* But even I — in a working life of over 43 years — changed jobs thrice

* I now had to inform my supervisor... and I quailed at the thought and made the mistake of covering this anxiety with flippancy

* I spoke to BN Sinha from my heart, I spoke the truth. I told him that this is the most difficult conversation in a long time


In professional careers, sometimes the most important moments are the time when a person is deciding to leave an organisation. It is without hyperbole, a leap into the unknown, especially when that person is valued in his current organisation. In modern times, the prime reasons for moving on could be the urge to start a new entity, join a new emerging business, fear that one is not learning anything new or a perception that one will be valued more in another organisation. Though I belong to a generation where people made fulfilling and even outstanding careers, working in one organisation from start to finish, I understand that modern times are incredibly more dynamic.

But even I — in a working life of over 43 years — changed jobs thrice. All three were within the first 11 years of my career and while each of these movements were well-thought, justifiable and perhaps necessary, none were easy decisions. Each was a leap of faith, a plunge into new domains and environments.

My first job was an exhilarating stay of over five years at SICO, the small but exciting scientific instruments house. The high points and successes tasted sweet for long, while the inevitable failures or odd blunders were lessons well learnt. The supervisor was supportive and encouraging, the managing director clearly thought he had a long-term star. The money was not great but I had settled into a comfortable mode where the role, the business and environment were nicely lulling me. I knew I had to move in order to learn something new and challenge myself with a different role. I also needed to move to Chennai because we had suffered a grievous family loss. Within months, I had been offered a position as the marketing services manager in a large engineering consumables company, one among many officers in that large business group. Instinctively, I knew I would enjoy the challenge and learn and grow both as a person and a professional.

I now had to inform my supervisor, Ashutosh Joshi and MD BN Sinha. I quailed at the thought and made the mistake of covering this anxiety with flippancy. On a business tour to Pune, over breakfast I casually told Joshi about my decision. Joshi, a fine chemical engineer, and finer human, was also my close friend. But as he heard me now, his eyes clouded with disappointment. Not for the news but for the crass and insensitive manner in which I had conveyed it. He loved my work and the cheer I brought to people I worked with but most of all for the standards of dignity and decency I aimed for. Putting aside his personal feelings, Joshi then taught me a precious lesson on how upright professionals should communicate their decision to resign with truth and honesty, with respect and gratitude. “You will write to Sinha a very detailed letter, you will say that you will firm up your decision only after talking to him and you will for one of those very rare occasions, end your letter with the salutation, with reverential regards.” That last instruction was because Sinha was a father figure. The wise Joshi also added, “I know going to Chennai is a very important part of the decision but Sinha believes in you so much that he will create any role for you to do from Chennai. So do not use location as an escape. Be truthful to your conscience.”

To find friends, colleagues and mentors like Joshi who are the epitome of ethical behaviour — there cannot be a greater gift for any professional. And so it was that I met Sinha a week later. Leaning back in his chair, his lips curved slightly in a smile as he watched my discomfiture. But my friend Joshi had taught me well. I spoke to Sinha from my heart, I spoke the truth. I told him that this is the most difficult conversation in a long time; that I do not want to use Chennai as an excuse; I want to so badly try and do something new in a completely different field.

The relationship between us was such that Sinha knew it was not money and he never raised it. He asked me about the organisation, my role and how I saw myself there in a few years. Then gently, he said, “Some remain happy all their life in the same place and grow to positions of great stature. Others however, feel the need to seek and make their career and life elsewhere. A good first job is special for in some mystical way, you and your first organisation will have an umbilical relationship.” Sinha and I have kept in touch ever since.

If I were to distil the wisdom of Joshi and Sinha it would be: If you plan to accept an offer, convey that decision with sensitivity and respect to your current organisation, especially when they have been considerate and fair to you. Good organisations value their people and will stretch themselves to retain a person. One would do well to consider such options for they may well provide the opportunities you seek while signalling the goodwill and equity one carries in that organisation. There are many who stay in their first organisations and grow to positions of great responsibility, liked and respected by generations of colleagues. Just as there are those whose hearts resonate to Shakespeare’s “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”

S Giridhar is the Chief Operating Officer of Azim Premji University