Rahul Sharma had worked twelve years in a large chemical corporation in India before he left and started a modest polymer company of his own. He started with two employees, a chemist and an assistant, and ended with twenty before the year was out. His technical knowledge was sound but short, his business knowledge swift and swelling. He was good in turning out ingenious products industry needed; he was even better garnering business from skeptical clients. In ten years Sharma’s company was medium in size and large in profit.
He dreamed, not unlike other entrepreneurs, to turn over the executive functions to his son, who had emerged with laurels from an engineering college, and focus on what he liked most: develop new products and new business. Raj, his son, however, had his own preferences. He wanted to go for higher studies to the US and begged his father to spare him for three years. Rahul couldn’t say No to his only child, whose ambition had a business angle to boot. Raj went abroad and kept his word. He completed his studies at Caltech on time with distinction and bought a plane ticket for Delhi. He bought, however, two tickets, to keep his word with his coed, Sandra, whom he had been dating for two years.
That is when they agreed to ask my help. Raj, the son, needed support and sought it in an old acquaintance. Rahul, the father, unaccountably trusted me and doubtless saw me as a way to reach his apparently estranged son. I set non-negotiable ground rules: no disputes or debates, certainly not in public view, and the business had to run on agreed lines until differences were resolved.
In the first phase I listened long to Rahul, made notes and then conveyed them to Raj. I repeated the process until I was sure Raj realized Rahul’s concerns. Then I had many solo sessions with Raj and conveyed his ideas to Rahul after each. When I felt both had been prepped, I brought them together for a guided discussion. I would select only one item for discussion, naturally choosing them in reverse order of their flammability, and firmly exclude all digressions. Both were practical people and they readily ceded to my push for a resolution. In six weeks we had an agreed agenda and in ten the relationship seemed to work.
I left the assignment after a year, to mutual recognition that fair results had been achieved. I heard from all three periodically and the news was good.
My diplomatic work and travel then interrupted my links with them, as with many other friends.
Seven years later I was on a short visit to India and had dinner with Raj. He said the company was doing well and now exporting to Malaysia and seeking collaboration in California. He was the President, but his father, Rahul, continued as a part-time Technical Advisor.
When I asked about Sandra, he hesitated briefly, then said, “We divorced four years ago. She went back to her home in Sacramento. I don’t hear from her.” After a long pause, he added, “But Dad can tell you all about her. You know, he is a widower. He goes to California each year and, in fact, he stays with her. Yes, he can tell you all her news.”