriorating relationship between Kamal and Mr Chatterjee frustrated Kamal and he finally quit the organization early 2003, about six years after joining.

Prof. Sanjay Saraf

*Prof. Sanjay Saraf, Managing Director, Bizsol HR Services Private Limited, prepared this case under guidance of Prof Ramesh G Tagat, Academic Mentor at International School of Management
Excellence, Bangalore. Publication or use of this case requires the consent of Bizsol HR Services Pvt Ltd. and ISME, Bangalore.