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Action Replay

Published: Sep 26, 2009 08:20:00 AM IST
Updated: Nov 7, 2009 11:04:42 AM IST

Action Replay
Indian firms deal with bad news in a time-honoured way: They swiftly brush it under the carpet and discourage awkward questions, especially from within. Not ICICI Bank.

Couple of weeks ago, their HR folk created a management case study packaged in the form of a neat little DVD:  Failure is not an Option. It basically details the sordid saga that ICICI had to deal with last year, when a malicious set of rumours triggered a run on the bank. Sobering viewing, but, nevertheless, also cause for a little pride in weathering that mess.

And then, later that week, some vicious so-and-so triggered off a new set of rumours about a major home loan fraud in the bank. On Sunday, ICICI’s brass woke up to find a speculative story splashed across the front page of a leading business newspaper. If their breakfasts turned to ashes in their mouths, or even if they had the time to actually swallow some coffee we don’t know. What we do know is that by 10 a.m., a war room had been created. Perhaps the HR team will now do what every film-maker wants to do. Make a sequel.

Many Unhappy Returns

Back when Kiran Karnik was head of the Discovery channel in India, he sat down to file his income tax returns. When it came to his returns from the Unit Appreciation Plan, he paused; he had been advised that those returns were tax-free. Karnik, then as now a chap with a rep for clean dealing, decided to play it safe and paid up anyway.

His advisors told him he should claim a refund, which he did. The I-T folks, who, as we all know, move in mysterious ways their wonders to perform, treated the claim as an attempt to evade taxes and slapped a penalty on him. He paid up, and then challenged it in the appellate tribunal, and won: The I-T Department was told to refund the penalty, plus interest. The I-T folks took it to the High Court. And lost. Now they’ve taken it to the Supreme Court. We’re perplexed.

Kiran Karnik was head of the Discovery channel in India
Image: Dinesh Krishnan
Kiran Karnik was head of the Discovery channel in India
If this was some small-time I-T official, we would say s/he was holding out for a bribe to close the case. But if they’re taking it to the highest level, either they think they have a case that those pesky lower courts can’t grasp, or someone wants to sink a sharp one between Karnik’s shoulder blades. Time to look back and figure out who you may have pissed off, Kiran old fellow.

 Ad hock
One of our hacks, who used to turn tricks in the ad biz, got a call from an old contact. Was he still working freelance? And if not, could he pass on old client contacts to the caller? Straight-up deal: We’ll service the business, and for one year, you get a cut of all billings.

Now, the caller had always been a rather proud kind of guy, one who had slogged to build his little agency up from the ground, and if he was offering deals like this, it looked like there were no green shoots anywhere in sight. So our former sloganeer called several former partners in crime, now high flying corner office types, and asked what was up.

One laughed mirthlessly. “Welcome to advertising today,” he said. Another merely said, “You have no idea.” A third smirked and said, “If I had to design a logo for the industry, it would be an open palm. Everyone wants a cut and the rot is deep.”

(This story appears in the 09 October, 2009 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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