A Tribute to Lal

The first time I met Mr. Lalvani was in early May 1989 when I was called for an interview at TAFE for a position in Exports. After initial enquiries about my background, he asked me to explain the Export process. As I launched into an earnest explanation of the nuances of Export functions, I could see him shifting uncomfortably in his chair..Finally he cut me short saying he has heard enough and candidly admitted that what I explained went over his head completely. He then said that he was hiring me only because his non-existent expertise in Exports. He also warned me that if anything went seriously wrong, he would come down really hard.

That was Lal……a man open to admit his shortcomings to a prospective recruit young enough to be his son.

In the event I joined TAFE in July 1989.I reported to Lal on the first day and after some initial introduction in his office, he personally conducted me to my seat. The furniture was neatly set with all writing material, phone etc. in place. I was quite flattered with all this attention, but later learnt this was standard procedure for all new entrants who reported to him. He personally took pains to ensure that work environment for all his staff met high corporate standards.

As days went by, I realized that Lal who bore an uncanny resemblance to Winston Churchill (complete with the pipe in his mouth) was a boss in a different mold. He had a fiery temper, but could also be very charming if he wanted to be. I soon grew accustomed to the fact that one could not walk into his office un announced whatever be the urgency, but had to take proper appointment with his secretary. He was a stickler for good written communication and thought nothing of correcting a draft at least ten times if he found the language not up to his standard. He was thorough while reading his mail and never missed a single word. Replies were drafted in close consultation with the staff concerned. He never held a meeting without giving due notices to participants and expected everyone to come well prepared for the meetings. He insisted that Minutes for every meeting be filed properly.

Once he asked me to resolve a long pending commission issue. Before I realized, he handed me some 20 thick files dating almost four years which contained the correspondence he had with the officials on the subject. With a lot of trepidation, I trawled through this mountain of papers for nearly 15 days and finally concluded that the vendor owed TAFE a princely sum of around 430 British Pounds. But Lal was not impressed….he wanted proof. I informed him he must set aside at least three hours to let me present my proof. So one afternoon, he went through my presentation for close to two hours and was convinced that my conclusions were right. He immediately sent a telex to the vendor with the proof I had presented and was rewarded with their concurrence a couple of days later. He walked into my office with the telex confirming they accepted the reconciled figures and personally thanked me. As things went, the vendor happened to visit TAFE a week later. Lal made it a point to introduce me to him specially mentioning that I was responsible for bringing the long running dispute to a close.

That was Lal…a man who never hesitated to pass on credit where it was due.

One relaxed afternoon in his office, I made a bold suggestion that he needs to cut down on his pipe smoking and do some exercise. Prompt came his rebuttal….he asked me to produce the doctor who gave such advice and he will prove him completely wrong. I had no answer to his statement that teetotalers took more sick leave than him……..I never saw him ill or sick during my tenure. His love for food and drink was so great that he often declared that he hoped to die on the dining table. Even after late evening meetings, long winding dinners, one would always see him at the office at 930am in full bloom, without any trace of previous evening excesses!

Lal had plenty of detractors too who could not bear his abrasive ways. But he always called a spade a spade and never worried about the consequences.

Sometime in 1991, I moved to factory and lost touch with Lal…although he made it a point to send me New Year Greetings without fail every year.

He left a good legacy in the form of strong systems in the departments he handled, whether it was Service, Training, J Farm or Advertising. All those who came in contact with him had something to remember about him.

May his soul rest in peace.

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