02 June 2016 10:46:57 IST

Caught in the crossfire

What would you do if you were caught in a crossfire between two function heads?

His self-doubt only increased as the days went by. Had he done the right thing by choosing marketing as a career?

India’s largest and best-known FMCG company was a day-one recruiter at his campus. They were one of the most coveted employers, not only because of the top salaries they offered but also because of the initial three-month training the students would be sent for at their global headquarters in the US. And then there was the added attraction of foreign postings for outstanding performers.


He still remembered the gruelling three-tier interview process. From the college, only five had made it to the final round that was held in their impressive and stately corporate office in Mumbai. Unlike one-on-one interviews conducted by other companies, this was to be a group interview of all five candidates over lunch with the CEO and his leadership team.

“Can any of you tell me the difference between marketing and sales?” the CEO asked.

The sales head added, “Also, remember that unlike sales, marketing is a cushy job in which outcomes cannot be measured.” The CEO and his team, barring the marketing head, guffawed.

Pradeep was so caught up in trying to mentally frame an answer that he completely missed the internal dynamics between the sales and marketing head.

He managed to mumble an answer, which was apparently the best! He was the only one hired.

The real corporate world

After the initial three months training in the US, Pradeep was quickly thrown into the thick of marketing activities. He reported to the senior manager, and his primary role was to coordinate with the advertising agencies and organise various internal events.

Pradeep was frustrated that every advertising campaign had to be vetted by the company’s leadership team. Was the marketing head playing it safe by getting the ‘buy-in’ of his colleagues?

At every such presentation, the sales head would ask the same questions and all addressed to Pradeep: “Whom are we talking to in this campaign?”, “I think the message is confusing. We need to first test this campaign with a section of our target audience” and so on and so forth. Similarly, at every marketing event, the sales head made it a point to criticise everything, right from the presentation to the food.

It was obvious that the sales head was targeting the marketing head. Pradeep was just the means.

Laying the bait

His tensions were temporarily set aside when, one day, the marketing head told Pradeep and his superiors, “Our group chairman from the US is visiting India soon. We have to organise a gala dinner, that is to be hosted by our CEO.”

Pradeep suggested that it would be better and quicker if he coordinated directly with the CEO on the finer details of the function, to which his superiors readily agreed.

Pradeep met the boss often and during one such meeting, he placed a set of menu cards on the table.

“What’s this?” asked the CEO.

“I thought it best if you could decide the menu, sir.”

“Are you telling me that no one else in this company can decide on a good menu?” the CEO asked, his voice slightly raised.

“No sir, that’s not what I mean,” said Pradeep, walking the thin line.

“Then what exactly are you trying to say?” the CEO asked, the decibel level higher.

“All I am saying is that if you decide the menu, then no one will say it is ‘not good’ .” Phew! Pradeep felt relief after he put it out there. If the CEO decided the menu, then the sales head could not unfairly complain about the food.

The CEO smiled and said, “Ok, I shall request my wife to do it. She is better at this.”

The bait is taken

Pradeep reached the venue early. Everything was in place. The CEO and his wife too arrived ahead of time, taking in and appreciating the details of the settings, especially the live jazz band playing soft music in the background.

The guests started arriving. The chairman and his wife were welcomed and introduction to other dignitaries in the room soon began. The chatter levels in the room only increased with the intake of alcohol.

An hour after the cocktails, soup was served.

Pradeep was watching the sales head, who took one sip, looked around, and in a raised voice, said, “This soup tastes like dishwater!”

The marketing head moved closer to him and whispered, “Don’t say that out too loud. That could be the last soup you have in this company. The menu was decided by the CEO’s wife.”

The sales head’s face turned ashen. Pradeep then saw him move towards the CEO’s wife and say, “This is possibly the best soup I have ever had.”

She acknowledged him with a smile. Had she heard him earlier?

That question continued to haunt the sales head for a long time.