The Professional

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It was in the month of December 2008, at the peak of financial meltdown when the world was introduced to, arguably, the biggest charlatan that has ever lived – Bernard Madoff. With the markets everywhere in choppy waters, the $60 billion scam of Ascot Partners – a hedge fund owned and run by Bernie Madoff came as a crushing blow. His con-artistry not only gave a black eye to an already beleaguered hedge fund industry but also devastated the trust of thousands of investors who up until then had thought of Madoff as a ‘can-never-do-any-wrong’ individual, a man with a Midas touch. Precisely a month down the line, Ramalinga Raju – the owner of then India’s 4th largest IT company Satyam – did a Bernie Madoff. Raju was slapped with charges of inflating profits, embezzling six million shareholders and indulging in insider trading. His insidious acts brought serious repercussions – a punctured image of Indian IT industry and disgrace to the whole nation.

The shenanigans of Madoff and Raju might have become staple case studies on ethics and on corporate governance in business schools. But it’s hard to condone the discomfort from the fact that both Madoff and Raju were once the epitomes of professionalism in their respective domains. I often wondered what it was that drove them over the line into the transgression zone. Was it a sheer lack of ethics or was it plain incompetence? Most importantly, were these guys even the professionals that the world once saw them as?

Subroto Bagchi’s ‘The Professional’ is an honest and a fantastic attempt at demystifying the DNA of a true professional. I picked up this book at a local bookstore. On going through the contents section and thumbing through a few pages, I knew I had to read this book. ‘The Professional’ has seven distinct segments and each section has a host of topics that in totality contribute to the various facets or building block of a professional.

Bagchi wastes no time in laying the framework, he hits the ground running. In the first chapter, intriguingly title ‘Burial of the dead’, Bagchi holds up as a true professional a man who gives last rites to the unclaimed dead bodies and does his job diligently without any supervision. He asserts that anyone who needs supervision is an apprentice, not a professional.

The author uses real-life examples (news stories picked up from TV and newspapers) and of course, instances from his own professional life to drive his point home. In the chapter ‘The Power of Vision’, Bagchi cites the story of a thoroughly professional postman whose hardwork and vision saw his son pass out of an IIT and ultimately, co-found MindTree consulting with him.

Subroto Bagchi doesn’t shy away from discussing sensitive issues either. Chapters such as ‘The Many Shades of Grey’ and ‘Firing the Star Salesman’ deal with the touchy issues of taking severe actions against people found in breach of integrity or company guidelines. Author mentions that people often get caught up in emotional turmoil when it comes to acting against the culprits because no one wants to play hangman.

In a subsequent chapter titled ‘Affective Regard’, Bagchi asserts that onus is on organizations to instill value culture. Many a time, organizations fail to step up to the plate because of systemic loopholes. Unless there are clear guidelines what qualifies as a breach or transgression, decision-makers will only end up in shades of grey and the wrongdoers will always find ways to game the system. ‘Dealing with Personal Pain’ is another chapter focusing on an issue very rarely discussed – how to come through the state of personal tragedy? Chapters on ‘Governance’, ‘Cross cultural Sensitivity’, ‘Intellectual Property’ and ‘Sustainability’ shed light on many more distinct facets of a true professional.

All in all, ‘The Professional’ is a light read; a book you can easily finish over the weekends. The author avoids meaningless jargon and complexity. Yes, he does sound overtly self-righteous and opinionated one time too many in the book. But then, so did Jack Welch in ‘Winning’ and Lou Gerstner in ‘Who says Elephants can’t dance?’. The truth of the matter is that most of us are driven by a set of beliefs and principles and once you become an achiever, you tend to see those tenets as the must-have underpinnings of integrity and success. On a modest scale, though, author forewarns the readers of flashes of self-righteousness in the preface to the book. I was, however, disappointed on one count. Subroto Bagchi has done deep analyses on what goes into the making of a professional but he falls well short of discussing what makes the same professionals go astray. Or may be, that is the fodder for his next book.