Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Alec Walker

An unforgettable character:
                                            Alec Walker

This is the story about an unforgettable character in my life.  About an Anglo Indian Manager I had  worked with almost five decades ago.  A man who recognized  my leadership potential, very early in my life, and  helped me get onto the  fast track of growth in the advertising profession. His name was Alec Walker.

Though I do not have details about his early life, I know that he was a retired Major from the Army who was working in Dunlop India Ltd at  their Headquarters in Calcutta, in charge of administration. Dunlop was a client of Clarion Advertising,  which was the second largest advertising agency during mid sixties and early seventies, where I was working then. When Clarion heard that Walker was planning to quit Dunlop, they promptly hired him as the Chief Administration Manager to sort out the administration problems of the company. In 1965 Clarion had entered into a tie up with McCann Erickson to become Clarion McCann resulting in big business coming its way. 

Based out of Calcutta, Walker was supposed to look after the administration of all the branches of the company. Since he was directly reporting to the Chairman of Clarion he had a lot of clout which he utilized to take quick and effective decisions in the interest of the company.

I had joined Clarion as a Management trainee in 1964, in their Bombay office, which was the biggest beneficiary of the tie-up in terms of getting many   blue chip clients. To handle the booming new business, staff at all levels was being hired without any proper administrative systems in place. I remember during the first year of my stint with clarion, I had no fixed table. I used to occupy any table, which was unoccupied because of the absence of some executive or the other. There was total confusion as all the senior managers were very busy dealing with the slew of new clients and  had no time to look at the admin problems.
It was in this chaotic situation that we heard the good news that the H.O was sending Mr. Walker to Bombay office to set things right. Walker`s reputation preceded him. We had been already told that he was a very upright man (both in character and his physique) who brooked no nonsense from anybody. While he had a tough exterior, he had a humane approach in dealing with people and problems. The entire staff, including me, was eagerly awaiting the arrival of Walker.

When Walker walked into the office on a Monday morning along with a couple of Managers, he did not disappoint me. He was of medium height, fair and stocky with a majestic disposition. He exuded a feeling of friendly authority. After the mandatory introduction to all staff members, Walker got into business without wasting any time. His first act was to ensure that people came to office on time. He himself walked into office five minutes before time every day and left office exactly at the closing time. He was a strict disciplinarian. He believed in practicing what he preached. It was said that while he was in the HO at Calcutta, he would not hesitate in `marking` even  the MD if he came late to office. He did not believe in empty rhetoric’s and false promises. Within a few weeks of his coming to Bombay,  the staff could feel a subtle change for the better in the atmosphere of the office. But he still had a long way to go and address a lot of other issues which were craving for his attention.

It was at this stage that I decided to make my presence felt as a `self starter` with Walker. Even before Walker had come to Bombay, the confusion prevailing in the office had prompted me to prepare a detailed note to the Management, analyzing the problems being faced by the office and outlining the solutions that I had to offer. With some trepidation I decided to hand over the note to Walker.  As he was busy, he took it from me and kept it aside. He did not even ask me what the note was about. I came out of his cabin wondering if I had done the right thing. Will he appreciate my initiative or pull me up for my impertinence in doing something which was not expected of me as a junior account executive in the company. I went home with a tinge of apprehension.

The next morning, as soon as I reached office, I was told that Walker wanted to see me.  Even before I could dump my brief case near my table, he walked across to where I was standing and gave me a bear hug. He then lifted me off of my feet, turned around a full circle before dropping me on the floor. I will never forget his words, “You will go places young man, God Bless You`. He then took me to his cabin to discuss my note. There were a few staff members who were a witness to this scene.

Naturally, the word got around the office. This episode couple with my growing reputation as an excellent client service man helped in enhancing my stature in the eyes of the rest of the staff.  So much so that the Management would have no hesitation in handing over all troublesome clients to me to handle, earning me a nick name `Crisis Rajan`. Not a trouble maker but a trouble shooter! I believe Walker`s open acknowledgement of my initiative surely helped me gain more confidence to take on greater challenges that came my way. 

I left Clarion after my bond with the company expired. He was very happy when he heard that I had rejoined the group after two years, and became a CEO of ACIL (Advertising Consultants India Limited) a sister company of Clarion at the age of 31 within 8 years of joining the advertising profession.

After spending some more years In Clarion streamlining the administration of the company Walker decided to finally retire and settle down in a small independent house in Whitefield in Bangalore with his wife Margaret. His only daughter Sylvia, a spinster was well settled in London. I visited him a couple of times in the early years to pay my respects but lost contact with him later. 

I understand from a good friend who had worked very closely with Walker for several years, that after his wife pre-diseased him,  he sold his house and moved to a small guest house close to the Church to which he was attached. He spent his last days lonely but maintaining his trade mark cheerful front to people who came visiting.  I can never forget Walker for the important break he gave  me early  in my life as an advertising professional.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Single Parent

From Adyar Times issue dt. 0ctober11-17,2015   
My first article published under a  new fortnightly column  titled `Rajan`s Random Reflections` . Adyar Times is a free  community paper popular in South Madras  reaching about 50,000 households.

                                                        SINGLE PARENT
I had gone to stay with my daughter in Bangalore for a couple of days. I was moved to see the extremely busy schedule that she maintains, looking after her home and the two school going kids  besides some creative activities she is pursuing as a hobby. After the school hours, driving the children to special classes or some sports/cultural activity in the maddening traffic of Bangalore can be quite nerve wracking by itself.  The task has become even more daunting because of the absence of her husband who is away in Delhi on a short transfer depriving her of his support during the children’s growing years. I must say that like millions of Indian Housewives, she is coping with the challenge  very well, albeit with some impact on her health & moods!
While my daughter has the moral support of her husband who regularly calls & keeps in touch with the happenings at home, I was wondering what happens to the growing number of single parents, in our country. How do they cope without the active support of a life partner? Their  single status could be because of a broken marriage, or loss of a husband due to illness/accidents. And of course there are young women, very successful in their careers  and financially  independent, deciding  not to get hooked on to any one through marriage but still deciding   to bring up a child. Such women go for adoption and are willing to take on the challenging task of performing a dual role – that of a mother and father.
I met a lady recently,  who,  after two broken marriages ,  decided to bring up her two  children on her own. Talking to her, I realized that our  society can be very cruel to women who choose to be single parents.
She was narrating some unpleasant incidents she encountered while dealing with the teachers and the management of the school where her kids were studying. Besides  the children too  had to face the jibes, taunts and insensitive comments of their peers as well as teachers.  Making them feel very insecure,  leading to psychological problems, affecting their lives.
Though I have not come across  a single parent who has adopted a child, I am sure such women also must be facing similar problems. The adopted children  must be facing more humiliation than the biological children of single parents because they don`t know who their father is.
In the West it is common to find children of single parents- could be either the father or the mother, studying in schools coping well with their lives, because Western society has accepted such situations as normal.  In our country we still have a long way to go in addressing this growing problem,  resulting from increasing cases of divorces. Apart from developing counseling  for such parents and schools,  the society must also consider providing support systems to enable the hapless women to manage their lives with dignity.
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