Almost exactly forty years ago to this day I started my first job in London. Improbable as it seems now, it was as an articled clerk with one of the big London-Scottish firms of accountants.
I’ve written about this in a previous post (click here) and I don’t want to repeat myself, other than to say that had I known how to go about doing the things I really wanted to do, I wouldn’t have ended up in the City. As it was, it seemed like a good enough way for a law graduate from Aberdeen University to get himself to London.
I nervously scanned my fellow novices on that first day, and there was one in particular who caught my eye. It was partly because he was the only Indian; partly also because there was a spark there, a hint of mischief and slightly baffled amusement, that set him apart from the otherwise rather stodgy-seeming crowd.
Over the next few weeks we got to know one another well. Almost immediately we were sent off for a fortnight to an accountancy boot-camp somewhere deep in the Worcestershire countryside. It was run by a blustering Yorkshireman called Mick Worthington who couldn’t get his tongue around my new friend’s name, Pramod, and instead referred to him as Ramrod.
In our own ways we were both square pegs in round holes. I was fascinated by his eastern-ness, the music, the joss sticks, the mythology and words of Hindi. He introduced me to good Indian food and eating with my fingers. I took him to my stepfather’s grand house in the Scottish borders over the Christmas holidays and we went pheasant shooting and danced reels.
I lasted only three months in the job but by then our friendship was firmly cemented and we continued to see each other regularly for several years until he qualified and his work took him off to the Gulf. We lost touch then for a couple of years, only to discover, quite by chance, that he was back in London again and living in the same Notting Hill street as me, three doors down. We vowed then not to lose touch again, and we haven’t, despite his subsequently spending a decade in the States, before finally returning to Delhi about fifteen years ago.
Today it’s his business that I travel to India to work for, or rather it was his business until June of this year, when he stood down as CEO of India’s first and biggest outsourcing company. It’s a remarkable story and I’ll tell it another time, but my friend, Pramod Bhasin, my skinny, unassuming, twenty year-old Indian friend, is now a global business leader, revered in Indian business circles as the father of that country’s outsourcing industry, the founder of Genpact, a company that turns over more than $1bn and employs 54,000 people across the globe.
During my trip this week to Hyderabad and Genpact’s newly re-named Pramod Bhasin Learning and Development Centre, I heard this story. On his recent valedictory tour of the company’s many facilities, he visited the training campus. The main building has a large cafeteria where ‘town hall’ meetings, as they’re called, usually take place. On these occasions it tends to fill slowly, a little reluctantly, and people have to be coaxed forward into the proximity of the speaker.
When the word went round that it was Pramod – as he is known by everyone in the business – who was coming, the cafeteria quickly filled to bursting and the people who couldn’t get in spilled back up the stairs and along the corridors, so tightly packed that when he arrived he could hardly make his way through them. When at last he reached the cafeteria, the applause started and wouldn’t stop. It went on and on and on, and all he could do was stand there and wait, visibly moved.
My friend Pramod, the visionary. I wish I’d been there to see it.