What is connection between Leo Tolstoy and Business India’s last cover story?
Well, not for everyone. Reading the cover story on India’s Highest Paid Executives, I was reminded of the famous Tolstoy short story.
About 850 managers in India earn a gross (pun intended) salary of Rs 50 lacs or above. And this is only for companies which have publicly available results. If you include the foreign banks, consultancies and other unlisted companies, the number is sure to top 3000 – and would probably include some of my batch mates as well! Actually, one of my batch mates’ father is in the list.
This, I found out by diligently going down the list and ticking all the people I know in this exclusive club. Know – defined as having conducted at least one two-way conversation (of 5+ minutes duration) with the person in question. So, my score is 7.
And of them, one had actually helped me organize my wife’s birthday (the first one after our marriage) and scolded me when I did not feed her a piece of the cake!
One recruited me for my summer internship.
I had taken another (the Chairman of my previous company) on multiple market visits – and heartily recommended the freshness of buns of a certain bakery on one occasion.
The aforementioned dad cajoled me to dance at his son’s (my batch mate!) wedding and I found myself telling him I could dance only when I was drunk! He was more than amused!
So, as you can see, I have hobnobbed with the rich and powerful. And if you include the banks, privately held soft-drinks companies and my current company in the game, then I can drop some more names!
Which brings us back to our original question – how much money does a man need? What does Mukesh Ambani do with 24.5 crore rupees per year – that he can’t do with 23.5? This is, of course, in addition to the uncountable zillions that he has in shares of Reliance Industries.
A group of friends I have in Bangalore carried on this masochistic pastime of trying to estimate the salaries of the high-and-mighty (including but not restricted to one’s immediate superior!) and their outflows. Every time we marveled at the unfairness of it all and decided that restaurants should charge differential rates based on salary slips. “Oh you poor Area Sales Manager – here is a free Tequila shot for you.” Or, “Ah Mr Premji, that will be Rs 32500 for breathing our air.”
On hearing a particularly astronomical pay cheque of somebody we knew, we had drunkenly tried to estimate his living expenses, savings requirements and surpluses thereof. Either our arithmetic was dulled by the vodka or his salary was really huge, we really could not come up with a satisfactory breakup. So, we were unable to answer the question – “What will you do with a salary of Rs 8.5 crores?”. But like true hands-on managers, we said, “Give us that salary for a year and we will find out by the end of it!”
Sigh… nobody subsidises experiments in pure science!
So, the question remained unanswered – and I re-read the original short story and discovered Chekov’s response to Tolstoy’s theory. He said, “It is a common saying that a man needs only six feet of earth. But six feet is what a corpse needs, not a man…” Then he went off on a tangent about the space a man needs to prove his worth and confused the matter further.
This same philosophical question found its way in an email exchange with a friend of mine. (The same guy who shares my passionate views on food, as described here.) He wrote back with a line, which has settled the debate for me. At least till now.
All a man ever needs is the love of a woman and some Bhapa Ilish. Everything else is hogwash.