I first met him and noticed him, as he greeted me and started speaking to me in Malayalam. I was waiting for his boss Anil Krishna, in Hindustan Lever – Chemicals division, near Chakala, Andheri East, in Mumbai – about 25 years ago. He introduced himself as Sandeep Pai, a trainee in the adhesives division under the HLL Chemicals division.
He said he is originally from Kochi, my home town, but brought up in Mumbai. To my question why he joined HLL - at a time when Hindustan Lever was getting out of the adhesives business, he answered, “My father worked for many years for this great company. He was very proud that I got an offer. I do not want to disappoint him”. Through my interactions, I was delighted to engage with an intelligent, energetic and sincere young man. Since Hindustan Lever was divesting the adhesives business in India, and globally Unilever had sold National Starch and Chemicals to the paint company ICI PLC, Anil Krishna left his role in the company and moved to ICI India. For a brief period, I continued to work with Hindustan Lever.
It was during this time, Sandeep was transferred to Delhi to handle the Hindustan Lever adhesives business. He came in touch with my colleague Suresh Nair. Soon he learned the techniques of post-press kit and the intricacies of bookbinding. For a brief period, when we partnered ICI - National Starch & Chemicals, my team and Sandeep used to compete fiercely on the field during the day – but share a beer in the evening. In between, Sandeep eloped with his childhood sweetheart and got married. I remember going with my family to attend the reception in Dadar, which was organised by his father. Hindustan Lever sold the adhesives business to ICI India at a handsome price. It unlocked the value brought in through the efforts of people like Sandeep.
He then moved on to another division of Lever and continued to operate in Delhi. In the meantime, the National Starch adhesives business under ICI India, led astutely by Anil Krishna was growing at a phenomenal rate. However, they needed someone internally to drive the bookbinding business. Re-enter Sandeep Pai. An ideal choice. No one was as qualified as Sandeep Pai for that role. He worked with the Impel-Welbound group during trade shows, customer visits, product trials, machine audits. My colleague and director of our group Suresh Nair was his closest friend, teacher and companion on such travels. We could not console him when Sandeep Pai exited without any warning. For me, Sandeep Pai was a colleague and family friend. For him, our group was like an extended family.
He was in his elements when we travelled together, on company tours or personal celebrations. His childlike enthusiasm spilled over to his work and he was his best when he had to do trouble-shooting, investigate and explain the root cause of failure to his customer. Also he relished new product trials, where he addressed impossible challenges and conducted hundreds of trials to address them. He and Suresh could discuss (and argue), even if they met socially. A chemist and a post-graduate in management, Sandeep loved movies, music, food, traveling and good time with his family and friends.
His colleagues will vouch for his attitude. He was “always there for them”, whenever the need arose. He was an organiser par excellence as I had seen from the National Book Printers Conference that we organised in Trivandrum. He was in charge of the guest reception committee – almost three hundred publishers and printers who attended the conference, will never forget the smiling face of Sandeep Pai.
He welcomed everyone, and took care of their accommodation and dietary requirements. He used to don this hat for every sales conference organised by the companies, no matter how big or small the event was, he did it with the same level of professionalism. He was a close friend to my family, and many of my colleagues. However, when it came to representing his company and their business partnership with us, the “professional” in him took the forefront. I used to comment about this within our group.
And so, I may not give him the best score in whatever attributes are necessary to excel in this day and age of professionalism – but for his integrity I always gave him a perfect 10. A year or so, when he left Henkel Adhesives, our long term partner and joined another organisation which competed with us, he fixed an appointment to see me in our Powai office. I could not say “No” to him, even though I was not very keen to meet him professionally. When the tall and wellendowed figure sauntered into my cabin, and I got up to shake his hands, he bent down and touched my feet.
He did not utter a single word about business, other than telling me, that he has taken up a new assignment and wanted to inform me, face to face. I don’t know what that was – Yudhishtra crossing over to the Kauravas, before the start of the war, only to touch the feet of his elders, to seek their blessings Or like Karna, who sought the same from Bhishma before he took the role as the chief of the Kaurava army.
More like the second, I think. Someone asked me why I did not go to see his mortal remains. I am scared of missing that innocent face with its impish smile, the pan stained teeth, that big paunch and his large heartedness. I would like to think that he is out there, in Navi Mumbai or somewhere trying to entice one of our customers.
(A Welbound group company)