First Learning from a CxO

ITC is a huge business house in India. And it is not owned by any family. I had an assignment in ITC where I had to find a way to unify 4 different systems used for calculating the salaries of 1773 managers of ITC. It is unbelievable, but true, that such a large organisation like ITC with all their Cigarette Factories, Hotels, Leaf Tobacco Divisions, and many more was managed by 1773 managers in 1995. These 4 systems were used by the department called Private Salaries. The department was entire manned by 10 ladies. They must have had some manager. However, I never came to know who this was. The systems involved were as follows.

  1. A system for calculating the monthly salaries which was developed using Oracle Forms 3.0 and deployed on Sun Solaris machine.
  2. A system for calculating Provident Fund as ITC maintained a private trust for Provident Fund of all their employees. This system was developed using UNIFY and deployed on UNISYS machine.
  3. A system for calculating Superannuation details and this system was developed using Oracle Forms 3.0 and deployed on RS/6000 machine with AIX as the operating system.
  4. A system for keeping track of the assets provided as perks to the Managers and this system was developed on a VAX/VMS platform.
  5. Lastly, all these systems of Private Salaries interfaced with the Financial Accounting System which was run on a machine on DOS with Tally as the software.

As different functions leading to a single goal was managed through 4 different systems, there was huge redundancy of data and this lead to many errors in calculations made by the Private Salaries Department. All the Managers of ITC consistently blamed the inefficiency of these poor ladies when they found a mistake in their salaries. They could not see the big mess which such huge heads from IITs had created. All these machines were used for other purposes as well like the entire Material Management System was run on VAX machine and so on. It was later ITC unified all the systems into a single system by implementing SAP.

Tapas da, also an IITian who was a Manager in ISD (Information Systems Division, which was later spun off as a separate company called ITC-Infotech Limited) analysed the Private Salaries systems and came up with a plan that if the employee databases across the 4 systems could be unified, then most of the problems in Private Salaries could be resolved. I was assigned the task of creating this unification of the employee database.

While developing the system, I used to often get involved in solving the salary related disputes and helped the ladies in the Private Salaries Department. This was helping me to understand the systems much better. One day, I received a call from the secretary of Mr. Anup Singh, who was the Head of the Indian Tobacco Division (ITD) of ITC and was the second most powerful man in the company after the Chairman – Mr. Yogesh Chander Deveshwar. In those days, ITD accounted for more than 88% of the revenue of ITC. I had grown up in ITC as my father worked in the Production Division of ITC Cigarette Factory in Munger (Biharis called it Chatkal. Why? I do not know) and later in the Machine Development Division. As a result, I knew all the top guns of ITC from my childhood. Mr. Anup Singh was the Branch Manager of Munger factory when I was in Class X and he had 2 children, who were younger to me. I had played with these kids during my childhood and involved them in various events during the children’s club nights.

The secretary gave me an appointment for 2 PM to meet him in his office. At the appointed hour, I went from the ITC Center (a modern 10 storey building on the Russell Street) to the adjoining Virginia House (a British Time 5 storey building on 37 Chowringhee Road). I reached his office on the 4th floor sharp on time and after getting the nod from Secretary, walked into his office very casually. I progressed to shake hands with him when he shouted back at me saying where was my writing pad. I was totally unprepared for this shock and apologised. He told me to get one and return. I left the room, all embarrassed. Seeing me come out of the room, the Secretary was stunned as the meeting was scheduled for 15 minutes. She asked me what happened and I told her that I was going back to my workstation to get my writing pad. She was very empathetic and told me to wait. She took out a fresh writing pad and gave it to me. She also enquired if I had a pen and I told her that I had a Reynolds use-and-throw pen with me. I went into the office again, erect like a soldier. This time, Mr. Anup Singh came out from behind his desk and shook hands with me and gestured me to sit down.

This was a huge learning for me. Ever since that day, I have never spoken or behaved casually with any CxO or any Senior Executive. Also, as a practice, I never walk into any Senior Executive’s office without carrying a pen or a pencil and something to write on.

Virginia House

Virginia House, 37 Chowringhee Road, Kolkata, India

ITC Center

ITC Center, Russell Street, Kolkata, India

Reynolds Pen

Reynolds Pen

So, is that it? SRK would say “Picture abhi baki hai, mere dost” (Translated to English it  means the movie is not over yet). Mr. Anup Singh detailed my task. I was to help in the calculation of the full and final settlement of Mr. Kishan Lal Chugh, who was the Chairman of ITC before Mr. Deveshwar. He had been recently sacked as ITC was fouled by the Excise Department of Government of India and ITC had to pay Rs. 800 crores as compensation. I understood the details and returned to the 7th floor of ITC Center where the Private Salaries Department was located. The ladies told me that they were still preparing the data and would call me at an appropriate time. So, I returned to my workstation on the 8th floor.

The appropriate time came very soon and reaching the 7th floor, I understood that they were unable to calculate the final figure as the system gave an error stating “numeric overflow”. On analysing the error, I figured that the final figure that the system was calculating could not be stored in the system as the system did not provide for such a large figure. This was not such a huge issue and I fixed it very quickly and reran the calculations. Everything went smooth as silk. The ladies once again verified all the figures and declared everything was fine and done. So, I went back home to Deepshree, who had an appointment with the doctor as she was in her 8th month of pregnancy.


  1. Nice article

  2. There was a very good reason why ITC used the Tally System (which was even less known in 1995) for Financial Accounting. ITC followed a 4-entry accounting system instead of the conventional double-entry accounting system. This customisation could be forced into Tally because it was an upcoming company.

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