Resignations and Relationships

In my own career, I changed three organizations and left them for different reasons. First was Hindustan Dorr Oliver (HDO). I joined HDO right after completing my master’s at IIT Bombay. I stayed there only for 6 months. It was a marketing job and although I did pretty well, I didn’t like marketing as a career.

An opportunity came to work on a consulting project to design water supply and sewerage systems for the Maharashtra Water Supply and Sewerage Board (MWSSB). I liked this kind of work and so I decided to resign from HDO. Looking back however I feel that the influencing factor was the salary offer. The Consultant company (Shah Technical Consultants – STC) offered me a salary of Rs 1950 as against 800 Rs a month that HDO paid.

Another factor to join STC was that the project was funded by the World Bank. I thought that I could ornament or decorate my CV better by writing “Consultant – World Bank aided Project for MWSSB”. Today, many who join my company Environmental Management Centre LLP (EMC), work with us to get on their CV names of international organizations we work with. Once achieved, they simply pack off.

When I got a letter of appointment from STC, I had to start the process of resignation. A friend at HDO told me to use all the pending leave before putting my papers. So I started “bunking” the office on one pretext or another and used this time to chill or start reading about the engineering designs – especially on pumping stations – a subject that was not taught then at IIT Bombay.

My boss Natarajan noticed my frequent absence and he was sharp enough to see that I was showing less interest in my work. So he checked me out from his “contacts”. It was 1980 and the world of environmental engineering was small. In just few days, Natarajan found out that I was to join STC and resign from HDO. He called me to his cabin.

He said “Modak, this is NOT the way to leave an organization. You should have been transparent and talked to me for some advice. You should always leave an organization in a grace. Remember that after all you belong to the Modak family”. Even today, I remember each word of Natarajan’s advice and especially the last piece. It reminded me that I have live up to the reputation of my family.

I left STC after a year because I decided to take on PhD research. I spoke about this plan with Mr Mahavir Shah, the MD and seniors at STC. We discussed the pros and cons, and I received a lot of good advice. In my resignation, I  gave a notice of month as required at STC, but I told Mr Shah that I will stay longer if required to ensure that the work assigned to me was completed to client satisfaction.  Mr Shah patted on my back.

After I completed my doctoral research at the Asian Institute of Technology, I joined IIT Bombay – my alma matter, as a faculty. In my 10 years of teaching, I took two “sabbaticals” (leave without pay). One was for a project with the World Bank and other was an assignment with Asian Development Bank (ADB). After the ADB assignment, I decided to resign and leave my full-time teaching career. I was around 40 years of age then.

My letter of resignation reached “through proper channel” to Prof S P Sukhatme, Director then of IIT Bombay. In fact, the letter was in his “in-box” tray right on his first day when he took over as the Director. Professor Sukhatme called me to his office for a discussion and wanted to know why I wanted to resign.

I had given quite a thought regarding leaving IIT Bombay. I told him that I wanted to move faster, and I thought that my goals were affected by Institute’s inertia. I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Prof Sukhatme accepted my resignation without any grudge. He just said that its uncommon that faculty from IITs leaves for setting a business. Faculty generally stay long till retire. Looking back, I think I meant that I was looking for better prospects in terms of both work and money. Probably, I wanted independence. I don’t think I was clear enough about my goals though. Today, I envy people who have clarity on what they want to achieve in life and importantly how can they use their lives to help others.

I set up EMC in 1996 and today I am running this organization over 25 years. In this journey, I recruited many people, enjoyed working with them, built their careers and accepted resignations as they left EMC for various reasons. You wont believe that as a hobby, I have maintained a record of all the letters of resignations. These letters when I read them today I understand the changing perspectives of people towards organizations and their careers. These letters also tell me about the failure of EMC in retaining good people. But you cannot do much when it comes to poaching. Sometimes, person who resigns, takes along more people to “drain” the organization. That’s a worse situation that I haven’t yet faced.

Most letters of resignations I received were after a discussion. Generally, I would get a call from a colleague saying “Sir, can I have some talk with you today after the office hours?”. And in most cases I found that the talk was about resignation.  The resignation conversation is always awkward. But maintaining positive relationships at the end of the conversation is extremely important.

Few times, I have received emails of resignations directly in my in box as a surprise. In such cases, I blame myself for not judging the person in my selection or recruitment. A face-to-face discussion is always healthy. One should never quit a job over email announcing your resignation, and it can be seen as incredibly disrespectful.

I have been fortunate, with only one exception, where my senior colleagues alerted me in advance about their intent of leaving EMC. This generosity will always be remembered, especially their loyalty and kindness to the organization that built their careers. In such cases, the transition are always smooth, and relationships remain warm even after you get separated.

