The Second File
Points to Ponder: “In the Business world there are no permanent enemies and no permanent friends.” Mr. D’s very last advice to me in October 1983.
Story Line: My personal belongings were already in the trunk and I was ready to depart, the last time as an employee, from the parking lot of the very first company I had worked for when I saw Mr. D walking towards his car. Mr. D was the general manager of our division and over my three years as an expat, I had developed a good rapport with him.
I immediately got out of my car and rushed to him. I thanked him for the opportunities the company had given me for the previous eight years and the many valuable lessons I had learned; listening to his stories whenever he visited our site and also in meetings during my visits back to the headquarters. Mr. D was touched and with his car's door half open, his hand holding his coat slung over his shoulder and with legs crossed he told me, “The trouble with you was that you only saw good in people”*. Seeing my surprise, he continued, “You have to keep two files on people (know/aware of the bad side of people too). You have to be very careful when to open The Second File but it must kept it in case the situation warrants” (at that time my guess of what he meant; when people go out of line and try to hurt you). He ended by stating, "In the business world there are no permanent enemies and no permanent friends”. As he concluded, I realized that Mr. D had just imparted yet another lesson from his career to me. We shook hands and with tears in my eyes and a heavy heart I walked back to my car.
As I started growing within the corporate world and always led by a curious nature, I started observing what went around. I understood how true and valuable Mr. D’s parting advice was as I saw office politics unfold. I used to share stories about Mr. D with people at work. They would laugh, many thinking they were the stuff of water cooler talk and lunch time fun.
It was the week of July 4th, our independence day. All our employees received a memo from the CEO stating that the second senior-most executive in the company would no longer be with us; citing and choosing to end with the standard line, “Left to pursue other interests”. Somehow, the tone of the language in the memo seemed harsh and was also a big surprise because the executive who had "Left to pursue other interests" was well liked across the company and had an outstanding track record with our customers. I rushed to our department's Senior VP to ask him what could have happened. He asked me to close the door to his office. Bursting into laughter he said, “The Second File opened.” He wouldn’t say anything else because of the confidentiality his position demanded.
My thoughts shifted to the executive who had been let go; I amongst many in the company liked his leadership style and pleasant personality. He was brought in from another site because the board had insisted CEO to have a succession plan. He was very good at his job and also a friendly and caring person. He was well liked across the board and we had even heard that the board of directors liked him as well. Having read the history of many empires, sometimes I worried that when one becomes more popular than the boss, it may be time to look for another job.
Over time, the news about the cause of the executive’s demise and accusations against him started leaking out. Hearing the reasons was shocking. Many believed they were not true and their take was that it was "The Second File" that was put into effect. Yet another time one of many of Mr. D’s lessons had come true.
Over my 40 year career, I have seen "The Second File" played out in various different scenarios; some of them very sad. The lessons Mr. D imparted to me in my foundational years; to observe and to be aware of this "Second File" even though I chose not to keep one on any person are still of lifelong value. I did not exercise the tricks and techniques but just being aware of them, to understand and know they were there helped me keep my life stress free. I still like to see the good in people, but it doesn't hurt to know that others might be collecting information for a second file as well.
Reflection: Being naïve and inexperienced I used to get shivers when I used to hear some of Mr. D’s stories and the lessons they had in them. I couldn’t believe how the real world could be like that... I hoped his stories were reserved for isolated cases. But as the years passed, and I matured, I realized that "The Second Files" are the reserved weapons in the business world’s complex Art of War and they have no expiration date. The degree to which they are used depends on how far out of line the other party is with the establishment, how much of a threat the party causes on the ruling Janata or how envious some people are of the person’s success. These "Second Files" are also kept by seasoned personnel on the establishments they work for, and when the time comes, they often walk away with handsome gift packages even if they lose the battle.
*There was a background story behind that statement which will be the subject of future Friday Reflection.
Filing Cabinet Picture Source: Es.123rf.com
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