Some letters of resignation are long and emotional, and some letters are very precise, to the point or brief. Such letters tell a lot about the personalities. Some individuals lie when giving a reason for resignation like “I just need a break” or “I want to focus on the family” or “I plan to go for studies” or “I want to join an NGO” etc. This happens when the individual is joining a competitor company. While this kind of lying is not a good idea, I can understand that there are fears that if the truth is spoken then the management could be nasty.

For consulting companies like EMC, the assets we hold are the “knowledge repositories” that we create in delivering our assignments. Most people who leave organization take away such “knowledge” on their hard disks and some think that is their right! This “stolen” knowledge repository is then used to leverage their position in the new company or in their business. But honestly, real knowledge is often tacit and cannot be stolen from the hard disks!

In all these years, I came across only one exception. A colleague of mine was using a personal hard disk as a back-up while working with us from home. On resigning from EMC, she came to our office and copied all the “knowledge” from her hard disk on EMC Server. Then, right in front of me she formatted her personal hard disk and destroyed all the “knowledge”. When I told her that there was no such need, she said “I can always ask you Dr Modak for documents if I need anything in the future” (Do you think that this person might have taken another back up earlier? And I would say just impossible, and this is where the upbringing counts).

I never met any person of such high ethics and integrity. This experience convinced me that good relationships if transparent and ethical continue and can go much beyond resignations.

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  1. Mentality of todays employee is to stolen the knowledge and database without any ethics to used to leverage their position in the new company. Humanity and hardworking is completely vanished from freshers, we can’t expect good work from them.

  2. Dr Modak Sab,
    Very heartening blog. It should inspire many to adopt high ethics and integrity in their life.

  3. Dear Dr Modak
    Interesting blog. I relate this to my own career and incidents of my leaving organisations. For some reason right from the very stage of my career, I chose to brief my boss before putting in my papers. Organisations like L&T, Roche , Duphar Philips BV . All bosses here liked my approach and supported me in my life even today after a few decades.
    Transparency is always a good act.

  4. Your blogs have always been interesting and with lot of fiction, which if often difficult to detect. This one appears plain truth. This one is inspiring in addition to being interesting as it unfolds the value of ethical behavior.
    Ethics is a proven long-term asset. I have experienced it my life and what I know of the lives of my friends and others.

    1. I agree Sir on the importance of ethics. Is it genetic or acquired through emulation or “taught” ? It’s a subject extremely critical for the people of environmental fraternity. We are just losing out. Warm regards

  5. So well narrated.
    I was your student when you took the decision to transit from IITB in 1995 and was probably the last one to get guided by you for my Mtech project which you reluctantly accepted on my persistence as you had told me about your leaving plans

    My journey with as A GURU SHISHYA has been unmatched . I am indeed lucky to get such a human being..straight clean hearted clear headed highly intelligent yet epitome of humility.

    I really cherish this relationship and your selfless helping nature is matchless

    Thank you so much Sir for all your help guidance and assistance in not in my technical pursuits but in humanness and personal difficulties

    Colonel Jaspreet Brar …IA …Retired
    Ever yours

    1. Thank you Jaspreet. Our meeting is long overdue to catch up. If possible drop in our Shivaji Park office between 4 to 7 pm on January 4. Best wishes for the new year

  6. खूप छान अनुभव रेखांकन. आवडले. तुमची उर्जा व उत्साह
    प्रेरणादायक आहे.असेच लिहित रहा. मनःपूर्वक शुभेच्छा.

  7. Thanks Prasad, for sharing your own life experience (relatively short as you decided to be on own at a fairly tender age) and the experience of dealing with those who resigned from your organization.

    You have mentioned about people very often walking away with “knowledge repositories” when they quit. While this may be true in standard and routined consulting practices, everyone knows that your mind keeps innovating and that is how you keep yourself ahead of the rest of the herd. So, I do not believe people can flourish for long by just walking away with the “knowledge repositories” if they do not have the mental faculty to innovate.

    It is always a pleasure to go through your blog which is like a whip of fresh air in our routine and mundane lives. Wish you a very happy new year.

  8. Very well written Sir!
    Could correlate to various incidents.

    Ethical behaviour plays important role to maintain professional relationship.
    – Resignation intimation directly through an email without any prior discussion is disrespectful.
    – can not help with poaching / talent drain situation and employee leaving for the sake of profile title without understanding wider long term opportunities.

  9. This blog completely changed my perspective towards working in corporate world and also learned how we need to maintain relationships even resigning from the current organization. Glad to come across with this blog. Thank you Dr. Modak.

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